Sorry I didn’t post this in August. Lots going on this summer, plus it took some doing to write 5000 words. Here we go!
Attending this year’s JoeCon (full name: The International G.I. Joe Collector’s Convention) was a must. A year ago we were told there would only be two more of these. Hasbro had not renewed the license for the sister show, BotCon (full name: The International Transformers Collectors Convention), while it had announced its own convention (HASCON), so our days were numbered. Last year’s JoeCon was remote and under-attended, and the G.I. Joe brand is not in a great state right now — comics, yes; animation, no; Movie 3, no; toys, effectively none; plus a noteworthy layoff at Hasbro; and did I mention Hasbro would barely be in attendance? — so my concern heading to Florida this past June was that the show would be funereal.
Compounding the potential for melancholy, JoeCon ’17 was to be held at the Dolphin (full name: Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin) inside Disney World. I have trouble crossing my wires. A weekend about G.I. Joe should be about G.I. Joe. I can’t leave the con and go to Space Mountain or look for construction cranes over Star Wars Land. (Good news, I saw construction cranes for Star Wars Land without trying.) Additionally, everything about a trip to Disney is expensive. That means hotel, food, and parking, so walk-in attendance might be down. (Good news, it wasn’t.) And news was leaking that the one Hasbro rep who would be there was going to announce the toy line had been canceled for at least the next two years, and that no toys would happen without a movie. Again: “funereal.”
I am pleased to report that the con was anything but, that I had a great time, and that it was a great con.
As with previous years, I’ll divide this blog posts by day. Click on pics to embiggen.
I made a decision this year, that rather than bringing paper printouts of finished book chapters, (I’m writing a book. You should know that if you’re reading this blog. I’ve been writing this book for 16 years. Okay, you’re caught up.) — that rather than bringing paper printouts of finished chapters, I would bring PDFs on my laptop. The printouts are 18″ x 20″, and end up being cumbersome to carry, and no one comes back to my hotel room to look at them, so it’s been an inefficient way to share. It’s easier to always have my laptop on me, even if the viewing experience is a tad smaller. Also, rather than bringing the same old chapters from 2008, I decided to bring recent chapters that my stellar designer, Liz Sousa, had just turned over in the last few months. So I was jazzed to show material that I’m not accustomed to showing, material that’s still new to me.
Flew to Orlando. Waited in humidity for the shuttle. Passed miniature golf (a course that had been recommended a few weeks earlier) as we turned into the driveway for the Dolphin and the Swan hotels. Anyway, as I’m always on the lookout for symbolism, I noted this lone Minnie Mouse mylar balloon, abandoned by some child and floating fifteen feet above the registration desk, out of reach until its helium dissipates.
Additionally, I’m fascinated by the seam that separates the facade of vacation attractions like theme parks and cruise ships from their inner workings. Up on my hallway on the way to my room, this door reminded me what employees are called.
Ate near (but not with) the Characters — needed time without distractions to check email. Couldn’t help but smile when Goofy and Pluto and then Chip and Dale made their rounds. There was a giant tree in the middle of this hotel restaurant. What these kids are having for dinner is what I always want for dinner.
Crossing from the Swan to the Dolphin, or from the Dolphin to the Swan, here’s what I thought was the minigolf, but was actually a playground. The minigolf was the same distance away, but a tad to the south, to the left of what the photo shows.
Theme parks are weird places. Disney World is no exception, especially since it’s like 10 theme parks in one. Each hotel, with a distinct theme and architectural style, adds to this. I wanted to get the lay of the land without going into the park (which would require a ticket), and I wanted to clear my head after a day of travel, so I jogged around Crescent Lake and several hotels. It’s strange to run on a fake boardwalk in front of a hotel called “Boardwalk.”
