Tag Archives: G.I. Joe cartoon

“G.I. Joe: Saturday Morning Adventures” issue #1 – The Real American Book! review

(Click to enlarge)

Congrats to the creative and editorial team on issue #1 of IDW Publishing’s G.I. Joe: Saturday Morning Adventures. It is so much fun, and pitch perfect. Kudos to Burnham, Schoening, and Delgado for completely capturing the look and feel of the ’80s cartoon. Also a tip of the hat to Uyetake that the lettering font is different from the monthly Real American Hero, to subtly differentiate it.

Burnham efficiently jumps right into the story (as with Destro arriving at the start of the very first episode of G.I. Joe — Cobra Commander immediately has the thing in his possession!) with Cobra Commander holding the object of power on page 1. And Burnham picks a fun story motivator here with a wish-granting genie of the lamp. This is a trope found in other ’80s cartoons, and it fits in here, a G.I. Joe story that wasn’t, but could have been. The scale of it also works, as Cobra Commander starts simple, allowing for a heightening of stakes in the back half of the issue as well as presumably bigger and more complicated threats in issue #2.

But I have three quibbles. One, everyone knows that G.I. Joe was not a Saturday morning cartoon, right? It was a weekday cartoon. Certainly the dual 5-part miniseries of 1983 and ’84 align with a Monday through Friday “strip,” but Joe was not ordered in increments of 13. (Transformers did start as a weekend show for its first season — the opening 3-part miniseries plus 13 episodes.) The order for the full Season 1 for 1985 brought up Joe‘s tally to 65 episodes, again, a quantity for weekday syndication. Did the occasional local station run the show on Saturday or Sunday? Sure. Was this a part of the phenomenon of Saturday morning cartoons? No. “Saturday morning cartoons” tends to refer to the big three, NBC, ABC, and CBS, not syndicated programming, which was a reaction to that. I understand the naming choice, though, as “G.I. Joe Animated Adventures” is perhaps too general. But the animation historian in me can’t help but see a factual error in the title of this series.

(But nice work on the ’80s color and font treatment of the “Saturday Morning Adventures” banner. Another feather in Mr. Uyetake’s cap? That lettering is more He-Man-episode-title-card than I’d want for Joe, but if the goal of the cover is to show people what this is, Cover A is a big success.) And before I get to the other quibbles, I’ll focus a bit on the covers.

Cover A is nearly perfect. It recalls two previous animation tie-ins, the front of Kid Rhino’s 2003 “Two Original Mini-Series” DVD set (Cobra Commander’s face, front-on, on top, fire behind him, Joes below him comin’ atcha), as well as the sleeve art to Hasbro’s “M.A.S.S. Device” DVD Battles Pack (Cobra Commander looming over Joes also comin’ atcha). This new Schoening/Delgado piece acts like a poster for this story-as-animated miniseries. It’s general enough with a team of Joes not doing anything specific, with Cobra looming over them, but then with a key prop that does specifically connect to the Macguffin of this story. Where Cover A needs a small fix is in Flint’s pose. He’d fall forward with that leg placement.

Megan Huang’s cover B is nice, and while I do get “G.I. Joe animation”-in-general as a vibe, I don’t get “1980s Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe animation” enough from this, so I’d like Huang to split the difference between her style and the show style. Also, those vehicles don’t work. There aren’t any F-4s in Joeland, and that tank is too general. And if Cobra is riding a tank, it wouldn’t be green, so the story snags here, like for some reason the Baroness and Destro have commandeered a Joe tank? But a Joe tank from before the ’82 miniseries when the Joes had no specific tanks, like how Major Bludd pilots MiGs before Cobra gets Rattlers in “the M.A.S.S. Device”? Ideally Baroness and Destro would be on a HISS or a Stun. This is a fun drawing, but needs a revision at the sketch stage.

