Category Archives: G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

Toy Trade News – Feb 1982

Toy Trade News, 17 Feb 1982

This industry publication is a fun time capsule because it was published after G.I. Joe debuted at Toy Fair 1982, but before the product really started hitting shelves.

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Russ Heath “Cubby” model sheet

Cubby animation model detail by Russ Heath, GI Joe "Cold Shoulder"Ho boy.  It’s difficult to discuss the 1989-1991 G.I. Joe animated series without stirring up strong emotions.  Pop culture recognizes the fun of the 1983-1987 series, whether it be Cobra Commander’s voice, the Public Service Announcements, or all the property damage.  And dig a little deeper, and you get superb voice acting, smart writing, and strong characterization.  And of course, action!  But these are not as present in the later episodes.  Artist extraordinaire Russ Heath, who designed the animation character models for the Marvel/Sunbow episodes, did come back for most of that second round, but the change in tone and lower production budget didn’t treat his design work as well.  The DIC run is hard to watch.

Case in point:  Cubby.  Winter Operations Specialist Sub-Zero has a polar bear cub named Cubby.  He wears clothes, stands upright, and he gives Sgt. Slaughter a hard time.  Man, I’m just going to have to do an episode review next post, it’s just too replete with weird and crazy.  Anyway, here’s Russ Heath’s awesome drawing:

Cubby animation model detail by Russ Heath, GI Joe "Cold Shoulder"If you want a whole book of awesome Russ Heath G.I. Joe drawings, go buy this and this.  (If you’re near Boston, buy it here.)  But don’t think too hard about this:

Screencap from 1990 GI Joe episode "Cold Shoulder"

Or do think too hard about it and let me know in the comments.

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Merrill Hassenfeld Obituary, 1979

Merrill Hassenfeld obit detail

Here’s an item that’s a little different that the art artifacts I usually show:  Merrill Hassenfeld’s obituary from The Evening Bulletin, an afternoon edition of the Providence Journal.  Hasbro was a family-owned company for three generations, and Merrill represents the middle of that.  He had no direct interaction with A Real American Hero and the 1980s iteration of G.I. Joe, but he approved the original, 1963 Joe.  Merrill’s son Stephen learned much from his father while climbing the ranks at Hasbro, and Stephen was president of the company (and heavily involved in A Real American Hero’s development) when G.I. Joe was re-introduced in 1983.  Authors John Michlig and G. Wayne Miller both paint interesting portraits of Merrill Hassenfeld in their books GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action and Toy Wars, and if I could be a time-traveling fly on a wall, I might go to Mr. Hassenfeld’s office circa 1970.

Merrill Hassenfeld obituary, The Evening Bulletin, 22 March 1979

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1992 Duke alternate colors

Detail of 1992 G.I. Joe Duke art by Kurt Groen in alternate colors

Here’s Kurt Groen’s presentation art (marker over photocopy, not paint) for 1992 Duke in green, brown, and black, as opposed to the beige and red that made it to market.

1992 G.I. Joe Duke art by Kurt Groen in alternate colors

What other colors might that trash can have been?

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Star Brigade Cobra Commander by Ron Rudat

Star Brigade Cobra Commander detail, drawn by Ron Rudat, colored just for this blog by Tim Finn

While Ron Rudat is best known for designing the G.I. Joe figure line (and a few vehicles) from 1981 to about 1987 (for the ’82 to about-the-’88 lines), what’s less well known is that he continued to contribute after that.  Case in point, Star Bridgade Cobra Commander.  Remember when Cobra Commander was an astronaut?  You don’t?  Oh, that’s because you perhaps stopped paying attention to the Real American Hero line before its end in 1994.  Well, to catch you up, those final two years had a bunch of favorites (Duke, Roadblock, Destro) in astro-gear.  And some aliens.  (A topic for another day).  Anyhoo, full disclosure, I added the color above.  Today’s art is a black and white photocopy. Continue reading

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G.I. Joe original comic art by Lee Weeks

G.I. Joe 107 page 3 detail, Lee Weeks and Randy Emberlin, with color by Tim Finn

In 1990 Lee Weeks had recently finished at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (now just “The Kubert School”) and was regularly drawing Daredevil for Marvel.  Before that job started, fellow alum Andy Kubert had helped get him a cover job on G.I. Joe, and in the middle of that 10-issue cover run, Weeks drew a fill-in issue as regular artist Mark Bright’s time on the series was winding down. Continue reading

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Rock & Roll Hasbro development sketch

Detail, internal Hasbro pencil sketch design of 1989 Rock & Roll by Bart Sears and Ron Rudat

As I’ve noted here, when R&D was concepting a G.I. Joe figure, that character would go through quite a process.  A multitude of pencil sketches, input from other members of R&D, line reviews for higher ups, and even a rendered, full-color painting, all before sculpting commenced.  As fun as it is to see proposed designs of toys that didn’t make it, it’s also fun to peak behind the curtain on favorites that did.  Like ’89 Rock & Roll here. Continue reading

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Russ Heath G.I. Joe art – Fiona Diamond

Russ Heath detail GI Joe model Fiona Diamond from episode "That's Entertainment"

Season 3 of G.I. Joe, or as the Shout! Factory DVDs call it, Series 2 Season 1, is a mixed bag.  Lots of returning writers, characters, and voice actors, but the show is a different tone.  It’s funny, or tries to be, and there’s not much sense of danger.  I’m never worried for the Joes.  But Russ Heath was on board again drawing model sheets, so that’s a bright spot.  Today’s artwork comes from a ridiculous episode called “That’s Entertainment,” where Cobra Commander kidnaps actor/comedian Jackie Love and decides he wants to make movies.  Really, the less said, the better.  Continue reading

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G.I. Joe commercials – 1987 Effie award winner

Effie Award 1987 catalog partial cover

No doubt you’re familiar with the Academy Awards, given to films and film artists, planners, and scientists.  Or the Emmys, given for television, or the Grammys and Tonys, for recorded music and Broadway theatre.  You’ve maybe heard of the Clios, which we think of as the Oscars of advertising, but that category is more broadly defined on the Clio website as “advertising, design, interactive and communications.”  And there are the Effies, for “marketing communications” — given to marketers by the marketing industry.

G.I. Joe won a silver Effie in 1987. Continue reading

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1993 Leatherneck test shot

Test shot of GI Joe 1993 Leatherneck figure

While I was glad to see my favorite Joe Marine, the ’86 Leatherneck, get an update in ’93, I wasn’t thrilled by the color scheme.  It’s interesting, but it doesn’t say “Marine” to me.  But it’s unfair of me to want that since this update isn’t a Marine, or just a Marine, but an Infantry/Training Specialist and Marine Drill Sergeant.  And maybe such a person would wear burnt ochre, yellow, and teal.  So while the G.I. Joe line was moving back towards realism in the Battle Corps subset in ’93 and ’94, that wasn’t a guarantee that Leatherneck, one of the more realistic-looking figures of the ’80s, was going to stay realistic.  To be clear, though, I do like the design, just not the color choices.  My first reactions are the words “giraffe” and “banana,” and I’d only want to have that for some fanciful Jungle-Viper.

Which is why I was so struck by this test shot. Continue reading

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