Behind the Design: G.I. Joe Classified Series Artist Profile - Oliver Barrett

Oliver Barrett

YO JOE! The G.I. Joe Classified Series action figures are ready to charge into action, featuring collectible packaging with custom art. Joining some of the best artists from the world of comics and graphic design in our artist partnership program, Oliver Barrett brings his unique style to the Destro package.

An artist from Ohio, now living in Texas, Oliver is passionate about experimenting with restrained palettes and negative space. Having spent nearly a decade working with branding and marketing agencies as a designer, he has forged his own path with truly unique spins on his art.


Thanks for helping us kickoff this amazing line of the G.I. Joe brand, Oliver! We’re so excited to showcase the wide range of talent that provided art for the first wave of the all-new 6-inch scale G.I. JOE: CLASSIFIED SERIES action figures.

 

Q: Tell us a little about your history with the G.I. Joe brand. Were you a fan before working on Destro?

A: Ohhhh yes! It feels like it was only yesterday that I was barging into my mom’s chiropractor appointment with impatience because her treatment was preventing me from stumbling down the 'Toys "R" Us' aisle to get a Toxo-Zombie.

Q: While researching the character, did you notice any similarities between you and Destro? Roguish good looks? A knack for bad Scottish accents or black-market dealings, perhaps?

A: We share an intense desire to control the weather and wear jackets with no shirt underneath.

Q: You’ve worked on plenty of high-profile pop culture properties in your career. What was it about Destro that made you want to team up with Hasbro on this project?

A: When Hasbro reached out to me about the project, I sent them over a list of my top 5 favorite characters. Appropriately, Destro found himself 2nd in command on this list, but climbed up into 1st when I realized that I would get the opportunity to work on his packaging for the Classified Series. He looked exactly like I remembered him! The younger me’s head would have exploded. Thinking back on it, I still don’t really believe it.

 

Q: A lot of your artwork features just a few colors and uses large amounts of negative space to great effect. Has that always been your style, or is it something that’s developed as your career progressed? Are there any particular artists you can point to that had a significant impact on your stylistic development?

A: The restrained palette/negative space usage that I’ve always tried to incorporate into my work didn’t always work so well, with many clients not really understanding the intention or it not matching with a project’s goals. I stuck with it though, and eventually it became a staple of my work. After bombing an art history test in early college, I was forced to actually pay attention in class instead of sleeping, and that was my intro to Barbara Kruger’s work. The intense, stark relationship between the image and type and how these restrained elements worked together to communicate powerful, direct messages really stuck with me. The irony of talking about her work in an interview about making toy packaging for an Orwellian, Big-Brother-esque villain isn’t lost on me either.

 

Q: Destro is a complicated villain who plays all the angles to make sure he comes out on top. What aspects of the character did you feel were most important to convey in the artwork? Was there an overall concept or theme you were playing with in its creation?

A: Communicating his manipulative, scheming, Orwellian (again) nature was the goal. I started with shooting some embarrassing photos of myself in an authoritarian pose in my kitchen after my wife went to bed so she couldn’t joke on me. This was a primary component of the packaging, since it showed off more of his body.


 

Cont'd A: Because Destro’s design was so close to the original, it became obvious to use that as a selling point for both collectors and new fans. The pose alone wasn’t enough for the poster component of the project, so I thought a Big-Brother floating head would feel appropriate. It was a satisfying challenge to figure out how to pull off that big chrome dome with a few colors. I tied them together with missiles, hinting at his arms-dealings.

 

Q: Now that you’ve worked on Destro, which other characters from the G.I. Joe universe would you like to tackle next? Any certain figure you’d like to see show up in Classified Series in the future?

A: The Fridge! Or Banzai, the ninja with all of the pink accessories. Or Ken Masters from Street Fighter, or the original #1 on my wish list email, COBRA COMMANDER. I’d be shocked if anyone from that list, other than Cobra Commander, was actually in the works for the Classified Series treatment.

Q: With the rise of social media and other platforms for creatives to find each others work, do you believe that the artistic community has become more connected as a result? Do you find that projects like the Classified Series help nurture this network?

A: My career is built upon this sort of network. I’ve made great friends and forged some strong relationships that all started on social media platforms. I believe collaborations like the Classified Series are among the best examples of an artist being allowed to do what they want with a license that they love.