The Retailer Incentive cover (shops could order one copy for every 10 of A and/or B) is fun, but doesn’t quite live up to the promise of a home video box cover because the regular logo is slapped across the top. The three “stickers” and the VHS bit are left adrift as Penn’s home video cues are at odds with the standard comic book logo treatment. Stated another way, this cover should look more different from Covers A and B, whether that means more of a straight homage to the F.H.E. boxes or something else evocative of cassette sleeve design. I do like Billy Penn’s plastic shrinkwrap highlights at the top, but they’re somewhat lost around the logo. The shading, color, and composition of this give me more of a ’70s pulp novel vibe than an ’80s VHS box vibe.

Penn shared his three sketch ideas for this cover online and I must admit to finding that the two unused ones are bolder compositions, but C looks a lot like Dan Schoening’s published cover, and the one they went with is most different from both of the other actual, published covers, so I understand the choice. Click to enlarge.

(This is not a blog post about Billy Penn, but if you missed the Talking Joe episode after he was our guest where I flashed back to laud his drawing skills, take a look at much he’s doing with so little in those characters and the lighting in “C,” above — this guy really knows how to draw, even if his finished style isn’t slick or hot.)

Getting back to my actual two other quibbles, these are small story moments either missing or not clearly shown, essentially a 4-panel page needing a fifth panel.

Which leads to Quibble Two: What is exploding on page 3? And where is it in the scene? Click to enlarge this, pages 2 and 3 side-by-side.

Cobra Commander is holding the artifact in his left hand, then cut to a close-up of something exploding (no laser beam shown), and then CC (without his pistol) is kneeling on the ground over debris that doesn’t look like the artifact. I was confused. Did the Commander toss up the artifact and shoot it? Was there a tiny bomb in it that detonated? Had he not been holding it on Page 2, had it instead been sitting on a pedestal in front of him, this would be clearer, but I don’t see when or how it leaves his hand, and it’s not clear that it is indeed the artifact that he’s shooting. Yes, story logic suggests and dialogue explains what is happening (“You destroyed it?” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here), but the art does not show the connective action. It actually looks like CC is going to shoot something else, something or someone across the room, certainly not the important item he’s almost cradling at the bottom of page 2. To use an animation term, the Commander’s pose at the bottom of page 2 offers no anticipation of him chucking a thing in front of himself.

I also note that the artifact is not big enough to actually hold the lamp, but no big deal there. I can pretend it was drawn 15% bigger.

Quibble Three: That Ace and [something something] a Skystriker and the B.A.T. is oblique. Here it is, page 10. Read it, and then I’ll explain. Click to enlarge:

Did you miss it? Ace ejected and rammed his jet into the B.A.T. Here’s all of the real estate that the ejection gets:

It’s almost impossible to see he’s so small, and I suspect that the wonderful Schoening lost the forest for the trees by… zooming in too much as he drew this on a computer?

Okay, yes, it’s big and clear on the page that comes after, but above on page 10 the plane explosion doesn’t read as different from the missiles exploding in that same panel. Bigger, yes, but there’s no plane debris. Here’s a suggestion:

I added a panel, moved a sound effect, added a word balloon to draw some attention to the tiniest and most furthest-away Ace ever seen in a G.I. Joe comic, added a few speed lines, and drew a bit of debris to indicate where the Skystriker went.

It’s not that I have a problem with Ace losing Skystrikers, rather, that the action is unclear. You could swap out my finger-pushing-button panel for the cockpit bursting off, or Ace springing up in the air with a “Wha-hoo!,” just something to show Ace leaving the plane.

Again, the art is to be commended. Delgado’s backgrounds feel authentic with their soft gradients and everything in the right palette. And it’s not easy to capture the look of Russ Heath’s model sheets, which Schoening does so handsomely — and not just close, but with utter accuracy. The genie in particular is a fun design — something that didn’t exist, but that looks like it could have then and there. It’s too easy to take for granted that this would all look great — poses, faces, costumes, and backgrounds. Even the linework looks like hand-drawn pencil photocopied onto cel*. A Real American Hero #278 (a one-off issue from last year by regular writer Larry Hama that was drawn by Schoening and Delgado in a mostly animated style) proved that this all could be done, but that doesn’t make it any less hard.

