Kelly Thompson and Marco Ferrari on the Making of Scarlett
Kelly Thompson
Marco Ferrari
G.I. Joe
Energon Universe
We Chat with the Writer-Artist Team Behind the Latest Energon Universe Title!
Friday, June 7, 2024

This week marks the arrival of Skybound’s latest G.I. Joe series, Scarlett, starring the Joes' fearless flame-tressed superspy and martial artist. Penned by fan-fave scribe Kelly Thompson (of Black Widow fame) and illustrated by Marco Ferrari (of Image’s Frontiersman and Antioch), Scarlett finds both creators making their Skybound series debut. We sat down to chat with Kelly and Marco about their respective creative approaches and the inspirations behind this new chapter of the Energon Universe

It’s tempting to view Scarlett as a natural extension of your work on Black Widow, Kelly. Since it too is grounded in the classic spy genre…

Kelly Thompson: Yeah, I certainly think I leaned a little bit toward spy/espionage. But we ended up in a [different] place that’s a lot due to Marco's art, which has a really frenetic intense energy to it that gives the book more of a John Wick vibe, which I do not dislike. Sometimes when you set out to do a book that has some similarities, like badass redheads, you can get caught up in doing something similar and I was super grateful to Marco for coming in and making me rethink how we were approaching it. Because there's a chance it could have been too much like a Black Widow type of story. Marco really helped me push it more to a G.I. Joe-y direction. Not because he was drawing something very G.I. Joe-ish, there was just a different energy to it, more than a sort of controlled Bond thing. The story itself has… not exactly revenge vibes, but she's definitely on a very personal mission to her above and beyond the directive. So that makes it little John Wick-ian as well. It was really fun to see it evolve under the two of us. It's always fun when something starts one way and becomes something else between the two of you as you start working on it.

Scarlett 01A Cover

Marco, your work, like that of the best European adventure comic artists, has a lot of detail packed into it but also a fluidity. It remains organic. What did you take for your visual cues for this book?

Maro Ferrari: Thanks so much. I think Kelly said it right when she mentioned John Wick. A couple of months ago, I was already working on probably the second issue, and I was looking at the last John Wick movie. I said, “Oh, those are some really nice action scenes I could try to utilize for the story…” When I was working on the first issue, I was more concerned and scared about trying to do what a G.I. Joe fan might want for the book. But as I progressed with the story, I found myself more at ease as to how to move the scene. I think I got the right mix of the G.I. Joe vibes that readers were looking forward to and how to actually do a book for myself. I'm very happy with that. Also, because Kelly started writing not knowing who the artist would be, she really had to kind of shape the story around what I was bringing to the table. I am working on the last issues, and I feel like they're [written] to be drawn by me right now. So I'm feeling very good.

Kelly Thompson: You're doing a great job, Marco. I think you hit on something that I skipped over which is that it does feel a little scary. Just because you know the G.I. Joe fans have very specific ideas about things and it is really easy to get stuck in your head about that. I did have trouble with that. Your remark was also right that when I was doing that first script, I didn't know who the artist was. So I was writing a little tighter and more specific, and I was also not able to tailor that as much to Marco.

But once I saw what he was doing with what I gave him, it was the beginning of a conversation between creators. We didn't know each other before, and we're becoming more friendly. But the conversation we have is not so much through emails; it's through the scripts and the pages that come back. How I see what he's responding to and what he seems to like to do. One of my favorite scenes in the second issue has the camera placed really low in this fight scene. She's got bare feet and there's all this really cool stuff going on. But how he placed the camera, how he kept it steady but moved it within the scene, it’s really cool. When I see him do something like that, I just want to lean more into that stuff and what I'm writing. So it's been really fun in that way. I've worked with a lot of really amazing artists, but I have been working with a lot more lately than I’ve worked with before. It's been a while since I've worked with someone brand new who I didn't know. And it's been really fun to rediscover that with him a little bit.

Pages 02-03 Scarlett 01 Preview

Were you folks G.I. Joe fans beforehand?

MF: No, I'm too young to have grown up with G.I. Joe. Because in Italy, they were popular, but they stopped bringing in toys and material from the G.I. Joe universe the year I was born – until the movies came out in recent years. So that was how I first approached the series.

KT: I'm very glad you went first because now I can just make jokes about how old I am. [Laughs.]

MF: [Laugh.] Kelly basically taught me about the G.I. Joe universe, and I've read the other books in the Energon Universe. So I learned it as I was working on it, but it's been really easy getting into it.

