The Power of Packaging: 1982 9-Back

Here’s the earliest Real American Hero cardback, featuring just nine figures in the cross-sell art. It’s amazing to look back on something like this, and imagine a kid in 1982 turning it over to see the other original members of the revamped, smaller GI Joe toys. I don’t recall if my first carded 1982 figure, Flash, had a nine or eleven back package. Either way, I was hooked by the marketing from that day forward.



  • “Marketing leads the way,” is what the man said.

    As a product this is excitement, collect all the soldiers!

    It’s a great graphic design layout. Hierarchy, typeface, well placed information. Even the peg hole placement looks like it fits.

    Unlike today’s toys with international packaging that feature some computer/ Illustrator (whatever program they are using) jockey’s 1 hour airbrush of the toy’s photo. Not to mention twisty ties of many varieties, Layers of plastic inserts to hold the figure in an action pose, invisible bands ties accessories on. Excuse my negativity, but nothing really unique about many new products these days, in my view. Especially packaging, now it’s more refuse, not even good files to cut and save…..

    Just no love or passion, just branding these days. I suppose, the big H is a property group now, isn’t it?

  • I love seeing the US cardbacks. In the UK we used to get different assortments to you!

    Here’s the 85 cardback featuring characters from the US 82-84 series

    when the line returned in 87, using mostly the 85 US series, we got a more US styled card

    So we never got a cardback where the figures were described by their functions!

    The 89 cardback is probably the most interesting as it features figures from the 86 (out the previous year in the UK), 87 & 88 US series

    In the UK figures generally were sold over two years but not every figure survived to a second year and the cardback was always the first clue as to who had been cut….. usually really good figures who you’d wanted and couldn’t find!

  • Gotta catch ’em all! (somebody had to say it) I remember cutting out the tiny little images of the figures I didn’t have because the art was so cool. Well-painted and dynamic, the art really sold me on a toy that wasn’t based in a movie. Of course, a detailed filecard helped, too.

  • GI Joe easily had the best cardbacks/box backs of the big action figures lines of the time. We saw every figure available then (until 1991 when they mucked up the display of who was out/wasn’t anymore) and with just 1 figure, we could have a small handy visual guide of what’s supposed to be on the toy aisle. There was a file card with the character’s profile though admittedly, the descriptions were very thin the first year or two. Transformers had the character profile and the tech specs but didn’t have all the figures organized like GI Joe did on back (they came in a catalog insert in the boxed figures like the catalog GI Joe packaged with vehicles). Some of those boxback murals were pretty cool though. He-Man displayed images of the figures on back, but usually only of the faction’s figures that year and lacked a profile. TMNT was like a GI Joe cardback, only depicting figures like He-Man did- full images of the figures. I preferred the cardbacks of a few years later, when the code names were listed instead of the role.

    Ultimately the quality of the figures themselves were what sold the figures (dat swivel arm and the creativity of the figures and their accessories) but GI Joe had the best character art on the front and excellent cardbacks. Both it and Transformers stood out as easily the best of the 1980s & 1990s. Hasbro led the way. They started to lag from their old standard around 1993 or so but after the merger, they seemed to lose that touch. Beast Wars packaging couldn’t hold a candle to G1 packaging, and after Beast Wars, Beast Machines had ultra-generic packaging (no more individual character art on front) and Robots in Disguise onward had generic packaging with little to distinguish it from other brands. Transformers and its many incarnations easily marks their decline in quality in package art/style.

    • I liked the original VAMP package art so much that I had my Dad photocopy it (still an impressive thing in 1983) then I colored it with marker, framed it and hung it on my bedroom wall. Wish I still had it.

  • @Little Boa
    Some bright spark also had the ingenious idea to put Cheetor on all the card/box fronts of every Beast Machines figure which led to many thinking figures had been placed in the wrong boxes.

    The Joe’s seemed to have the best packaging of 4′ figures in the 80’s. It makes Kenners star wars card backs look a tad uninspired.

  • Joe cardbacks are definitely the card backs against which all others are compared. They didn’t originate the concept (was that Star Wars?) but they definitely perfected it. In addition to the gorgeous original artwork (as opposed to images of the figures themselves, as Little Boa detailed) containing each picture in a uniformly-scaled rectangle created a “visual checklist” feel that further fueled the “gotta collect ’em all!” mentality.

    I’d seriously buy a book collecting just the Joe card art.

    • I think there may be someone working on that…

    • I was considering photoshopping all the figures’ cardback images & names into a giant image though I stopped when it was hard finding good pics of some cardbacks from various years or sub-groups. I have about a half-completed folder of cardback images taken from eBay. The problem is quality so widely varies depending on the resolution of the camera and the skill, or lack thereof of the auctioner taking the picture.

      The best source would be if there were an archive of cardback images taken with the same camera (a high resolution one!) at the same distance under the same lighting.

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