Marvel President Jim Galton and Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld met at a charity fundraiser in the men’s room, or so Galton told me.
They had a conversation that presumably continued beyond their coincidental visit to the comfort station. Galton talked about Marvel. Hassenfeld talked about Hasbro. And, in particular, Hassenfeld mentioned that Hasbro was planning to reactivate the G.I. JOE trademark. And that they were having difficulty coming up with the underlying conceit. Who is this guy, what does he do and why does he do it?
Galton pitched Marvel’s creative services. Raved to Hassenfeld about the creative prowess of my troops and me. And sold him on the idea of letting Marvel take a crack at developing a concept for G.I. JOE.
This would have been in 1981.
Editor Larry Hama had been working on a reactivation of Nick Fury. He had a lot of ideas. Fury as the head of a top secret, elite strike force, a headquarters in sub-basements below the Chaplain’s quarters. I think. Anyway, he had a lot of stuff going. At some point, he’d told me what he was working on. But I don’t think it was ready to go yet, and we hadn’t yet committed to it—that is, I hadn’t circulated a new project memo and scheduled the thing.
A few days after his fateful meeting with Hassenfeld, Galton asked me to accompany him to a meeting with Hasbro.
It was downtown somewhere. Not at Hasbro’s toy district office. Way downtown. I don’t remember exactly. Their lawyers’ offices? I don’t know.
Anyway, there were a few people from Hasbro present, boys toys execs. Bob Prupis was there I think. Could be wrong. I don’t think anyone from Giffin-Bacal was there. Could be wrong. They were all eager to meet the Editor in Chief that Galton had apparently highly touted.
They showed me what they had. A logo: “G.I. JOE, a Real American Hero.” That was about it. They didn’t want to revive the big doll. Yes, I know it was verboten to use the word “doll,” and I didn’t in front of them. They were thinking about three and three quarters inch figures, like the Star Wars figures, but they hadn’t even settled on that yet. And they wanted a line of figures, not just one. Someone said, “So, besides G.I. JOE, do we have G.I. George, G.I. Fred…?
I said how about if “G.I. JOE” is the code name for the unit? Call in G.I. JOE?” They liked that. I also said it should be an anti-terrorist team. Not a “war” toy. That was obvious to everyone, I guess.
They were sold. They wanted us to proceed and develop a concept. Everybody shook hands and Galton and I took a cab back uptown.
Later, Marvel’s licensing and business affairs people worked out the deal. More on that later.
Back at the Marvel, I went straight to Larry’s office. He, with his military background, was the obvious choice to do the heavy lifting. I told him what happened. He thought, and I agreed, that much of what he’d already cooked up for Nick Fury could be adapted to the project.
G.I. JOE seemed important enough that I wanted to involve Archie, who by my reckoning was our best. I assigned Tom DeFalco as editor of the book-to-be. The four of us represented Marvel creative.
It was really all Larry from that point. The rest of us maybe kibitzed a little, but all significant creation, all the real work was done by Larry. There were only two contributions, I believe, that were not Larry’s, one minor and one notable.
The minor one was mine. Larry wrote the outline that was the basis for the series and, essentially, the plot for the first issue. He wrote it like a regular Marvel plot, straightforwardly, just the facts. I knew it had to be a pitch piece as well as a plot, so I rewrote it into a more dramatic presentation. I changed not an iota of substance—I simply amped up the sturm und drang. Hasbro loved it.
The notable contribution was Archie’s. He came up with the first bad guys, the Cobra Command and the Cobra Commander.
We had a meeting or two, I think, with Hasbro people in New York. We definitely flew up to Pawtucket further along in the development to see their prototypes and discuss the launch plan. Possibly Mike Hobson was with us on that trip.
They explained the rollout. They didn’t plan to have any villains in the launch. We protested. “Who are they going to fight? They need bad guys!” Archie pitched his bad guy concept. The Hasbro people resisted on the grounds that villain action figures “don’t sell.” We persisted. Finally, they caved in and included one Cobra figure.
Later, by the way, villains became 40% of their volume.
At some point along the way, we asked for female characters to be included in the line. We had women in the comics, and it seemed odd that there were none (or very few) among the toys. “Female action figures don’t sell,” we were told. I suggested that they include female figures with the vehicles. That worked. I probably wasn’t the first one to suggest that.
Every year, the Hasbro boys toys team would come to Marvel. On our conference room table, they’d spread out a bunch of prototypes and design drawings. Sometimes they’d show us naked gadgetry—the mechanical underpinnings of something that would hop, spin, flip, crawl or whatever—without a clear notion of what it might be used for. Larry would create an appropriate vehicle or weapon to use the technology, usually on the spot. Hasbro would explain some new marketing tack or characters it intended to introduce and Larry would find a way to make it work.
