Last year, I had the privilege to connect with American writer Buzz Dixon who, I knew, was a story editor on the G.I.Joe series in the eighties. After chatting with him a couple of times, I discovered that his career was pretty different than what I had imagined. I had read many interviews he gave regarding G.I.Joe, but I thought that it would be interesting to cover new grounds. I hope that you will enjoy this interview that I recently conducted with him.
David Martel: “As information about your career might be easy to find on the Internet, I wondered if you could talk a bit about your personal background. Did you have any role model growing up as a child?”
Buzz Dixon: “I assume you mean literary/cinematic role models (my dad was my personal role model). I was a big, big fan of sci-fi growing up, but among the many authors I loved, I’d say Ray Bradbury was the single greatest influence on my writing style. (This is not the same as being delusional enough to think I’m anywhere near his quality!)”
DM: “What did you do prior to writing for television? What is your education? Did you have any interesting first jobs that you would like to share?”
BD: “Prior to writing for TV I was in the army for six years as an information specialist/journalist. Among other tasks, I edited a post newspaper while stationed in Korea. I was drafted straight out of hi skule so my education has been thru the school of hard knocks. My first job in show biz was as a lot attendant for a drive-in theatre in Tennessee (age 16-19).”
DM: “I believe you started your TV career at Hanna-Barbera Productions. Is that right? Was it as a writer? What was the first show you worked on?”
BD: “My first writing gig was for Filmation Studios. I had just been discharged from the army and was planning to attend the University of Southern California’s film school. However, since I was discharged in the spring of 1978 but the school didn’t start until fall, I came out to L.A. to get my feet wet in the industry by finding work as a driver or a gofer or in a mail room at one of the studios.
I started at the top (Universal) and worked my way down the food chain until I hit Filmation Studios. They weren’t hiring at the time but Arthur Nadel, their producer in charge of live action projects, met with me. During our talk I mentioned my writing experience for the army and that I had also written several unpublished short stories.
Arthur asked to see the stories, and when I brought them by a few days later, he mentioned they were having trouble coming up with scripts for a new animation series they were doing called STARLIGHT AND SUNBRIGHT or something similar. I asked if I could try writing a script for it and he said yes, so long as it was clearly understood he was not asking me to write a script (that would have been a violation of union rules).
So I went back to the friends’ house where my wife and I were staying with our daughter, dragged my portable typewriter out, and banged out a script in a couple of days.
I dropped the script off. The next day Arthur called me to say he had FedExed my short stories to Lou Scheimer, the founder and head of Filmation Studios, while he was on vacation in Hawaii. Lou returned the day I had delivered the script. Arthur read it and took it into Lou, who read it and said, “I don’t know who we should hire: The guy who wrote the short stories or the guy who wrote this script.”
Arthur said, “Lou, they’re the same guy” and Lou said, “Hire him!”
So that’s how I ended up breaking into the animation business and not going to film school. STARLIGHT AND SUNBRIGHT or whatever it was called ended up being cancelled before it ever went into production, so I never had a chance to introduce sex to Saturday morning (see, the characters were twin girls, one of whom got her super powers from the day, the other who got hers from the night; I was going to do a story where they tried to catch a unicorn — one would find it impossible to catch the unicorn but the other would capture it quite easily…).”
DM: “How did you land at Sunbow?”
BD: “After Filmation (where I worked on TARZAN AND THE SUPER SEVEN, THE FABULOUS FUNNIES, and MIGHTY MOUSE), I freelanced some scripts for Ruby-Spears Productions. (RS eventually got bought out and absorbed by Hanna-Barbera; I did very little work for HB directly.) They hired me as a staff writer. While there I met a great bunch of wonderfully talented writers and artists such as Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby. Steve created THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN for RS, with Jack doing much of the design work. When Steve left RS he ended up at Sunbow story editing G.I. JOE for them. He hired me as a writer first then brought me on staff as an assistant story editor. When the second season of JOE rolled around I became the story editor, though I also worked on other Sunbow shows like TRANSFORMERS, INHUMANOIDS, VISIONARIES, JEM, and MY LITTLE PONY.”