Then I bumped into Chris Murray and Dan Moore. Both man the Joe Declassified booth, which displays pre-production Joe art and artifacts. (Chris, you may recall, hosted myself and my photographer, Andre Blais, two years ago at his home when we photographed his collection for Chapters 15 and 16. Dan lent a key image from his collection of paperwork for Chapter 11.) We chatted about HASCON, which from the outside, looked overpriced and underplanned, but it was to be held a mere hour from my home, and I was curious. (I did in fact attend, a future post at this very blog.) Chris, after several years of being stuck at the Joe Declassified booth, was taking this opportunity to spend a weekend not inside a G.I. Joe convention, but rather, at Disney World. From the Swan, I headed to the Dolphin —
— to socialize at the bar, which was hiding behind a giant temporary wall where a construction crew was building a new lobby and front desk. Chatted with Chris and Dan, and Roger Taft, and a few other folks. (Get in touch if I’ve left you out! I’m not trying to leave you out!) Showed my book to many people, plus a side project I’m working on that’s tangential to the book. Got nice feedback.
Importantly, finally met and chatted with Elizabeth Capua. I hadn’t quite crossed paths with her two years back when an assemblage of Joe fans toasted our departed friend, Gary “Goggles” Head, and I’d only briefly interacted with Elizabeth on Facebook. She and Gary were a couple, and had three kids together. Meeting her in person was important, and showing her four chapters from my book, for which Gary was so helpful, was emotional and gratifying. She was here to socialize on Friday evening, and then, with Chris Murray, a friend of the Head/Capua family, was hitting the park all weekend — sans kids. This cracked me up. What’s even better than taking three little kids to Disney World? Going without them! Elizabeth said nice things about my book, and again, I can’t stress how good it was to finally meet her in person.
Everyone, in fact, who saw some book said nice things. This is helpful and important. It can be hard to research and interview and write off and on for weeks and months and years, and then just a few trusted people in and near my house see the fruits of that labor. I was already glad I’d brought a laptop and not paper chapters, and newer ones, to boot. By midnight I was tired from giving the book pitch four times (but it’s still lovely to do), and hungry, so Troy McKie led me to food at the… Buffeteria? downstairs. We talked about JoeCons, and HASCON, and the new Transformers live-action movie that I didn’t want to see. Troy, reasonably, wanted it to be a success as he’d worked on numerous color schemes for the movie toys as a freelance job.
JoeCon was tucked way into the back corner of the hotel.
Next to us was some other conference:
The contrast was stark. Here we were celebrating toys and comics and animation, but not many of us, all quiet and queued like no one had had their morning coffee. I wrote this in my sketchbook: “We’re in rooms Pacifica A and Pacifica B. 50, 60 people tops, lined up [to get into the dealer room]. Pacifica C — that same number [of people], but it’s a big party — they’re loud, they’re densely packed [waiting to get into their room], like a party at 8:45am.”
It was dozens of people shaking hands and hugging. Oh, how long it had been since they’d seen each other! I had to walk through their waiting-in-line-party to get to our line! I thought I got a photo of all those people socializing down the hall from us, but I can’t find it. This was the only visible sign I had that reinforced my concern the show would be somber and lacking in energy. But things turned around quickly!
Running the first panel at 9am when walk-ins can’t enter until 10am is convention planning I don’t agree with, but my pre-registrant pass got me in for the start of this most informative panel:
The Unsung Heroes of the Adventure Team
Derryl D. DePriest and Tod Pleasant did a wonderful job. As my book focuses on 1980-2000, and I grew up after the Adventure Team, this particular version of G.I. Joe holds only a passing interest. But in the blue shirt above is Hasbro’s VP of Global Brand Strategy, who published a wonderful book on G.I. Joe before he worked at Hasbro, so this was going to be an excellent panel.
In fact, this was one of the greatest panels I’ve ever attended at any convention. That Messrs. DePriest and Pleasant had done such great research finding people, asking questions, looking for art and prototypes, and had photographed them and turned it all into a slideshow was special. DePriest and Pleasant had, in effect, done for ’70s Joe what I’ve been doing with ’80s and ’90s Joe, and so in a way I got to see my book from the point of view of someone looking in from the outside. There weren’t many people in attendance at this panel, less than 20. I was disappointed by this, but DePriest, right off the bat, happy as a Joe fan can be at a JoeCon, said something like “It’s not how many of you are here, it’s that you who are here really want to be here and can take this knowledge out there to other fans.”
One topic, presented via a series of revealing slides, was “The Secret and Surprising Origin of Mike Power, Atomic Man.” Another photo showed the original Eagle Eye head sculpt master. Kirk Bozigian even quipped from the audience with a helpful bit of trivia regarding a 1970s Quik bunny mug — one generation of Hasbro fact checking (in a friendly way) another. I may turn an anecdote or two from this panel into a future post here at A Real American Book!, as I took photos and notes. After the panel, I introduced myself to Mr. Pleasant, and showed both him and DePriest stuff on my computer.