KT: I'm super into G.I. Joe. That was a very foundational cartoon for me when I was little. Scarlett was one of my first geek crushes. But I didn't read a lot of the comics. I mean, I've read the famous silent issue that we all love – G.I. Joe#21 – it's one of the best comics ever. But, timing-wise, the stuff I've read is stuff I've gone back for. As a little kid who was watching the show, I wasn't reading comics yet. I don't even know how those align. I assumed some of them were coming out over top of the show, but I don't really know how that works. So I only discovered them later in life. And I've picked them up here and there. I certainly read or reread a few more in prep for this. But the show was my touch point, and it was a big deal.

Regarding Scarlett… I think early on G.I. Joe/Hasbro made a mistake by sort of letting their female characters replace one another. Like, I really hated Lady Jaye as a kid, because, when you started seeing Lady Jaye, they took Scarlett off the show. She wouldn't appear as much. So I hated Lady Jaye because I was a Scarlett fan. [Laughs.] But when you go back and watch those cartoons, Lady Jaye is great! That's a great character, just like Scarlett is. Cover Girl, maybe she could have used a little work, but whatever. [Laughs.] I'm just saying… It's very hard when you're a kid watching a property that's very boy-coded, especially back in the ‘80s – and maybe the ‘90s too – it's pretty hard to find really great female characters within that huge slot of male characters. But I do think G.I. Joe did a really great job. Scarlett is there from the jump. She's a great character. We all have crushes on her. We all want to be her best friend. She's incredibly capable and cool. She stands toe-to-toe with all her male colleagues, and nobody blinks. It's great. The only problem is when we did meet another great female character, they were subbing them out for one another when they should have let them be on teams together. But it takes a special episode for that to happen. Like, the girls are teaming up against Baroness or something. You know what I mean? So yeah, they were they were ahead of the curve at that time for developing really complicated, cool female leads. If they had just let them not replace each other… [Laughs.]

Right. So the ’80s G.I. Joe cartoon may not have passed the Bechdel Test, but at least Scarlett got to be the Princess Leia of that cartoon.

KT: I think that is a very good way to say it. [Laughs.]

Scarlett 02A Cover

How did the two of you come to collaborate on this project?

KT: I just got the call, which is what you're hoping for. They’re like, “Who can write a badass female chick? Let's get that list together.” I’m very delighted to be – hopefully – toward the top of it and get that call. It was a really easy decision for me. It was exactly the kind of book I was looking for and hoping to do. I’ve never gotten to work with Skybound before, and last year was my first year working with Image too. So it was super exciting for me, full stop. Joshua Williamson and I have been talking for a long time. I’d just started to get to write Birds of Prey as he was doing Green Arrow. So I think he was an advocate for bringing me in. And I'm super happy about it. [Editor] Jonathan Manning helped put Marco and me together. Ben Abernathy, who was my editor at DC, came in later. Of course Ben is there now, and it's been a really great transition for me to get to keep working with him.

MF: I was called last summer to work on Transformers variant covers by Jonathan. He knew me because I’d been talking with him over the years about other work when he was at Skybound. So he asked me, “Look, Marco, do you have time to work on some variant covers? We need a lot of retail covers for the Energon Universe we're building up.” At first, they asked me for a Transformers one. Then for a Duke variant cover, another one for Cobra Commander. So when the time came to work on a new [phase] of the Energon Universe with Scarlett and Destro, he asked me if I was interested in working on this new Scarlett series. I wasn't very sure at first, not because it didn’t sound good, of course, but I didn't know enough about the character. So I felt like I wouldn’t do a good job. But he said two words – “There is a lot of ninjaand it happens in Japan” – and I said, “I'll do it!” [Laughs.]

SCARLETT 02 Page 04

What do you think G.I. Joe fans will like best about Scarlett?

KT: The rough elevator pitch is that it's a chance to see an experienced Scarlett before she's a Joe. This is sort of the events that lead up to the Joes becoming a thing in this universe, to fight these rising issues they're having. Some of which spin out of the Energon substance and the stuff that's happening with that. This is her path, her personal journey toward becoming a Joe. It's a very personal story for her, and, to keep things interesting, it's basically a suicide mission in Japan.

Is there a chance you might both come back for a second volume of Scarlett?

KT: I will say that I think, after this miniseries, the Energon Universe is changing so fast, there will be a lot of opportunities. Maybe you could do a team-up miniseries with some of these characters that have been introduced. There's so many great directions they could go in. I'm excited to see what Skybound is going to do. I was really hooked right from that first Void Rivals issue I read. I thought, “They're trying hard to do something really interesting with this and to put really talented, smart people behind it, who are looking to connect this IP for folks in a really big way.” There’s a lot of diversity among these titles, even though you're really just dealing with two [established] properties and slamming them together.

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