I also appreciate Burnham’s pacing. This isn’t quite a 22-minute episode’s worth of dialogue and plot, but a 20- or 22-page comic book can’t actually capture that. 1992’s monthly Batman Adventures is tremendous, and I appreciate that each issue has three acts in an attempt to match the feel of an episode of the corresponding TV show, but those issues never felt like half-hour adventures — too short. Burnham somehow splits the difference with a cliffhanger. This isn’t a single “episode,” and that it’s a limited series offers something between the animated two-parter and five-parter.  

Fun: I’m not sure where this falls in Season 1 or 2. Roadblock’s costume is S1, but B.A.T.s and Sci-Fi indicate S2. I can see this bothering some fans, but it’s 2022 and not 1980something, so the comic is all an approximation, a light amalgamation.

Also fun: Getting to see the B.A.T.’s action figure hand weapon attachment, which never showed up in the TV cartoon. Also, I pretended Sparks was in the big room.

More fun: Uyetake’s treatment of the “Yo, Joe!” call. I’d prefer these letters sticking out of a pointy word balloon with multiple tails aiming at several Joes, but that the letters get bigger left to right, that they’re big and friendly, and with the patriotic color fill, they are clear and fun.

A special call out to Mr. Burnham for the final page PSA, which struck the right balance of authentic and cheeky without being mocking or too modern. Everyone loves those “funny” internet remixed Public Service Announcements with the new dialogue from 2003, but I’m a grump, so I don’t. As a kid in 1985 I knew the authentic PSAs were a little too much, but they did offer helpful lessons. This new one-pager with Mainframe is just a little self-aware, and no more than it should be — a relief to this grump, and a small fist pump for nostalgia.

Oh, wait, am I not heeding Mainframe’s advice? Ha!

Two parting thoughts: The next issue box reveals a title for issue #2, but we don’t know what the story title was for this premiere outing because IDW doesn’t print story titles on inside front cover credits pages. Also, could we get something a little different for the back cover instead of the same black-nothing/logo from the last three years of ARAH? The cover art sans color, perhaps? (That request also applies to the main ARAH book.)

Despite my quibbles and extra quibbles, this is a fun issue that works both for this hard-to-please comic reader, as well as lapsed fans, and pop culture generalists. I laughed aloud when I saw it announced and listed in catalogs a few months back, beamed when we unpacked it at my shop this week, and smiled more over each page as I read it yesterday morning.

More, please!

And I don’t mean “I can’t wait to read the rest of the miniseries,” I mean “Please publish more than four issues!”


* – “Cel,” above, is indeed the correct spelling. Two L’s is for jails, phones, and microscopic bits of us.


Filed under Comics Reviews

G.I. Joe Animation Art – “The Wrong Stuff”

GI Joe "The Wrong Stuff" animation cel detail

As much as I love G.I. Joe toys and comics, I was a fan of the animation first.  I went to school for animation, and teach it, and the Sunbow/Marvel G.I. Joe (along with Transformers) are my top shows.  Vivid color, strong animation, smart writing, superb sound design, stellar music, and top-notch voice acting bring me back to these two series again and again.  They’re charming.  And their strengths are such that I can blissfully ignore their many flaws, like the ease with which a squad of Joes flies into space in F-14 jets, or return via parachute.

But Flint Dille and Stanley Ralph Ross’ “The Wrong Stuff,” for all its silliness, is one of the series’ best episodes.  One day I’ll write a long post about it, but in a word, it’s funny.  So let’s celebrate that fun with an original production cel and background of Wild Bill in full astronaut regalia.  Click for larger: Continue reading


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

I Was a Teenage Sunbow Intern – Pt 9

Title card for Tim Finn's Sunbow internship blog article part 9

In our last episode,  ([Part 1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]), Tim spent his first day reading materials for Brothers Flub, and soon accomplished his only art-related task of the whole summer.

