Here’s an item that’s a little different that the art artifacts I usually show: Merrill Hassenfeld’s obituary from The Evening Bulletin, an afternoon edition of the Providence Journal. Hasbro was a family-owned company for three generations, and Merrill represents the middle of that. He had no direct interaction with A Real American Hero and the 1980s iteration of G.I. Joe, but he approved the original, 1963 Joe. Merrill’s son Stephen learned much from his father while climbing the ranks at Hasbro, and Stephen was president of the company (and heavily involved in A Real American Hero’s development) when G.I. Joe was re-introduced in 1983. Authors John Michlig and G. Wayne Miller both paint interesting portraits of Merrill Hassenfeld in their books GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action and Toy Wars, and if I could be a time-traveling fly on a wall, I might go to Mr. Hassenfeld’s office circa 1970.
Category Archives: Behind the Scenes
Hi all, sorry it’s been quiet. Busy with school and store. Three items today.
1) I’m putting the finishing touches on my long-promised film review of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Should be up next week.
2) I’ve finished editing an audio podcast of a completely different film review of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. This one’s me in conversation with editor Nick Nadel, and we talk about the Best Buy Blu-Ray Extended Action Cut. Will post after the text review.
3) A Real American Book is on Twitter! Follow me @GIJoeBook. Don’t miss another update!
Thanks for your patience and your readership. Here is a tiny doodle of Destro.
Here. This is topical since the author is a) my father, and b) the second editor on my G.I. Joe book.
Terence T. Finn worked for NASA and the US Senate. Later he spent eight years and read 150 of books to bring you America At War. Each chapter covers one war we’ve fought and ends with a series of questions and answers (Did we have to drop the bomb on Hiroshima?). Though the cover design makes it look like this is for adult males who watch the History Channel, it’s written for everyone — students, history lovers, lapsed history lovers, and the curious.
Fun fact: I indirectly gave my dad the idea for the cover design. My highest and most biased recommendation! And if you’re in Somerville, MA, you can buy it at my store.
It’s Bazooka’s 1985 toy cardback dossier, or “command file,” to use the official term. Many fans know Larry Hama wrote these, so in addition to the monthly adventures from Marvel Comics, Hama was also influencing the Hasbro toys. But before computers and the internet and .doc files and e-mail attachments, Hama’s originals would have been typewritten and faxed from New York to Pawtucket. So you may not have seen this:
You can even see the correction fluid. (Certain typewriters had a second ribbon in white for fixing typos, many did not.) This dossier is particularly interesting for Hama’s comment on outdated gear, and has his customary codename suggestions for Hasbro Legal to check.
In October I fired up my microphone and Skyped with Don and Dave of the G.I. Joe podcast Flag Points. It’s pretty nerdy, but should appeal beyond a narrow band of hardcore toy Joe fans. We talk about collecting, my book, and Hasbro, and we also make Star Wars and Transformers references. And after I overmodulate for the first few minutes I back off from the microphone. Perfect for those long drives or killing time on the treadmill. We talked for so long they broke it in half. You can stream or download to take with you.
Because my mom didn’t want to cook dinner every night of the week, Wednesdays we ate out. This tradition lasted for about 6 years. We loved our local mall. (Ironic since the growth of the suburban mall in the 1970s reflected the flight of retail stores from the American Downtown, a trend that closed my grandfather’s Baltimore department store years earlier.) After a renovation that added an entirely new wing complete with 3-screen movie theatre, video arcade, and food court, Montgomery Mall had us hooked. So after Mom came home from work she and brother Kevin and I would drive up the Beltway (the loop of interstate around Washington, D.C., and now the bane of many an automotive commuter) eager for a reliable night out in the consistent 72 degrees of our hermetic shopping experience.
After fast food dinner, we’d browse the book store and then split up – my mom to the department stores, and Kevin and I to – the arcade was actually called this, with a red and green neon sign – The Name of the Game. A half-hour later we’d drive home in time to finish homework and watch whatever ABC sitcoms were dulling our senses that particular season.
In the June between 5th and 6th grade, while strolling into Waldenbooks, past magazines and bestsellers, I looked up at the two spinner racks of comics and saw a revelation. His name was Road Pig.
The G.I. Joe cartoon had been in reruns for two years, a death spiral we could not fathom it pulling out of. New toys continually refreshed the line, but they didn’t speak or move. The explosions were imaginary, made in the onomatopoetic lexicon of little boys splayed out on a shag carpet.
From that top rack I pulled a comic book – odd thing it was – and noted several important elements: A bold “G.I. JOE” logo. The aforementioned Road Pig, a villain we had met in our role play, but never on television. He was brandishing his cinderblock-on-a-stick, a weapon so bizarre that if new episodes were on the air we inherently knew it would not appear, much like Snake-Eyes’ sword, television restrictions being what they were. On this cover image Road Pig was hauling two… who were they? I didn’t actually know since they were out of costume, but I could tell they were older Joes, circa year one. And a foreboding sign on the wall, pointing past them to something called the “Brain Wave Scanner.” Whatever all of this was, it begged several questions and I was curious for the answers.
Opening this flimsy periodical offered more surprises and teases. Over the first four pages, more characters who were too new to have appeared on the G.I. Joe cartoon! And an entire panel where one group of them – the Iron Grenadiers with their ceremonial swords (like U.S. Marines in their dress blues) actually brandish them! Threateningly! At other villains! It was too much for me to take. The Iron Grenadier action figures did come packed with swords, but they were permanently sheathed. So if Snake-Eyes was never going to use his sword on television (he did have it in hand once, but didn’t get to impale a robot or anything), and the Iron Grenadier toys made it physically impossible to properly use these other swords, that an “episode” of the G.I. Joe comic book had more relaxed rules concerning action and “violence” content made my eyes bulge.
And then a Cobra villain shoots another Cobra villain! All before page 5! (It was just a tranquilizer gun, but a kind of gattling tranq on steroids.)
But this was the icky G.I. Joe comic book! Hadn’t I already tried this out with Yearbook #3 and #4? Weren’t those printed on a dull newsprint, with a limited palette that could not rival the saturated intensity of animation cel vinyl photographed on 35mm film and telecined for broadcast? Yes. They were. But there were a few more colors here than those earlier comics, (or perhaps a more adept color artist), and the pull of all these characters and actions that were not available on television overrode my aesthetic concerns.
I flipped back to the cover. One dollar. That was a lot, but it also wasn’t. Kevin and I had a weekly allowance, and did not spend it on candy or gum. Or prose books. Those were all parental purchases. We tended to measure money with our own private system: The least expensive toys we bought were about three dollars. At Toys”R”Us, that meant a single G.I. Joe action figure, or an Autobot minicar (like Bumblebee). Everything scaled up from there in multiples of three and five. A $12 or $15 Joe vehicle was possible after a few weeks or months of saving. The $30 Metroplex was a bit out of my reach and became a birthday request. The $100 U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier was an utter impossibility. (Even the rich kid down the street didn’t have that, and he had a Millenium Falcon!)
So when I showed G.I. Joe issue #90 to my brother, his immediate response deflated, but did not surprise me: “Cool. Don’t buy it.”
Did I? Find out next week!