That First Time I Wrote a G.I. Joe Book – Part One

April 1998 covers by Bryan Konietzko and uncredited.

During my time at RISD the student-run newspaper was called Mixed Media.  At 8.5 by 11 inches and with very little news, “newspaper” might not be the best descriptor, but it was printed on newsprint.  It also floundered for several years.  You would think that with all these talented students there might be great artwork or reviews, but students were too busy to contribute.  The calendar was helpful, and a few interesting articles got people to write in, but this biweekly rag didn’t contribute much to the social and artistic life of the school.

There was also a Brown-RISD newspaper, but RISD students had little to do with it.  Whereas Mixed Media was ignored, The College Hill Independent was widely read on at least one of those two campuses and it contained actual news.  In fall 1997 a cover illustration featured several 1980s personalities and pop culture characters.  One was Optimus Prime.  I was peaking in my unreasonable Transformers fandom – watching the old show on VHS, rising at six in the morning to catch the new one, attending the annual convention to sell my Transformers comic fanzine, and hiding Hasbro’s robots in my homework whenever I could.  (Or not actually hiding them.)  Since it didn’t really matter what was in Mixed Media, and the editor was always asking for submissions, inspired by that Independent cover I figured that an article on the history of Transformers wouldn’t get rejected.

It did not, and several friends responded favorably.  I was pleased to see my name in print and to spread the good word about my favorite fictional characters and their conquest of television airwaves, toy store shelves, and comic book sales charts.  And I noted that Mixed Media’s designers blew up one of the two images I provided, breaking up the staid column layout of the 2-page article.  I couldn’t help think that I had gotten away with something, that this publication that was supposed to be about RISD, and the issues facing its student artists and designers, had bent some rule in running a fluff feature on something so off-topic.

Announcements from Mixed Media v4 issue 8

A year later, the newspaper had sunk to its lowest point.  Issues were short, content was light, and no one talked about it.  (To Mixed Media’s credit, it always looked great.  Graphic Designer Sean Deyoe used it as an ongoing experiment in layout, and started calling the publication mixedmedia or MM to refresh its identity.)  I was a junior, and I would skim each issue hoping for comics or anything spicy in the text.  This was still years before free news migrated to the internet and just as the school administration started communicating to students through e-mail.  Each student still received photocopied fliers and reminders in his or her regular postal mail box.  A senior in Film Animation Video named Andy Dill was editing Mixed Media by now, and was either distracted by his workload or losing interest in this dying rag.  Or both.  A few students thought Mixed Media had become an extension of Dill’s ego, a soapbox for him to stand on, even if no one gathered to listen.  We were friendly, but I didn’t know him well.  In November I mentioned that I was considering writing a G.I. Joe history as a companion to the previous year’s Transformers piece, and Dill was amenable.  I had seen entire issues of Entertainment Weekly given over to a single topic (like a Seinfeld episode guide), pushing out all the regular articles until the following week, and as a joke said that I might just write the whole Mixed Media.  Unphased, Dill said that was fine.  I typed all winter break, and into January, while my short-term class (the six-week one between fall and spring) bored me.  Instead of reading about Leonardo’s sketchbooks, I typed – mostly from memory and with little research – the entire history of G.I. Joe, borrowing liberally from Matthew B. Pak’s 1980s episode guide and cribbing a few bits from John Michlig’s wonderful GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action since I knew little about the 1960s Joe.

Matthew B. Pak's episode guide cover. I've never ackowledged I cribbed from this for "Mixed Media" until now.

And this prose was building towards something else.

Sean Deyoe's covers to the two issues preceeding my G.I. Joe one, January 1999

As a junior I ran Animation Night for the RISD Film Society.  This was a way to stretch our budget, as renting film prints from studios and distributors and paying projectionists all cost money.  But video projecting VHS tapes from my personal library cost nothing (public screening rights be damned).  That February I was organizing “G.I. Joe Week,” consisting of three nights of Joe-related screenings at the RISD Auditorium.  Mixed Media went to student mailboxes on Mondays, so this would be a great way to kick off this event that was really only an event in my mind.

Half-page ad in Mixed Media 4.9

How did it all go?  Check back next time to find out.

4 Comments

Filed under Prehistory

4 responses to “That First Time I Wrote a G.I. Joe Book – Part One

  1. That Matthew B. Pak episode guide was a pretty cool little book. 🙂

    • Hello, Matt! How nice to meet you here, on the internet. Thanks for writing that guide. In the article above I refer to using your guide in 1999, but what I didn’t mention is that I found it at Sunbow’s NY office a year earlier. Did you mail it to them? Did someone there bring it to work and file it away years before? I’ve always wondered.

      • I sold them through the mail originally through Toy Shop Magazine so it’s possible that someone bought it anonymously from me or they got a copy from Hasbro. I was contacted by Hasbro after the second issue and they politely told me that as long as I used Hasbro’s trademarks and copyright notices that there would be no problems. The book morphed into “It Figures” newsletter and I sent copies of each one to Hasbro. Hasbro’s Vinnie D’Alleva sent me free samples of G.I. Joe and other toys for review (Conan the Adventurer). On a few rare occasions Hasbro “censored” some of my content. One example: I wrote how the dinosaur that came with the Dino Hunters playset looked like a knock-off of an Imperial dinosaur also sold at the time and I was told to delete that from my review.. .

  2. Interesting history. Thanks for chiming in, Matt!

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