Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

A Real American Book! 2017 in Review

Sometimes I get antsy when people ask “How’s the book going?” or “Is there an end in sight?” So much happens behind the scenes that I don’t write about here, but it would be untoward to go around flapping my arms and pre-emptively yelling “I think about my book every day!” Part of why I write these Years-in-Review is to offer some proof.

In addition to teaching, much dust was kicked up above and below my comic book store this year, taking up time and energy. Good news! The building won’t fall over now. There’s also that “Project X” I mentioned a year ago in the ’16 Review, connected to a guy I interviewed for the book in ’07 and followed up with last year. I still won’t yet tell you what it is — sorry — but it’s still tangentially related to G.I. Joe.

Since the end of January last year (I count my book years from February to January rather than the standard calendar January to December so as to include my school’s winter break), I…

-Wrote and posted four blog articles here. Not great, but that’s more than last year.

-Phone-talked with editor Nick on his notes for Chapters 16 and 17. Probably some others I can’t track.

-Realized that 12 would have to be broken in two, making it 12 and 13, and turning 13 into 14 and 14 into 15 and 15 into 16 and 16 into 17. Chapter 17 got pushed ahead to become 19, and Chapter X became, finally, Chapter 18.

-Designer Liz sent back layouts for 13 and 14 (which will easily get tweaked to become 14 and 15). Designer Liz also sent a first pass at Chapter 17, which is quite close to a final draft.

-Extended my honeymoon by two days (wotta wife!) so I could find G.I. Joe treasure in Santa Monica and in Simi Valley, California. These are important for Chapters 8 and 16.

Traveled to Orlando, Florida for the official 2017 G.I. Joe Convention.

-Traveled to Providence, RI for HASCON 2017. (That blog post is a third-done. Sorry, it is on my to-do list!)

-Secured the original art to an(other!!!!!) unpublished G.I. Joe story. Such a tease.

-Bought a few toys on ebay for photoshoots. I own many Joe figures, but honestly, sometimes I just can’t find the one I’ve owned since the ’80s — is it in my basement? is it in that box over there? — and there’s a chance it’s missing an accessory. So yes, I’ve re-bought a few toys I already own. Also, a few mint-sealed ones I don’t.

Executed one new photoshoot with photographer Tim. (Maybe I’ll just call him by his last name, since I’m already the Tim of this story. Marshall. Executed one new photoshoot with photographer Marshall.) That makes photoshoot #16, for those of you keeping count. I can vaguely see needing another in the spring, but like this one, it’ll be straight forward “product” photography of a figure in front of a blank color or a mint-sealed one in front of same. I try not to do too much of this since, book-design-wise, it lacks flair, but sometimes it’s necessary. As the book develops, chapters start to tell me they need something, like “Oh, I’m writing about Tiger Force and Night Force for a paragraph, but I’m only showing some Tiger Force logo concept sketches. Maybe I need to show a figure or vehicle. Okay, in package, or out?” That kind of thing. I’ll need another photoshoot in the spring for the one or two things we didn’t get, plus some stuff that needs to be added into early chapters that now need rewrites.

-Conducted four new interviews. One was with a fan who attended the ’94 convention, another who knows much of the history of Joe fandom in the ’80s and ’90s, a duo who were significantly involved in the 30th Salute, and a film director involved around ’95. This is all material for Chapters 15 and 18.

-Sent follow-up questions to about eight previous interviewees. Got back some details and photos.

-Met Christopher Irving. Good guy to know. He, like me, teaches at a university.

-Interfaced with Dan Klingensmith. His books and my books cover some similar ground, but also diverge in significant ways. We chatted by phone recently, and he did me a favor in exchange for a favor I had done him. (Dan did a great job with HASCON, one of the points I’ll make in the HASCON review blog post.)

-Dealer/fan Drew Haggerty lent me some treasure that will aid Chapters 11 and 12.

-Bought some art. Fancy. Quiet-like.

-Considered, collated, wrote, and sent to Designer Liz a massive email (2300 words) of notes on Chapters 11, 14, 15, and 17. This took days. This was the culmination of the entire year, actually, but more locally, the culmination of Winter Break, when there’s no school and holidays are over and I can focus.

-Contributed to Andrew Farago‘s book Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the Eighties. Well, I contributed to this a year or so back, but the book was published this year, so a bit of my collection of Joe, Transformers, DuckTales, and Real Ghostbusters art is now on display, and Mr. Farago and his editor, Chris Prince, kindly gave me some extra credit at the back of the book. If you bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History in 2014, you are already familiar with Farago’s work.

