Ron Rudat faces 1981

Ron Rudat 1981_17_TEASE

In May and June of 1981, Ron Rudat was sketching up a storm. We think of the original 13 Joes with their creative reuse of 3 distinct visages, plus unique heads for Stalker, Snake-Eyes, and Scarlett, but what were those faces going to look like in the first place? Today’s blog post is (a photocopy of) a page of Rudat brainstorming faces. Click to enlarge.

Ron Rudat 1981_17_BLOG

What’s even more fun? Rudat drew at least another 7 pages of these! And 4 pages of visors! And 13 pages of helmets! (I should take those in to my students when we get to our Character Design unit in February — “Look! 13 pages of helmets!”)

A lot of work goes into creating an entirely new action figure line from scratch.

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G.I. Joe Yearbook #4 by Salmons

GIJoe Yearbook 4 pg 60 TEASE

Tony Salmons had a brief connection with G.I. Joe. He penciled three [EDIT: four!] full issues (69, 87, 88, and 91 — just as Marshall Rogers was finishing his run and Mark Bright was starting his) as well as one [EDIT: actually two] covers (a post for another day). These issues were inked by Randy Emberlin, who was now the regular inker on the series, and would stick around for another few years. Emberlin added a soft sense of dimension to Salmons’ work, which was known for its stark power and heft that was augmented by a deft sense of design. No one in comics draws like Tony Salmons. He had the attention of Larry Hama, who had edited Salmons on the short-lived Dakota North. Hama saw the ingenuity of Salmon’s drawings and coached him on storytelling and page layout, and gave him bits of work where he could — we all think of Hama as the writer on G.I. Joe, but his day job was editor on Savage Tales and the Conan titles.

When Salmons inked himself, his art moved in other directions. He drew one additional G.I. Joe tale, a back-up story for Yearbook #4, cover dated February 1988, and this is all him. (I’d show you the cover, but it’s Mark Bright, not Salmons, and represents the main story in the book, not this back-up, so it doesn’t much connect to today’s post) This is an unusual story. It’s only 7 pages, the Joes barely appear, and they don’t appear in costume. If you didn’t know anything about toys and licensed comics, you could mistake this for any crime drama. Scarlett and Snake-Eyes are in civilian attire, and again, it’s not like they’re driving up to this convenience store in the AWE Striker. (Which Salmons did draw in issue #88.)

At the time, I didn’t love the art. It felt sparse. But in 1990, I didn’t like Mike Mignola’s work and didn’t understand the big deal about that Jack Kirby guy, just to pick two main examples to help you calibrate my sense of taste. Salmons drew weird, and a little ugly, but he also drew dynamicly and fearlessly. He’s often been called an artist’s artist, that us fans may like the work or not, but there’s much we can’t see, that professional artists look at this work and immediately see that it’s special.

This is an odd page from an off-beat story. Even showing it here at ARealAmericanBook! feels like a little bit of a cheat. You want to see prime, juicy G.I. Joe art, and this isn’t a splash page or a cover, and it’s not in color, and it’s not all that loud. But there’s magic is seeing original art up close — without the filter of being shrunk and printed and colored. Salman’s lines are vital and raw, and yet thin and careful. Again, we barely see our marquee heroes. It’s also shocking in that an innocent bystander is quickly and cruelly killed. I was a tad upset by this at the time, and still am. But that’s the point of it.

Oh, the story ends on a tiny punchline.

Hama and Salmon’s work here demonstrates why I miss Special Missions and Yearbooks, places for one-off and slightly oddball Joe yarns.




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

Cesspool by Groen

Cesspool turnaround TEASE

Cesspool started out pitched as a similarly eco-themed “Oil Baron.” I’m not sure if that was a codename (probably not) or a title, but the figure and his ilk evolved and we got Cesspool. Along the way, Cesspool dropped his earlier name, “The CEO,” and Eco-Warriors dropped its earlier monicker, “Eco-Force.” We met the Oil Baron here several years ago at A Real American Book!, in fact, another Kurt Groen drawing.

