In January, IDW Publishing releases a collection of one of "G.I. Joe" scribe Chuck Dixon's earliest comic creations. "Winterworld," written by Dixon and illustrated by the late Jorge Zaffino, is a 150-page hardcover that collects the original Eclipse miniseries in black-and-white and also presents the unpublished sequel, titled "Wintersea," for the first time. CBR News spoke with Dixon about the story of "Winterworld," the new edition, and the state of independent publishing in the '90s.
"Winterworld" and "Wintersea" take place in a frozen world populated by some nasty characters, but a hardened trader named Scully and Wynn, a young girl, survive long enough for their paths to cross. Soon after, though, the are captured and enslaved in a ruthless city-state that somehow manages to grow its own food. When Scully escapes alone, he is faced with a decision that will shape both his and Wynn's ultimate fates.
"Scully is a guy who's seen the absolute worst that humanity has to offer. This is a world where the environment is terribly unforgiving and the remaining population is at an animal level doing what they can to survive," Dixon said of his central character. "Somehow, Scully has held onto a sense of purpose that is galvanized when he runs into Wynn. Wynn has made it through until this point because she is seen as having value to her captors and the fact that she, like Scully, is generally more intelligent than those around her."
Dixon, who currently pens IDW's "G.I. Joe" series, said that, despite that comic's emphasis on military tactics and strategy, "'G.I. Joe' seems more fantasy to me than 'Winterworld' does. I don't pretend that 'Joe' is anything like war is in real life. But in 'Winterworld' I was able to, as P. G. Wodehouse put it, 'dig down into life and not give a damn,'" the writer said. "Scully and Wynn do not act as heroes do. They do what they need to do to make it through another day. They are as real and as true to my understanding of human nature as anything I have ever done."
The introduction to "Winterworld," written by Dixon and originally published in the series' third issue, explains that the writer came up with the story specifically for Jorge Zaffino's artistic style. "There was this raw, organic force beneath his awesome draftsmanship," Dixon told CBR, elaborating on the book's origin. "Larry Hama has a theory about art, that it's about mojo and fist; passion and craft. Too much craft and it's lifeless. Too much passion and it's hard to believe in. Jorge had equal parts. His work was alive and he was equally adept at the small human moments as well the big, grand opera aspects of comics.
"Something like 'Winterworld' seemed a natural because he was so good at drawing the elements and at action and the kind of brutal realism that desperate story of survival called for."
The new IDW edition also includes the previously-unpublished sequel, "Wintersea," which was originally set up with Marvel's Epic line of creator-owned books after Eclipse's bankruptcy, before changes at Epic caused plans to fall through at that publisher, as well. Dixon, who has been known to praise Eclipse's diverse publishing program, which included Alan Moore's "Miracleman;" early works by Peter Milligan, Chris Ware, Scott McCloud, and Tim Truman; and some of the first manga for US audiences, explained what happened.
"Eclipse's fall was quite sudden. I think if they had been able to hang on a few more years they would have had a large influence on comics in the '90s," Dixon recalled. "But it wasn't to be. It was always a closely held company, and I think it came apart more like a rock band than a comic book company.
"I am very pleased that Dean Mullaney is back in the business of publishing and putting together these amazing reprints of classic comic strips," Dixon said. Mullaney currently heads up the IDW imprint Library of American Comics, which has published archival "Dick Tracy," "Little Orphan Annie," "Family Circus," and Archie comics, among others. "I've always admired his zeal for, and understanding of, this business."
The fall of Eclipse and Epic meant that "Winterwar," the third chapter of the trilogy, never began production. "As much as folks in the business admired Jorge's work, there wasn't room in the '90s for creator owned material that wasn't superhero related," Dixon lamented. The writer said that completing the book without Zaffino, who passed away in 2002, would be difficult. "It's been suggested that I complete it with another artist. Without Jorge it would be tough. He was far more than an artist to me on this project; he was an equal collaborator and an inspiration. He was also a very dear and generous friend and I miss working with him," Dixon said.
With Dixon in the midst of a long career in comics, CBR asked asked the writer about his choice to revisit "Winterworld" and whether there were any other long out-of-print books of his he'd like to see reprinted.
"Oh hell, reprint it all!" he joked.
"'Winterworld' is special to a lot of folks. Among my comics peers it is the property I am most often asked about," Dixon said. "The fact that it's been out of print for so long just isn't right, as it represents so much of Jorge's best work and needs to be seen. Coupled with the fact that the sequel had never seen print, it just seemed to make sense to bring it all together."
As to what fans of his work on "G.I. Joe," "Birds of Prey," "Robin," "Way of the Rat," and countless other series might look forward to in "Winterworld," Dixon said, "This is the series that firmly established my writing style for comics. Sparse dialogue and visually driven stories."