G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Toy Designer Legend Guy Cassaday Interview

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Toy Designer Legend Guy Cassaday Interview

 

In 1982, Hasbro brought G.I. Joe back after years of hiatus from the 1960’s and 1970’s run, and this line introduced fans to new characters, new missions and also a new figure scale of 3 3/4″. With the initial success of the relaunch, many action figures, vehicle and play sets were introduced. During this time, Hasbro had a full staff of several dozen employees working behind the scenes on this G.I. Joe line, which entertained millions of fans and collectors during its run, and many would later go back and purchase these toys that they owned as a kid. To the fanbase, all of these people that are credited as working on these now vintage toys are now considered G.I. Joe legends, earning themselves a spot in the history of toys.

One of the many faces behind this brand is Guy Cassaday, a G.I. Joe legend that worked as a toy designer for Hasbro from 1985-1990, and created many fan-favorite G.I. Joe and Cobra vehicles during this time. Guy is also known as having the likeness of the G.I. Joe character Cross Country.

During HasCon in September 2018, I had a chance to sit next to Guy Cassaday at the G.I. Joe Legends Dinner and had the opportunity to discuss toys and a chance to hear stories of his time working at Hasbro. Mr. Cassaday is credited with many vehicles that many of us played with as a child, and in this interview he discusses some of these creations.

The above image showcases a sketch that Mr. Cassaday did on the Rolling Thunder. ” It is part of a large submission of sketches created for the model shop to use during the prototype build. This sketch was one of those rare moments when I sat down with a pencil and sketched out this view, then went back over the pencil with black marker and erased any exposed pencil lines.   It is one of my all time favorite sketches.” – Guy Cassaday

Below, is an interview with Guy Cassaday as well as samples of his work, including sketches and pictures of many of his iconic creations during his time at Hasbro. Visit his website at GuyCassaday.com and check out his artwork.

1. During your time at Hasbro, you worked on many memorable G.I. Joe vehicles from, how did you prepare for this career and what is your educational background?

Wow!  Never thought in a million years I’d be part of a toy legacy such as GI Joe.  

I attended Art Center College of Design, Pasadena CA. my focus was Industrial Design, Majoring in Automotive/Transportation Design.  Due to the poor economy in 1980, there were no positions available in the automotive sector world wide.  America, forget it. Detroit was laying off designers.   However, there was a need in the world of Toys.   Got my feet wet designing construction vehicles for Tonka, which included the redesign of a toy icon, the big yellow Tonka Mighty Dump Truck.  Moved to Playkool Toys, where I worked on the Big Foot line. Later, due to a corporate merger. landed in Rhode Island to work for Hasbro, in the GI Joe group.  I wasn’t into military vehicles nor guns. Couldn’t tell you the Caliber of a bullet either.  I did know what good design was and knew that if I were a kid playing with an action figure and my vehicle, it had to be exciting and coolness factor X10.  That all that matter. And oh yes, the toy had to be profitable too!

2. In 1985, with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero into its third year, how did you land the job at Hasbro and what was the first thing you worked on and designed for them?

This answer is redundant, but I landed a job at Hasbro via the merger with Milton Bradley, who owned Playskool Toys in Chicago.  Management felt with my extensive vehicle back ground, I was the perfect fit for GI Joe.  

The First vehicle I designed for JOE was the Conquest. The inspiration for the Conquest came from seeing a concept jet features in a trade magazine and that was that. I put my own spin on it and the rest is history. 

3. Some of the vehicles you worked on include the Conquest X-30, Rolling Thunder, the Persuader, the Desert Fox. Serpentor’s Charlot, Battle Force 2000, the Skystorm among many others. But we cannot find an official list breaking down all of your own personal accomplishments during your 1985-1990 run. What else had you worked on and what is your personal favorite of all of the vehicles you worked on, and/or someone else’s?

I’m not aware of any one creating a list of my accomplishments.  Here are a few more not mentioned above.  Battle Field Robots, Coastal Defender, Mobile Command Center, Dreadknocks Swampfire, SkyStorm, General, Cobra Hammerhead, Cobra VTOL and might be a few more too?

