Hasslein Blog: G.I. Joe: Happy Anniversary!


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, September 12, 2013

G.I. Joe: Happy Anniversary!

By James McFadden

Thirty years ago today, the first episode of the original G.I. Joe cartoon miniseries aired in syndication across the United States. It was the culmination of a multimedia marketing campaign Hasbro had launched to bring back their once-successful G.I. Joe brand. Hasbro and Griffin-Bacal Advertising used the successful Star Wars toy line as an example, and went to Marvel Comics to create characters and a storyline to go along with the new toys. Their original G.I. Joe line had consisted of mostly generic, nameless soldiers.

Comic book writer Larry Hama breathed life into Hasbro's toy designs with a complex group of characters, informed by his knowledge of the U.S. Army. Griffin-Bacal then produced a series of animated commercials used to advertise the comic book. FCC regulations forbade fully animated commercials aimed at selling children's toys, but there were no such rules about selling comic books. Starting in 1982, the commercials introduced the concept and characters in thirty seconds, and gave a very brief summary of a specific issue of the comic. Brief snippets of the comic commercials were later inserted into the toy commercials. The ads proved very successful over the following year, and soon Marvel Productions worked with Griffin-Bacal's Sunbow Productions to create a five-part G.I. Joe miniseries, airing in half-hour episodes over the week of September 12th, 1983.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (also known as The M.A.S.S. Device) was written by Ron Friedman with no involvement from Larry Hama, other than the use of his concepts. Friedman included many more elements of science fiction and fantasy compared with the more mature, grounded comic series (at least in those early issues). But elements of the comic book still made their way into the cartoon, including Hama's original creation, the Baroness, and the Joes' Pentagon advisor, General Flagg. The rivalry between villains Cobra Commander and Destro also remained intact. One notable absence was G.I. Joe commanding officer Hawk, who was pushed aside in favor of the team's first sergeant, Duke, who had debuted in action figure form that year and became a kind of poster boy for G.I. Joe. He was now romantically linked with Scarlett, who had been paired up with the silent commando, Snake-Eyes, in the comic book. The series also provided the Joe team battle cry, "Yo Joe!" Visually, much of the show was designed by veteran comic book artist Russ Heath, who translated the action figure designs into animated characters. Some character designs and voice actors transitioned from the commercials, along with a slightly more upbeat version of the ads' theme song.

G.I. Joe was not the only toy-turned-cartoon of the era (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered only weeks later), but for children it was one of the most compelling and memorable. It was rivaled only by Hasbro's The Transformers, which followed the G.I. Joe formula the following year with a Marvel comic and a Marvel/Sunbow cartoon series. The two shows even shared many cast and crew members. A second G.I. Joe miniseries arrived in 1984, and a daily series began in 1985 starting, with a third miniseries. The cast expanded greatly with each miniseries, and the daily cartoon added the very memorable and often parodied public service announcements that taught viewers a lesson, ending with the immortal phrase, "And knowing is half the battle!"

The original G.I. Joe series remains a pop-cultural touchstone for the generation that grew up with it, and elements of the series continue on into modern G.I. Joe toys, comics and recent live-action films. The cartoon series is available on DVD and streaming on Netflix.

James McFadden has written more than a dozen articles for the United Kingdom's Official Star Wars Fact File, as well as the article "The Forgotten War" for StarWars.com. In addition, James has contributed to a number of fan Web sites. His first book, Fighting for Freedom: The Unauthorized G.I. Joe Chronology, is coming soon from Hasslein Books.

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