So what’s left?

I need to transcribe (read: get transcribed) an interview and track down one person to incorporate some changes into Chapter 12. When that first draft is done, I can send it to Editor Nick. I’m close to locking text on Chapter 16. I’m close to a first draft of 18, which is all about so-and-so and hope to get one more interview, and 19, which is all about GI Joe Extreme. I’m waiting on two interviews. Chapter 20, sort of the end of the book, is just a notion in my mind. I’ve never written anything for it, and there isn’t even an empty Word document named “Chapter 20” on my hard drive. 2018 will need one more photoshoot, but probably get two more. Then I need to compare Chapters 1 through 10 with 11 through 20 and make sure the two halves of the book are balanced, which they right now decidedly are not. Then I need to revise 1 through 10 and incorporate some of the interviews I got in the last five years that haven’t been incorporated. Then Designer Liz tweaks those chapters for text changes and art additions. Then I’m done.

I usually end these blog posts with a question to encourage comments below, but I’ll just sign off by stating that this year felt great for the book, and a lot of things came together.


Filed under Behind the Scenes, Book Behind the Scenes, Photography, Writing Process

Remembering Gary “Goggles” Head

Gary Goggles Head Tim Finn

Gary Goggles Head was my friend.


I knew of him online before I knew him online, and that was well before we met in person. Gary was one of those G.I. Joe fans who’s name kept popping up. He was connected to many other fans, presumably collected rare G.I. Joe toys, and importantly, he knew things.
That last bit is key. I’ve been writing a book forever. And in that time I’ve spoken with many professionals, but very few fans. For more than a decade I had purposely avoided G.I. Joe online discussion boards, and in-person collector conventions. My heart belonged to another fandom (alien robot toys, perhaps you’ve heard of them?), so it was that other (alien robot toys) convention I attended. But by 2012, it was clear that in order to finish my book and connect it with its core audience, I would have to interact with all those G.I. Joe fans. And I really wanted to, now. Andrew Franks, who I’ve known since 1993, mentioned Gary. “Gary might know,” when I had some question about a rare G.I. Joe somethingorother. That refrain appeared a few times. But who was this Gary? While I didn’t know many G.I. Joe fans, I recognized the established ones — the ones who’d written collector guides or who ran websites or who sold the most toys at conventions. But here was this authority who had appeared rather suddenly. Gary then added me to the G.I. Joe Discussion on Facebook, which I didn’t understand — I hadn’t asked (how rude!), and weren’t there several other places that Joe fans were already chatting online? 
But I’m glad he did. It turned out that the Facebook discussion group was an ideal meeting place. The interface on Facebook is fast and immediate, and most everyone was already on Facebook. In late 2013 I messaged Gary with a G.I. Joe question, and said it would be nice to meet him in person at the Joe convention the following April. He answered that question, and concurred with the sentiment. We had had out first exchange.
And in April of 2014, we finally met at the Hyatt bar in Dallas, Texas. Pockets of Joe fans were everywhere, the bar expanding hundreds of feet upwards, atrium style. But you couldn’t miss Gary, in his loud, Betabrand silver hoodie, bald head, and silver goggles. There were six or seven of us, sitting around a small table in low chairs, chatting about G.I. Joe, fandom, the fan club, and convention-exclusive toys. But I suppose just two of us were doing most of the talking. Andrew later described it as Gary and I holding court. I didn’t know the weirdo with the headgear, but Gary and I had an easy rapport, and there was much to discuss. He asked a few questions that I might know from my book research. And when I asked questions back, I was impressed with his knowledge base. I immediately liked him and trusted him.
The next day I asked if he would be interested in reading my book. Specifically, if I could fly to Chicago (where he lived) and hang out with him for a weekend. Only three people had read the whole thing: editor Nick, editor Dad, and book designer-Liz. Gary said yes. This guy I had known for 36 hours.
A few months later, my father died. I can remember sitting on a couch in Maryland, my family working out the details of what came next. Funeral or memorial service? Immediately or later? Two Saturdays popped up. I’ve already scheduled my trip to Chicago to see Gary, I thought. I really don’t want to reschedule that. No scheduling conflict arose, and so, one week before I was to eulogize my father in Maryland, I flew to Chicago to let some guy read my book. I brought hard copy text-and-layouts or the complete-text-only for chapters 1 through 11-and-a-half, the whole book so far. In the planning, I had asked specifically if I could monopolize Gary for the whole weekend. I didn’t want him to leave for a few hours, or need to get groceries, or pick up his kids. I knew it would take all day Saturday and all day Sunday, minus meals, to get through this. (And it did.)
This was a risky endeavor. We might get impatient with each other, cooped up in a room. Gary might flake out, and leave early, or not pay attention to what was in front of him. He might forget to bring his collection, which I was going to inspect in case I wanted to make an offer on something or ask to photograph it fancy-like later. I mean, this wasn’t a paid gig.
 Gary Goggles Head Tim Finn
Gary was gracious about the whole thing. He understood the seriousness with which I took this, and managed to completely unlink himself from family duties for the whole weekend. We met at the hotel Saturday around noon, and checked into our rooms.
I knew this would work. And since it was at least two G.I. Joe fans meeting in a hotel to discuss G.I. Joe and look at toys (Gary’s very small but very impressive collection of pre-production toy materials), I declared it a kind of G.I. Joe convention, and hung a sign.
Gary Goggles Head

