When Hasbro decided to revive the G.I. Joe brand in the 1980s, they found a real hero in the company. Ron Rudat, a 2015 inductee in the Pop Culture Hall of Fame, was tapped to design not only the figures but the philosophy of the new line.
The original G.I.Joe line faded out with the end of the Vietnam War, so Hasbro was taking something of a risk by reviving the brand. Though the new line, debuting in 1982 called Joe “A Real American Hero,” the team’s exploits were centered around fighting a fictional, nationless terrorist group instead of more real-life enemies.
Instead of 12-inch dolls with changeable clothes, Rudat and company went with a smaller 3.75 inch size. By making them less expensive and more compact, kids were likely to buy multiple figures instead of one main doll with a lot of accessories. In turn, a much larger cast of characters, including the forces of COBRA were developed.
Not only was he in charge of the figures, but he revolutionized the very process Hasbro used to create action figures. Team brainstorming sessions and multiple phases of skecthing and more collaborative meetings led to consistent, well-designed characters.
Despite being a fictionalized military force, Rudat insisted on basing weapons and accessories on actual modern examples. He also snuck in details from real military uniforms for realism and as a tribute. “I was in a living history group based on the American Civil War,” he said, “so I added several Civil War buckles to some of the Joes, and also a Kepi cap on one.” His father was a Marine, so he worked those details in whenever possible.
Rudat moved on to other projects in 1986, but the original run of of the new smaller Joes continued until 1994. The line has been revived every few years since in some form or another. Today, Rudat’s designs are a bit more serene, in his paintings that focus on the landscape and scenery of coastal New England.
Rudat’s contributions to G.I. Joe culture live on very literally in two specific characters. The face of the character know as “Leatherneck” is modeled after Rudat himself. And then there’s Dusty… “Look at his biography on his collector card. His name is Ronald W. ‘Tadur,’ which is my last name backwards.”