The real work for production interns was filing paper and dubbing tapes.  Let’s start with the former.

Every morning from the Los Angeles office we received a large FedEx box, the size that holds 10 reams of copy paper.  In it were photocopies of scripts, storyboards, character designs, background designs, and prop designs for Brother Flub.  This was before e-mail attachments of any reasonable size, and FTP sites, so this remarkably inefficient method was the most efficient way to get these materials across the country.  And they needed to be filed.  Ostensibly producers Randy and Tammy were reviewing them all, but either they had already seen earlier versions, or that’s one of those jobs that no one does even though on paper it’s part of the job.  Again, this was thousands of sheets of paper per day.

So I or one of the other interns would slide this very heavy box (sometimes there were two) over to the oversized beige metal filing drawers, pull open the Brothers Flub folders, and file away all this paper.  There were folders for each category, for each episode.  And much of the paper – storyboards and models particularly – was 8.5 x 14 inches, bigger than standard letter-sized paper.  It was brainless, but exactly the kind of task someone is obliquely referring to when he or she says to you that your internship or production assistant (read: gopher) job will be a learning experience even if you don’t do anything important.  Because you will observe things, overhear things, and become familiar with processes that make up the everyday at a company.  And you will see physical objects up close you would not have otherwise.

So it was for me.  Model sheets for costume changes of the main characters.  Model sheets for props or anything that moved in the episode, like the shape of the tear a finger made poking through a newspaper.  And teleplay scripts, with minimal stage direction, and names and dialogue centered on each page.

And of course there were folders for shows besides Brothers Flub.  There were many for Salty’s Lighthouse, the other show in-production (and on-air at that time, I think), and there were many for The Tick, one of the last shows Sunbow had worked on prior.  But the real teases were the folders for the older shows:  G.I. Joe, Transformers, Visionaries, My Little Pony.  (Also, shows I didn’t care about, like Conan the Adventurer.)

Sadly, those folders had very little of interest.  At one point, years earlier, they would have had everything.  Every script, every design.  Not color cels and backgrounds, of course – those (mostly) stayed in the Orient, but many contour images on white paper.  And a single half-hour of animation generates of lot of that over its six months of production.  By the time I got to Sunbow, the show folders mostly consisted of episode lists, writer lists, episode summaries, and the like.  I recall a box under the desk in the dubbing room had transcripts of dozens of G.I. Joe episodes – transcripts, not scripts.  In the UK, G.I. Joe aired as Action Force, so here I suppose British actors could redub the parts where the Joes yelled their “Yo, Joe!” battle cry with “Full Force!”  I’ve never seen Action Force, so if there are any international readers out there, please leave a comment if this rings true.

I did find two fascinating G.I. Joe documents in those files, however.

What were they?  Tune in next time to find out!  [Click here for Part 10]


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“The Rotten Egg” storyboards batch 6

Sorry for the delay!  Back to blogging!  Thanks to all the visitors who clicked here while I wasn’t posting.G.I. Joe season 2 storyboard to animation still comparison "The Rotten Egg"

Pages [1-5] [6-7C] [7D-10] [11-15] [16-19] [20-24] [24A-28]

More storyboards from writers Steve Mitchell and Barbara Petty’s “The Rotten Egg,” this time pages 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24.  Sorry, I don’t know who boarded these, but when I do I’ll update this sentence.

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 020

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 021

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 022

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 023

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 024Things will get a little more interesting with batch 7 when the final animation deviates a little from the storyboard.

Pages [1-5] [6-7C] [7D-10] [11-15] [16-19] [20-24] [24A-28]

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Sunbow Productions memos

In the 1980s Sunbow Productions, based in New York but with an office in Los Angeles, oversaw production of the animated G.I. Joe cartoon.  Because the show was so intensive — dozens of characters, props, vehicles, and locations, the show bible and “briefing books” were by necessity large three-ring binders filled with photocopies of model sheets, sample dialogue, photos of toys, and lists of names.  All in an effort to properly and correctly feature and advertise Hasbro’s product.  Today’s post is two photocopies of memos to the west coast producers and story editors, likely from Terri Gruskin in NY.