It got to the point that I stopped going to the meetings. Larry had it all under control.
Back to Marvel’s deal with Hasbro. Per the deal, Marvel did character and story creation. Marvel published the comics. Marvel Productions created the animation. For the first year, Marvel handled the licensing of the property for ancillaries. We did a pathetic job at that, so after the first year, Hasbro took the licensing away from us and did it themselves. They hired away one of our licensing people, however, a woman named Leslie, whose last name I forget. Sorry.
As part of the deal, Hasbro ran TV commercials ostensibly promoting the comic books, but not really. Merely collaterally, in fact.
Toy commercials were heavily regulated at the time (probably more so today). Use of animation was severely restricted. Actual children playing with actual toys for a certain percentage of the spot was required. Etc. However, there were no regulations whatsoever governing the advertising of comic books. By making “comic book ads” that were, in fact, thinly disguised ads for the toys, Hasbro circumvented regulation. And those were some exciting ads—the best toy ads on TV.
All in all, it was a mutually beneficial deal, at least for the comics.
G.I. JOE quickly became a top tier title and our number one subscription title.
Marvel Productions, however, overspent on production, and since MP was a W4H supplier it had no share of the back end. They lost money. A lot of money.
Bottom line, the comics were a big success, thanks almost entirely to Larry. The toys were a big success, thanks in large measure to Larry. The animation was, by most accounts, a critical success but a financial disaster.
Larry surely remembers a lot of details that I don’t, but I bet there are a couple of things in this post even he didn’t know.
Here's an article on ComiChron.com showing how high G.I. Joe's sales got by 1986. These are the numbers from the statements of ownership printed annually in comic books which include both retail and subscription sales.
By 1986, G.I. Joe was selling 331,475 copies (going by cover dates that's issue #43 to #54). That was more than double the 157,920 it was selling in 1983 (#7-18). By comparison, Amazing Spider-Man was selling 276,064 copies in 1986 (up from 241,762 in 1983).
Here is a top 10 list of Marvel's direct sales rankings from 1985. G.I. Joe #35 made the cut at #10, not yet outselling Spider-Man.
This makes sense since G.I. Joe was peaking on all fronts by 1986. The cartoon had its second full season that year and by that time had been airing for several years. This vintage Sun Sentinel article from 1986 quotes a retailer survey showing G.I. Joe was the #1 selling toy that year. Transformers were #7. M.A.S.K., the competing G.I. Joe/Transformers-esque hybrid from Kenner, was also doing well at #5 (M.A.S.K. had its own cartoon in 1985-86 and a tie-in comic book published by DC which only lasted 15 issues.).
Joseph, those were mail-order subscription figures only. The total of subscription plus in-store sales would have been higher. Jim has stated that any book with 100,000 or less total circulation around this time would have been at risk for cancellation.
It stands to reason the licensed comics were heavily subscribed to because they were marketed in many venues outside of comic book stores. A lot of those kids might have only had interest in that one title with no desire to go to a comic book store on a regular basis.
Vinnie, I'm not sure if the Maggot is the sci-fi oriented vehicle you meant to refer to. That one looks like a reasonable military-style vehicle for Cobra in the vein of the HISS or ASP.
You might have been thinking of the BUGG. That one came out a year after the Maggot in 1988 and was a little more "out there." Maggot…BUGG…easy to get the names confused.
You're right about the Hammer. It looks very realistic and almost ahead of its time for 1990. I think Hasbro's released a lot of similar-looking Joe vehicles to that one in recent years.
Going by YoJoe.com's index, it seems like the amount of Joe vehicles released contracted in 1991. That's also the year DIC's attempt at reinventing the animated series ended after producing only half the episodes Sunbow did. I know 1991 was the year I started to find the figure designs pretty uninspired and stopped collecting the line.
It seems sales of the toys were declining at this point, but I'm not sure if the decline started even earlier, like in 1987 when the Sunbow cartoon ended. Of course many fans point to the 1987 animated movie with Cobra-La as a "jump the shark" moment, but the Cobra-La figures only counted for a small portion of the 1987 toy releases. No doubt the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line and cartoon starting in 1988 were another factor cutting into sales.
Here is a compilation on YouTube of most of the G.I. Joe Marvel Comics TV commercials. Pretty cool, but some of the early ads have strange-sounding early voice concepts for the characters that were improved once the cartoon series hit. Plus sometimes it sounds like the singer is making up the lyrics to the music as he goes along. LOL! The last 3-and-a-half minutes are interesting because they have animation for characters and vehicles that came out during 1987-1988 when there was no cartoon series being produced for them to appear in.
Just going back to this post now because something caught my eye: Star Wars was Marvel's fourth best-selling book a year before its cancellation? And Indiana Jones was tenth? I'm guessing that licensing issues figured in the books being dropped instead of low sales as most people might have thought.
