[80s WEEK] The Lost Art of Toy Packaging Art

A list of 80's toys reads like a who's who of toy legends: Transformers, Masters of the Universe, the 3.75 inch G.I. Joes, etc. With that kind of pedigree on the shelves, their toys had to stand out from the crowd. And they did that with awesome packaging art! The 80's were awash with toylines that featured packaging printed with colorful and hand-painted works of art that oozed with character and breathed life into these otherwise static pieces of plastic.

In this age of digital art and Photoshop (and certain laws that prohibit you from overselling a product's premise), we'll never have this kind of toy packaging again. So let's look back at some of the awesome card and box art of 80's toys!


As if to illustrate my point right there and then, the Dino-Riders toyline came in boxes emblazoned with hand-painted art that depicted the awesome combination of dinosaurs and lasers! Granted, a toyline about dinosaurs strapped with laser guns and missiles probably didn't need box art at all, but I appreciate Tyco's effort to go the extra mile to blow children's minds.

And Tyco's mind-blowing effort extended to the back of the box, with a painting of a huge dino vs. dino brawl that will be forever etched into my mind as the greatest picture ever.

Good lord look at this thing you guys.

My Google-fu has yielded zero leads as to who painted these dino-tastic box covers (if you know who it is, hit us up at the comment box below!), but they can rest easy knowing that the Dino-Riders toys will always be one of my favorite toylines in no small part to their amazing box art.


The first-generation Transformers toys in 1984 caught many a kid's and parent's eye with  futuristic box art that really captured the era these Robots in Disguise were born in. From the slick character portraits done by guys like Jeffrey Mangiat, Richard Marcej and Mark Watts, to the awesome mural-like paintings done by David Schleinkofer seen at the back of the box, the Transformers were brought to life before you even opened them up!

Character portraits by Jeffrey Mangiat.

There's a certain charm to the retro-futuristic box art of Generation 1 Transformers, and the artists who worked on them obviously saw the insane potential of these little robots, as evidenced by the back of the box mural done by Jeffrey Mangiat that could only be best described as a Transformers fans' fevered dream.

I don't know what the hell is going on, but what I do know is that it's awesome.

One would argue that today's Transformers packaging have better-looking and edgier art that better represent modern Transformers toys, and you could be right. But they can never be as epic as the 80s made them out to be.


The G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline was brilliant in that the packaging was as much a part of the toy itself. The file cards made you feel like you were really recruiting badass soldiers in your make-believe army, and their portraits helped sell the toy's persona as much as the comics and the cartoon did.

And what portraits they were! Hector Garrido is responsible for the character portraits printed on the card fronts of the early 1980s GI Joe toys, from the heroes to the villains to even the tanks and other vehicles. I loved how it looked like they were all striking a pose just as a huge explosion obliterated everything behind them.

Front card art of the early G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toys.

Look at this cheeky bastard striking a pose.

The stark black background combined with Garrido's explosive art made for really striking and in-your-face packaging, a perfect fit for a toyline about two factions locked in bitter combat for the fate of the world.


Let's face it, there was nothing manlier than the original Masters of the Universe toyline...the boxes they came in could make you grow chest hair just by looking at it!

And it's all thanks to the gorgeous packaging art. He-Man and co's toys came in boxes illustrated by prolific 80's artists like William George and Rudy Obrero, who took the campy back story of a muscular action figure with 5 points of articulation and turned it into a fully-realized medieval fantasy world that would make Frank Frazetta blush.

Battle Cat box art by Rudy Obrero

Snake Mountain box art by William George

Castle Grayskull box art by Rudy Obrero.

What's great is that these artists made ridiculous concepts like the Battle Bones and Dragon Walker (the most inconvenient mode of transportation ever) look mighty awesome. The toys may have gotten you hooked, but it was the paintings on the box that pulled you into the weird sci-fi barbarian story of He-Man and his fellow Masters of the Universe.

These are just some of the iconic 80s toy packaging art that defined the toy-playing childhoods of a generation. Box art like these aren't just for show...they kickstart the imagination process. As legendary GI Joe writer Larry Hama puts it, they "[trigger] the internal fantasy machine to fill in the holes, gloss over the mold lines, forgive the compromises for the realities of manufacturing and creates that wholly personal 'state of play' wherein universes are born." And that's what makes them extra awesome.

I hope you enjoyed our look back at the different box art of 80s toys as much as I did researching about them! Which box art do you remember from your childhood? Leave me a comment below and let's fangasm about it! Thanks to MEDUSAWOLF's blog, Monster Brains, the Transformers Wiki and Dino-Riders World for the images and other important info.

Check back tomorrow for more of Behold the Geek!'s 80's Week! Thanks for reading!

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  1. Dude, thanks a ton for this article. I write an '80-themed comic and I'm always looking for more rad '80s art to use as inspiration. This is the best collection of '80s toy art I've come across so far.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Adam. :) Keep the spirit of the '80s alive!

  2. The illustrator of the Dino Riders series 2 back box art is named Ezra Tucker. You can see his signature if you look close enough ;-) I sent him an e-mail and told him how much his painting meant to me and how it inspired me to be an artist as a kid and he sent me a very nice reply telling me a bit about the making of the piece.

    You can see more of his work here:

  3. Nice blog, although I don't really like this art

  4. Masters of the Universe is so cool, I really like this blog.