My original name for the con was longer, a convoluted joke that referred to Transformers and their Mini-cons, because a mini Joe con sounds like a Transformers Mini-con, sort of, and because I’ve been to about 15 Transformers conventions.

One of the surprises of adulthood is that you can make friends as quickly as you did in childhood. The first day of school or camp, to a kid, can feel like an eternity. By that afternoon, you’ve spent so little actual time together, but it feels likes weeks or months. As adults, friendships are instantly more complex, and bonds tend to take much longer. But I knew Gary as a kind, funny, and loyal person from that first evening in Texas, and was pleased with how easy the weekend in Chicago went. We each offered each other space, as well. Several times Gary said “If you need to take a break or get outside, don’t feel like you have to stay here.”
Railroad tracks Chicago Rosemont

It seemed like Gary or I could just wander off, walking forever, if either of us wanted to cancel the weekend in as dramatic a fashion as possible, as this was a hundred feet from the hotel.

And a tiring weekend it was. My Holiday Inn room wasn’t very big — only two chairs, a small desk, and a bed. I didn’t trust Gary taking the book to his room down the hall — it doesn’t ever leave my sight — so Gary sat at the desk and read, while I sat in the other chair and waited. We’d interrupt each other, a question about my research, an observation about G.I. Joe collectors, a joke, a need for a meal break.
Chicago O'Hare Rosemont Harry Caray's

The hotel shuttle bears a conspicuous ad.

The hotel was near the airport, part of me keeping simple this weekend trip. And except for two other hotels, a small office park, and train tracks, there wasn’t anything else nearby, a flat, mostly desolate stretch at the intersection of two highways. So we took most of our meals at the Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse’s, nextdoor/part of the hotel — Gary kept getting steak, of course. Did I mention he had a strange propensity to photograph, up-close, whatever meal he was eating, and post that photo to Facebook? With no caption or explanation, these disgusting photos would become blobs of color and texture, edible abstractions of cheese and grease. Gary didn’t shoot anything while we ate, though. I think he forgot because it was such a strange, packed weekend.
At the end we went to my stepbrother’s restaurant (a geographical coincidence of the trip) for dinner and got the royal treatment. Huge servings — I ordered seafood, Gary ingested beef. My stepbrother was dismayed neither Gary nor I were drinking, but he brought one of every dessert, and the check was covered. While we ate, Gary told me about his time as a DJ, and how hard he worked to get the music that he liked out there, and how he developed a following on the radio. I had assumed Gary had been that guy who partied in his twenties. Maybe we had something in common — I had decidedly not partied in high school or college, and attempted to make up for it later. As a DJ, Gary had kept odd hours — the graveyard shift, I recall. I wondered if living a late-night life, Gary could take risks, party, and not worry. He was frowning. Gary was talking about now. Now he had a family. He had nightmares about his kids in distress. I thought of my father, who once told me that from our second floor window, he saw me, age five, run across the street without looking for cars. And that he held his breath. I had known the rules, but kids forget at times. Gary was still talking about the present: “I never used to be that guy.” He had never been that guy who worried, and he didn’t need to worry about himself, but now he couldn’t not worry about his kids. “And I hate it,” he finished. Then we ate three huge slices of cake and Gary saw Billy Corgan over my shoulder, certainly the non-G.I. Joe highlight of the weekend, after all the delicious food.
Sunday night Gary left to return to his family, his normal life. MiniJoeCon was over. I would fly out Monday morning, and I remember feeling sad as he passed my room on was way out, his contribution to my weekend fulfilled. We had created a strange space together, where two obsessed fans could continuously talk and listen and read and absorb. Where new friends wouldn’t get on each others’ nerves. Where my book was open to expert critique, and yet was safe from harm. To my relief, Gary had very few comments. He liked what he read, was entertained, and yes, this fellow G.I. Joe researcher and scholar and archeologist, was surprised by a few of my facts. And he was one tough cookie. Strong opinions on toys, and music, and comics, and movies. The takeaway, that Gary was a thoughtful snob, lingered on.
A month earlier I had planned on seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction, resigned like it was some masochistic duty. A paragraph into reading Gary’s thoughtful film review, I realized that three of those films was enough, that seeing a fourth would only upset me — really upset me — and that it was a terrible, terrible movie I should and could skip. So I did. That might not seem like a big deal — lots of people read reviews and then skip a bad movie, but this was different. I’ve pretty much consumed Transformers entertainment since it started, and seeing Transformers 4 was a real kind of obligation. Being liberated from it was a relief, and I have Gary’s funny, venomous, honest, and thoughtful film review to thank for that.