I was (and still am) a huge fan of Larry Hama and his G.I. JOE work. I really wish Marvel would hire Larry to write a brand new ongoing SHIELD book.
Several diehard Joe fans are digging this article that was directed / linked to your blog, by way of Joe's biggest fansite = HissTank.com. Feel free to join the 'Tank and chime in. We just "front-paged" the link to your blog / article on the 'Tank too!
I am doing research into the New Mutants sales figures in the 1980s. Do you have circulation figures for that title?
Curiously, the little yellow circulation boxes don't appear in several years. They're present for 1985, 1987, and 1988 but not for 1984 and 1986. (Not sure whether 1983 ought to have had one or not-it didn't-because the title was new.) I'm trying to figure out how to fill in the gaps.
Do you know why these didn't appear some years? It's not just the letters page getting replaced by an ad, because in 1986 the October issue has a letter's page. Sometimes the little yellow box appeared on an ad page, but I don't see one anywhere on the missing years.
Was there any penalty from the Post Office if the little yellow boxes didn't appear, or did no one care?
It's on the queue.
It's interesting to note that Snake-Eyes wasn't featured in the corner cover box until G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #102 ("What Did He Say?") was published on May 15th, 1990. With the exception of issue 19 (which featured fill-in editor Linda Grant in a green army helmet), the picture of Grunt firing his M-16 rifle remained in that space for issues #1-100.
The problem with that decision is that Grunt retired from the service and headed to school at Georgia Tech University in issue 55 ("Unmaskings"). Robert W. Graves didn't disappear from the series forever but he never officially rejoined the team. Larry Hama provided a happing ending for him in #56 ("Jungle Moves") where Grunt met his future girlfriend named Lola. Next, Robert had a brief one page appearance in issue 62 ("Transit") talking to Roadblock on the phone.
G.I. Joe #65 ("Shuttle Complex") was the last issue where Jim Shooter was listed as Editor in Chief. I'd like to think if he remained at Marvel a little longer, Jim would have noticed this inconsistency between cover and content. Of course, Snake-Eyes was the most appropriate character to replace Grunt next to the logo. Snake-Eyes was one of the 13 classic Joes and he was so popular that Mike Zeck drew him holding an Uzi submachine gun on the cover of issue 53 ("Pit-Fall") despite the fact he never appeared in that story.
As many others have said GI Joe was my gateway to comics.
And 30 years later I still spend part of my day surfing GI Joe forums and still buy them all that come out. I have even become the Senior Editor of the comic book section at YOJoe.com. I have written most of the summaries for the YOJoe Comic Book Section (including the Marvel ones) and still to this day love the Joe comics, so literally GI Joe is still a major part of my life. It has been a wonderful life long hobby. So thank you for your participation in the creation of GI Joe.
My Mom still says to this day that collecting comics is one of the most healthy things a kid (or adult ) can do.
Loved seeing the subscription list. And have been trying to prove to my Super Hero comic friends that GI Joe was out selling them in the 80's they don't believe it.
I was wondering if you have any proof that GI Joe was a top seller in the 1980's. A list of similar sales numbers would be awesome to see.
Thanks for a lifetime of entertainment
G.I. Joe was the comic that got me into collecting as well..
I thought that the jump the shark moment started when it became all Snake-Eyes, all the time.
Couldn't there have been a second title with just the name, "G.I. Joe: Snake-Eyes" instead? (I ask that more in a rhetorical fashion.. I'm guessing a second title would be rather burdensome.. G.I. Joe Special Missions didn't seem to have had that long of a shelf life)
One thing I have noticed with Hollywood movies and comics (at least in the past) is there is a very developed character, rich with backstory and they scrap all that and do their own story that has nothing in common but the name. The first Punisher movie with Dolph Lundgren comes to mind.
They've gotten better in recent years, I'll admit.
Thanks for these background stories, Mr. Shooter.
Been my favorite stop since I found out about your blog.
The Fridge incident wasn't necessarily before Shooter's time. Every Saturday from January 3rd until June 27th, 1987, G.I. Joe fans could call a number where William Perry told you his special combat skill. It was good for 1 free Fridge proof of purchase certificate.
Whether Jim could have heard the reasons for the Fridge promotion is sort of inconsequential though. The Fridge never appeared in a Marvel comic book or an episode of the Sunbow animated series. If a fan hated the idea of a football player joining G.I. Joe, it was easy to ignore him.
I believe Perry's only non-commercial printed appearance is on Chris Lie's wrap around cover for G.I. Joe: America's Elite #25 ("World War III Part 1 of 12 – Havoc"). Since that cover incorporated 236 people + 4 pets to celeberate the toyline's 25th anniversary, Perry isn't even that noticeable.
