Cobra Commander and Destro’s Control Device

This is fun. Characters, of course, get animation model sheets. So do costume changes for those characters, even small ones. Bart Simpson. Bart Simpson with an Isotopes baseball cap. And so do props. That baseball cap if it’s picked up. Or the hat rack, if it needs to be a discreet object, separate from the painted background.

So back to G.I. Joe, you probably recall this exciting scene.

Slaves of the Cobra Master screencaps

Every prop!

GI Joe animation model sheet

Animation color models are made the same way production cels are. A pencil drawing on one sheet of paper is run through a photocopier loaded with blank cel sheets. Out comes that drawing, now on a transparent cel. Detail:

GI Joe animation model sheetAnd they’re painted the same way, on the back side, with cel paint (which is like acrylic, except not available at stores).

modelsheet Control Device cel paintI didn’t light this in such a way as to really sell it, but you can see the brush strokes. From the front (the top), cel paint color appears flat, because it’s flush with the plastic sheet. On the back (the underside), it looks a bit like peanut butter spread across bread. Oh, and the white bits on the red — that’s from the cel being stored against a sheet of paper for years, and then sticking to it, and pulling some paper fibers off when I separated the two. I’ve heard that putting cels-stuck-to-paper in an anti-static bag in the refrigerator can separate them better, but I’ve not tried it.

Also, while I’m musing, I’ll point out that in the screencaps above, there’s a glow effect on the control device. (Mattes!) I doubt there’s a second color model that denotes that color effect, but if this were a modern production, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a reference existed.

I have to say, even as a kid, I could not comprehend how an 8-direction joystick with two buttons could translate into articulated movements for a bipedal human. It was one of those times where the limitations of animation or animation design shook me out of my suspension of disbelief. I’m glad that Duke escaped, though.


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

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

Russ Heath – Steeler model sheet

Steeler model sheet detail Russ Heath

I never much got to know the ’82 characters. Not until later. Since my brother and I started buying the toys in ’84, we weren’t properly exposed to that first wave of action figures. Oh, we did buy a few, still hanging on pegs, and we saw them in the ’83 miniseries to be certain, but to my young eyes, all those green guys looked the same. My brother and I used that term, in fact: “Green guys.” As in “the green guys,” the 1982 G.I. Joe team that with the exception of the redhead, the black guy, and the guy in black, all looked the same. The 1982 cast was never “my” G.I. Joe. Now the flamethrower guy and the sailor with the parrot and the ninja redux with the wolf — absolutely.

So it’s with pleasure that I have gotten to know the green guys in the intervening years. And in the animated series, there are more changes and details to differentiate them, like Steeler’s two-color outfit. What stands out most, from a character standpoint, is Steeler’s pain in “Worlds Without End.” (Which I haven’t watched in fifteen years — yes, I know, that doesn’t make sense.) Actor Chris Latta’s amazing performance as him. Which started with artist Russ Heath’s wonderful model sheet. I love the thickness, the bluntness that his pencil line has accumulated over the Xerox generations here:

Steeler model sheet Russ HeathHelp me get to know Steeler. What’d he do in your games? What’s he mean to you?


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

JoeCon ’15 – the 2015 G.I. Joe Convention report

title card with GI Joe figures

This year’s convention was different than last year’s for several reasons. Firstly, this year’s was a return. I had last year’s experiences and friendships to reconnect with, whereas last year — while it wasn’t my first JoeCon, the year that had been my first con was such a cursory trip that last year kind of counted as “first.” Secondly, Hasbro was in attendance this year. They weren’t last year. That put a bit of a pall over the whole proceeding in ’14, so everyone was excited for their presence this time. Plus, a new Manager of Global Brand Development had been instated, and this would be us Joe fans’ first opportunity to meet him in person. Thirdly, there was a certain pressure on me last year to do some important book networking — talking to fans, reaching out to a potential interview subject, and buying some toys I need for a photo shoot.

