Category Archives: G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

Sgt. Slaughter by Woodbridge

In the development process at Hasbro, every G.I. Joe figure that made it to retail (and some that didn’t!) got a fancy drawing or painting whereby the higher-ups could see the character as a bold, dramatic illustration. This wasn’t the package art that we all saw on toy store shelves, but rather, internal only to Hasbro. A pencil turnaround of the figure from front, side, and rear views didn’t offer enough punch, nor did a sculpt or a casting. George Woodbridge, better known for military history books and Mad Magazine, was one of the eight or so artists who created these. (He also delineated most of the 1988 turnarounds.)

Here’s a color photocopy of Woodbridge’s presentation art for Sgt. Slaughter version 3, driver for the 1988 Warthog. His work resembles that of noted G.I. Joe designer Russ Heath, with a clean precision of line and spotting of blacks, but Woodbridge only worked on the toys and Heath only worked on the TV show and the comic book. And unlike many of the other internal presentation paintings, Woodbridge didn’t paint, but rather he created a color line drawing. Click to enlarge:

Sorry, the copy I have indeed cuts off Slaughter’s feet.

My brother and I were pretty dazzled by the Sarge getting a new figure. While we were not fans of wrestling, we knew of many of the major wrestling characters. Video games, toys, and TV animation expanded their reach far beyond the actual wrestling TV shows that aired weekly, and we had friends who were fans. But the G.I. Joe brand worked hard to place Slaughter in a role of importance, with two mail-away figures, prominent appearances in Season 2 and the animated movie, as host of the TV show and commercials, and after this piece was drawn, a role in the later DIC episodes.

The Warthog was a great addition to the Joes’ armory. It had room for several guys, two big missiles, was both a water and land vehicle, had more heft than the taut Snowcat or the lithe Desert Fox, yet wasn’t too big for a ten-year olds’ hands to handle. It wasn’t sexy and it wasn’t cool, but it was beefy, fun, and was elevated in its importance because it came with a new version of Sgt. Slaughter whose costume shed its wrestling cues in favor of more military detailing.

Also, version 3 came with a removable hat!

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G.I. Joe #35 by Mark Bright

In the numbered 30s, the monthly G.I. Joe comic was a scheduling challenge. The series was about to get a new regular artist, certain issues needed to advertise key toys based on the scheduling of particular TV commercials that hyped the comic, and of course, every issue needed to be approved by folks at Hasbro. Issues #35 and #36 had six artists between them, one of whom was Mark D. Bright.

In 1985 Bright was drawing Power Man and Iron Fist, which was only published bi-monthly but also about to be abruptly canceled, and Bright was about to start his run on Iron Man, both with the same writer. That would be Denny O’Neil, who was editing G.I. Joe. The pages in Joe #35 and #36 were smartly broken up so that each art team was basically handling one set of characters in one environment. Bright, along with inker Andy Mushynsky, got the subplot with Breaker, Clutch, and Rock N’ Roll driving cross country and having a bizarre run-in with the Dreadnoks.

When I first read this, I was disappointed because they’re in their civilian clothes, driving a civilian car, and spending a lot of time not fighting marquee Cobra characters. But now I appreciate this bit of business, that we see Joes on R&R, attempting to do something specific (surf), and specific to their characters (“Rock N’ Roll was a surfer in Malibu prior to enlistment,” explains his toy packaging). (I felt similarly about the animated episode “Flint’s Vacation,” by the way — it’s weird to see a Joe in civvies and visiting his cousin, but now I find it’s one of the more interesting episodes.)

Bright excels at drawing vehicles, but that’s not to say he had any trouble drawing faces, poses, costumes, and the like. What is striking about this page is that it’s one you would find in almost no other Marvel comic book in the entire decade. The X-Men don’t drive, they fly or teleport. And when they do fly, while we see them in their jet, it never dogfights another plane. And when the X-Men relax, they just play baseball. And as integral as the Batmobile and Batcycle are to the Caped Crusader, rarely is there an interesting chase involving Batman, his cool vehicles, and some villains. As I mentioned in my Rob Liefeld post recently, the fact that this is a 1956 Bel Air Nomad adds something to the proceedings, and not just because Larry Hama likes hot cars.

