Tag Archives: art book

Collecting the Art of G.I. JOE

As I get older the way I celebrate and appreciate my nostalgic memories changes.  Back in my mid-twenties, broke and living in a two-bedroom apartment I really didn’t have the means to procure or display any sort of vintage collection.  I spent hours scouring eBay for deals on Garbage Pail Kids, old toys, and albums on vinyl.  I very rarely pulled the trigger on any of these auctions, but I loved looking and hope that I’d eventually be in a better position to finally pick up and display some of these treasures.  At the time I kept wishing that there was more of a market that catered directly to fans like me.  People who wanted to endless flip through pictures of nostalgic treasures without having to wade waist deep in the expense of investing in a collection.  I used to daydream about coffee table books that collected nice scans of all the Garbage Pail Kids, reference books that cataloged all of the toys I used to love, or art books that featured vast collections of album cover and skateboard deck art. Slowly, as my generation has come into its own and started infiltrating publishing houses and coming on board with the same companies and brands we used to be the target audience for, my dreams have begun to be realized.  A few years ago we saw the Abrams company team up with Topps to start releasing awesome collections of Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and Star Wars trading cards.  Then came a series of really cool toy identification guides for Transformers and G.I. Joe toys by 80s toy guru Mark Bellomo. More recently we saw the release of a couple of awesome books chronicling the brand artwork of Masters of the Universe and the box art packaging of all the Generation 1 Transformers toys.  Add to this a couple of wonderful books that focus on 80s era 45rpm cover at (Put the Needle on the Record by the supremely cool Matthew Chojnacki) and skateboard deck art (The Disposable Skateboard Bible by Sean Cliver) and I am pretty much in heaven.

But this is just the beginning and there are a lot more books I’ve love to see.  This is where independent publishing and the fans have come to the rescue to start filling in the gaps where the larger companies are dropping the ball.  For instance, this past year we saw the release of a badass little Visionaries Toy and art guide thanks to Kickstarter.  Speaking of Kickstarter, my bud Philip Reed has almost funded his new book project, Action Figure Carrying Cases, a Photographic Overview!

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This leads me to another huge gap in the 80s toy art book landscape, the Art of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.  Though we’ve seen some really awesome new vintage-style G.I. Joe toy lines from Hasbro in the last decade, they really seem to not understand the power of the brand they hold.  They are so focused on trying to produce lucrative new movies that they undermine the vintage brand consistently, focusing less and less time and money on the property which is a shame.  The Transformers: Legacy box art book, though delayed for almost a year and not as entirely complete as it could have been (both art and artist recognition-wise), was a great release and it would be a no-brainer for them to compile and release a very similar version for G.I. Joe.  But they haven’t and from what I can tell, they don’t plan to either.

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That’s where the exhaustive work of Carson Mataxis and his site 3D-Joes comes to the rescue.  Mataxis has been putting a metric ton of work into an online 3D gallery chronicling the entire G.I. Joe toy line.  In order to pay for the software licensing fees and hosting he’s been creating some beautiful giant poster/prints of mint on card G.I. Joe figure collections, the sales of which directly fund his site.  I have a few of these posters, and they are magnificent to say the least.

Well recently he’s decided to go all out on acquiring a ton of vintage packaging and merchandising that features all of the 80s era G.I. Joe artwork from the likes of Earl Norem and Hector Garrido just to name a couple.  He’s been meticulously restoring the artwork in photoshop in order to create a series of prestige floppy books that collect all of this art.  I finally got around to picking up the first three books that collect a good portion of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero art from 1982-1987…

Though these books are a little pricy at $35 per volume, for the collector of G.I. Joe art these are a must buy.  Each book features an absolutely stunning 11″x16″ wrap-around, enhanced, foil cover that’s printed on very heavy cardstock.  The interiors are all full-color and feature every single carded action figure, vehicle box, and play set package, not to mention covers for all of the Find Your Fate and floppy kid’s books, as well as a bunch of other products.  Each book also features an introduction by Kirk Bozigian, the original G.I. Joe brand manager from 1982-1994 who was also the inspiration for the likeness of Law, the MP (who also came with sidekick dog Order.)

Volume One concentrates on all of the toy releases from the 1982-1983 lines, and is the sparsest volume at 62 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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Volume Two contains all the toy releases from the 1984-1985 years and clocks in at 78 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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Finally the newly released Volume Three collects all the toys from the 1986-1987 releases and is also 78 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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From what I understand there will be at least one more volume produced that covers the 1988-90 years, with a potential follow up that will cover the remaining years worth of releases.  For my money these first three volumes cover all of the toys that I had as a kid and they’re the perfect way to sit back and appreciate all of the amazing artwork and design that was put into the G.I. Joe toy line. I can’t thank Carson enough for all the time and work he’s put into his site and these amazing books!

If you swing by and pick up copies of these, be sure to tell him Branded sent ya, thanks!

Lost in the wonderful world of Mr. Product

4461391534_02cce86892_oAs a kid I spent a disproportionate amount of time wandering around supermarkets and discount outlets every weekend with my mother.  Like most kids my mom would drag me out to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping, but unlike most (I think) my mother usually went out close to midnight and would spent hours picking through the aisles looking for new products and browsing endlessly for stuff.  Since I knew she was going to be awhile, it was pretty common for me to wander off, lost in my own head and making up stories as I let my eyes scan across the thousands of boxes, cans, jars, bottles and packaging. Much later I’d come to the realization that this time was her precious escape from the isolation of being a homemaker, her chance to get out and just not be cooped up in the house and the routine.