This year I could relax and not try to do everything, although I did do some important book networking, talked to fans, reached out to a potential interview subject, and bought some toys. And lastly, 2014 was the year I met Gary “Goggles” Head in person, and we hit it off and made plans to meet up again later in the summer. With his passing, there was a Gary-sized hole at the con this year.

But it was a great trip, so let’s look at some images and talk little plastic men, shall we? (Click on pictures to embiggen.)

GI Joe heads dollar bin

Friday at ORD, I bumped into Kirk Bozigian and Sam Damon.

Kirk Bozigian Sam Damon and Tim Finn

Also, Bill Merklein was on the plane.

Tim Finn Bill Merklein

I met Bill in October. It was great.

Tim Finn visits Bill Merklein

But back to Springfield, Illinois, I was jogging off a days’ worth of sitting in airports and airplanes, and caught this bit of history not 30 seconds from my hotel. Lincoln’s house and several neighbor houses have been preserved. Two blocks where the street is closed to cars, paved with crushed brown pebbles. There sit two wooden carriages. Placards explain everything.

History is real, not an abstraction in a book, and it’s all around us. Sometimes it takes the synchronicity of a historical commission, the National Parks Service, and an out of state toy convention to make that apparent. My dad would’ve loved this.

Lincoln's House

The Hilton filled up, so I stayed across the street at the Other Hilton. It’s the only tall building.

G.I. Joe Con 2015 other hotel

We toasted Gary.

G.I. Joe Convention 2015 Gary

Talked to Justin and Diana, amongst others. Back at the hotel, I mused on this vending machine fodder pun:

G.I. Joe Convention hotel vending

Saturday morning. Left to right, below: Hotel, convention center, Bennigan’s, other hotel.

JoeCon 2015 convention center

Everything is named after Abraham Lincoln. I was a little worried about food options since Bennigan’s was my Other Hilton’s restaurant, and no offense, Bennigan’s, but I haven’t eaten at Bennigan’s since 1994, but A) my Other Hilton also had a second restaurant, and B) I don’t eat well on these trips (skipped meals, poor snacking) anyway, so some steamed veggie food truck materializing out of dense, oxygenated air wasn’t going to save me.

Here’s the whole con room!

G.I. Joe Con 2015 interior

The Action Force panel made me a fan. I hadn’t known anything about AF in 1984, and now I kinda want to own it all, this UK version of G.I. Joe. Two Brits:

JoeCon 2015 SKETCH Chris McLeod Dave Tree

Hasbro panel. The photo, of course, captures the likenesses. My pencil, not so much:

Hasbro panel JoeCon 2015

Hasbro showed the 2015 G.I. Joe product line, on-sale at Toys R Us in August. Of note, Sightline, a figure named after Gary. Keep scrolling.

Oh, here’s a big crowd, only a third of it visible in this shot, for the Hasbro panel.

crowd at JoeCon2015 Hasbro panel

Voice actor panel. I’d interviewed Brian Cummings ten years back and have seen Morgan Loftig at a previous show, so the big thrill was hearing Zack Hoffman perform, and doing so as Zartan.

JoeCon2015 Tim Finn sketch of voice actors

I only took a few photos from the art contest. Just the ones that struck me. No names on the pieces, so that the judges could judge fairly. But I wish to give credit, so if these are yours, let me know.

Scooby-Doo et al as post-apocalyptic survivors, and the Misery Machine, a recolored G.I. Joe Warthog! GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Scooby Doo Misery Machine

Samurai B.A.T.

GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Samurai BAT

The Oktober Guard from Tom Scioli’s crazy Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic book. (Not Tom Scioli’s custom toys.) [Edit: Matt Lint got in touch to say these were his. Cool, Matt.]

GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Oktober Guard

Hey, the Thunder Machine! It’s a real car! That’s a human being for scale.

G.I. Joe Con 2015 Thunder Machine

Many years ago, the convention was mostly 12-inch GI Joe dealers and collectors, with very little for the 3 3/4-inch G.I. Joe. Now it’s the opposite. Here was the one dedicated 12-inch dealer. Nice guy. Hello, Ace!

