Ben Torres had drawn comics for a pair of small black and white publishers when he started freelancing as a toy designer. This was around 1994, and with the A Real American Hero line of 3 3/4-inch figures ending, I’m referring not to Hasbro in Rhode Island, but Kenner in Ohio, and what became known as GI Joe Extreme.
This image was faxed from Kenner to Hasbro’s advertising agency in October of 1994, along with other drawings at a time when Kenner’s designers, marketers, and lawyers hadn’t yet pinned down all the character names. Click to enlarge.
I’m unclear on who “Tank” is supposed to be. To my mind, the biggest Extreme character is Freight, and while some characters morphed in the development process, what art I’ve seen indicates a pretty linear path for each character type (the leader, the martial artist, etc). From here, Freight is pretty locked in — shoulder pads, do-rag, and everything he says in the TV series is a football reference. Here’s a production figure:
Torres continues to have a fascinating career in toys, product design, brand creation, and marketing. He briefly returned to comics in 2017 for Marvel’s Kingpin miniseries, collected in softcover that same year.
Extreme fans, please feel to make a football reference in the comments.
And here’s Ron Rudat’s pencil final for the character. This would get turned into painted presentation art, then a sculpt input drawing (aka a “turnaround”), and then a wax sculpture.
The day I bought this toy my brother and I then went to our local video store, which was called Video Cassette Rentals. We must have just been to Lowen’s, an extraordinary mom and pop toy shop and just a few blocks over. I was so struck by that cookie reference that I read it aloud to my brother, us sitting there in the back seat. Kevin probably thought that Psyche-Out’s neon green jacket and wacky satellite dishes made for an unrealistic and unappealing Joe, but A) I thought they were cool and always gravitated more towards the sci-fi in Joe, and B) I think I also identified with clean shaven blondes on the G.I. Joe team since I looked like them. But this was the first time I had an inkling that the back-of-package dossiers were unusually written.
But returning to Rudat’s wonderful design and drawing (that’s two different skills! Design being one and drawing being another), I’m impressed by those six solar cells on his arms. It makes sense that his gear wouldn’t just be battery powered. (Insert joke here about Night Force Psyche-Out’s ineffectiveness.) I like that Rudat is thinking through what such a soldier would need in the field, and yet if I didn’t know what these do-dads did, they offered just enough of an impression to be an addition to this costume without being confusing or distracting. Also great in this art is Rudat’s handling of Psyche-Out’s quilted jacket.
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.)