The Rocky Balboa bio was included in G.I. Joe: Order of Battle #2. The following issue ended with a retraction stating: "The character of Rocky Balboa (Code Name: ROCKY) was incorrectly included as a member of G.I. JOE, in The G.I. Joe ORDER OF BATTLE, Issue #2 on page 10. ROCKY is not and has never been a member of G.I. Joe." The trade paperback later ommited Rocky's bio.
By the way, the editor for G.I. Joe: Order of the Battle #1-4 was John Morelli which is funny because Jack S. Morelli is Dial-Tone's real name.
"G.I. Joe had a way of making its crazier ideas slightly more wacky with each passing year. The next "celebrity" figure the year after the Fridge was going to be Rocky Balboa. For some reason the deal fell through, but not before the artwork and "bio" for him were published in one of the Marvel comics (G.I. Joe Yearbook I think?)."
IIRC, it fell through because that was around the time the Rambo cartoon came out and another company planned to make Rambo figures as a tie-in. Basically it came down to Hasbro not wanting to produce a Stallone figure while another company was producing their own Stallone figure (albeit for a separate property) so they scrapped the GI Joe one.
And, yes, thirty years later I still can't believe somebody greenlit a Rambo cartoon.
OM – In Hasbro's opinion, the big point when the line started to lose steam was when the vehicles became more science-fictiony and crazy, like the Cobra Maggot. The next year, they went back to a more real-world military look for the line, with the "Hammer" (based on the Hummer, which at the time was all but unseen by the public)
Some of the side-lines were a bit weak – the eco-warriors line was a stretch to say the least, but it did give Boys Toys leader Vinnie D'alleva immortality by becoming the real name of the bad guy Cesspool.
I recall a gag from a Nick Fury comic where Jasper Stillwell unveils a new thingummy to Nick, with a crazy acronym, and Nick quips "Sometimes I think you guys invent this stuff just so you can give them crazy names".
From day one when GI Joe relaunched, I saw the similarities between Joe and SHIELD. It was one of the things that appealed to me.
I was a major collector back in the day. To teach myself this new organization chart designer, I built an org chart of COBRA. In its entirety. Every figure ever done, with a detailed command structure. It measured 6 foot wide by 3 foot high. I mailed a copy to Larry. I got a nice "Thanks from the Pit" postcard, with a note from Larry. In the version of the world in my head, I like to think that chart hung on his wall and proved an invaluable reference tool. Don't feel obligated to disprove that opinion.
When I met Larry and had him draw Norbert, he drew him as Storm-Shadow.
He may have one of the longest tenure (across several publishers) on one title/character of any single creator in comics. it doesn't compare with the tenure of comic STRIP creators like Lee Falk or anything, but impressive nevertheless.
G.I. JOE proved pretty valuable.
I've found that real creative people like Larry aren't precious with ideas. They've got a million of 'em. And they'll make more. What he had worked, it was done, so we used it.
OM, they had introduced the wrestler Sgt. Slaughter into the G.I. Joe line a year before the Fridge, so maybe it didn't seem like that much further of a stretch to them. Sarge was of course a huge character in the cartoon and somewhat less so in the comics, but I don't know if Fridge ever made an appearance in any of the media at all.
G.I. Joe had a way of making its crazier ideas slightly more wacky with each passing year. The next "celebrity" figure the year after the Fridge was going to be Rocky Balboa. For some reason the deal fell through, but not before the artwork and "bio" for him were published in one of the Marvel comics (G.I. Joe Yearbook I think?). His Cobra "arch-enemy" counterpart character, who went by the code name "Big Boa," was still released as an action figure in 1987, complete with removable boxing gloves.
"He thought, and I agreed, that much of what he’d already cooked up for Nick Fury could be adapted to the project."
Wouldn't it have been more valuable to Marvel in the long run to use it on a property they owned?
I don't remember much about that. But I would have bought a Mean JOE.
OM – I think the Fridge incident was after Jim's time, so I doubt he'd know too much about it. Would that be right, Jim?
Mark Gruenwald is sorely missed in any and every capacity.
…Jim, perhaps you can shed some light on the moment where GI Joe arguably "jumped the shark": the introduction of the "Fridge" figure. Whose idea was it to turn an NFL legend into the Joe mythos, and how did it come about in the first place? To be honest, when the ads for the "Fridge" figure started showing up in the comics, fans and collectors were wondering when Conrad "Crackback" Dobler and Mean Joe Greene were going to get drafted into the lineup.
Jim, your opening line, "Marvel’s involvement with G.I. JOE started in a men’s room." has to be up there with classic opening lines like Dicken's "Marley was dead: to begin with."
