Another thread from IDW GI Joe writer Aubrey Sitterson, on why he changed the character Salvo—a white dude with a bodybuilder physique—into a dark-skinned, dreadlocked Samoan woman with a body type like a pro wrestler or powerbuilder. Text copied and edited together here, with a few notes for clarity:
My thread on lasers in G.I. Joe/Scarlett’s Strike Force was well-received, so let’s talk about something else that has upset a very vocal group of fans: The change from Salvo’s original appearance to the current, as drawn by @musashinoelegy, @IliasKyriazis & @nelsondaniel
For the uninitiated, Salvo first showed up as an action figure in 1990. Quite some time ago, years past the property’s peak era. Since then, while never one of the most popular Joes, he’s become a cult favorite because LOOK AT HIM. He’s rad in all the best early 90s ways.
Importantly, however, Salvo had not yet shown up in IDW’s continuity. I know it doesn’t matter to some folks, but it was important to me that we honor what came before by not retconning characters and stories.
I wanted to use Salvo because, again, LOOK AT HIM, but at the same time, the Joes, which had changed to an international team, were in desperate need of some non-American characters. At the time, I joked that Decepticon Skywarp was the only one.
Also, being entirely honest, as great as the design is, in 2017, a big, heavily muscled white guy with a shaved head, massive guns and a t-shirt that reads THE RIGHT OF MIGHT gives off a vibe that reads way too alt-right for me.
So I decided to change Salvo’s gender and race, recontextualizing something that could have been read as problematic instead into something empowering. And what’s more powerful than badass female wrestlers!? That’s why I sent [illustrator] Giannis [professional wrestler] Nia Jax images for reference.
Every time the Olympics roll around, images like these [photoset of Olympic athletes of diverse heights, muscle tone, body mass, and body fat] get shared widely. The point of them is that athletes come in all shapes and sizes. The commonly held idea that you have to look like a fitness model to be an incredible athlete is bunk.
My thinking was that if Salvo was chosen for G.I. Joe in order to carry and fire hilariously massive weapons, she should be built for strength. More powerlifter, less bikini model. More thick limbs, less abs showing through t-shirts.
And Salvo wasn’t the only character that got this treatment. Shipwreck also grew thicker as drawn by @musashinoelegy & @IliasKyriazis. (We haven’t shown any of @nelsondaniel’s similar take from Scarlett’s Strike Force yet!)
But while some folks noted that Shipwreck had put on some pounds, his appearance didn’t inspire the outrage and, frankly, vile, hateful comments that Salvo’s has. When people were calling for my head a couple months ago, one of their biggest complaints was our new Salvo.
And while it’s not a one-to-one comparison (Shipwreck is still a Hispanic man, whereas Salvo has changed to a Samoan woman) I think the overwhelming differences in response are telling. Certain people don’t want to see women of color, especially larger WOC in their comics.
And because the mere existence and depiction of larger WOC is so unacceptable to those people, that makes the representation of larger WOC all that much more important. G.I. Joe, as a concept, has always been about inclusion and inclusion means EVERYONE.
I’m proud of the work that we’ve all done on G.I. Joe and are currently doing on Scarlett’s Strike Force. And while I wish everyone loved and adored it, there’s something to be said for ticking off the right people, which we clearly have.
G.I. Joe and the new Scarlett’s Strike Force have been designed from the ground-up to be inclusive and aspirational. While I’m not perfect on this stuff (@MairghreadScott checked me on a thing early on – many thanks for that), it is something I strive for.
I keep calling G.I. Joe “The Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe” and Scarlett’s Strike Force “The Best Action Comic Ever” and inclusivity is a huge part of that. If the books weren’t inclusive, neither of those claims would hold any water.
Finally, at the risk of seeming self-serving: Reading and RTing threads about inclusive comics is great, but what’s even better is BUYING inclusive comics so they can keep getting made. Scarlett’s Strike Force hits stores 12/27. Ask your local retailer to order you one today.
It’s especially interesting for me as a reader to see how Shipwreck is spun—a fat vegetarian character is entirely unheard of in comics, and it’s strongly implied that he’s at least flirty with fellow Joe dude Gung-Ho, if not outright in a relationship with him.