This week saw the release of the eagerly anticipated first issue of IDW’s Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1 by Rob Liefeld, Chad Bowers, Adelso Corona and Federico Blee. I had the opportunity to get Liefeld on the phone to talk about his G.I. Joe comic, his new podcast Robservations, and our shared love of foreign collected editions.
Rob Liefeld: I’m ready! I’m ready!
Billy Henehan: You seem to always to be ready. I’ve encountered you at conventions and you seem to always be Mr. Energy.
Liefeld: Well, buddy, ask my family. That’s who I am. Look man, every day is a gift. Live it like that. If you can make comics, and promote the comics that you make, then there’s no better gift.
Henehan: I had the chance to read Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1, and I’m a longtime G.I. Joe fan. I grew up on the Larry Hama comics. And I absolutely loved it.
Liefeld: I’m so grateful to hear you say that. I tried to make something accessible to people who had never encountered Joe and for people who were longtime Joe fans. That’s a bit of a dance. My forums are public. On Instagram, on Facebook, I’ve had people say, “I’m going to try a G.I. Joe comic for the first time. Can I go in blind?” And I said, “Yes. Go in. We’ll carry you.” And hopefully at the end of the day, they go and grab all the classics. Man, with G.I. Joe, we’re boosting the volume here. We’re boosting the signal. That’s my intent.
Henehan: When G.I. Joe debuted in ’82, you were 14 or 15 correct?
Liefeld: That is correct. That is absolutely correct.
Henehan: Did you get into back then?
Liefeld: If we were on screen right now, you’d see that I have my original G.I. Joe figure; they were referred to as dolls in 1974. I am of the G.I. Joe Adventure Team age. They moved away from the military because of the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Hasbro pivoted in a brilliant fashion, and G.I. Joe became more of an adventure guy. He still had his army fatigues, his sidearm, his kung fu grip. He had his eagle eye. On the box, it said “Kung Fu grip!” with giant fists coming out. That is my first love. That toy is the first thing I remember being obsessed with, going everywhere with me at 7 years old. At all the department stores, there was a giant G.I. Joe display with playsets and vehicles. He had friends like the Atomic Man. He fought an alien called The Intruder.
He didn’t have a comic or a cartoon, just a toy. But he had single page ads in Marvel comics, I never saw them in DC. I think Hasbro only bought them in Marvel. I’ve gone back through comic books in 1976 and 1975, and the only comics that have them are Marvel comics. In The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, there were these single page ads that John Romita Sr. would illustrate of the Adventure Team in these one page, six to eight panel stories of Joe flying over the jungle in a helicopter. He lands down there! He encounters the alien Intruder. They fight! He uses his kung fu grip to whack him. The Intruder runs off into the forest, saying “It won’t be like this the next time we meet!” And Joe says, “I’ll be ready for you.” And the caption says, “You can buy G.I. Joe with his kung fu grip at your local store, and you can buy the alien Intruder too.” John Romita Sr was contracted by Hasbro to make these one page comic advertisements and that was my first love. That was my first toy.
Then of course, it cycled out. I didn’t see those toys anymore. And then in a couple of years, it transitioned to 3 3/4″ action figures, and you know the success of those 3 3/4″ action figures was the arrival of Star Wars, which changed everything with toys. I directed my children to watch the popular Netflix show, The Toys That Made Us, so that they could learn what G.I. Joe was. Because my kids were saying, “Dad, what are you drawing?” And I told them, “I’m drawing Snake Eyes.” They’re 18, 20 and 16. And even though I took them into the G.I. Joe movie, they had no recall or familiarity. So I gave them a channel they frequent, Netflix, and made them watch this hour long show. It’s great. It features Larry Hama, the original designers. They talk about the birth of Joe. When during my teenage years, I call it “The Reagan Era explosion of Joe” with Real American Hero and everything rah rah military. It would touch on other pop culture icons, like Top Gun. “Fly a jet! Bomb Russia!” G.I. Joe! Drive a tank! The entire country was in it. The cartoon.
