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

Tracie Ching

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, Tracie Ching brings her unique style to the Snake Eyes package.

Tracie Ching is a self-taught digital artist specializing in complex, engraving-inspired portraiture. Her work often involves a limited palette – a tendency-turned-style after years of working in the medium of silkscreen prints. We recently caught up with Tracie to find out more about her involvement in this exciting program.


Q: Tracie, this Snake Eyes artwork is stunning. Can you tell us a little about when you discovered your passion for illustration?

A: Thanks! My foray into illustration began about 9 years ago (geez I’m getting old). I had always been attracted to packaging and posters, but I was led to believe that the graphic design world wasn’t for me. Fine art was the only path. This idea was further supported during my art school years, where I was discouraged from taking any graphic design courses while pursuing my BFA. After three years, I realized I had to break up with the fine arts. It took me another year to escape the relationship, but I finally began exploring my missed connection with design after graduation.

At that time, I was already in love with the silkscreen prints produced by the Austin Alamo Drafthouse (which would later spawn Mondo). I created pop culture posters to teach myself how to use Adobe Creative Suite. Once I started I couldn’t stop, and eventually they formed the core of my freelance career. Turns out illustration was the rom-com, nerdy best friend I was meant to be with all along. The Laney Boggs to my Zack Siler.

Q: How did you discover the style that best suited your talents? What drew you to the kind of engraving-inspired work that you do?

A: Trial and error. Although, in hindsight, I missed some really obvious things. I found that styles are like shoes. You can’t successfully shoehorn yourself into one. You have to shop around and try them on in order to find the right fit. When I was teaching myself how to illustrate, I would find artists whose styles constantly made me think “That’s so cool. I wonder how they did that?”. Then I’d try to reverse engineer it and incorporate it into my work.

The other important factors were preferred mediums and tools. Silkscreen dictates a limited number of colors, and it was obvious early on I only wanted to work in Adobe Illustrator. I began using big vector shapes but eventually my long-time love of Albrecht Dürer and Gustave Doré converged with my new modern digital tools and the color-blocking became overrun by lines.

I don’t know if my predilection for engraving steered me toward vector or if working in vector decided my style. It’s a bit chicken-and-the-egg, but I will say it was extremely validating to have my collection of Victorian and Civil War era ephemera rebranded as “reference” instead of “weird old stuff Tracie insists on hoarding”.


Q: As a G.I. JOE fan, and with a new Snake Eyes movie looming in the near future, you must have been ecstatic to be involved with the G.I. Joe Classified Series Artist Program. Tell us what went through your head when you got word you’d be working on artwork for Snake Eyes.

A: I was about 2-parts excitement, 1-part jitters. Like many others, I have a strong, nostalgic connection to G.I. JOE and Hasbro. I am continuously grateful to be entrusted with creating visuals for time-honored brands and titles, but I never quite shake the anxiety that comes with wanting to do justice to the history while simultaneously bringing something new to the table.

The fun bit here was topping off this emotional cocktail with a garnish of vengeance. I would be lying if I said that as a kid I’d never been told to go find a doll instead of playing with G.I. JOE toys. So, my involvement as a female artist was central in my mind. I’ve yet to outgrow my tendency of getting cranky when I’m told I can’t do something, so the opportunity to collaborate on this particular project was not only a great honor, but also a source of deliciously vengeful triumph for my younger self.


Q: Why do you think Snake Eyes is such a good fit for your style?

A: Snake Eyes and I really bonded over aesthetic. Is that weird to say? Just kidding, I know it is, but this is my interview, so I get to say we bonded. Anyway - we’re both really into deep shadows. We like a bit of mysteriousness and keeping old school styles alive in these contemporary times. Neither of us really likes to talk and we both show up out of nowhere to the great surprise of our friends and chagrin of our enemies. He’s a cool dude. 10/10 would draw again.


Q: One of the many cool details about your Snake Eyes artwork is the inclusion of his wolf, Timber. Was this an important detail for you to include? Was there a specific line of thinking behind this decision?

A: Full disclosure, Timber was a required part of the commission brief, but I would have wanted to include him regardless. I absolutely love the fact that Joes have familiars (cough, cough) I mean, animal sidekicks. Timber’s presence serves as a nice contrast to the smooth, geometric shapes of Snake’s suit. He softens the composition while simultaneously making it more badass.

It was also a nice little side-quest for me. Up until that point I almost never got the chance to draw animals, and I was very excited about illustrating fur and working out Timber’s expression. I think I researched the look for Timber as much as Snake Eyes himself. In the end Timber came together in less than a few hours. Good doggo.


Color study variations - not final.


Q: The color scheme you’ve chosen is incredibly striking. Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind it?

A: The colors are actually modeled after the artwork that convinced the creative team to commission me. Back in 2018, I created a poster for a band’s US Tour. Its release occurred around the same time Classified was getting off the ground and as fate would have it the aesthetic aligned with the creative vision for Snake Eyes. I’ve always been a fan of deep shadows and duel-source lighting, but the color scheme worked on so many more levels here than it did for the band. The iconic Joe red and blue. Fire and Ice. Yin and Yang. Balance. And of course, a healthy dose of black.



Q: You’ve worked on a ton of different kinds of posters for everything from movies to political messages. Is this your first design that’s ended up on a toy package? Did you handle it any differently, or is the creation process similar?

A: There’s been this pattern in my career that I can best describe as ‘Go Big or Go Home’ syndrome. My first convention vending experience was at NYCC’s artist alley. My first commissioned sports illustrations were for a well established sports brand. I’ve become accustomed to being an uber-n00b on big projects, so part of my process has evolved into me doing my best work while terrified. This one really put me through my paces though.

I’d never designed packaging for a commercial toy, let alone on the level of Hasbro. Then add to that, I’d be illustrating Snake Eyes, who is undoubtedly the most badass G.I. Joe character (sorry, not sorry). Oh yea, and he’s kicking-off the Classified Series release. NO PRESSURE! I think the only reason I didn’t implode was because the illustration process was exactly the same as my usual. My job, as always, is to make many, many lines in a configuration of my choosing, but it was team work that really made this dream work.

We already had the style, color, and lighting locked in based on my proclivities and their vision. From there it was mostly just figuring out what position would best suit the final products - both a poster and the packaging. It took some experimentation as it was early days and the creative standard for the series was still being worked out. We went through several iterations, but the collaboration with the creative team was some of the best I’ve experienced. My sincere thanks to them for this opportunity. We went big. Now it’s time for me to go home.