4. How did you come up with such unique vehicles and what did you use for inspiration on classics such as the Rolling Thunder?

Ideas  and inspiration came from any where. Reading a magazine, flushing out a small thumb nail sketch, seeing an interesting mechanism work, brain storming ideas with the GI Joe Team or even watching a movie. Case in point, Rolling Thunder.  After the Mobile Command Center was turned over, it’s on to the next big thing, literally. Spent several weeks trying to come up with something that had a lot of play value and wow factor.  While sketching at my desk, the Boys Marketing Chief was walking by and asked him what he thought would be a over the top vehicle.   He said, Big, armored, bristling with missiles, lots of figures, weapons galore.  That was the seed. That night I went to see the movie, “Aliens”, having already seen “Alien” which has scared the crud out of me. What sparked the idea for RT was seeing the Recon vehicle in action on the Planets surface. As they were about to crash through alien made blockade, they retracted a roof mounted gun that slid off the roof, then down the back to protect it from damage.   THAT WAS THE INSPIRATION!  The moment I saw that I knew what I was going to do the next day.

5. What was the process like for you from designing illustrations to seeing the final product tooled? Were there any significant changes to any of your creations that you can remember for one reason or another?

At the moment I don’t recall huge changes to  any of my vehicles, with the exception of eliminating parts for cost or a color change. For some reason, a majority of my designs ended up being for Joe and not Cobra. The Persuader was supposed to be a Cobra vehicle in my mind.  My presentation rendering showed the Persuader in Maroon, but was decided in presentation that it would become a Joe vehicle.  The Helmet for the driver is actually my only contribution to any action figure. The illustrator liked it and it stuck.

6. It’s known that the G.I. Joe character Cross Country has a resemblance to you. What made you decide to go with Cross Country, and what was the design inspiration behind his vehicle, the H.A.V.O.C.?

Every R & D person, eventually got their head sculpted and placed on an action figure.  It was just something that was decided for fun and continued for years.  I even modeled or posed for the packaging art, used for the second generation figure with pale blue accents and large flag on his back.  I was the illustrated in an action pose on the front of the Cross Country Blister Card.   Now, got to say, I wasn’t at all happy seeing my figure with the Confederate flag. For me, it was a negative connotation. Never saw myself as a “good old boy”.  Hey, I’m from New Jersey!  

The flag is part of our American history, but what it represented, to me, was negative. That’s my opinion.

7. Were any of your illustrations ever rejected by administration due to tooling costs or any other factors? Carson at 3DJoes mentioned to us about a Cobra Island play set that was cancelled, along with other vehicles. Can you recall why that was cancelled while other playsets such as the F.L.A.G.G., Terror Drome and Mobile Command Center made it into production.

I worked on Cobra Island and still have copies of the design.  As the 1980’s wore on, costs were climbing and it was always about profit and product placement. Cobra Island tooling was would have been very expensive to produce with a low profit margin to make cost. So, it dies because it was to costly to produce. 

8. By the time you left Hasbro in 1990, the brand still had four years to go before being rebranded into G.I. Joe Extreme. During this time, as well as later on, how closely did you monitor which direction that the brand was headed? Did you collect the figures, vehicles and playsets? What is your most prized possession that you own?

By 1989, GI Joe was no longer inspiring to me or challenging. The challenge was making each and everything profitable, which meant in many cases, fewer parts to make cost. Almost like the dumbing down of the brand really. When Hasbro acquired Tonka Corporation, I wanted to go back and work on the brand, so I put things in motion to leave GI Joe the fall of 1990.  I also thought and felt that the brand was getting stale and again for me, no longer fun to work on.

9. During HasCon, Hasbro’s first official convention, Hasbro had a lot of vintage G.I. Joe toys on display including 2-Ups, vehicle models, original artwork and some movie memorabilia. Did seeing all that and reuniting with other GI Joe legends trigger memories of your time at Hasbro that you’d like to share with our readers?

