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.
Category Archives: Toys and Toy Art
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.
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.)
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.
But you came here for art, not well-disguised photos of my kitchen counter.
George Woodbridge, master illustrator! Did much of the ’88 turnarounds.
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.”)
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.
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?
I had a thing for arctic figures. Even though my brother bought Snow Job, the tooth fairy brought me Iceberg, and from then on, it was quietly understood that I would get the arctic figures (or maybe I announced it?) — Blizzard with his many accessories, Sub-Zero with his giant machine gun. Except for the Stalker remake — Kevin had had the original ’83 Stalker, so he got dibs on any revisions. And ’89 Stalker was a tundra soldier, which is not quite arctic. I realize here I’m misusing the word “arctic.” I should just be writing “cold weather” — I got all the cold weather Joes — since an antarctic figure would be a different category. Anyhoo, I skipped Avalanche because he was underpainted and looked silly.
1989 Windchill and his crazy vehicle, the dragstrip racer-like Arctic Blast, was the one that got away. Never bought him, and the tooth fairy had moved on to other, younger kids. But I enjoy peaking behind the scenes at this Mark Pennington sculpt input sheet for Windchill.
We all likely respond to Wild Weasel’s signature red flight suit. Depending on the light, it’s a little maroon, a little magenta. But overall, it’s red. Red, the color of blood, the color of rage, the color of evil, the color of the Red Baron’s plane. Much of what made Cobra stand out so much from G.I. Joe those first few years, 1982 – 1986 or so, was color: Joes were generally greens, browns, and tans. Cobra was generally blue, black, and red.
After figure designer Ron Rudat finalized each Joe or Cobra, he would color several — sometimes several dozen — photocopies of his final drawing, and with markers or ink, brainstorm a myriad of color schemes. You lose much of the effect if you see any one by itself, as the real revelation comes in seeing ten or fifteen laid out together, all the strange and wonderful possibilities that might have been.
But here’s a might-have-been for Wild Weasel.
I think he might have gotten lost against a dark blue plane had he arrived in this grey. But it’s neat nonetheless. (Perhaps these duds against a red plane!) In what colors have you wanted to see Wild Weasel?