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).
“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?
“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?”
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.”
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.”
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?
“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.”
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?
“The early idea was difficult for me to convey, I had a hard time articulating my thoughts to my core consultants. They kept simplifying it as a 12” Grunt (like the figure in the 1994 Hall of Fame). The base figure is the Action Soldier male, not ‘Grunt’ as the RAH guys know him. The vintage RAH art is familiar to RAH collectors and was used to help accentuate the packaging while guiding the viewer to its hybrid conclusions.
I then divided the 82-84 line into Basic and Deluxe package options and used almost the exact character themes given to us in those respected years. I stripped away the unique shades of green that each RAH character is typically assigned (ex. Zap was light green while Grand Slam was dark olive) and tried to create as many reusable plastic parts a possible.
Customizable variations of the core product were also paramount. The human essence of both lines was diversity so I wanted to assume the base figure was ‘available’ in various hair colors and skin colors. But to take it a step further, the consumer could mix and match figures with outfits as they choose.”
TJR: What else should fans (of both eras) know about the content depicted in your poster?
“The versatility of the 12” line was there for the consumer to choose. So showcasing the iconic vintage 12” head was paramount in order to drive home the idea that this concept was 12”. John Jett was the artist that nailed the various looks. The verbiage used in the poster derives heavily from the vintage RAH catalogs, and the fictitious Asst. #’s are based on the original Asst. numbers used in the original 1982 products (the ‘H’ is fake in all the numbers and the ’15’ is just the convention year). My projects always have Easter Eggs in them.”
TJR: Tell us about that GIJane figure. She’s a great addition to the poster!
“The real ‘twist’ with this poster’s concept was the inclusion of a female soldier. This fictitious, femme-fatale figure would’ve been sold separately—but equally—with the male. This led me to make the female look more in sync with the male figure, while still retaining female features. I will apologize beforehand when I say the female nurse isn’t the most attractive female action figure representation (in my opinion). Thus, John Jett was tasked with developing a more striking female. But hey, don’t get me wrong, she’s not posing for a glamour shot. She’s here fight for freedom!
She’s obviously (to RAH guys) an abstract notion of Lady Jaye. However, the reason why I gave her a javelin thrower is not for RAH accuracy. I would’ve been inclined to give her a rifle like her male counterpart (though I’m sure some market research would’ve resulted in girls wanting some sort of ‘non-rifle’ weapon) but it hit me that GI Joe reflects contemporary pop culture and Hunger Games is a huge hit right now. The female star is called Katniss and fights with a bow and arrow. Of course, a traditional bow and arrow would’ve looked awkward compared to the male’s rifle, but a javelin shooter bridges that military gap and still gives girls the sort of heroine they’d want.”
“I asked John to produce a woman that looked like she means business, yet wouldn’t scare away female consumers. The goal was for her to have an assertive demeanor. Then, females could utilize the basic accessories like the male, yet have their own exciting ‘looks’ that filled all roles.”
TJR: Any closing thoughts on this poster and/or your reasons for creating it?
“I believe vintage GI jOE could use as much attention as possible and I just wanted to do my part. Hopefully, this poster showed commonalities between both lines and illustrates how, with some minor changes, Hasbro could’ve painted a totally different picture of the brand’s landscape. With the proverbial product ‘well’ running dry or at least tapering off, maybe collectors who prefer one line over the other will decide to cross over into new territory so to speak, and further round-out their own perspective of the hobby.”
—James Kavanaugh Jr.
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks and best wishes to James “the Chameleon” Kavanaugh Jr. for all of his generous contributions to the GIjOE collecting hobby and to this article. You can reach James on Facebook HERE and find his books on Amazon HERE. Go (or Yo), JAMES!