The comic book was more exciting to me than the cartoon and toy were for me at that age, because comic books were my constant. And G.I. Joe #1 with all those characters, Scarlett, Duke jumping out at you. It was drawn by Herb Trimpe, an artist I’ve followed for my entire life as a comics fan. G.I. Joe the comic book was really exciting for me. I couldn’t believe it was brought back in this big, bold way. My original G.I. Joe, who was now known as Joe Colton, the kung fu grip guy wasn’t among them. But there was Duke and Scarlett and Quick Kick, and Snake Eyes, obviously. I was right there.
People don’t understand; G.I. Joe was competing with X-Men as the top comic book property during that period. It excited fandom! G.I. Joe #2? There wasn’t enough supply for demand. It was the first hot comic I can recall, “Wait, G.I. Joe #2 is gone?” “Yeah, it’s going for 10 bucks man. People can’t get their hands on it. There’s a shortage.” That was the first time I thought, wow, comics, the week they came out, they’re hot! G.I. Joe, the toy has a lot of history. That episode of The Toys That Made Us only scratched the surface. It was a long standing super Marvel franchise. I have great memories of it as a kid. I’m super excited to be along for the ride, producing new G.I. Joe material.
Henehan: Speaking of G.I. Joe #2, I remember as a kid, I’m 10 years younger than you, so I was about 4 or 5 when it debuted, and I remember as a kid G.I. Joe #2 being that comic you couldn’t find. It was the first time I had heard of a second printing and even the second print was going for money.
Liefeld: There you go. You’d go to conventions and it was on the back wall. In 1983, it was 10, 15, 20 bucks, and I was like “I never saw it.” It didn’t even make it to my comic store’s rack, and it was up in price. And that was before Twitter or eBay or the Internet. That toy, I would still kind of peruse the toy aisle even though I was not buying toys anymore in my teenage years. But I always wanted to check out what was new, and the packaging! Man, G.I. Joe owned! They had entire aisles all to themselves. They brought that property back in such a massive way. For me to be able to mix up my 1974 passion and my teenage passion, which I’m doing and will continue to do. I mean, there’s a lot of 1974, but through a modern lens.
Snake Eyes is anything if not a modern, badass looking character. He was the first character I ever saw wield both a gun and katana. Is he soldier? Is he a ninja? He’s both! That went on to inspire me to give the world another katana and gun wielding character. I cannot even begin to tell you the impact Joe had on my X-Men characters and X-Force. The Joes had stuff, they had gear, they had weaponry. And I felt it was time for the X-Men to have gear and have weaponry. It was very much a template that G.I. Joe had laid out. X-Force was me mashing up the X-Men and G.I. Joe. It’s been a successful formula that I responded to as a kid, and then I traded on it as a professional. It’s worked out for me.
Henehan: Worked out for you sounds like an understatement.
Liefeld It has worked out for me in the best possible way.
Henehan: Definitely. And I do love that your love of G.I. Joe was on display in the book, when the character the Joe team was sent to retrieve in Snake Eyes: Deadgame was XXXXXXXXXXXX (redacted for spoilers).
Liefeld: Yes! Yes! That’s why XXXXXXXXXXXX got a splash page!
Henehan: Yes! I thought, what a great reveal! Oh yeah, that’s the page flip right there.
Liefeld: Even from the low angle shot of the reveal. I grew up on the Marvel formula, and then had it spoken to me by Stan[Lee] and by Jim Shooter that, “Your comic opens with seven pages of action. And then seven pages of character, of downtime, character interaction, character building. Whether that’s Peter Parker getting fired from The Daily Bugle or Tony Stark realizing his company’s stock is crashing and that a hostile investor is trying to take it over. And then the last seven pages is the character back in action, and end on a cliffhanger.” That was a tried and true Marvel formula.
You have a whole lot of leeway to create your own path, but when I approach a comic, and I’m going to introduce you to that character, I’m going to do it in the way that Stan had dictated. Show you the powers and skills that character employs. Then move more into the character, the character interaction, as we do in Snake Eyes, like we do with the big reveal. This character doesn’t exist just to be here, XXXXXXXXXXXX has some crucial information to give to Snake Eyes, that Snake Eyes is obliged to follow up on. Then boom we’re back in action and we end on a cliffhanger.