Sunbow Productions internal memos G.I. Joe dated 1984

You may find posts like this — without artwork, or imagery of characters or people — to be dry.  But I find such documents fascinating.  In this case because it’s a reminder that the whole process was a series of revisions and rolling changes.  And even though the memo is unsigned, it’s a concrete document showing a decision being made, and representing the dissemination of that decision.

Also, mid ’84 appears to be when Tomax and Xamot’s names were finalized.  (Without Hasbro documents it would be unfair to call this definitive, but presumably there wasn’t a lag between the decision in Pawtucket and the directive in Los Angeles.)  It’s notable that the TV ad for Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe issue #37 (printed in spring 1985, but the ad was in the works 6 to 12 months prior) refers to them only as “evil twin brothers,” so their names were in flux while (presumably) Legal cleared them.


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

Russ Heath – Primord Chief

Russ Heath original art detail G.I. Joe "Satellite Down" Primord Lord

In this Ted Pedersen-written episode of G.I. Joe from 1985, “Satellite Down,” the Joes track a lost satellite to somewhere in an “unexplored region” of Africa.  There they meet a tribe of primitives called Primords, who worship the satellite as a god.  And Storm Shadow and Spirit fight!

Here’s Russ Heath’s original artwork (pencil on animation bond — I cropped out the punch holes) for one version, unused in the episode, for the Primord Chief.

Russ Heath original art G.I. Joe "Satellite Down" Primord Lord

The final design differs greatly from this drawing.  In the episode, the chief is covered in body hair, has no loincloth, hood, or cape, and less face paint.
G.I. Joe "Satellite Down" screencap Primord Lord

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“Revenge of Cobra” 1984 Generic Joe II model sheet

G.I. Joe model sheet tease Generic JoeI don’t recall when this generic trooper (version two) appeared within the 1984 G.I. Joe animated miniseries, “The Revenge of Cobra,” (feel free to chime in in the comments), but here’s a little art of him.  (Version one, not pictured in this post, is sans camo.)  First up is a black and white photocopy of the model sheet, with cel paint color codes written in pencil.

G.I. Joe model sheet tease Generic Joe

And here’s the color model sheet — cel vinyl (like acrylic paint) on the back of an animation cel.  Two or three of these were painted for every single character that appeared (standard for animation, not just the G.I. Joe production).  One or two stayed in the States, and one or two went overseas with all the scripts, storyboards, and background keys to the animation studio that would produce the bulk of the show, in this case Toei in Japan.

G.I. Joe color model sheet Generic Joe

This art is likely Russ Heath, since he’s the main designer credited on “Revenge,” but I should point out that eight other artists appear in the end credits of these five episodes.  They did costume changes, props, and lesser background characters so there’s a chance one of them took a Heath drawing of Generic Joe version one and added a few details.

I don’t know if the term “greenshirts” came about in early Joe fandom, or in 2000 when Devil’s Due Press published its G.I. Joe comic book and canonized the term, but I’ve never liked the word (even though it’s wonderfully accurate) because it represents the animation’s misunderstanding of the Joe concept from almost year one.  With generic soldiers running around in the background of every episode, G.I. Joe becomes a stand-in for the regular, larger armed forces, rather than Delta Force, (what it’s actually a stand-in for), akin to the A-Team or the Mission: Impossible folks.  It’s not hundreds of men and women, it’s five or ten or 20 on smaller missions.

But seriously, I don’t recall when this guy shows up.  Do you?


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

The Other Half of the Battle: “The Funhouse”

Continuing our look at key episodes of G.I. Joe (1983), G.I. Joe (1989), and GI Joe Extreme (1995)…

“The Funhouse”
original airdate 10/01/85
Written by Steve Mitchell and Barbara Petty

The plot in one sentence: Cobra kidnaps scientists and makes six Joes run the gauntlet of a deathtrap-filled funhouse.

Personal Trivia: I own a production animation cel and background from this episode.  They’ll be in the book.

G.I. Joe Trivia: Steve Mitchell, co-writer of this episode, inked the covers to three issues of Marvel’s monthly G.I. Joe comic book.  Before he got into writing and producing, Mitchell was an inker seen on many a Marvel and DC title, notably Norm Breyfogle’s Batman and Detective Comics runs.

Best thing about this episode: Dusty pops a balloon filled with gas and hallucinates.  His reaction, and the character animation on this scene are great:

G.I. Joe "The Funhouse" screencap Dusty, Airtight, Cobra Commander

Worst thing about this episode that’s also kind of the best thing about this episode: This carnival barker Cobra Commander robot.

G.I. Joe "The Funhouse" screencap Cobra Commander robot

Best line:

Cobra Commander (from an overhead monitor): “Despite your rudeness, I offer you a sporting chance.  Three doors, three choices.  Two of them lead to dead ends.”

Flint: “What about the third one?”

Cobra Commander: “It leads to me.”

Alpine: “Then all the doors are losers.”

Worst example of one character finishing another’s sentence:

Lady Jaye: “I don’t know where we’re going–”

Air-Tight: “–But anywhere’s an improvement.”

Does it hold up? This episode is a strange one.  It’s straightforward – Cobra, scientists, Joes, deathtraps – until you look carefully.  It’s best not to think too hard about where and how Cobra comes up with its deathtraps, but the ones in “Funhouse” really beg some questions.  Who built an indoor roller coaster in a Latin American step pyramid?  Would Cobra Commander have been upset if all six Joes had taken one door and the other deathtraps had gone to waste?  On the positive side, the character animation is so great, year one character (and discontinued action figure) Zap makes an appearance, the pacing is tight and the banter snappy, and there’s an explosion that looks suspiciously like a mushroom cloud.  Not a good representation of the show at its most grounded, but definitely the pinnacle of the show’s balance of cool and zany.

Tim Finn gives this episode 5 out of 5 MacGuffins

I give it 5 out of 5 MacGuffins.

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“The Rotten Egg” storyboards batch 2

Sorry for the lack of posts Friday.

Pages [1-5] [6-7C] [7D-10] [11-15] [16-19]

Continuing our look at the Season 2 episode “The Rotten Egg,” here are five more pages of storyboards, page 6, 7, 7A, 7B, and 7C.

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboardG.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 007G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 007AG.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 007B

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" Season 2 storyboard page 007C

Next five pages!

Pages [1-5] [6-7C] [7D-10] [11-15] [16-19]

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“The Rotten Egg” storyboards batch 1

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard title pg excerpt

Sorry for the late post.  Monday’s supposed to be art day, with Tuesday a reserve should Monday get swamped.  Anyway, happy Wednesday!

Today we look at the first few pages of storyboards from the Steve Mitchell and Barbara Petty-written season 2 G.I. Joe episode “The Rotten Egg.”

This episode has a great premise, that Leatherneck’s old rival is now running a military academy, and invites him to graduation ceremonies, but the two have a long-standing grudge that comes to a head.  Also, Cobra’s peripherally involved.  The emotional through-line — that grudge — is tight, and not that you’d know if from this art but voice actor Chuck McCann gives an Emmy-worthy performance as Leatherneck.  Dick Gautier, elsewhere heard as Serpentor, is similarly stellar as antagonist Buck McCann — a play on the other actor’s name.

I should know who drew these Act I boards, but I don’t.  If I find out, I’ll update this post later.

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard pg 01

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard pg 02

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard pg 03

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard pg 04

G.I. Joe "The Rotten Egg" storyboard pg 05

Next five pages!

Pages [1-5] [6-7C] [7D-10] [11-15]

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