Great post! Wow I never knew Larry Hama was such a big man. I've only recently learned and appreciated his contribution to the early Iron fist comic. He was a great artist! I'm afraid my knowledge of his involvement in G.I.Joe was only to the extent of his "silent" issue with Snake Eyes, which I got in the 80's but found out later of it's uniqueness and value. But your post also piques my interest in it which I intend to get.
What a list of titles you have posted! I can't believe the order they are in! Daredevil at 17! Just one year before the classic Born Again story line! Dr. Strange at 19 during the classic Roger Stern run! How interesting to see the popularity of these books in hind sight!
Devil's Due Publishing did indeed establish Shooter to be a black woman. However, her return in G.I. Joe: Declassified #1 was written by Larry Hama himself. "Shooter" was the codename for Sergeant First Class Craig. Appropriately enough, she wore a badge proving her credentials as an expert rifleman.
In the last half of G.I. Joe: Declassified #3, readers are presented with another side of the "Operation: Lady Doomsday" story. Towards the end, Sergeant First Class Craig is shot several times in the back just moments before the Spanish fort exploded in G.I. Joe: A Real Americfan Hero #1. All of the team circa 1982 attended Shooter's memorial service with only General Flagg & Sparks aware of the role she had in that first adventure. Although it's unlikely Hasbro will create a 3 3/4" action figure based on this character, I'd be enthusiastic to buy it.
Mark Gruenwald became one of the five EICs during that strange year when the business folks split up editorial into five smaller groups so as to limit the power and authority of any single editorial voice. That would have been after Tom DeFalco's departure, more or less the fall of 1994 through the fall of 1995 if I'm recalling correctly. And for all of Mark's skills and aptitudes, and they were many, being an EIC wasn't really one of them. Making the hard choices that might impact on people's lives and livelihoods didn't come easily to him–he was much more valuable (and much happier) in the Executive Editor position.
Great stuff, Jim. Thanks for the insight. Although, I was surprised when you said you went right to Hama. I thought I had read, maybe in an interview with Larry, that his office was at the end of a hall, and he was virtually the last guy asked. Yours makes more sense, though, given Larry's military knowledge!
Hasbro did release the female Scarlett on a single card within the first 2 or 3 years of the toy line. They weren't particularly good at sculpting females back then though and, well, let's be kind and say she had a tomboyish face. Both Hasbro and Kenner seemed hesitant to produce very many copies of whatever female figures they did make. Princess Leia, Scarlett and the Baroness became very hard-to-find in stores after their initial release. The companies apparently opted to replenish stock mainly with the male characters. They were likewise stingy enough not to introduce more than one female figure a year. I think they got away from them almost entirely going into the 1990s. Of course now that adult toy collectors are a bigger factor we see a good deal more females produced (they even did a special female version of the classic Cobra Soldier as a G.I. Joe convention exclusive a few years back).
Sadly, unlike Transformers, G.I. Joe hasn't really been able to recapture the magic in any significant way since its great run under Marvel's auspices in the 1980s. Hasbro's most popular Joe figures in recent years tend to be direct remakes of the beloved 1980s characters. Hasbro has continually reinvented the toy line's style or storyline every two or three years since the mid-1990s, clearly hoping for it to become as successful as it used to be, but never achieving the results they're looking for.
G.I. Joe was also my gateway into the broader world of comics. Aside from some Donald Duck issues I had read at the barbershop, G.I. Joe was my fist comic book. My older brother brought issue #48 home from Waldenbooks one day. Soon after that I saw the TV ad for #49, which introduced 1986's lead villain Serpentor. By the time issue #50 hit we had found our local comic shop and became regulars (the only one in town turned out to be a 5-minute walk away!). Eventually we even managed to save up $20 to buy the copy of G.I. Joe #1 that was encased in mylar and hanging behind the shop's cash register.
Pretty soon I would become a lifelong Spider-Man fan. One of my favorite memories is getting about two years worth of Amazing back issues (from the black costume introduction and up) for 50 cents each at an out-of-town comic shop's sale event and reading them in the back seat of the car on the way to family vacation that year. I also read the X-Men titles, Secret Wars, Man of Steel and, yes, the New Universe. I read more limited series, newly launched titles and graphic novels because it seemed daunting jumping into a series that already had 100+ issues in the can.
I remained an avid comic reader up through the rise and fall of Image and Valiant, but somewhere around the Spider-Man Clone saga I pretty much gave up, with rare exceptions like your "Dark Key" titles, Larry Hama's continuation of Marvel's G.I. Joe series at IDW, and John Byrne's relaunch of Next Men. I also picked up all of the Marvel CD-ROM volumes from GITCorp and am looking forward to reading titles I never did before, like Iron Man and The Avengers, starting with the first issues and going at least through your stewardship of them in the 1980s. But now I might have to dig up those old G.I. Joe issues again first and give those another read.
