Category Archives: G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

Iron Grenadier by Mark Pennington

In the ongoing story of G.I. Joe, around six years in, “Destro goes it alone,” as the TV ad says, and starts his own army to fight both G.I. Joe and Cobra. Bold move. My brother and I loved it, even if Destro’s characterizations hadn’t hinted at such aspirations. “The Iron Grenadiers” were both the name of the entire faction, and the main cadre of soldiers, these guys in black and red:

That sword is missing a piece, by the way. The hoop was for hanging the sword on the Grenadier’s waist hook (visible above) — my brother and I found a sheathed sword useless, so we cut off the hoop and pretended the sword was drawn.

Here’s what the sword, plus those two fun firearms, look like in Mark Pennington’s original sculpt sheet:

But at the same time Pennington had designed a different helmet than what ended up at toy stores:

This design puzzles me. I can’t quite make out what the shape and the details mean. It’s certainly goggles and a gas mask, but the crosshatching is nebulous. Fellow Boys Toys member Bart Sears rendered this design into the final presentation painting (which I don’t have to share, sorry), so Pennington penciled it, R&D approved it, Marketing approved it, and the design went up the ladder to the VPs. Somewhere, someone decided that the helmet needed revising, and so five weeks after the initial drawing Pennington took another swipe:

Which is what ended up in toy stores.

It’s a handsome take. I’ve always preferred the neutral face plate of the 1986 Viper or the evil bank robber look of the ’82 Cobra Soldier. Here the Iron Grenadier looks like he’s always ready for a gas attack, and I’d prefer such a specific role, guy-who-enters-gas-attack, not go to the “regular” legions of Destro’s soldiers. I’d rather there have also been an Iron Grenadier somehow crossed with a Toxo-Viper, and then this plain Iron Grenadier have less technology on his face plate. (The 2008 recreation does a nice job dialing this back while still retaining the feel of Pennington’s original.) But with that black, red, and gold color scheme, and some details that nod to the regal and noble quality of the Destro character, the 1988 Iron Grenadier is a handsome action figure.

What do you think about the Iron Grenadier’s helmet?


Filed under G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes, Toys and Toy Art

1991 Dusty turnaround by Kurt Groen

Dusty was a great character. He gets a two-parter in the animated series nearly to himself, the dramatic “The Traitor,” written by Buzz Dixon. Issue #13 of Special Missions is another great showcase. His action figure is unusual in that the face is obscured by tiger camo, and his costume is partially soft goods — actual cloth. The 1980s were good to Dusty. He even got a new color scheme when his action figure was re-released in green as part of Tiger Force. The ’90s weren’t so good to Dusty. In animation, voice actor Neil Ross was no longer at the mic, lending a thick twang to the character. Now it was Maurice LaMarche, who would go on to be a favorite of mine, but though he attempted a southern accent, the DiC version of the Joe’s desert warrior just didn’t sound adequate.

So by 1991, I lost interest in Dusty. This was especially down to the character’s new duds. Control art by Kurt Groen.

It’s a fine looking design, but I’d always wanted a similar vocabulary to carry over from version to version as Joes got remade. ’85 Dusty had that signature hat and neck guard, and baggy clothes. This new one was in form-fitting pants and showed off a lot of skin with that tank top. He’d never worn a beret, so this felt like Flint or Dial-Tone had fallen into a vat of yellow paint. In terms of fashion, I don’t love V-necks. Plus that V-neck skintone paint looks more like the clothing color. And while I loved the Joe pets, again, Dusty hadn’t shown an inclination to animal companionship, so that coyote “Sandstorm” was arbitrary. (An issue or episode wherein the pair meet for the first time would have gone a long way to alleviate this.) Overall ’91 Dusty is under-decorated and under-detailed compared to his earlier appearance.

Again, it’s a fine looking toy, and a worthy addition to Real American Hero, but I have no emotional attachment to this incarnation.

Here’s a nice pic taken by one Mr. Tim Meece, with permission from

How do you relate to ’91 Dusty?


Filed under G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes, Toys and Toy Art

Rocky Balboa @ mental_floss


Jake Rossen interviewed me and I provided all the images for this mental_floss article about Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa “joining” the G.I. Joe team. This summer I had jury duty, but this fall I was finally an expert witness! Read it here.

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Filed under G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes, Press, Toys and Toy Art

Patriot Ledger, Dec 6th, 1984

Patriot Ledger 12-06-84

Once again, apologies for such infrequent blogging. School, store — you’re familiar by now, plus a new one: jury duty.