That is how I’ve conducted my career. Those are the comic books that excited me. That was a big moment that I building towards. Getting through the action, to get to the cell block, to open the door and then the worm’s eye view camera angle of our big surprise. I was drawing it for me, thinking “Half of these people aren’t going to know who XXXXXXXXXXXX is, but I do.” I was just trying to do my childhood a solid. It was a big thrill to put XXXXXXXXXXXX alongside these other characters. And there’s much more of that to come. I have much more to share.
Henehan: I’ve been listening to your new podcast, Robservations –
Henehan: – and I really dug in the second most recent episode, you were talking about influencers. You talk about the distinctive Art Adams jump, and as I was reading Deadgame, I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s the jump right there. On the cover, and later in the issue too, that’s what Rob was talking about right there.”
Liefeld: He is 100% the guy that will leap up. Art gave us that midair, hold the pose, knees to your chest. Since he perfected it, you’ve seen Jim Lee do it, Erik Larsen do it, Rob Liefeld do it, Marc Silvestri do it, I mean everybody do it. Greg Capullo do it, Todd McFarlane do it. It’s the Art Adams trademark. Sometimes an influence can go way beyond drawing. It’s a gesture. It’s a familiar pose. Art remembers me as a teenager going “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! You’re the greatest! Oh my gosh!” And then as a pro, he’s like, “Oh, I have to deal with him on a professional level now?” One time we took him out, and he told all the Image guys, “You guys owe me! You’ve all taken a piece of my style!” And we were like, “Ehhh, you took from other people too, buddy.” We’re not going to deny it; we’re going to admit it. He was kind of joking, and we were kind of joking, but maybe we were more serious than we wanted to let on. I was out to dinner with Art two years ago and we were laughing about it.
He knows. No one needs to tell him how good he is. He knows the impact he had on comic books. And that’s the great thing about influences. I’m the guy who always wears them on my sleeve. It’s fun to talk about them. The filmmakers and musicians that I admire will tell you immediately who inspired them. The Beach Boys will tell you that the Beatles were stealing from them after Pet Sounds; there are rivalries born of it, but at least acknowledge it. But there are guys I’ve met who are like “Uh-uh. I’m my own thing.” Get out of here. Okay, we’ll both pretend that you didn’t see that other thing. Okay. Or you’re not paying attention to this other artist.
The podcast has been a great outlet for me. I literally was turning to talking to myself as a result of loneliness and isolation in the pandemic. So if you don’t like it, blame the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in. My friends and I used to talk for hours on end, but in the pandemic when none of you are venturing outside of your four walls, life gets a lot less interesting and there is a lot less to discuss, so your 3 hours of conversation every day is now 25 minutes if you’re really stretching it. “Oh, okay, good catching up with you. Goodbye. Wow, that was 8 minutes.” I was like, “Man, I may have to take up talking to myself.” And I did. And I uploaded them. You can listen to Robservations on iTunes, Spotify and Podbean. Listen to me rant, but it’s my passion. I love talking comics, so now I do it into a microphone. If people want to listen in, more power to them. People ask if I’m going to have guests, and I’m like, “No, I have too much to say!” I’ll start interviewing guests when I run out of stories myself. I occasionally have a copilot with me, who gives me a break and lets me catch my breath, and gives me some fun interjections that I can build off of. We’re going through this comic book journey and see where it takes us.
Henehan: It’s funny. It seems like it’s a really well researched episode each episode, and then I realize, no, this is just what’s in Rob’s head.