So now we know, Jim, that you're responsible for the cartoon's iconic theme song starting out with the unforgettable phrase "G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly trained special mission force." And knowing is half the battle, as they say on TV.
Thanks for the article, Jim! This reminds me of another quote from the G.I. Joe cartoon episode "Excalibur," "Ask and ye shall receive!" An somewhat humorous episode in which the Joes got lucky a few times by coincidentally wishing for things like the rain to stop and suddenly having it happen right on cue. Since I just posted a request asking you for the inside scoop on G.I. Joe in response to yesterday's blog and you already have this up, I'm going to assume I wasn't the first one to ask. But if you pulled another all-nighter putting this together, I do appreciate it.
I very much remember just how popular G.I. Joe was back then, including as a comic book. I know that somewhere the top 100 selling comics for the month (or year?) were published and G.I. Joe was always near the top of the list. They were also some of the most expensive recent back issues in the store. Issue #1 was $20 and #2 cost even more, a fact which helped give me my first lesson in how supply is just as strong of an economic factor as demand.
I would concur with anyone who considers the cartoon critically acclaimed. For me, it still holds up to repeat viewings today. It was an incredibly fast-paced show with lots of exciting action. The plotting was well-structured and always hit its story beats right on cue in time for the commercial breaks. More controversially, it had a very humorous, campy side to it (which is where it departed from the comic). Ideas like the Joes fighting giant vegetables might not have risen to an iconic level, but Cobra Commander's highly original, distinctive, sarcastic and hilariously over-the-top vocal personality made him into as classic a cartoon character as any in my book. The voice acting from all the cast as well as their snappy back-and-forth dialogue was probably the most entertaining aspect of the series. The animation was often crude in its execution, but frequently brilliant in its storyboarding. Just compare the series to the lazy, cliched episodes produced by DIC in the 1990s and its quality becomes clear.
My first exposure to G.I. Joe was appropriately enough through the toys. That initial Cobra Soldier was one of my first action figures and remains a sentimental favorite. I even have Hasbro's modern version of him standing on my desk within reach as I write this. I remember getting him and a couple of "green shirt" Joes like Breaker and Steeler when I was 6 years old. It wasn't long before I ran the Cobra over with the battery-powered MOBAT tank, breaking the rubber band that held his body parts together. Good times…
I think those first-year Joe toys were bought for me on a lark based on them just seeming like the modern version of the basic toy soldier. I wouldn't get anymore until a couple years later when the vast and crazily creative G.I. Joe mythos recaptured my interest via the cartoons, comics and file cards. The villains, like the ninja Storm Shadow and the color-changing Zartan, were more offbeat and colorful than the heroes. They brought in some sci-fi and other non-military elements that helped attract former Star Wars-obsessed kids like myself to the storyline. Pretty soon I had to have every G.I. Joe toy and comic and watch every cartoon.
Thanks for making this blog a must read for me. I have a fairly normal routine most evenings, come home, mess around various sports site, catch up a lil news, head on over to bleedingcool, comicbookresources, maybe stop by Byrne's forum, facebook, by then the rest of the family is home and I am off. Nowadays I find myself going first to your site to see the latest updates then onto to bleedingcool, etc.
I wish Roy Thomas, Don McGregor and a few others would o something like this (although I get quite a bit of Roy in Alter Ego) I am also amazed at how much material you have kept over the years and think you must have a treasure trove of references that would more than help if you decide to do a book "Pushing the Envelope – The Jim Shooter Years at Marvel and Valiant Comics.
I would pre-order it.
Your theory sounds good. I'd have to ask Larry.
G.I. Joe was my first ever Marvel subscription as well. I liked superheroes (I had Hulk, Spidey, and Supes latchhooks on my wall since I was a baby) but we sold magazine subscriptions through school and GI Joe was one of the few comics you could pick (I also got Marvel Team-Up). Dunno if that has anything to do with some of the disparity.
I'm a lifelong Pittsburgher so of course my favorite Joe was the tank commander figure code named Steeler . I think 90% of Joe fans don't even remember the poor guy existed but he was definitely popular with the kids who grew up with me in Carnegie. I always wondered if that was Larry's little inside nod to Mr. Shooter?
I was one of the GI Joe subscribers counted on that page! That was the best comic on the market at the time, because Larry Hama was a hell of a writer.
I learned the word "elucidate" from one of Hama's GI Joe comics.
Thanks for the back story!
Fantastic read, Mr. Shooter. Thanks so much for sharing this info with us. It's great to get a feel what went in to the creation of a universe that many still hold dear to this day.
My hat's off to you, sir.