G.I. Joe Con 2015 interior 12-inch dealer

In the far back corner was a working 1992 Konami stand-up G.I. Joe arcade cabinet!

Konami GI Joe video game

Below I’ve pasted two screen shots together. At left, Mark Bright art adapted from the comic book. At right, actual game play.

Konami GI Joe video game screen pics

My brother and I stumbled onto this for the first time in 1992 while on a road trip, not having known of its existence. Every time I see it, I think of how shocked we were, halfway through the 9-hour drive between our aunt’s house and ours, and then a few years later when we saw it again on a different trip, at the beach on our annual summer vacation. And then many years after that when Andrew Franks and I made a pact to buy it, should it still be at that arcade, when we made that same trip. It wasn’t there, so the very occasional opportunity to see it and play it, as here at JoeCon, is wonderful. I forget the name of the dealer who lugged his Konami G.I. Joe arcade cabinet to Springfield this year (his table was a few feet away), but thank you, sir!

After Hasbro’s panel, the 2015 product line was put on display in a glass case. I took just a few photos to get a little sampling. The best Zartan ever, Chuckles inspired by some recent IDW comics, and Sightline, and Joe spotter named after Gary “Goggles” Head. Since he has goggles.

Hasbro booth JoeCon 2015 Zartan Chuckles Sightline

An orange (yes, orange) HISS with a driver and a gunner. Weird. Nice!

Hasbro booth JoeCon 2015 Hiss


GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Zarana Tollbooth Lt Falcon

Zarana and Tollbooth, I didn’t get your real names. Get in touch if you’d like. Falcon, at right, is Robert Carson Mataxis.

Former Hasbro designer Frank Coroneos drew this wonderful, strange, and large concept piece for a Joe vehicle that will never exist. Yes, it looks like the Diamondback. (Coroneos designed the Diamonback.) Frank whipped this up at his table on Saturday to sell at the charity auction that night. It’s named after that thing that Lincoln was, and has several Gary “Goggles” Head-inspired touches, like Gary’s arctic goggles as a design element, and a “Dub Dual Step Gog Actuator.” At auction it sold for [Edit: amount fixed] $1750.

Frank Coroneos Emancipator art for JoeCon 2015 auciton

Frank and I had spoken for only a moment at the con a year earlier. I had meant to follow up sometime in the last twelve months, and was delighted he wanted to chat — while he was drawing this, no less.

After the con room closed, I snuck into the awards dinner, where people pay extra to eat probably-not-great convention center food (I used to do this at BotCon in the ’90s) so I could see the costume contest. My vote goes to Scoop and a very particular Snake-Eyes.

Scoop and Snake Eyes cosplay JoeCon 2015

Here’s the line-up from the kids contest. Note Polly and Timber.

Kids category costume contest JoeCon 2015

Okay, I want to point this out again:

GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Snake Eyes Kavanaugh

And this:

GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Snake Eyes Polly Kavanaugh

That’s Snake-Eyes in drag, and Polly the parrot with sunglasses and a berret, from episode #14, “Chaos in the Sea of Lost Souls.”

GI Joe ep14 screencap Snake Eyes Polly

James M. Kavanaugh Jr., you crazy bastard.



I was interviewed in front of an audience of 25 people for a special “live” recording of Gary Godsoe, Mike Irizarry, and Justin Bell’s “What’s On Joe Mind” (not a typo) podcast. There were three guests, one at a time, each speaking for a few minutes about publishing, and each taking that seat on the left.

JoeCon2015 Tim Finn sketch of podcast panel

This is what it actually looked like.

JoeCon 2015 WOJM podcast Tim Finn

I’m still not sure about selfies. Or that word.

Bill Merklein showed me the in-progress sculpt he’s making of me. That’s a 16mm camera. I love it!

Bill Merklein sculpt in progress


Arty shot of Erik Arana of Boss Fight.

Erik Arana Boss Fight JoeCon 2015

Boss Fight’s upcoming figures from its Greek Mythology line. Amazing.

Boss Fight JoeCon 2015 Skeleton

The con was about over. Erik and Fred and Dave of Boss Fight were being interviewed for a podcast, so I said my goodbyes and headed out.

Boss Fight JoeCon 2015 podcast

Saw this:

Springfield IL shop JoeCon 2015 Springfield IL shop window display JoeCon 2015

Thank you, Plush Jerry Garcia!

At the airport I saw this, and thought of my students and their linear perspective lessons.

Have No Narrow Perspectives by Ryan and Trevor Oakes

This is what it looks like from a few feet away, Have No Narrow Perspectives, by Ryan and Trevor Oakes, 2008 — a drawing of Anish Kapour’s “The Bean” (actually called Cloud Gate.) Airports are a wonderful place for public art.

Have No Narrow Perspectives by Ryan and Trevor Oakes


Great con. Bought a few ’90s action figures for a book photoshoot this summer, got to catch up with friends, attend fun panels, and meet new people. Got outside a little bit, and thanked the nice people who said kind things about my blog and my book.

Oh, and O’Hare has an aeroponic garden!

But why end on something beautiful and inspiring when I can end on something disorienting and terrifying?

ORD terrifying



Filed under Convention Reviews

Remembering Herb Trimpe

Remembering Herb Trimpe

Just a day after returning home from that calendar peak of G.I. Joe excitement, the annual G.I. Joe Convention, I learned the sad news that someone very important in the history of G.I. Joe, Herb Trimpe, had died.

Herb Trimpe is best known in comics for drawing a seven-year run on The Incredible Hulk, including the first appearance of some obscure, unpopular X-Man with claws, but to G.I. Joe fans, he’s best known for drawing G.I. Joe issue #1 in 1982. (Well, it was published in 1982, so let’s say it was drawn in 1981.) Trimpe drew most of that first year (and wrote issue #8), and signed on to draw the wonderful spin-off Special Missions, almost all of its 29 issues, between 1986 and 1989. He also pencilled the tepid 4 issue G.I. Joe and the Transformers crossover in ’86, and about the only interesting that that can be said about that miniseries is that Herb Trimpe pencilled it. He returned for issue #99 of the regular monthly G.I Joe, a fill-in that let the series’ then-regular artist get ahead for the double-sized issue #100, and Trimpe came back one more time to draw and write issue #120, another fill-in between the end of one artist’s run and the beginning of another’s.

I interviewed Trimpe (“TRIM-pee”) in April of 2002, probably only my 8th or 9th interview for the book. He was pleasant and lively, and had a few good anecdotes from his various jobs. I was mostly interested in the one that involved drawing comic books, but I was struck to learn that since Marvel had stopped offering him work, his teaching career (which I had heard about) had transitioned to volunteering at Ground Zero. Remember, this was seven months after September 11th:

“After leaving the comic business, I spent three years in school and went straight into the job. I never really stopped to think about what I actually wanted to do when I grew up. So I got my BA and I got a masters degree in humanistic education over that three-year period. And during those classes, I met a lot of teachers. And they said, ‘You know, you really should get your teaching certificate.’ Because, you know, you can always do it once you do it. So I did. I went ahead and did my student teaching and got my teaching certificate, and got a job right away.

“…I taught two years in public school. Technically I’m on leave of absence right now. I took a year’s leave of absence to work out some projects that I hadn’t been able to finish, do some commission work that had been building up. And also I was very fortunate to be able to work as a volunteer down at the Trade Center in New York. So I’ve been going down there once a week. It’s an ongoing thing down there. Since early October I’ve been down there.”

This was interesting. Just a few weeks after the attack, Trimpe was there, digging. And Trimpe was in a transition state in his life — having gone from a decades-long regular gig at Marvel, to school, to commissions and volunteering. I had worked at an animation studio for a year and a half, and was hitting a state of transition of my own — about to quit and go back to school to teach. So we sort of had something in common.

Trimpe didn’t have much of note to say about drawing G.I. Joe — it was part of his quota at Marvel and he did his job. But he had enjoyed working with Larry Hama and did get many toys shipped to him from Hasbro, a theme that has come up a few times in interviewing artists.

Five years later, I commissioned an original piece of G.I. Joe art from Trimpe. It was to somehow encapsulate that original run, which meant including a ton of details: the original 13 Joes; and also a nod to issues #6 and #7, the Oktober Guard team-up, with that iconic cover of issues #7 (Joe and Oktober Guard, back to back, surrounded!) and that amazing cliffhanger at the end of issue #6 (“Line up all the prisoners at the edge of the ravine — and kill them!”). And include the MOBAT (to nod to the cover of issue #1) and the VAMP (because it needed another vehicle). And a bit of Cobra stuff, like a helmet. Maybe even a subtle nod to the 1984 Missile Defense Unit, with some shot-out brick wall. This was a tall order, to cram all that into one image.

It turned out great. Click to enlarge.

GI Joe commission Trimpe


Filed under Uncategorized

G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 by Ron Wagner

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

“Silent Interlude” gets a lot of attention. People who’ve read comics, but have never read G.I. Joe, and who don’t like G.I. Joe, have heard of that twenty-first issue of Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe, with its wordless tale of action and rescue. And all that attention is deserved. But what never gets mentioned alongside this comic that Larry Hama wrote and drew (at the same time — it was a single step), is the other two silent stories published in the original Marvel run: “SFX,” issue #85, April 1989, penciled by Paul Ryan and Randy Emberlin; and “Hush Job” from Yearbook #3, drawn by Ron Wagner and Kim DeMulder.

Let’s take a look at page 4 of “Hush Job.”

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

To repeat: This is a silent story. It’s not that the word balloons fell off. There aren’t any.

Ron Wagner, a graduate of the Kubert School, really knows how to draw. Look at those two 3/4 rear views on Storm Shadow. And one is an up-shot. Look at that jaw in panel 4! Look at the intensity of Storm Shadow’s expression in the final panel!

Ron Wagner draws some of my favorite comics ever, and his work here, under DeMulder’s inks, really shines. Note that wonderful negative space treatment on the trees in panel 2. They’re left out, so color and the hatching at that edge creates the night sky. Wonderful depth in panel 1 — foreground, middle ground, background. Also note the storytelling. Silent stories are hard. (If you want to see Marvel stumble, check out the “‘Nuff Said” month of silent comics from 2002.) Here Ron Wagner pulls if off deftly — Storm Shadow and Timber at rest, yet we see the sky, so we’re ready for something to appear. Up-shot, and Scarlett does appear. Touchdown, and Storm Shadow is up. Scarlett shows a photo of Snake-Eyes, captive. Storm Shadow sees it, and is surprised and concerned. Every panel a strong composition, and the whole page has a great balance with darks at top and bottom, with horizontal panels bracketing three tall ones. Great!

Here’s a detail, click to embiggen:

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

Ron Wagner drew Marvel comics for years: G.I. Joe, Nth Man, Excalibur, Punisher. And at DC, he drew a forgotten “event,” Genesis. Later, he storyboarded for various WB cartoons, where his storytelling skills undoubtedly made him shine but presumably the demands of animation timetables meant more focus on shapes and angles and less on lines and details. And in recent years, he’s drawn a few issues of G.I. Joe — yes, the Larry Hama series that continues the original one that you all ignore — and Wagner is about to draw four comics for DC as part of its “Convergence” event, one with Green Lantern (image below reposted from Wagner’s tumblr) —

Ron Wagner Bill Reinhold Convergence Green Lantern

— and the other with the Teen Titans. Wagner’s art has changed since 1987. In the 2000s, it’s streamlined, and there’s no feathering. That may be down to inkers, but I suspect that he’s saying more with less, as many of the best artists in comics tend to do.

What’s your favorite work by Ron Wagner?


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

Windchill turnaround by Pennington

1989 Mark Pennington G.I. Joe Windchill close up

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.

1989 Mark Pennington G.I. Joe Windchill

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