The Unsung Heroes panel had featured slides depicting some famous 1970s Joe prototypes and mock-ups, and after their panel, the actual figures appeared in the con’s glass display case. If you’re a ’70s Joe fan, these probably mean a lot to you. I’ll just enjoy them from afar. Here are three pictures, sans commentary:
Heading from the panel room back to the main con room, I spied this, something that always makes me smile:
It’s a bulletin board that Fun Publications (the organizers of the con) puts up each year so that attendees can post buy and sell lists.
This takes me back all the way to BotCon ’94 and ’95, my first toy conventions, where people were selling and trading in their hotel rooms the night before the show opened, or in the evening after the con floor closed for the day. That was before email and cell phones, so people were posting their hotel room numbers. You’d knock on a door and enter to find that oh-so-particular scene — toys on and around two hotel beds, someone sitting on a bed, someone standing behind a bed, boxes of toys and coolers of food or soda, and a deal happening, but no room to maneuver. Here’s a close-up.
Finally made it into the con room:
It felt a little more packed than last year’s in Loveland, Colorado. This was a good thing. Note on the right, the Baroness and Helix. I wasn’t particularly shopping for anything — I’m mostly retired from collecting production Joes as my habit moved onto original art and pre-production rarities many years ago. But there were two mint sealed action figures from around ’93 I am looking to photograph for my book, and I’m happy to say I found them.
That’s two kids as Sgt. Slaughter and Sci-Fi. It’s one thing to see grown-up nostalgics in costume, but another thing entirely when it’s a 12-year or whathaveyou. There aren’t a lot of 12-year old Joe fans out there right now, you know? All us ’80s kids have been catered to with Real American Hero these last ten years, I sometimes forget it’s a brand for kids. I’m grateful when fans bring their kids to JoeCon. Certainly at BotCon it’s a given as everyone buys toys because of the newest Michael Bay film. G.I. Joe isn’t visible. Particularly charming with Sci-Fi above is that it looks homemade and found. Cosplay has gotten so slick, but that kid’s just wearing some BMX stuff because he probably rides BMX.
Here are members of The Finest, getting ready for a photoshoot: Flint, ’86 Roadblock, Tiger Force Duke, a Crimson Guardsman, and Mercer. A moment later a convincing Python Patrol Viper stepped in, which made me smile.
In the con’s glass display case were the convention-exclusive toys, modern takes on 1987’s Battle Force 2000 team. That would be 1980s figures remade in the 2007-and-beyond style, with more detail and articulation. Whenever I see a Blaster figure, my brain does a tiny step to the side. As kids my brother and I split the toy line in half. He bought certain figures, and I bought others, and we didn’t overlap. Blaster was Kevin’s.
I didn’t purchase this convention set, but if I did, Blaster is Kevin’s.
Here’s the box. I would learn three months later that Hasbro still has the original artwork to the original Battle Force 2000 figure packaging, so presumably the reproduction on this box is top-notch.
And whenever I see Dodger (below, left), I instinctively think “Oh, he’s the one who survived.” Five other members of Battle Force 2000 died in Marvel’s G.I. Joe issue #113, cover dated June 1991.
Next to him is Avalanche. I sometimes play this little metal exercise, “Who would we have bought next?” If, at the time, my brother and I had gotten around to purchasing one additional G.I. Joe action figure from the 1987 line, rather than a Transformer or some other toy line, before the 1987 line was permanently cleared off toy store shelves for newer Joes, for me it would have been Avalanche. I leaned towards the arctic guys.
Bumped into Justin Talton, from whom I bought some art a few years back. Last year I learned that Justin attended the 1994 G.I. Joe convention, which I cover in Chapter 16 of my book. I’ve wanted to interview someone who was there, so we agreed to talk by phone later. He has a painting I want to reproduce in my book, so one day soon we’ll figure that out, too.
The History of the Super Joe Adventure Team
This was a more straight-forward panel, a slideshow of toys and facts in chronological order. Less about revelation, more about history, but as I don’t well know that history, it was fun and informative. And while I may think “This info is all online,” or “This info is in some guide book,” it’s nice to have a fan present it all. I’m not a 12-inch guy, and I’m certainly not a Super Joe guy — I think it only merits a paragraph in Chapter 1 of my book — but it’s good to be reminded of who’s who and what’s what.
Afterwards Mr. Steve Stovall displayed some toys. As there’s almost no Super Joe presence at JoeCon, it’s nice to see these up-close.
I’ve started to get interested in weirder Joe toys, a side effect of having written about Star Brigade for the last three years, all while seeing my wife collect and window shop various novelty figurines. Once I was plainly not interested in the likes of Gor, Luminos, and Darkon, but Larry Hama put Action Force’s Muton into the monthly G.I. Joe comic book a year back, so when I saw a nice-condition/cheap Muton figure for sale from a dealer who had everything Action Force, owning Muton, the G.I. Joe/Action Force figure most likely to delight my wife, became inescapable.
(Those other two guys are just to show contrast. Two green guys, and this giant eyeball guy.)
Chatted with Jim Sorenson, who’s published many great G.I. Joe and Transformers books. Showed him some of my book. Jim and I don’t chat as often as we should, but we’re kindred spirits, both researching Joe and Transformers history, looking for art and networking with important people. There are no photos of us together, despite crossing paths at prior conventions, which I rectified with this out of focus gem. Also, I’m trying to think of a joke for that painting behind us, but nothing comes to mind.
I ran back to my hotel to get more batteries. Perhaps related to that painting, reminded myself to later capture some of the weird wall paper and carpet patterns in the hotel.
I didn’t learn anything new in this panel, but it was a mini reunion with good energy. Greg Berndtson made a point that I liked hearing. Gesturing to his left, to the figure designers Rudat, Pennington, and Sears, he explained that these guys were oozing with talent, and that they weren’t just designers. They weren’t just guys who came up with looks and costume ideas for Joe and Cobra characters, but rather, these were ingenious problem solvers who thought in three dimensions. And that the G.I. Joe line wouldn’t have been the hit it was if not for these creatives. It was nice to hear. Afterwards they all stood together for a photo op. I don’t think these five gentlemen had all been in the same building since 1988. Here they are: Greg Berndtson, Mark Pennington, Kirk Bozigian, Ron Rudat, and Bart Sears.
Kirk makes for a great make-shift moderator. He was one of the panelists, but he kept up the energy, tossing questions to other panelists and getting to the heart of each question from the audience.
Back to the con room.
In previous years, Joe Declassified has printed up informative magazines with articles about unproduced G.I. Joe toys, but for 2017 they had something big planned. You might call this a “bootleg,” or a “fan project,” since it’s not a licensed toy or an official Hasbro object, but either way it’s monumental.
This is a classic, 1980s-style Sightline figure at the 3 3/4-inch size. Who is Sightline, you ask? Two years ago at JoeCon, Hasbro unveiled its 2015 line. One figure, a masked Joe, was codenamed Sightline. Primary military specialty: Anti-aircraft support. His “real name,” according to his toy packaging dossier, is Gary Goggles. Gary “Goggles” Head is that fan/friend who passed away a few years ago, so this was a touching tribute — a Joe named after a deceased fan. Sightline has a visor, which parallels the goggles that Gary always wore, and since Sightline’s mask and helmet are molded on, the toy’s likeness is unrevealed, so who’s to say it’s not Gary’s face under there? Elizabeth Capua had okayed the use of the name, so our pal is immortalized as part of the G.I. Joe team. Here’s an official Hasbro product image from two years back:
That’s the actual toy from 2015, again, in the post-2007 “25th Anniversary” style and construction. This year, Declassified took available toy parts from 1982, ’83, and ’84, created a mold, and produced Sightline in the 80s/’90s-style (with the O-ring waist) — and gave them away at JoeCon! Security was tight — you had to show an ID, and could only get one. The file card for Declassified’s figure is an added bonus, with a bio that nods to the real Gary. Kudos to Sam Damon and his crew of backers, designers, and volunteers for thinking up this moving tribute, planning it, producing it, and packaging it. (I’m imagining a hotel room full of folks bagging all these figures for three straight nights before the con opened). I didn’t get around to purchasing the official Sightline because he came in a $60 pack with three other figures, a tank, and a jet, and it was hard to find. Contrast that to walking up to the Joe Declassified booth to look at their display of rare stuff and being handed a retroactively “classic” Sightline for free. And to have a “new” 1983-style figure, a character who didn’t exist in 1983, but this is what he could have looked like! It’s actually jaw dropping.
Gary’s presence is still missed at shows like this, but once again, he was there in spirit, and now in a whole new way! I can’t overstate this — what a fun, loving, and innovative tribute.
And on top of all that, Declassified had another giveaway: a tiny sticker sheet so you can customize existing Kre-O (Hasbro’s take on LEGO) pieces into a Sightline figure:
Declassified outdid itself this year.
Big Lob Hour!
Brad Sanders has a small association with G.I. Joe, in that he was the voice of Big Lob in the 1987 animated G.I. Joe: The Movie. (Yes, “Big Log” is the name of a G.I. Joe team member.) Big Lob didn’t get a figure in 1987, to the puzzlement of Joe enthusiasts. (He finally did 23 years later, though, through the fan club.) I love the character, as he steals every scene he’s in. He does fall into that weird trope in kids’ cartoons where a sports-themed character speaks only in sports metaphors, which was cute one time in 1987 but ever since then I’ve found dumb. (Sorry, GI Joe Extreme’s Freight!)
Here’s an out of focus photo of Sanders.I love voice actor panels, not because the actors are going to reprise iconic dialogue from their characters’ animated appearances, but because these are professional performers speaking about their craft. Sometimes toy designers or comics artists, on panels, are shy. Never actors! I asked about Sanders’ training, and he mused on his craft. As Big Log has only that one appearance, there wasn’t actually enough to talk about to fill the whole panel, so Fun Publications had smartly excerpted all of Big Log’s scenes from the Joe movie. With the sound off, Brian Savage (the guy in charge of Fub Pub) asked Brad Sanders to read — cold — the dialogue — live to picture — for every character! That meant Big Lob, plus Beach Head, Tunnel Rat, Law, and the rest. Fun!
The effervescent Christopher McLeod, the jolliest man at JoeCon, live-foleyed sound effects to the screen while Sanders read from his transcript:
Sanders made a keen observation, giving advice to young stand-up comics: One has to just tell one’s story when starting out. But many comedians starting out make the mistake of trying to get a reaction as opposed to giving a laugh. That’s the kind of actor thinking you get from actor panels. Whether or not Brad Sanders yelled “Big Log makes his move! He cuts cross-court, sidestepping the opposition!”, he gave us some perspective as a working professional.
Bumped into Matthew Karpowich, who I see every time I attend BotCon. I should’ve known he’d show up at a JoeCon too, one day. Showed him some book.
Larry Hama and I chatted while he drew sketches and talked about Christmas plans. We had that beer that’s exclusive to the Dolphin and the Swan. I’m not a beer guy, but it’s funny to be at a G.I. Joe convention in Walt Disney World drinking a beer that you can only get at two hotels on Earth.
I fiddled with a caricature.
Close. Larry’s straight-faced most of the time, but laughs easily, so how to strike that balance? Anyway, on the way to the Casino Night, saw a cosplay family. That’s Cover Girl, Shipwreck, and Shipwreck’s parrot, Polly.
I’ve always been puzzled by the connection between “casino night” gambling at JoeCons/BotCons and the actual G.I. Joe and Transformers brands, and the main con activity of buying and selling toys, but Fun Pub has long held to this tradition, and ’17 was no exception. I don’t gamble (even for play money for redeeming Joe rarities at auction), but people seem to like it. Here’s a view of the Casino Night:
I showed more people my book progress, including the aforementioned Chris McLeod and the aforementioned Sam Damon. There was an auction, with some rare stuff donated by dealers.
And the costume contest.
Kids! 1964 Action Pilot. (Or 1994 30th Anniversary Action Pilot, if you prefer.) Zarana! Zartan!
Then Zartan put on his mask! Hilarious and crafty. If you weren’t there in 1984, Zartan, who’s an evil master of disguise, came with a backpack and a mask that looked just like this.
Here’s Croc Master.
Headman! Mickey Mouse Clutch! (I think because we were in Disney World.) Neo-Viper! (I don’t love that movie, but it’s a good costume job.) Ghost Rider! (The joke in the comics is that no one remembers his name because Marvel already had a character with that name.)
Here’s Joe Colton as Undertow.
But wait, what’s this? One more entry in the adult costume contest? Why, it’s a giant shipping box…
Inside, a replica box of the 2015 fan club membership figure for the 12-inch scale, a new character inserted into the 1970s GI Joe Adventure Team!
Out from the box comes James Kavanaugh, Jr., who always brings his a-game for concept and execution to cosplay, yet always with a wink and a nod. See, the Dr. Isotope action figure did indeed come with a silvery jumpsuit…
…but was also glow in the dark — his “skin” molded in special, green plastic, which Kavanaugh demonstrated by dropping his pants to show off these neon green tights.
James Kavanaugh, Jr., you crazy bastard.
Showed some book to Hawk Sanders, and talked publishing. Called it a night.
Showed the aforementioned Chris McLeod some book.
Back to the dealer room
Since I’m not buying much, it’s important at events like these for me to capture some of the color and flavor of the place. I love the window shopping. Whether or not I have money to spend, I love seeing old toy packaging and bins of loose figures and stuff from the last few years I didn’t carefully track, or something that I have loose at home but get to see mint here. I love it all.
One dealer had a big display of Kre-O figures.
Here’s Mark Pennington, former Hasbro figure designer. (I interviewed him in ’06.) On his left is a variant cover he inked (penciled by Bart Sears, who I interviewed in ’11) for an upcoming issue of the Hasbroverse Joe series published by IDW. It’s striking to me that after all those months and years of drawing G.I. Joe for Hasbro in the 1980s, and drawing so many comic books since then, Pennington and Sears never drew for G.I. Joe comics until 2017.
I chatted with Rod Whigham, who drew many issues of G.I. Joe in the ’80s. (And who I interviewed in ’09.) He draws the daily sports strip Gil Thorp now. I love how he draws, and if there wasn’t so much going on, I wouldn’t just sat and watched him draw. At some point on Saturday I had shown him some book. Whigham’s work is really structural, yet there’s a softness to his linework. For his three-year run on G.I. Joe, when the book was at its height of popularity, I think he’s many folks’ definitive and ideal G.I. Joe artist.
Product and Colors May Vary
Joe Declassified once again had a detailed panel on a specific sub-topic of G.I. Joe toy production and collecting.
This is the kind of noodley detail:
Both Patrick Stewart and Sam Damon have been helpful (and will continue to be helpful!) with fact checking, resource-finding, and networking my book, so to both see Declassified’s table display of rare toys and watch them rattle off facts with ease is great. James Kavanaugh, Jr. was on the panel too, and even wore a tie, but I managed to crop him out of this photo. Maybe the radioactivity was bad for my camera lens.
Another bang-up job, gents.
While at this panel, I was sitting behind Chris and Kate McLeod. Kate had retrieved her custom figure from the art contest tables, and I realized I’d missed my chance to snap photos of all the wonderful customs and dioramas. This is a fun part of the con experience, and adds color to these very blog posts, so unfortunately, this is all I’ve got:
Time was running out for me. Chatted with Ron Rudat. Showed him some book. Collector Drew Hagerty, who I’d been triangulating with on Facebook, graciously lent me a three-ring binder of G.I. Joe fan club treasure — material I’ve needed for Chapter 16 of my book. Showed some book to James Kavanaugh, Jr.
I wish I had a hilarious or touching note to end on, but I simply grabbed my luggage, waved good-bye to the miniature golf course from afar, and hopped a shuttle back to the airport. I had to get home so I could then fly out to the opposite coast for a wedding. At some point during the convention, I was tired from so much sitting and sharing and chatting and being “on,” and scribbled this in my sketchbook. Here’s half of a theme song, set to the tune of the 1980s G.I. Joe animation theme:
Good-bye, Dolphin and Swan!
I would be seeing a few Joe-pals three months hence in Providence, but for everyone else, see you in Chattanooga next June!
Next blog posts, and each lengthy: “Remembering Wally Burr” and a review of HASCON, the premiere Hasbro FANmily event.