It was the best time in my design career working with so many very talented good people!  We were all in it together. We wanted it to succeed and proud to work at Hasbro.  Seeing all my friends brought back an avalanche of wonderful memories. We are all much older now and any petty squabbles from the past were in the past.  All I saw where some really terrific people that all have new careers and lives, now located all over the USA.  I miss those days.  

What killed the creative spark heading into the early 1990’s, was the change in management philosophy.  It was no longer about being part of a fantastic, energizing company that supported its workers, who in turn, gave back in quantities. Now it was about enhancing shareholders value? What the heck did that mean?   The new way of thinking that came over Wall Street like a dark shadow and then effected Hasbro, which in turn really did a number on it’s people and the company.     Hasbro continues on today, regaining ground that they lost many years ago, learning from its mistakes to become a leader in the Toy world with innovative, exciting product.

10. In recent years, the brand has had some unfortunate set backs as far as how much product was released each year. While we’re not going to go into those reasons, what are your feelings at seeing no new product on shelves at least until the new G.I. Joe film comes out?

I am as confused as you and other enthusiasts as to why Hasbro went to the expense to honor all the people that made GI Joe a legend and icon action figure.  It was an honor to be part of this special event and grateful for the opportunity to attend.   Time will tell if there will be a relaunch of the brand. 

 If it does return, I would think it would cater to current tastes and interests.  The big concern I have is that because our society has embraced computer gaming and videos, I don’t see kids ages 5 and up playing with Joe or going on adventures with their vehicles, as they once did in the 1980’s.  Could expound further, but it’s not the place for it.

11. What do you think would it take to build the brand just like it was back in the 80’s and 90’s? We think that this current generation is missing out on a great brand because there is no media such as a cartoon or movie introducing them to G.I. Joe and Cobra. Do you also feel that not enough is being done at the moment to keep kids engaged to the brand and the toys?

Don’t have anything to add.

12. What are you working on now, and what do you hope to work on in the future?

I work as a design consultant.  Very few toy assignments these days.  This past year I’ve done Patent Drawings, worked on a new Walker and consult for an out door furniture company.  In addition, I provide automotive illustrations for collectors and to be given as gifts, along with my pursuit in fine art,  painting in acrylics and pencil.  To view examples of my art.  guycassaday.com  

13. Is there anything else about your career and life experiences that you wish to share?

Treat all people with respect and kindness.  Be grateful for good friends, for I am so fortunate and blessed to have many.  

 

All images were provided by Guy Cassaday.

Cross Country 3 3/4″ figure – revised packaging and production samples

 

Tonka Mighty Dump Truck

 

Desert Fox

 

 

Coastal Defender

 


Swampfire

 


Cobra Hammerhead

 

Mobile Command Center 

 


Rolling Thunder – Concept Sketch

 

 

Conceptual Sketch – GI Joe Rolling Thunder. The idea and inspiration for this concept came to me while watching the newly released movie ” Aliens”. I had been stumped for three weeks as to what would be the next hottest, biggest and best GI Joe vehicle after my Mobile Command Center.

GI Joe Production Rolling Thunder 3/4 Left Front View

 

Rolling Thunder 

 

Rolling Thunder – catalog

 


G.I. Joe Persuader – Polaroids

 

G.I. Joe Persuader

 

One of the original Persuader Sketches

 

G.I. Joe Skystorm X-Wing Chopper – prototype 

 

G.I. Joe Skystorm X-Wing Chopper – Rendering shows copy of aircraft that inspired the design.

 

G.I. Joe Skystorm X-Wing Chopper


G.I. Joe Skystorm X-Wing Chopper

 

Conquest X-90 – Top View

 

 

Conquest X- 90 extra Vacuum Formed Upper Fuselage used to create the prototype model

 

Conquest X-90 

 

Conquest X-90 – Polaroid

 

Sketches of the cancelled Cobra Island play set – dated 11/1986. The model was long lost or destroyed.

 

We would like to thank Guy Cassaday for taking the time to answer questions and for providing all of these great images to share with our readers. Check out eBay.com for the latest offerings on vehicles such as the Rolling Thunder as featured in this interview.

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