Utilizing Vintage Design to Promote RAH GIJoes— At first glance, you’d think this professionally created mini-poster is one of the original product brochures produced by Hasbro back in 1964 to promote its new line of 12″ GIjOE action figures and accessory sets. But you’d be wrong, my friend. In actuality, this masterpiece depicts GIjOEs of the more modern-era (3.75″) RAH variety. Produced by a team of graphics professionals spearheaded by James Kavanaugh Jr., this limited-edition (300) fan-produced poster is a superb example of how far some die-hard fans will go to further expand upon and refine GIjOE’s “universe.” (Framing by Sam Sears. Photo by: James Kavanaugh) Click to enlarge.
Incognito Imagineer?— Apparently a man of many faces and talents, James Kavanaugh is also the chief designer of some of the world’s greatest GIjOE “faux ephemera.” (Photo: James Kavanaugh)
Bumping Into a Graphics Guru— When we first met James Kavanaugh Jr. at JoeCon 2015 in Springfield, IL, he was surrounded by about a dozen wide-eyed fans. They were all eager to get a closer look at James’ offering of expertly created GIjOE fan-graphics; including such nifty items as mini-posters and 3.75″ mini-boxes. Surprised by the professional quality of the items arrayed on his tables, we were sure they would be priced accordingly (i.e. expensive) and were stunned when he informed us that they were actually being given away to JoeCon 2015 attendees—for FREE!
If you know anything about the high costs of producing and printing quality graphic projects (and we do), then you’ll know we’re talking about some serious money here. For example, individual copies of James’ RAH posters could easily range upwards of $30 apiece (if outputted with high-end plotters or printers). Such JoeCon “freebies” can actually be very expensive to make (and very valuable to collect).
Clearly, this segment of GIjOE fandom isn’t a cheap corner of the “sandbox” to play around in. The large amount of time required to produce such quality pieces can ring up a hefty tab, and we were eager to learn what sort of “madness” drives Kavanaugh in this regard. Thankfully, he kindly assented to the following exclusive interview—for faithful readers of—The Joe Report!
TJR: Thanks for speaking with us today, James. As fellow graphic designers and “brothers-in-arms” in the visual and communication arts profession, we’d love to hear the story behind your amazing GIjOE print projects; especially that stunning RAH mini-poster (shown at top).
With a Wink and a Nod—GIjOE fan, collector and graphics expert, James Kavanaugh Jr. continues to produce and distribute GIjOE graphics at each JoeCon—for FREE! (Photo: James Kavanaugh Jr.)
“The poster is a long answer to a short question. I pigeonhole myself as a RAH (Real American Hero) collector and since the 2005 convention, I’ve been making and handing out free custom file cards and package card backs.
They were originally designed to supplement the GIjOE club’s membership figures because the club was only providing a quick bio on the back of each membership card.”
TJR: What a excellent idea! And you still give all these cards and posters away for FREE?
“Yes, that’s right. Every year I make 300 for JoeCon and an extra (exclusive) 100 for the awards dinner as a token of my appreciation to all the wonderful people I’ve met at the shows.”
TJR: That’s very generous. You have some serious “Joe Karma” coming your way. Do you work on these projects all alone, or do you enlist the aid of other talented Joeheads?
GIjOE Fan and Expert, Gary Godsoe (Photo: Gary Godsoe)
“Gary Godsoe is my right-hand man in these projects, and Ace Allgood was my go-to guy for reference photos, accuracy, and overall expert vintage opinion. I’ve also utilized the amazing skills of John Jett, Troy McKee, Andrew Hall and Todd Weinzeirl.”
TJR: That sounds like an “A-Team” of GIjOE experts. Are you a big fan of both the RAH and 12″ GIjOEs?
“Honestly, I was born in 1977 and grew up in an almost childless neighborhood with no older relatives, so I knew nothing about 12” GI Joe. I assumed that he was just Barbie’s ‘Army boyfriend.’ And sadly, certain aspects of the 12” figure as a whole are simply lost on me. Nonetheless, I wanted to work backwards and explore GIjOE’s 12” history by undoing the RAH line.
It began one day when I was thinking about the TV series ‘Gotham.’ I assessed that the show took the core of the Batman story, pulled it apart, and reassembled its disparate pieces into a new configuration. That made me wonder, what if the RAH line had been released back in 1982 with a more 12” style approach?”
Giving Proper Credit— Contributors to each of Kavanaugh’s projects receive official credit bylines such as those listed in the corner of Jame’s RAH poster. (Photo: Mark Otnes) Click to enlarge.
TJR: Where did you take the project from there?
“Over time, the project evolved into various interpretations of the RAH portion of the GIjOE hobby, each a reflection of the current time. For example, in 2009, I inducted Bullet-Man into the ‘Crappy Figure Brigade.’ And in 2010, I did a Ted Williams card back for the love-to-hate-to-love subgroup of fans that support, shall we say, the more ‘unique’ G.I. Joes ever produced.”
Packaging Fans Take Note— The classic GIjOE designs from the 1960s hold up VERY well today, as this closeup of James Kavanaugh’s poster clearly reveals. Hello, Hasbro? Are you seeing this? Here’s a great way to bring all GIjOE fans together under one “visual umbrella.” (Photo: Mark Otnes) Click to enlarge.
TJR: What did you decide to produce for GIjOE’s 50th Anniversary?
“For the 50th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, I wanted to do something more dynamic and more in tune with the roots of G.I. Joe, not a RAH ‘off-year,’ so I developed the 4-inch boxes. They were designed to assume the role of a vintage package for the modern visage of G.I. Joe. They were also designed to emulate the vintage packaging as closely as possible, while fully selling the more ‘realistic’ aspects of the RAH.”
Realistic Detail on Every Panel— The attention to detail on Kavanaugh’s projects is stunning; UPC codes, fine print, choke warnings, it’s all there. Look closely at this GIjOE “Infantry” box— there are even pictures of its related uniform and accessory sets depicted on the side panels at barely 1″ high. Get out your magnifying glass, because you’ll need it to read it! (Photo: Mark Otnes) Click to enlarge.
TJR: You’ve made mini-boxes, posters, and even authored books on RAH GIjOEs. But your new poster seems to be targeting fans of the vintage 12″ GIJOEs. What inspired the change?
Debonair Author— James Kavanaugh Jr., renowned RAH GIjOE expert and “Human Chameleon,” demonstrated yet another of his handsome and distinctive “looks” while discussing his new book, “Rank & File, a Guide to 4″ GIjOE Action Figures,” at a convention held in the UK. (Photo: Tree-Bot)
“I wanted to do something a bit more abstract in relation to my previous work and also do something for a wider audience than RAH collectors. My RAH research showed me that, in many ways, early RAH was still thought of in terms of small 12” figures with names and an enemy. This poster gave the RAH figures height, removed the names and gave them the interchangeable dynamic that was left behind in the transition. My goal was to also simulate a marketing approach to ‘higher ups’ so that the viewer feels like they’re looking at a conceptual pitch.”
Collect ‘Em All— Kavanaugh’s wide variety of GIjOE-related creations have become a new collecting segment all of their own and it’s easy to see why. The cover of his new book, Rank & File, utilizes design inspired by the ’80s RAH comics. Get your copy HERE today!
TJR: Your poster is a superb demonstration of how Hasbro could have brought fans of both eras together by appealing to the heart-strings of older collectors while reviving vintage packaging design. What did your A-Team of experts think of your unique retro-poster concept?