Bright draws in a crisp Marvel 1970s/’80s house style, which I mean as a compliment, and Mushynsky’s inks nicely delineate textures like hair, cloth, glass, chrome, hay, and flame. This is not a page that jumps out at me, but when I’m holding the original art and I see the light reflect off the ink, the small bits of Wite-Out, and the bluelines printed on the bristol, I am reminded that drawing even one page of a professional comic book takes talent and gusto. Click to enlarge:

Mark Bright would become series regular artist four years later, and one day, I can properly demonstrate to all you nice readers out there just how much I appreciate Bright’s art. But in the meantime, what do you see in this page?

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Gnawgahyde by Pennington

The Dreadnoks are a biker gang under the leadership of Zartan and informally and occasionally on the payroll of Cobra. It’s one of the wonderfully bizarre team dynamics in the G.I. Joe universe.

When these ruffians netted their newest member in 1989, he arrived as a vest-wearing poacher, complete with bow, quiver of arrows, hunting rifle, wrist-attached machete, and a pet wild boar. And a second knife that fits in that shin sheath! And a hat.

Here’s Mark Pennington’s sculpt figure input, click to enlarge:

Above you can see an early codename for Gnawgahyde was “Wart Hog,” or perhaps “Warthog,” but that moniker ended up on a wonderful amphibious Joe tank for 1988. I certainly did not know what gnawgahyde was at age 11, and this word felt more challenging than the other Dreadnoks’ names like “Torch” or “Thrasher,” but it fit. Fun fact that will reveal I wasn’t buying luggage, furniture, or automobile seats in the 1980s: I’ve always assumed that gnawgahyde was a kind of leather or animal skin, but in writing this blog post, I’ve learned that it is not a word, but that capital “N” Naugahyde┬« is a registered trademark, is a synthetic, and I probably have some somewhere in my closet or basement.

I tip my hat Hasbro’s R&D and Marketing team 32 years later, your joke is still landing. In my defense, Torch torched things and Thrasher trashed things, so I wasn’t looking all that deeply. “Gnawgahyde” straddles the line with the category of codenames that aren’t quite objects, like “Zartan.”

Pennington worked on the G.I. Joe toy line for about three years, starting at Hasbro on the tail end of 1985. He’s best known as an inker in the comics biz for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and more, but had a great stint as sole artist of the Carson of Venus “newspaper” strip in 2019 and 2020. It’s behind a paywall, but here are a few excerpts — I should note these are the first panels of three different strips, so there’s no continuity here, just nice drawing and storytelling. Click to enlarge only a little bit:

(More here at the Edgar Rice Burroughs website, although the Carson strip is now in different hands.) Mark Pennington also paints and exhibits in galleries, gorgeous and utterly different than toy design and comics, but still focusing on light, form, and anatomy. Find that work at his personal website here.

Gnawgahyde really came alive for me in the 1989 and 1990 episodes of the animated G.I. Joe. There he never interacts with the Dreadnoks, he doesn’t do any poaching, and he’s an oaf, but speaks with an Aussie accent, obeys Cobra Commander’s orders, and blows up Joe tanks.

Here’s that pet:

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Remembering Denny O’Neil / interview

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Marty Pasko – interview part 2 of 2

Marty Pasko: The A Real American Book! Interview (excerpts)

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Marty Pasko – interview part 1 of 2

Marty Pasko was a writer known to many different audiences. He wrote across the DC line, notably Superman. In live-action television, he contributed to The Twilight Zone revival and Simon & Simon. In animation, he’s an Emmy winner best known as a story editor on Batman: The Animated Series. To G.I. Joe fans, Marty Pasko of course wrote three episodes and co-wrote a fourth, which aired in 1985 and 1986.

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Remembering Hector Garrido

Sad news from the world of G.I. Joe.

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Charbroil by Woodbridge and Sears

Charbroil was never a favorite of mine. Continue reading

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Remembering Joe Bacal

I missed this news. Joe Bacal died in October. It’s December as I write this.

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Mestophoni by Groen

 

Around 1994, Kurt Groen was sketching a bunch of super-heroes for possible inclusion in the G.I. Joe line.

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