@JC-There was actually a tribute to the "Shooter" character in the DDP series reboot of G.I.JOE that you are referring to from issue one. Which in turn, was (from what I've been told) a reference to Jim Shooter himself. Although, I believe they made the character a black woman so…maybe Stephen Sommers was somehow attached to that decision.
I'm sure the Joe comic brought in tons of non traditional fans, I wasn't too keen on super hero comics at the time, but fantasy military with a touch of Star Wars type villains is a great way to reach out to kids that didn't want to jump into hero books that had issue numbers in the 100's. I watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but that wasn't enough to get me to buy Spider-Man. The GIJOE marketing push is what got me into comics. I was also a big Star Wars fan and the Al Williamson drawn Empire Strike Back adaption I had was worn out, the cover looked like it had been blasted by a shotgun. The ESB paperback adaption was bought in a department store called 'Gaylords'.
Kids did not know who Al Williamson, Archie Goodwin or Larry Hama were, but I knew good stuff when I saw it.
Gruenwald stories are in the queue. I wasn't at Marvel or privy to what went on after April 1987.
Jim, any info on the GIJOE named 'Shooter' in the first issue of GIJOE? I imagine it was a nod to you that never went any further. Shooter was only displayed on a printout of Joe Team members, he has never shown in person.
It seems obvious that there's a strong connection between the comic being #1 on the subscription list and being heavily advertised on TV – none of the other comics on the list benefitted from this advantage, did they?
I sure hope Hasbro sends Larry a retirement fund..
Groo had fewer than 1000 subscribers? What a bunch of mendicants!
And speaking of Groo… I'd love to hear any stories about Mark Gruenwald. Was he ever seriously considered for the EIC spot? He always seemed like the natural choice and I was frustrated when the job went to DeFalco and (I think it was before he died) Harras.
My guess on Star Trek, Glenn, is that the big roadblock to success was Paramount. They have always had an extremely protective stance towards the franchise that many people felt put the creative team(s) on the books at a disadvantage. I'm speculating here based on hearsay more than anything else, so I'd be curious to know from one of the sources what the full problem was.
Any chance we can see a blog entry about Marvel's STAR TREK series that launched out of THE MOTION PICTURE?
I'd love to know how it came together, and what exactly went wrong with it. Star Trek and Marvel should have been a slam-dunk, especially given all the success you were having with STAR WARS at the very same time.
That reminds me TRDouble, do remeber all the cool artists that graced the pages of GI JOE?
Just off the top of my head:
Ron Garney(a few fill-ins)
There's probably a few more I'm forgetting.
I loved those commercials! I was into the toys but never wanted to try the comic because I figured it was probably childish and used to sell the toys. That all changed when I saw the commercial for G.I. Joe #14 (IIRC) with Destro on the cover. I literally stopped whatever it was I was doing to watch it! I picked up that issue and I was hooked! I managed to get all of the back issues except #2, which was a tougher find than issue #1. I would love to pick these up in a nice volume collection and re-read one of my favorite comics series from the 80s.
Wow! Great stuff there. I'm glad this story came out, as I was a huge GI Joe fan back in the day. I was the ideal consumer back then, in that I had my parents buy the toys, some vehicles, and of course the comics. Sure I may not have always understood the miliaty lingo or info contained in the comics, but Larry Hama was, and is the man. He saved and rebooted(w/some help from you and other Marvel staffers) the whole GI Joe concept so that it became bigger than it was in the 60's.
Thanks for the stories, and I hope more Secret Origins are on the way since the one you've provided have doubtlessly entertained your audience.
As always, kintounkal, thanks for the terrific info and setting things right.
Truly a great look back at the cultural significance and impact of G.I. Joe in the 80's. Excellent. I have been a devout and religious follower of Mr. Hama for nearly 30 years and I'm glad he's getting his share of the well-deserved spotlight.
Thank you VERY much for sharing this.
GI Joe was my gateway drug into comic books. At age 8 or 9 I was already a big fan of the toys. I have no idea how I found out there was a comic book, but I got my dad to find a local comic book store and off we went to buy my first issue, #23. I really enjoyed Larry Hama's stories, and kept up with the series well up into the 120s or 130s, which was about the time it seemed toy tie in stories were getting out of hand, and everyone apparently was trained as a ninja by Storm Shadow's family.
Wow, Hasbro could not have been MORE wrong when they said that nobody would buy the villains. Most of the best GI Joe, Star Wars, and Transformers toys were the villains. Heck the only really cool Joe from the first line was misidentified as a villain in foreign markets.
I remember getting my first Cobra Commander in the mail… He was but the first of many favorite villains from the line. The entire Cobra army was the coolest thing ever until the DiC era gave us ridiculously big gun Vipers.
Including women with the vehicles was a brilliant idea. Cover Girl regularly joined the fight because she had the bad ass Wolverine. Though I seem to recall my Scarlett figure being individually packaged… I always hated that the Lady Jay figure looked nothing like the cartoon/comic.