Liefeld: Oh, I can confirm for you, I do no preparation whatsoever. None. The other day, I said, “Hey, everybody in the house. If you guys can all chill out, I need to record for an hour or so. Can you guys give me a block of time?” And my son said, “Hey dad, what are you talking about today?” And I said, “I’ll tell ya when I turn the mic on.” Because as I’m walking into the office, I’m like, “Maybe I’ll do one or two or three. I think I’ll talk about editors-in-chief today. I’ll think I’ll talk about the editors-in-chief that I’ve encountered in my life.” I’m looking at an issue of Micronauts, and I think, “I should talk about licensed comics!” My fear is that I research it and it becomes dull. Everything I’m telling you is sourced. I haven’t misled anyone yet. I may have mispronounced a name, right? But it really is all of this data that I’ve collected.
And now that I’m sharing it, there’s a lot of guys, and you said you’re 10 years younger, a guy I talked to earlier today, he’s 30 years younger! He’s just formulating his opinions and interacting, and there’s a lot of stuff that these guys don’t know. It’s fun to share. I’m a sponge. I love learning. Again, I’ve mentioned [on Robservations] that it was recounted by the actor Bruce Dern, in detail, why Alfred Hitchcock would never meet with Steven Spielberg. I have met with Spielberg. I have developed movies with Spielberg. I have been to Steven Spielberg’s house. He is a generous and kind and loving man, who my wife first said when I met him 25 years ago, “What’s he like?” And I said, “He’s like your favorite uncle.” You’re so intimidated, but he’s so warm and so kind. And to think that Alfred Hitchcock would deny him a meeting, that’s where the rivalry and the influences, it gets bitter. But again, it speaks to influence. So again, I said, “I know what I’m talking about today!” It’s really seat of my pants. Another guy, on another interview asked me, “What’s coming up?” And I said, “I’ll know when I sit down in a couple of days. I don’t have a program list.”
Henehan: I’m really enjoying it. I subscribe to it.
Liefeld: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that so much.
Henehan: Something I have to ask. I follow you on Twitter. I follow you on Instagram. I think it was a year or two ago. You posted a picture of yourself in Italy.
Liefeld: It was last year. We were in Italy all year.
Henehan: And you’re shirtless on the beach, and I’m like, “This guy is 50?!?”
Liefeld: Oh! Yes! We went to Positano! My family went to Italy. I was 51 in that photo.
Henehan: You’re in better shape than guys two decades younger than you.
Liefeld: I appreciate that. That’s very kind. We went to Positano. My son was taking these amazing pictures. My daughter had taken them of my son. And I said, “Hey, I want that same background.” And I was kind of hyper sensitive, I was a little reluctant, but I said I want this memory. My son was flexing like a bodybuilder, because he is. I decided I’ll just look at the sun, and lean back. We uploaded it on Instagram, and the next day, three Italian papers were like, “Creator of Deadpool in Positano!” I was like, I’m taking that memory, that was awesome. I couldn’t believe that I got these Google alerts, and I’m like, “What did I do? What did I do wrong?” And this picture, it’s been picked up by Italian papers. Look, I’ve got three teenagers. You tell me about my energy? My wife has a lot of energy. My kids have a lot of energy. I’m just trying to keep up with these four people I share my life with. If that keeps me running lean, I’m fine with it.
Henehan: I love the energy. I love the positivity.
Liefeld: Thank you very much.
Henehan: My friends and I often talk about how you’re the most positive guy in the comic industry. I say this because I’ll go on Twitter and I’ll see somebody decide “I’m going to devote today to randomly attack Rob Liefeld.” Someone will tweet at you out of nowhere, about a piece of art from maybe 20 years ago, and I say, “How does this guy deal with this every day?” And you do it like water off a duck’s back.
Liefeld: Well, brother, look, I’m incredibly blessed. I have an amazing family: three kids that I’m amazed by; they have big brains. They’ve got fun personalities. I have a wonderful wife, a great family. I’ve had a killer career. I decided I never argue. You don’t argue. You’re just giving that person a voice. If I can make a joke out of it, great. But I’ve become really more disciplined now, and I tell people too, just ignore it. It’s meant to distract you and bring you down. It’s like, hey man, we’re dealing with pandemic stuff. It’s a struggle mentally to stay positive. You can’t let it bog you down. If I’m not going to let a pandemic crush me, I’m not going to let an internet troll. You can’t take my family, you can’t take my career from me, as much as you would want, that’s not going to happen. So I really appreciate the kind words. I really do. Thank you.
