Whatís the matter? Surprised I went to college?
  -- Sgt. Slaughter (to Lifeline, who did not know Sgt. Slaughter is fluent ancient Greek)
Home Articles G.I.Joe Yearbook #2 (March 1986)

The Television Joes

The struggle between G.I.Joe and Cobra continues - every weekday on your TV set. The first appearance of G.I.Joe on television occurred in 1982 in commercials promoting Hasbroís Joe toys and monthly Marvel comic book. The commercials also reintroduced a process called full animation, which most cartoon studios had abandoned years before. Too expensive, they said. No one cares, they said.

But full animation gave the G.I.Joe commercials a feeling of reality no other cartoons of the day had. Virtually overnight, response to the ads created a demand for a regular Joe TV show. It fell to Sunbow Productions, in conjunction with Hasbro and Marvel Productions, to fill that demand.

They moved slowly at first, testing the waters in 1983 with a five-part mini-series. Fans went wild. Another mini-series appeared in 1984. Reaction was even greater. TV station after TV station all around the country rushed to sign up for a regular G.I.Joe series. This fall, 53 brand-new G.I.Joe cartoons are taking America by storm, with 25 set to air in 1986.

The current crop features the Joes in combat with Cobra all across the globe, from Washington DC to the Middle East, from Hollywood to an alternate universe where Cobra rules, from outer space to the inner sanctum of the Joesí own headquarters. The main warriors on the G.I.Joe side are Duke, Scarlett, Flint, Lady Jaye, Shipwreck, Gung Ho, Spirit, Snake Eyes, Snow Job, Torpedo, Wild Bill, Roadblock, Ripcord, Recondo, Mutt and Junkyard, Blowtorch, Sparks, and five new Joes, Quick Kick, Dusty, Footloose, Barbecue, and Airtight - but expect to see other Joes like Bazooka, Alpine, and Cover Girl as well. Even they have trouble handling the Cobra forces arrayed against them: Cobra Commander and his Crimson Guard, The Baroness, Destro, Major Bludd, Storm Shadow, Firefly, Zartan and the Dreadnoks, Scrap Iron, and legions of Cobra Troopers. And the Joes face other problems as well, including dinosaurs, crazed computers, a savage tribe of apemen, and, in a special story written by none other than G.I.Joe editor Denny OíNeil, the Soviet-based October Guard.

It starts with Hasbro Toys working hand-in-hand with G.I.Joe comic book scripter to create the characters the fans want. Hasbro defines a characterís role in the G.I.Joe team, and Larry adds name and background information to create a believable, exciting personality. The character then goes to Sunbow Productions.

Sunbow then assigns stories to writers. "We just started looking for the best," says Buzz Dixon, the story editor on the 1986 series. "Steve Gerber, who story edited the 1985 series, recommended a lot of writers who had experience in comic books, who could shift from comics to animation.

The only criterion we have is that the writer can do a good story. Steve says our standards are higher than prime-time television." Aside from maintaining high story quality, the story editor rigorously ensures that the characters stay true to the characters that Larry Hama designed, and that no errors in continuity occur.

When Sunbow is finally satisfied with the script, it is sent to Marvel Productions, Marvelís animation wing. Here scripts are turned into storyboards, visually breaking down the action in much the same way that comic books are turn into completed pages of comic art.

This is the stage where the settings and accessory characters in the stories are designed. Several of the artists designing the storyboards have worked on Marvelís G.I.Joe comic book, including Russ Heath and Mike Vosburg. Once storyboards are complete, a script is written from them. Actors are brought in to read the dialogue, which is recorded and the soundtrack and storyboards are then sent to studios in Japan to begin the arduous process of animation.

Using the storyboards as visual guides and the soundtrack for exact pacing, artists begin work on cels, which are individual shots like single frames in a reel of film. When enough cels have been finished to tell the story, other drawings must be done to fill spaces between cells, until every tiny movement a character makes is captured in art.

Finally, the cels and the connected drawings are filmed in order one frame at a time, until the full cartoon is captured on film. This is a slow process, but itís worth it. Unlike most cartoons, the G.I.Joe series takes no shortcuts, and the result is powerful, realistic adventures in brilliant color.

Only when Hasbro, Sunbow, and Marvel Productions are completely satisfied does a G.I.Joe cartoon go on the air.

Even as the 1985 episodes are appearing on TV for the first time, Sunbow is hard at work on the 1986 series. The battle still rages on, but many unexpected changes are at hand. Story editor Buzz Dixon offered an exclusive sneak peak preview of some things youíll see:

    Hints about the origin of G.I.Joe, including the introduction of the counter-terrorist organizationís founder. Says Buzz, "He has never been seen before because he has been in Washington with the joint chiefs of staff. Every once in awhile, heíll get directly involved in adventures, and thereís one episode specifically about him. But for the most part, heís the general, and the Joes are the tactical force."

    A romance between a Cobra villainess and a Joe.

    A new leader of Cobra, who will trigger a power struggle between his faction and Cobra Commanderís followers. "Several Cobra scientists decide they need a better leader then Cobra Commander," Buzz says. They steal genetic material from some of the great leaders of the past - Napoleon, Ghenghis Khan, Alexander The Great - and synthesize the DNA of the perfect Cobra leader. Heís ruthless and a great strategist, but he has no patience, because he was born full grown. Thatís his one big weakness, because heíll be ready to plunge into action before heís ready."