Larry Hama pretty much created my childhood. Luckily he did such a great job that not even Stephen Sommers could destroy it.
Marc – my theory on why GI Joe had 8x the subscribers as Transformers is that comics were a poor median for the Transformers. Think about it – the coolest thing about them was the fact that they convert from vehicles into robots. Comics could never display this with the level of excitement that the cartoon and Bay movies can. Seeing them change (and hearing the noise) gave them realism and credibility. In the comics, the Transformers were essentially just robots…
GI Joe, on the other hand, toed the line between military and super hero. They worked well in animation because of the action, but also worked in the comics because of exposition. The characters became deeper when we could read their thoughts and dialogue. They had no device that required action to work.
Thanks for the clarification.
Like Xavier, I too would like to read about Power Pack. Three of the highlights of mid-1984 for me were Power Pack, Transformers, and Bill Sienkiewicz's New Mutants. I've seen you write about the last two but not Power Pack. Maybe there's not much of a story to tell if Louise Simonson gave a pitch so great that you greenlighted it on the spot.
In any case, it was unique. Simonson showed how to write a kids' adventure comic without talking down to the audience. And June Brigman could really draw kids … and fresh-looking aliens and spaceships.
I wonder how Power Pack would have fared on TV in the 80s? Maybe not so well, judging from airings of the 1991 pilot.
Marvel keeps publishing new Power Pack miniseries. Anyone here read them? I think I read the first couple but lost track. Are kids reading them?
Technically, there was more than one bad guy when the Real American Hero toyline launched in 1982. Hasbro released "Cobra Trooper" and "Cobra Officer" at the exact same time. Admitedly, they're extremely similar.
The big difference is that Cobra Trooper has kneepads and used a Dragunov's sniper rifle while Cobra Officer has more web gear on his chest and included an AK-47 assault rifle. The helmet for the Officer is also unique with a triangle shape. The easiest way to dstinguish a Trooper from an Officer is by looking at the color of the chest symbol. The former has a normal red logo while the latter was given a silver sigil.
If this sounds a little too confusing, you're in the same boat as Hasbro. When the G.I. Joe toyline introduced Python Patrol back in 1989, they accidentally released the Cobra Trooper mold as Python Officer and the Cobra Officer mold was sold as Python Trooper. @_@
Kathy Beekman is the same Kathy, head of the subscription department, referred to earlier.
To think that Hasbro would not have had such a success with GI Joe without Marvel, Archie or Larry! No Cobra Commander? Unthinkable.
Alpha Flight was in the top 10 because John Byrne was incredibly popular.
I was also amazed to see Alpha Flight at Number 8. Amazing.
I enjoyed your segue way; female action figures leading to naked gadgetry.
I remember buying these as a kid, and my first thought after seeing the line-up of characters on the back was, "How come there's only one bad guy?" I wanted the figures to battle, but I sure didn't want to buy and army of Cobra Commandos. now I learn that I was lucky to get even the one!
Thanks for much for sharing this. I grew up reading Larry's incredible work, and I cannot exaggerate the amount of influence he had on me.
Here's a secret too: my idea of a good time those days is to pour coffee, start my computer, take a slice of cake and read your blog. 🙂
I wa slike mesmerized by this subcriptions document. I hope one day, you'll have lots to say about Power Pack, one of the bests things Marvel ever produced.
Two tributes for two days in a row. First Roy Thomas and now Larry Hama. Thank you for singing their praises. Like Thomas, I don't think Hama gets enough respect for success that happens to be outside the superhero realm.
"So, besides G.I. JOE, do we have G.I. George, G.I. Fred…?" cracked me up. I only learned of the original G.I. JOE toy years after I had become a fan of Hama's version. It never occurred to me that Joe could be the first name of a figure.
I had no idea that Hama could "create an appropriate vehicle or weapon to use the technology, usually on the spot." I had assumed he had no input into the toys. I am in awe of his creativity. I hope Hasbro recognized what an asset he was.
I missed the TV commercials — was at school in the afternoons when they probably aired — but at least I get to see the memo! Thanks for finding it. I am amazed that G.I. Joe is number 1 and that it had eight times more subscribers than Transformers. Why so many subscriptions? My guess is that a lot of G.I. Joe readers weren't comic book store regulars and wanted the books to come to them rather than the other way around.
Is Kathy Beekman the Kathy from this post?
I recognize some of the names here thanks to you. Hobson. Kaplan. Galton. Alice Donenfeld's replacement Calamari. I hope you get around to writing about the Gang of Seven someday. Preferably in $uper Villains. The behind-the-scenes story of Marvel is too good to give away for free! I want to buy a book!