12 Joe A Days: Day 9

On the ninth Joe A Day of Christmas, I lamely found something that relates to the number nine. Look, people, this holiday theme thing is harder than it seems.

So to start over…on the ninth Joe A Day, it’s the 1982 nine back. I’m surprised that there’s not as much focus on cardback versions in Joe collecting as there is with other collecting circles like Star Wars. Maybe it’s due to the fact that 80s-90s GI Joe toy collecting is a “younger” hobby than Star Wars, or maybe there are just more, uh…particular and/or focused people collecting those toys from a galaxy far, far away.

Over the years, the back of the Real American Hero line’s packaging didn’t change much from this initial layout. The design is simple yet effective. The other current figures were cross-sold using small painted pictures rather than the standard toy photos. This practice continued for many years, and the effect was striking. Not seeing shots of figures themselves also added to the fun of finding each year’s new series, since the toys obviously varied from their package art. To further the mystery, the early years’ cards also called out specialties rather than code names. I was intrigued as a kid with finding out the new team members’ names. I suppose I was easily entertained.

In regards to package art, I was interested to compare the unadulterated art, tiny as it was, to the package fronts. I think I’ve said this before, but I’d love to have large scale prints of the old character art. Somebody needs to get on that. I’d buy a coffee table book of Joe art.

The file card naturally takes up a lot of the cardback’s real estate. This isn’t a knock against it, as the bio card concept was an important part of what made GI Joe come alive for me as a kid. The memorable Flag Point is there too, just waiting to be cut out and mailed in for premiums that didn’t even exist yet. The minds behind the marketing and selling of GI Joe in the 80s and 90s really tapped into the buying psyche of a generation. Many of us are still enthralled to this day.


  • I think much of the original card art has been sold or given away or even lost in a basement flood at Hasbro (really). I’ve seen some out “in the wild” but I know they don’t have it all. I think that’s a big reason the 25th packaging art was all recreated to mimic the original art, but it certianly wasn’t as high caliber.

    I’m planning to make a “Collecting the Art of GI Joe” coffee table book series.
    Volume 1: 1982-1994 Carded Figures
    Volume 2: 1982-1994 Vehicles

    This would feature cleaned up photos of my own collection, like my “Carded 3DJoes” poster.

  • I’m suprised the market for these hasnt gone up. I’d imagine it would be hard to find cards which havnt got the flag points and the file cards cut out.

  • Do we have a name for the artist(s) on those early cards and boxes yet? I would be first in line for an art book based on this gent’s work alone because the work he produced is truly legendary.

    GI Joe cardbacks are generally easy to collect. Star Wars added characters to their cardbacks from 1978 through 1985 without removing any of the earlier figures while Hasbro abandoned this practice in 1985, beginning a two-year turnover at retail after which, figures were discontinued and removed from said cardbacks. In contrast, Star Wars collectors hunt endless card variants due to the different promotions available through the years, mostly found in the lower half of a cardback where file cards would go on Joe packaging. And that’s not counting the hundreds of domestic and foreign variations on the actual figures themselves! I have a bunch of vintage Star Wars figures on ragged cards, but I am fine with just one of each card type. It’s way too expensive and time consuming to collect all those variants.

    Hasbro perfected the cardback design by adding value to it in the form of the file card, an item which most of us consider essential in order to fully complete a figure. They also made room for an image checklist, a Flag Point, and even the UPC code. Lots of fellow competitors tried this out for their own lines in the 80’s and 90’s, but I believe none of them ever matched GI Joe’s success and longetivity.

  • I just noticed that if I had a file card, my bona fides would be cooler than Grunt’s. Talk about an epiphany.

  • One of my favorite things to do as a kid when getting a new figure was to look over the back of the card and check out the other toys available. It’s one of the best possible ways for the toy company to advertise their products and I’m really surprised when I look at the packaging on newer toy lines and see how few have any information about the other toys in their lines.

  • @Dreadnok: Spirit

    And sadly, the modern G.I. Joe cardbacks are a prime example. Retaliation are the worst ones yet.

  • Collecting cardbacks variations would get staggering. Many cases 2 per character, some even 3. That’s not counting card fronts with offers, like command rings, battle ribbons, body transfers, etc.

  • Iconic art!
    That “commando” write really rules!

  • As an early xmas present to myself i opened D.E.F Mace. Is his card worth anything?

  • I loved GI Joe cardbacks. It provided a handy visual checklist of what was out, even if we never saw it (Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow). It was a less flashy back than Transformers had (well, the boxes anyway. They had some great murals. I think 1986 is my favorite) but it felt like a nicer format for figures. It was clever advertising (an inventory of GI Joe’s slice of the toy section that year, on cardboard back in the kid’s own bedroom). Of course, TF had the pack-in catalogs in the boxes, just like GI Joe had with figures, showing everything that year (might be the issue of TF figures being both figures & vehicles). GI Joe had better file cards. The need for the red plastic to see the tech specs got old fast.

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