    The mutual destruction of the U.S.S. Flagg and Cobraís Flying Fortress in a sea battle to end all sea battles.

    Two new Dreadnoks: "One loves to play with dynamite, and the other is so nasty that even the other Dreadnoks donít like him," Buzz says. "They wonít associate with him if they donít have to, and he doesnít like them either."

    Zartanís brother Zandar and sister Zarana, who will also go to work for Cobra.

    Dr. Mindbender, the Cobra Interrogator. "Heís a master of psychological terror, and dresses in a way that will psych out his opponents," Buzz says. "Even the Cobras think heís creepy, but they tolerate him because he gets results."

    A Cobra android strike team called the B.A.T.S. - which stands for Battle Android Trooper. The Joes will discover that these robot soldiers are unstoppable.

    As if this wasnít enough, 1986 will see the introduction of several new Joes, all of whom are a little out of the ordinary. Buzz Dixon described them: "Lowlight. Heís a sniper. Frankly, he was badly mistreated by his father when he was growing up so heís become tight-lipped and withdrawn. Heís not very sociable. If he were a Cobra, no one would notice him, but as a Joe heís pretty unusual."

    "Mainframe. Heís one of the oldest Joes. He was in the army in Vietnam, was discharged, became a computer expert, and re-enlisted. But heís not really happy being the Joesí computer expert. He wants to be involved in combat more often, but only way the Joes would take him, because of his age, is as a computer expert."

    "Lifeline. A pacifist. Heís a conscientious objector, a paramedic. He doesnít believe in fighting and he wonít touch a weapon, but he goes on missions to save lives. The Joes think heís nuts, but at the same time they never find fault in his personal courage."

    "Lift-Ticket. The pilot of a rescue chopper called a Tomahawk. Heís a real shoot first and ask questions later type, but his job is to chauffeur Lifeline around. He has no hesitation about arming a first-aid copter with missiles and grenade launchers, which causes great tension with Lifeline. Itís like Alan Alda and Charles Bronson being in the same helicopter."

    "Dial-Tone. The new communications expert. Thereís no other way to say it - they guyís a nerd. Heís hanging onto his Joe status by his fingernails."

    "Slipstream. A fighter pilot, flying the new computerized Conquest aircraft. Heís in a odd position, because heís an officer, so he ranks above most of the other Joes, but heís also fresh out of the Academy, so he hasnít got half the experience the others have."

    "Cross Country. Heís a good old boy from Appalachia who loves driving heavy machinery. He gets on the othersí nerves a little, because heís fearless almost to the point of stupidity, and so he gets a little reckless in combat situations."

As in 1985, the 1986 season will kick off another five-part mini-series. "Itís still in discussion," Dixon revealed. "Iím hoping we can get into how a Joe becomes a Joe, which is something everyone seems interested in. We may have two stories running parallel - the creation of the new Cobra leader, and Dial-Toneís story.

How he gets recruited in the Joes, how he becomes a Joe, and how he holds onto his status. That may change, but itís a good possibility for the mini-series."

"Weíre doing stories in 1986 that are much more rooted in the real world. We wonít be going into space or other dimensions, and the stories will involve real world problems. Thereís a story involving the dust children, Asian children of American G.I.s, who still live in Vietnam, where theyíre looked down on by society. They help the Joes, but thereís not really a happy ending, because the Joes have to leave them there at the end, and the kids still have to learn to deal with the society theyíre living in. We talk about Low-Lightís childhood, and how it still affects him as an adult. Thereís a very good story about how fear affects us. We deal with how the ongoing battle between G.I.Joe and Cobra affects civilians who get caught in the middle of it. There will be stories where G.I.Joe really doesnít win. They survive, but thereís no clear-cut victory."

"Thereís even a story about the power structure of Cobra, in which G.I.Joe only makes what amounts to a cameo appearance."

"The Ď86 season will focus more on the new characters, though we still have many episodes where the old characters play the major roles. Weíre shying away from the take-over-the-world type stories, and doing stories on a smaller scale. Instead of trying to take over the world, maybe Cobraís trying to take over once corner of it for some particular reason."

"Weíve been able to focus very sharply on characters, and the emphasis in 1986 will be on the people involved in this ongoing struggle between Cobra and G.I.Joe. Basically, we narrow in on the characters who will best personify an episodeís conflict. But we donít skimp on the action. We donít skimp on the adventure. Thereís just as much actual physical action, only now itís much more tighter and more involved with particular characters.

"If we have one goal next season, itís to let the viewer really get inside the Joesí heads, to see how they tick. The more they get involved with the characters, the more theyíll be involved with the stories."

Jan 25: G.I.Joe Examined on Podcasts
Jan 25: Buzz Dixon Interview
Jan 25: Paulsen Annie Nomination & Dini on Batman Comic
Jan 12: Sgt. Slaughter Signing in Atlanta
Jan 11: G.I.Joe to Return on G4
Dec 30: Paramount Movie Reviewer Plugs JoeGuide.com

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