(But he also didn’t read G.I. Joe comics, so nuts to him.)

(But I encouraged him to keep reading the crazy Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comics that Joe fans don’t like, but that he was intrigued by, so I’ll take back those nuts.)

A surprising aspect to Gary’s personality was how quickly he had gotten back into G.I. Joe, and how quickly he would get out. We nostalgia fans often have some story of growing out of something like G.I. Joe at age 10 or 15, and then rediscovering it and really needing it at age 15 or 20 or 25. Gary was a little different. He had gotten back into Joe later than most of us crazy fans, and in just a few years had become one of the most well-known, well-connected, and by many people, well-respected fans in all of Joe fandom. He helped run Joe Declassified (that wonderful group that keeps scooping me), and spoke with everyone online, and with everyone at the conventions. And he owned or helped other fans buy a treasure trove of rare or one-of-a-kind G.I. Joe toy objects and art. I mean, he hid toys around the hotel at G.I. Joe conventions and posted online that he had done so, waiting for someone — anyone — a fan, a kid, a random “civilian,” to find them. And yet, he told me to my surprise at my step-brother’s restaurant, that it was fleeting, and that just as he had abruptly one day walked away from music, to the shock of his music friends, and into G.I. Joe, he would one day walk away from G.I. Joe. I’ve thought about this too. Is the decade-and-a-half process of researching my book the cathartic experience that burns off and burns out my need for G.I. Joe? I mean, certainly I won’t have to keep hunting for G.I. Joe information and art after the book is done, right?
It was a little chilling, actually, to hear him say this, and to see a possible reflection of myself in it. (But don’t worry, I’m still a big Joe fan, and the book will get finished.)
To my great relief, Gary loved my book. He loved it while he was reading it, he loved it when we e-mailed a few days later, and he loved it when I posted a big year-in-review blog article a weeks back, wherein I mentioned our weekend together and thanked Gary once again for his time and generosity.
Writing this book is a bit lonely and scary. It could all come together at the end and then come undone, you know? So votes of confidence here on the blog and at Facebook mean a lot.
I’m sad that Gary won’t get to see the final version of the book. Whatever the cover price, he was eager to buy it, but of course I was going to give him a copy, and draw something for him on the first page. Maybe a Gyre-Viper, whatever that was.
G.I. Joe Con won’t be the same this year, or ever again, without Gary. I do look forward to sitting around with fellow collectors and toasting our departed friend. And my book won’t be the same without Gary. I had asked dozens of questions — who has this, where can I find so-and-so, what’s a good way to approach this long-lost person? — and any new questions are now harder to find answers to.
Gary Goggles Head Tim Finn

Chris Murray, myself, Gary, and two ruthless terrorists pose for a photo that doesn’t exist.

But Gary met so many people in his few years as a mega G.I. Joe fan, that his fingerprints are everywhere, and the echo of his voice is audible. So in a way, he feels very present.

Gary Goggles Head is my friend.


Filed under Behind the Scenes

Merrill Hassenfeld Obituary, 1979

Merrill Hassenfeld obit detail

Here’s an item that’s a little different than the art artifacts I usually show…  Continue reading

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G.I. Joe blog update – Feb 2014

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.

G.I. Joe sketch of Destro by Tim Finn

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Buy this book – America At War

America at War by Terence T Finn

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.

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Bazooka original dossier by Larry Hama

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 dossier Larry Hama teaseYou’ve probably seen this:

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 cardback dossier by Larry Hama 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:

G.I. Joe Bazooka 1985 cardback original dossier by Larry Hama

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.


Filed under Behind the Scenes, G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes, Toys and Toy Art

Interview – Flag Points Part One

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.

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