Groen was primary figure designer in 1990. Here’s a color copy of his presentation art for Cesspool. 1989 and 1990 were the transition years where Hasbro stopped hiring outside artists to paint fine art renderings of each character that made it to internal final approval — not package artwork that would be seen by the public — and it’s here that instead of seeing Dave Dorman, George Woodbridge, and Bart Sears paintings, we see Kurt Groen drawings. These are often blown-up photocopies of his final pencil studies, colored in with marker. (And this is a photocopy of the marker original.) Click to enlarge!

Cesspool XEROX color presentation art by Kurt Groen

(Note the blade in the back of Cesspool’s boot under my watermark.) Groen drew Cesspool’s turnaround, his sculpt input drawing. This was handed off to a sculptor.

Cesspool 1991 GI Joe turnaround photocopy art by Kurt Groen

The blade is now a part of the boot, and not a hinged piece or a clip-on. These kinds of small details got absorbed and costed out all the time, often with sidearm holsters and grenades getting kind of mooshed into a figure’s torso or legs so that the piece would properly pop out of the mold in the factory during production. Any anyway, we lose the sense of these vertical details as blades and metal when they were painted black, the same color as Cesspool’s boots in the final figure, so they just become a decorative architectural structure for his boots. Instead of stompy boots, Cesspool gets really stompy boots. Here’s a tiny, crummy photo that you can’t enlarge:

Groen also drew breakdowns on Cesspool’s accessories, the backpack and the chainsaw.

1991 Cesspool GI Joe accessories chainsaw Kurt Groen

I’m missing a photocopy here, as there would be one more drawing to show the inner pouch of the backpack (the squishy part where you push your thumb to make the water shoot), the hose, and the squirt gun. While I didn’t love the bright colors and oversimplification of a complex political and societal issue in the form of the Eco-Warriors (Cobra wants the pollute! Joes shoot their own anti-sludge to clean up the environment!), I liked Cesspool. His uniform feels appropriately regal and flamboyant as a leader in Cobra and business, his scar makes him a cartoon villain, and as a CEO, he offered much to the ongoing story of Cobra’s business ties with fictional companies like MARS or Extensive Enterprises, although these links weren’t explored. As a fad character, Cesspool’s days were likely numbered in the ongoing story of G.I. Joe from the start.

What do you think of Cesspool?

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Wetsuit original sculpt by Merklein

The “Cobra Assassin” post from earlier today had some factual errors, so I’ve taken that down and am putting up this one it it’s place!


Bill Merklein sculpted around 65 G.I. Joe action figures in the 1980s.

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Cobra Piranha model by David Kunitz

Close up of grey model GI Joe Cobra Piranha Kunitz

I often forget that half of the G.I. Joe line was vehicles.

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We’re Back! / URL news

Part 1: Sorry for the long delay, readers!

It’s the same old excuse as every other absence: Teaching and store, and this summer I’ve wanted to work on Chapters 18 and 19 rather than this blog. If you’re concerned that I’m abandoning this site, rest assured, I am not. Five months without a new post is no fun for you, like Shipwreck feeding you an orchard’s worth of apples. In fact, I’ve banked a few posts recently, so every week or so for the rest of the summer you can enjoy some rarely- or never-seen G.I. Joe artwork from the 1980s and ’90s!


Part 2: Exciting web development news! Here’s a small upgrade I’ve been meaning to get around to for at least seven years: is now!


Thanks to UX and web-person Jordyn Bonds, who also fixed my non-G.I. Joe website.

This probably doesn’t affect you, since any old links you’ve posted still work, but it’s less of a mouthful now — “What’s your favorite G.I. Joe blog?”


Let’s all celebrate with this Wifi-Viper (NOT A REAL HASBRO CONCEPT), culled from the ranks of the best Tele-Vipers, as he looks over my WordPress code.

Tim Finn art of invented G.I. Joe figure, Wifi-Viper, to announce a small upgrade in his blog, A Real American Book!

Thanks for your patience! Back to regular posts in a few days!

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A Real American Book! 2018 in Review

Tim Finn GI Joe

It’s that time of year again, when I list what I did for this book in the last 12 months and apologize that it’s taking so long! Last year in such a blog post I mused on what it’s like to research and write.

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Filed under Book Behind the Scenes, Photography, Writing Process