Henehan: I do find you to be an inspiration in that regard, in how you’re so positive.
Liefeld: Thank you! Oh man, you’re making me blush. You’re making me blush.
Henehan: Speaking of Italy, I was in the Lake Como area a few years ago, in this tiny village named Dervio, there was one store that sold comics. It was a candy store, it wasn’t a comic shop. But in it, they had a just published reprint of New Mutants #98, Deadpool’s first appearance, in Italian. I was like, “Oh man, I just found my Italy souvenir.” It even came with a metal sign reprinting the cover, with the dialogue all in Italian.
Liefeld: I have exactly what you’re describing. We were at the Vatican. We were there for the tour, there with my daughter, with her school choir, they were singing in a couple of days. My son wanted to wander for a little while, because we weren’t going in yet. He comes back and says “Hey dad, I know we don’t have time today, but there is a manga store that I came across. Would you want to revisit it?” And I said, “Yeah, we’ve got some time in the next couple of days. We’ll come back here.” We wandered back, took a cab back to the Vatican area, and my son said, I think I can find it based on recall, go down this street, go down that street, and we find it! The door had this very slim, glass door, and had all these anime stickers on it, Dragonball, My Hero Academia. I think I’m just going into an anime store with my son. We open the door, and we really couldn’t see inside from the outside because there were all these stickers on the glass, but we go inside and it’s really a comic book store. It’s got nothing but graphic novels and comics, and there’s a whole manga section, and all the toys.
I open the door and I literally step one foot in, and the two guys at the register, one of the guys goes, “Is it you? Is it Luh-feld?” It even took my son by surprise. “Are you Luh-feld?” And I say, “Hell yes, I am Luh-feld.” He was like, “No!” He ran and scrambled, got a comic book to sign. He said he wanted to give me some toys, and wanted to trade me for some other stuff. I asked him to show me the section of where the X-Force stuff was and they had a ton of my stuff. And here’s the thing. All my limited variants in the United States, like 1 in 25, 1 in 50, 1 in 100, Panini and these other foreign publishers use those as the primary covers for the trade collections. I’m looking at them right now. They’re on my bookshelf. The next day, my son and I take a train from Rome to Florence. The guy at the comic store said, “You need to go to Panini! There is a Panini store there!”
Liefeld: And they had oversized editions of Deadpool: Bad Blood! And they had six trade collections of X-Force! Right now I’m looking at them. Everything overseas is packaged so much more beautiful. That’s when I said “Hey, this 1 in 100 cover of Deadpool/Venom: Back in Black is the primary trade cover here! This variant Deadpool/Black Panther is the primary trade cover here. And my 1 in 100 Deadpool/Cable cover! It was great. We literally had to buy an extra piece of luggage for me to get all of the Italian editions home. I also bought Jack Kirby stuff, Art Adams. They had a giant treasury sized edition hardcover of The Asgardian Saga, the New Mutants Annual and the X-Men Annual. I was like, I’m not leaving Italy without this.
Henehan: Yeah, how cool are those foreign editions?
Liefeld: The same thing happened at Panini. We walk in and the guy goes, “Luh-feld?! It’s you?” And I said to my family, “I am now only to be referred to as Luh-feld.” That’s my Italy story to match yours. That New Mutants. These foreign editions are amazing.
Henehan: I am so jealous of that story because we were in Lucca the year before, not for the comic book convention, just visiting friends, and we went to Florence for a few days after that and the Panini store was closed the entire time we were there!
Henehan: I was so pissed. Because just seeing photos of it, I thought, “This place looks amazing!”
Liefeld: It’s a great store. I hung out there for an hour. The guy let us pet his dog. It was great. Italy was great. We’re in agreement. Now, I may need to fly over and see if there’s a Snakes Eyes edition there next summer.
Snake Eyes: Deadgame #1 was released this past Wednesday, July 15, by IDW Publishing.