DM “Did you have any favourite show when you were working at Sunbow Productions?”
BD: “Of all the shows I worked on while there, G.I. JOE is my fave, of course.”
DM: “As a story editor, you were given the lead on G.I.Joe because you had served in the U.S. Army. What kind of job were you doing? Did you serve many years?”
BD: “I was in the army from 1972 (tail end of the Vietnam era draft; tho I was sent to Korea, not Vietnam) to 1978. I was an information specialist/journalist.
I wouldn’t say I got the job story editing G.I. JOE solely because of my military service, but Steve certainly relied on my input to help rid the show of its more egregious errors.”
DM: “Is there one story in particular that you are really proud of or that you were thrilled to write?”
BD: “I am very, very happy with the way both “The Traitor” for G.I. JOE and” The God Gambit” for TRANSFORMERS turned out.”
DM: “You mentioned in another interview that Shipwreck was your favourite G.I.Joe character. Is there one, looking throughout your whole career and all the projects you worked on as a writer, that you would consider your all-time favourite?
BD: “Serenity, the character I created for a line of Christian graphic novels, is my favorite, but I’d say she and Shipwreck share a lot in common, despite her being a teenage girl and him being a salty old dog.”
DM: “You have created Snokie Stories, a Christian comics and novels publishing company. Could please talked about your motivations?”
BD: “In 2000 I was hired by Stan Lee to be the VP offers creative affairs for Stan Lee Media, a company Stan had formed with an “entrepreneur” named Peter Paul.
(SLM, as you know, eventually proved to be an enormous stock scam that Paul was running, duping Stan and Merrill Lynch in the process, but that’s another tale for another time…)
One project suggested to Stan by country-western musician Art Greenhaw was the idea of a Christian comic book ala the ARCHIE Christian comics Al Hartley did.
Since I was the only self-proclaimed Christian in the crowd, Stan asked me to come up with some ideas.
I did some market research and soon discovered Christian booksellers were not open to the idea offered Christian superheroes (and not for what one might think was the obvious reason of fighting being contrary to Christ’s turn-the-other-cheek non violence but because it bothered them that anybody but God should have powers). They did respond to the idea of comics like the aforementioned ARCHIE series, so I started working on some teen and kid oriented titles.
One was about a group of kids linked together by being in their church children’s choir (they’d get into plenty of trouble outside the church).
One was a particularly mischievous little girl and I remember thinking to myself, “Man, will she ever be a handful when she turns 16”.
And the moment I thought that it was like a floodgate was opened in my mind and everything about her came rushing out: Her name, Serenity, her past, her problems, her friends, her future — EVERYTHING! At least 70% of her story came out in broad form in the first 36 hours.
I describe SERENITY the gn series as a comedic teen soap opera about an unhappy girl who finds a happy ending.
Anyway, I wrote this up as well as some other ideas and presented them to Stan. Now, Stan had made his fame and fortune with superheroes and he was not thrilled that I had gone in an entirely different direction. So, long story short, we had an amicable parting of the ways. I was offered stock in the company as part of my severance package; I said no, I’d rather take Serenity and the other characters I created.
Stan agreed — then six months later Peter Paul’s big stock scheme collapsed…but I still had Serenity.
DM “I suppose that Serenity was your first story line. Did you create it? What is it about”
BD: “My new company, Snokie, has already published a 480 page gn sports story for girls called HITS & MISSES; look for it on Amazon.”
DM : “Finally, what’s cooking for 2011? Any projects that you’d like to share?”
We have new Serenity stories in the works, but our next book is a young adult novel called SAVAGE ANGELS which I describe as a World War Two “Lord Of The Flies” with Catholic school girls. Past that, two other books in active development plus other ideas waiting their turn in the word processor. If I don’t have another new story idea for the rest of my life, I’ve got enough to keep me busy until I keel over!”
DM: “Thanks a lot Buzz for you generous time. It’s always fascinating and a lot of fun to read you!”
The current pictures belong to Buzz Dixon and is used with his permission.