For me, it was the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with branding, packaging, and art.  Every product on those shelves had a story, many of which even had convenient main stars right there on the box.  Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Kool-Aid Man, Big John (he of the beans & fixin’s fame), Mr, Clean, Chef Boyardee,Mr. Bubble, the old timey lady on the raisins box, all of these characters, all of this art and branding was swimming around my head as I tried to keep myself entertained and sane while wandering the aisles, lost in the supermarket.

From the collection of Jason Liebig, CollectingCandy.com

This love of branding, product mascots and art was reinforced in my teens and early 20s after I got a job stocking grocery store shelves on the night crew of my local Kroger.  Again, to keep myself sane I’d lose myself in the various labels and boxes, making sure all the packaging was upright and facing front at the end of the night.  It was very centering in a weirdly zen way, being a sort of shepherd for products, making sure they were presented as they were designed.  Again, this just reinforced my love of branding, and has informed my taste when it came to doing my own freelance design and artwork.

Recently my friend Belle Dee had shared a picture of some books she’d just bought, a couple volumes called Meet Mr. Product and simply Mr. Product, Vol.2, and they really caught my eye.  Written and compiled by Warren Dotz and designed by Masud Husain, this two volume set features the graphic art of advertising characters and mascots covering a plethora of brands over the majority of the 20th century.  Well, I got my hands on a copy of the second volume and I am in love…

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This volume’s 272 pages are crammed full of hundreds of mascot illustrations and paintings mainly covering the years 1960-1985.  The book is broken into two halves, the first deals with short essays and examinations centering on the design trends of those two and a half decades.  Transitioning away from the Googie futurism of the late forties and fifties, the book chronicles the tumultuous era of design that saw America through the ultra-hip beatniks, flower-power psychedelia, anthropomorphic machines and electronics, the surf, mod, and monster cultures and on to the ultra-weird Sid & Marty Kroft-inspired McDonalndland gang, the salacious playboy and disco era, and eventually to the height of product merchandising in the Regan era. I really enjoyed reading through these micro-chapters.  They’re not only fun and conversational, making connections between mascots and trends, but they lay the groundwork for really appreciating the second, larger half of the book which focuses solely on on the advertising mascot artwork.

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As much as I enjoyed the first 80 or so pages of examinations, it’s in the last couple hundred pages where I fell in love with this volume.  The artwork is broken down into 7 sections, Food & Drinks, Kids are King, Fast Food Franchises, Car Culture, Modern Life, Travel and Amusement, and Public Services and Safety.  Inside these chapters each two page spread is a curated collection of similar mascots, be it because of design or sub category.  For example, in the Fast Food section there’s the wonderful couple of pages that feature early illustrations of the Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz characters (in this case using imagery from various promo buttons as seen above.)

The pages above also underline another aspect that I really love about his book which is that there was a lot of time and care taken with the artwork to showcase the actual illustrations as they were originally designed.  At first this might seem like a pretty simple thing, but I know from 10 years of sharing ephemera on this site that it requires a lot more than just snapping pictures or scanning old packaging or items.  There was a tremendous amount of care taken with cleaning up the artwork so that it could be presented in a very crisp and clean fashion enabling the reader to fully appreciated the design which I love.  It’s this attention to detail in the presentation that makes this book an indispensable resource for graphic designers, both for inspiration and research.

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Another aspect that I was very pleasantly surprised by was the sheer volume of mascots and characters presented.  Being a collector myself and having been steeping in this world for over 30 years you get to a point where it feels like you’ve seen it all.  Even though I was born around the middle of the period this book covers, I’ve spent years thumbing through old magazines, deconstructing the products found in the backgrounds of old movies and television shows, and scouring the internet for examples of product packaging and I still was only familiar with about half of what’s presented in Mr. Product.  Flipping through the book I noticed a mascot I that looked sort of like the Fruit Stripes Gum Zebra, Yipes, but was instead the Beech-Nut Gum-Fetti Giraffe.  Turns out the two were both offshoots of the same company and might be representing the same gum, but this is something I never stumbled across in 30 years of paying attention to this kind of stuff.

In the photo above you can also see a really cool piece of artwork for Count Cola.  Again, longtime readers of this site know that I adore Halloween and monster branding, and I hard never stumbled across that particular brand of cola or its awesome cartoon vampire mascot.  I even Googled it, looking for pictures or info about Count Cola and was only able to find one tiny pixelated illustration, so this book has some really great obscure artwork from Dotz’s collection.

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If you’re a fan of design, product branding or artwork, the Mr. Product books should be mandatory purchases.  Not only will they provide a wealth of inspiration, but for those that think they’ve seen it all, I’m pretty sure this book will prove otherwise and be a very welcome addition to your collection.  Dotz and Husain have really outdone themselves with this volume and as soon as I started flipping through the book I immediately logged into Amazon and ordered the first one as well.  My hope is that sometime soon the duo will reconvene and put together a third volume that covers the latter half of the 80s and the 90s to finish off the archive of a century of advertising mascots.

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