Today’s blog post comes from more than twenty years ago, part of page 34 of The Patriot Ledger, a newspaper based in Quincy, Massachusetts. News outlets in New England perhaps paid a little extra attention to Hasbro in the 1980s, since it was headquartered in Rhode Island. This article by Alice Greene paints a picture of Christmas wishes in late 1984.

Patriot Ledger 12-06-84 Alice Greene

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G.I. Joe #44 cover by Zeck & Beatty

GI Joe 44 cover original art detail by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

Mike Zeck needs no introduction. Here’s a short one anyway. He’s best known for four things: a three-year run on “Captain America,” the 1986 “Punisher” miniseries that made Frank Castle into a real character and not a Spider-Man foil; and 40 or so unbelievable G.I. Joe covers. His career in comics is bigger than that, but you only asked for a short introduction.

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Filed under Comic Books, G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

VAMP sketches by Wayne Luther

Wayne Luther Jeep detail

I got into G.I. Joe in its 3rd year, so while I hadn’t missed the VAMP (or the VAMP 2) at retail, other “basic” vehicles were vying for my attention and dollars — the Snow Cat, the A.W.E. Striker. But the VAMP is such a visible part of the first ten episodes of the animated show that I always wanted one. And even though my family wasn’t connected to military culture I knew from magazines and history that the iconic military Jeep was, well, iconic. So I always wanted G.I. Joe’s Jeep to be a part of my toy play. (Our agents of Cobra had their Stingers — the VAMP repainted in black — and I did finally get a bright yellow VAMP in the form of the Tiger Sting, but not until G.I. Joe’s 8th year. Don’t feel bad for me, though, my Joes did well with the Snow Cat and A.W.E. Striker.)

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G.I. Joe BG key – “Where the Reptiles Roam”

Where The Reptiles Roam BG KEY detail

“Where the Reptiles Roam,” a 1985 Sunbow/Marvel episode of G.I. Joe, is great. And silly. Which is the best thing I can say about the 1980s Sunbow/Marvel show. Teleplays balance action and a bit of drama, while characters chew scenery and veer into charming archtype. I love everything about this show. In this episode, written by Gerry Conway and Carla Conway, four Joes infiltrate a Texas dude ranch where Cobra has harnessed a space laser to destroy American cities. You remember three sentences ago when I said this show was charming, right?

(Today’s blog post is about art, not writing, but I want to toss out that although in comics Gerry Conway is best known for killing Gwen Stacy, he has a big career writing for live-action TV, and is writing some Spidertitles again.)

To repeat from an earlier blog post, animation background keys don’t appear in animation, but provide master shots for the BG artists to draw and paint specific angles within a location. Let’s do this one backwards. The last time we looked at a background key from G.I. Joe, we examined the actual painting first, and then screencaps from that scene second. But here are the screencaps. Click to embiggen, and follow along. Wild Bill leads the square dance. Pan past him from the stage and the shifty old folks, cut to our three undercover heroes. Over the shoulder from them, they see the shifty old folks leave. Cut back to a three-shot as Alpine suggests they follow. This whole thing is 20 seconds.

Where The Reptiles Roam screencaps

This scene involves seven shots. One is reused, so this scene only involves six BG paintings. All of those BGs are drawn and painted to match shots from the storyboards. And the BG key is the master shot for it all. I can’t prove this is the only key for this scene, but it’s a safe assumption. This painting is unsigned, so I don’t know who drew it and who painted it. Sadly, G.I. Joe Season 1 end credits don’t list BG artists, so we may never know. There is crossover from the talent that worked on the TV show also working on the animated movie, so perhaps of the 14 people in the BG department who are credited in the animated movie, one did this. But sorry, I don’t know. Again — one fancy painting to envision a setting for 20 seconds of a 22-minute show. That’s a lot of work!

Where The Reptiles Roam BG KEYInteresting to note how the space changes. The key makes the room feel shallow and yet horizontal. That’s what a landscape composition might do for you. But the animated scene fills this space with people, and makes the room feel quite deep. The steepness of the stairs also changes. I’ll chalk that up to a many hands working on a rush job. That’s exactly the kind of inconsistency you don’t see on a big budget feature film like, say, the 1989 Little Mermaid, (animated in America and over several years) but you do see on an ’80s TV show animated in one or two countries over several months. Additionally, the stone hearth is unseen in the animation. It might have been simplified out of the scene, or it might be in that fourth shot above, obstructed by Alpine on the right.

Whatever the case, I’m sure glad the Joes stop that space laser.


Filed under Animation, G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes