Category Archives: Toys and Toy Art

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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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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1988 Repeater turnaround by George Woodbridge

1988 GI Joe Repeater detail

My brother always got the big Joes, the heavy machine gunners. He got Rock ‘n Roll (both!), Roadblock (both!), and later, Salvo. To my delight, I finally “called” a Joe who was beefier, and came with a big weapon — steadi-cam machine gunner, codename: Repeater. Here he is in scale, plastic glory.

1988 Repeater action figure

But you came here for art, not well-disguised photos of my kitchen counter.

George Woodbridge, master illustrator! Did much of the ’88 turnarounds.

1988 Repeater turnaround Woodbridge

Mark Pennington, a big part of the Joe team at Hasbro. Did much of the ’88 accessories. And ’88 figures. (Later inked a lot of “X-Men.”)

1988 Repeater backpack PenningtonAnd that wonderous weapon!

1988 Repeater steadicam Pennington


Filed under Animation, Toys and Toy Art

Rudat Serpentor Air Chariot sketches

Serpentor Air Chariot sketch detail by Ron Rudat

We had this tradition, in my family, that on my brother’s birthday, or mine, one of our presents — a small one — was hidden under our beds. Or each others’. Or my parents’. I distinctly remember lying sideways, pulling up the dark brown bed cover from the white shag carpet in my parents’ room, that July morning in 1986, to find a small, wrapped present. I had already looked under my own bed — nothing there. My mom had already left for work. My dad was probably somewhere behind me, shaving or tying his tie. In front of and above me, past the bed, Charlie Gibson and Joan Lunden’s calming voices were probably transmitting from the television.

This small birthday box wasn’t the right proportions for a Transformer, and it didn’t sound, when shook, like LEGO. To my delight, it was a G.I. Joe toy. Cobra Emperor Serpentor and his Air Chariot, to be precise. This was important. My brother and I divided up each year’s worth of Joe product. He could buy (or receive as gifts) certain figures, and I could get others. It was an even split. In our stories Kevin had claimed most executive decisions regarding that ruthless terrorist organization because he had Cobra Commander. (Both of them.) While I had Destro, we were starting to understand that the TV cartoon had invented Destro’s role as second-in-command, so I didn’t have much power. But now I had the Emperor, who was by definition, higher up than a Commander.

A few months later, I would try to consistently match Dick Gautier’s aggravated tone in all my scale role-play Serpentor dialogue. Our games, Kevin’s and mine, found a new dynamic, inspired by the power play on display in the animated series. Cobra Commander was still around, but he wasn’t in charge any more. But he was still important. And Duke’s incredible grenade-inspired dispatching of Serpentor’s Air Chariot in 1987’s G.I. Joe: The Movie was mimicked dozens of times in our games.

I’m most fond of Serpentor, and what he represents. Much of that is in the details — his costume, his color scheme, and that wonderful Air Chariot. Let’s take a closer look at that little flying vehicle. It was designed by Ron Rudat (as was Serpentor himself). It’s snake-shaped, and perhaps the most organic-looking of any G.I. Joe or Cobra vehicle. And it went through the same development process as every other figure and vehicle — a price point, sketches, more sketches, and color comps. Let’s look at four of Rudat’s ideas.

Serpentor Air Chariot sketch 1 by Ron Rudat

Serpentor Air Chariot sketch 2 by Ron Rudat

Serpentor Air Chariot sketch 3 by Ron Rudat

Serpentor Air Chariot sketch 4 by Ron Rudat

Of note is that three of these are dated. Rudat usually did not date his work. That there was such a huge volume of sketches, drawings, comps, and occasional paintings, it’s no surprise. But with these ones, we get a glimpse into the timeline of when a mid-1986 figure was in development.

What did Serpentor’s Air Chariot mean to you?


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