In the 1970's and 1980's, kid's toy lines were built around cross selling. The whole point of packaging and inserts for the toys was to get the child excited about buying more toys from the same line. Single figures featured all the other available figures on the cardbacks. And, vehicles and playsets went a step further by including small product booklets that showcased not just the figures but all of the other vehicles and playsets that you could buy. The best part of these catalogs was that, if you got them early enough, they were the only window into future releases that any kid would have. There was no internet. Toy magazines were years away. If you needed to start lobbying your grandparents for a magnificent Christmas gift in May, the insert catalogs were great ways to show them what you wanted. The G.I. Joe line included these catalogs from the very beginning in 1982. Each year, a new one would appear: showcasing all the new toys for that year. While the most culturally significant of these catalogs for me was the 1984 edition, the 1985 edition brought a greater array of surprises and ushered in the golden age of colossal toys.
The hallmark of a G.I. Joe catalog was the presentation. The 1984 release featured a prominent Duke card art. 1985 went with a painting of the new class of Joes all raising fists in font of a stone logo with planes flying over it. This always seemed unimpressive to me as the characters were so small. But, the artwork seems to be a collector favorite.
When you open the 1985 edition, the first thing you see is Tomax and Xamot. Alongside them are Zartan and the Dreadnoks. It's likely that this place of prominence was intentional. Zartan had been a keystone item in 1984. And, recent documentation that shows there were over 1.7 million Zartans produced backs that up. It's likely that Hasbro wanted Tomax and Xamot to follow in Zartan's footsteps as one of the line's top sellers and were given top billing for that reason.
The next logical unfold from there reveals the figures. The new, 1985 releases are in the top photo with the carryovers in the bottom picture. My great lament for this 1985 figure lineup is that the photos are simply too small. 1984 gave kids a pretty clear view of the figures that were released. The dark background, spread out lineup and offsetting text left the 1985 photos too small to get a good view of the line's bread and butter figures.
From here, the lineup is a bit less impressive. You see the small battlefield playsets and vehicles. This isn't to say that these aren't great toys. But, when you opened up this catalog for the first time, the small pictures of these little items that didn't include figures weren't all that interesting. Once you absorbed later pages, though, you could come back and drool over the little gems that were included here.
Once the catalog was opened, though, you could flip it over. And, here, the stalwarts of the 1985 line take shape. It starts with the new Snow Cat and AWE Striker at the top. But, since you were likely taking in the whole thing, this top panel was quickly skipped in favor of later sections.
The next section features some carry forwards. I find it odd that the Bridge Layer actually gets more real estate than the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform. The TTBP was one of Hasbro's top notch playsets. But, the Bridge Layer had a fun action feature and was an early release retailer exclusive to boot. So, it may have gotten more prominence since it was likely already on the shelves when the first catalogs started appearing.
After this, the catalog delivers the goods. We get our first look at the Cobra Moray. The purpose of the Moray becomes clear two panels later. But, this is our first look at Cobra's naval flagship vehicle. No kid was going to be able to resist the Moray. But, just in case water toys weren't your thing, the second to last panel introduces the Mauler. The Mauler was the tank that the MOBAT always wanted to be and filled that primal military need in any collection.
While all of that would be enough of a toyline to give a modern collector a yearly fill, Hasbro saved the bottom panel for the whopper: the USS Flagg. Something so big and impressive was beyond reckoning to kids in 1985. But, there it was in all its glory. You'll note the fun little disclaimer in the bottom left saying some items (meaning the Flagg) wouldn't be available until the fall of 1985. For, for any kid who got this under their tree, it was an unforgettable toy release. But, if you were like me, the closest you got to a Flagg was this catalog picture. Here, I envisioned all the adventures I'd have with the Flagg. But, 35 years later, I still don't have one.
