A Sit Down with G.I. Joe Designer Ron Rudat: Creating Iconic Characters

Ask any G.I. Joe historian about Ron Rudat and their eyes will light up. Ron is responsible for creating the vast majority of iconic G.I. Joe and Cobra characters between 1982 and 1987, as well as some vehicles, patches and insignia for good measure.

In 1986, Ron created Leatherneck, a character based on himself. Anytime you look at a Leatherneck G.I. Joe figure or see Leatherneck in the Sunbow TV series, you’re looking at a portrait of Ron.

These days Ron is long retired from the toy industry and instead focuses his immense artistic talents on creating paintings that reflect his love of New England, where he currently resides. Even today he’s still willing to experiment with different styles in order to achieve new looks.

Though Ron’s days working on the Hasbro G.I. Joe team ended over three decades ago, he still loves to receive letters from fans and military veterans who were impacted by G.I. Joe during their lives. You can reach out to Ron through his official art website to share your G.I. Joe story with him, as well as browse his vast collection of original New England paintings.

You worked on a lot of character figures during your tenure on G.I. Joe. What is the first one that springs to mind, and why do you think it did?

What character comes to mind at first is Snake Eyes. A great figure, it came from watching old movies with Ninjas. Very secretive society where everything is done in silence with devastating results!

What do you remember about how your designs translated to the iconic packaging imagery for each figure, and do you recall if the packaging drawings were 1:1 or was the original artwork bigger?

I really didn’t have any responsibility for packaging design. Hasbro has its own art dept. and I assume the illustrations were all done on the outside by freelancers (editor’s note: such as Hector Garrido).

What is one character/figure you worked on that didn’t make the cut but you wish it did?

There were several figures that didn’t make the cut at Hasbro and one was a Scottish character with kilt and bagpipes leading the troops in battle. Another was a drawing of Ronald Reagan; I wanted a Commander-in-Chief for the Joes and he was President at that time.

Can you give us an example of what you might have told Larry Hama when turning over a character for him to flesh out with a personality, traits and backstory?

I didn’t have much to do with Larry Hama even though we met at Marvel to flesh out a Joe comic with him. After that I sent Larry drawings of the characters that I developed in Control art and color drawings. Larry, from there, created the biography’s of each character and a story line. It would have been Kirk Bozigian who worked with Larry as a liaison with Hasbro.

Not everyone is aware you had a hand in designing some vehicles as well as insignia, especially for the 1985 figures. For something like the Cobra “Moray,” were you instructed to develop a Cobra boat, or did you work on it on the side and then sprung it on everyone in the presentation meetings?

I worked on the “Moray” on my own and presented my drawing to management at one of our presentations. My thought process was based on a TV series Miami Vice where they were often seen on a cigarette boat racing across the water. I did a mechanical drawing of the boat which I still have in my house framed. We sent my drawings to Don Deluca on the outside of Hasbro where he built the final model.


A big part of your job were presentation meetings where your designs were shared with decision makers. What’s the most fond or memorable moment you recollect from one of those presentation meetings?

I don’t recall those meetings very well. I got very nervous while presenting and would loose my train of thought. But these meetings were very serious affairs with marketing and executives, engineers, costing, dept heads. The “Moray” was a very successful and got applause, and my figures were well received.

You had a knack for drawing inspiration from the time period and reshaping those ideas into something totally new, like Mad Max into the Dreadnoks. If you were to sit down and design a new G.I. Joe and Cobra characters right now, where might you draw inspiration from today?

Inspiration comes in various places like from movies or seeing what other people have done, to comic books etc. Inspiration is very difficult to come up with ideas that are your own but I think I created some iconic figures that will live on forever.

Speaking of inspiration, The Karate Kid came out in 1984 and Quick Kick came out in 1985. A shot in the dark question: was Quick Kick inspired by Ralph Macchio’s character in any way?

Quick Kick was not inspired by Karate Kid. I just made up that character on my own.

Quick Kick

Quick Kick and Karate Kid

What struck me about G.I. Joe figures as a kid, and something all of my friends identified with, were the knee pads that jutted out when the knees bent. We called them “radical knees,” which certainly speaks to the time. What was the inspiration behind the exaggerated knee pads on many of the earlier figures, including all the Cobra troops?

What inspired me to put knee pads on these figures. I don’t rightly remember about knee pads except I may have gotten the idea from SWAT as they wore knee pads on their uniforms. Also some of our special forces wore them.

You were a historian of the Civil War. I was trying to think of where you might have drawn inspiration for the blue Cobra infantry outfits and the only comparable blue uniform I could think of were Civil War soldiers. Is that a coincidence or is there a connection?

There is no connection to Cobra soldiers and the Civil War. I did a number of color sketches for marketing and they picked through them and chose the color that they wanted.  Besides the Civil War uniforms were a dark blue blouse with Kersey blue trousers. The color does not match the Cobras.

Do you recall what character was the most difficult to flesh out and design, and why?

Not really any of them. Most of the figures I did came from my head. Like I said before, I would have done 8-10 rough drawings of each figure and marketing would pick and choose what they wanted to see.

Then I would have done a final drawing of that figure. Each figure would go to costing to see if it was in budget and then I would do a sculptural input drawing, and then a color rendition in markers of which I had to get approvals first — then a final. A color separation sheet would be done listing where color on the figure would be placed along with pad print designs.

All of this would be sent to Marvel comics and also to the Orient for manufacturing. But we also did 2-Up figures after they were sculpted at Hasbro and I would also do the paintmasters of the figures. All headed to the Orient. Can you imagine doing all of this work for each figure we did? A lot of work but deadlines were always met!

You were inducted into the Toy Collectors Hall of Fame in 2015. What was that like. and as the first GI Joe inductee, does it still feel surreal?

Yes, being inducted the the Toy Collectors Hall of Fame was a bit surreal. I think this was the first time in my career to be recognized for something I’ve done. I received a special ring from them for my accomplishments. Mark Boudreaux was also inducted at the same time. He is the designer of many Star Wars toys from Hasbro.

Cobra Logo

Cobra Logo Original Drawing

My favorite picture of you floating around out on the Internet is of you standing next to your framed original artwork for the original Cobra logo you designed. What are some other “artifacts” from your time on GI Joe at Hasbro that you managed to save?

Well there’s not much left of the artifacts you mention.  I have the original drawing on the “Moray,” the first artwork of the “Cobra Logo,” presentation art of the Twins (editor’s note: Tomax and Xamot), and a drawing of the Steel Brigade in color. There might be a few other items but I am not sure what’s left. I don’t go out of my way searching for items I may have, and in some ways I’m not that concerned.

A special thanks to Ron Rudat for taking the time to conduct this interview. You can listen to Ron discuss some of his character designs and see more of his G.I. Joe artwork at 3DJoes.

To read more about the creation of G.I. Joe action figures, check out our interview with freelance sculptor David Dann.

G.I. Joe Designer Ron Rudat

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