One thing G.I. Joe catalogs are known for is the many pre-production and prototype figures that appear in them. As the catalogs were done well in advance of the year and included some items that wouldn't appear on the shelves until later in the season, it was common for some of the toys to still be in the prototype stage. 1985 is no exception. The most notable and featured differences are the Tomax and Xamot figures. They appear with the first unfold of the catalog. Prominently featured, these figures also sport unproduced heads. The heads are larger and fatter. To me, they appear as if they may be modified Ripcord heads. The bodies are slightly different, too. The figures also feature silver colored weapons...a color that their oft used accessory still has never appeared in.
One other fun item for me with the catalogs are what I call continuity gaffes. Throughout some catalogs there are figures pictured missing accessories or posed with the wrong gear. When collectors do this, it is usually either necessity due to missing gear or choice due to personal preference. With the Joe catalogs, I have to attribute some to laziness and others to the fact that the photographers who took the reference material photos were likely disinterested in their subject matter and were more concerned with getting it done than getting every detail correct. In the 1985 catalog, the most glaring mistake is on Zartan. While the figure is actually a production figure in this catalog, he's posed on his Swamp Skier with his chest plate falling off. It seems a silly error to not correct. Especially for such an important release in the line's history.
Aside from Zartan, Steeler appears in the Air Defense photo: wearing the wrong helmet. In the Skyhawk photo, Roadblock is holding his gun by pivot that inserts into his missing tripod. The Armadillo features now discontinued Zap as the driver. But, he and Mutt have switched helmets. The Silver Mirage is especially out of place as it's being ridden by Rock and Roll, Stalker and the 1982/1983 Snake Eyes figures: all out of circulation in 1985. Cobra Commander also appears on the Ferret. On the back side, Thunder is missing his head gear. Major Bludd is holding Destro's pistol in the Moray spread. Recondo is holding Stalker's rifle in the Mauler photo. But, he has his correct weapon in the G.I. Joe HQ picture. If you look closely, though, the 1985 Snake Eyes is inside the jail cell of the HQ, too.
The 1985 catalog features several items that carried over from 1983. The first is the Cobra Trooper. He was released in 1985: a rare figure who say three full years of retail release. (4 if you count the straight arm figure.) Torpedo, Destro, Gung Ho and Snow Job join him as holdover figures. (As Torpedo was a late 1983 release, his appearance in 1985 kind of makes sense from a cost recoupment standpoint.) The FANG was Cobra's small vehicle to carry over. As the Dragonfly was also continued an extra year, this makes sense, too, since it had crossover potential with the Tactical Battle Platform. The Skystriker (one of the most popular vintage vehicles and a required cross sell for the U.S.S. Flagg) and the G.I. Joe HQ (a playset to placate those who would not get the Flagg) were also carried over. As a kid, I know I acquired my first Cobra Trooper in 1985. (Bought him and the ASP at a Kohl's store that was attached to a mall.) I have recollections of the Skystriker. But, as I had the other items, I would have paid them little retail attention. My focus was always on the items I did not own rather than previously released items that were still hanging around.
G.I. Joe paperwork can be expensive...if it's something rare. The standard yearly product catalogs are not. Included with every vehicle sold that year (including the items carried over from the year before), the catalogs are generally ubiquitous. As kids, we tended to unfold and refold them dozens or hundreds of times. But, if you bought a couple of vehicles and had four or five of them, at least or two would survive in great shape. Time was, sellers would include items like old catalogs as a freebie when you bought something. Those days are mostly gone. But, these 1985 catalogs in great condition sell for between $1 to $5. If you grew up with great memories of looking through these inserts, there's no reason not to own them. But, like many things, the luster of these catalogs has faded with time. Our resources now are so much better for photos and info that the catalogs are a quaint reminder of how things used to be. There are high resolution photos of the catalogs online that are far better visual experiences than the real deal. Hasbro toys in the late 1990's and early 2000's still had some semblance of catalogs. But, they were not nearly as grand as these vintage items. Even the later run Joe catalogs in the early 1990's quickly regressed from the highs of the 1980's heyday. But, that's OK. There's fewer and fewer items that are cheap reminders of bygone days.
If you have fond memories of the catalogs, share them in the comments below.