Windchill turnaround by Pennington

1989 Mark Pennington G.I. Joe Windchill close up

I had a thing for arctic figures. Even though my brother bought Snow Job, the tooth fairy brought me Iceberg, and from then on, it was quietly understood that I would get the arctic figures (or maybe I announced it?) — Blizzard with his many accessories, Sub-Zero with his giant machine gun. Except for the Stalker remake — Kevin had had the original ’83 Stalker, so he got dibs on any revisions. And ’89 Stalker was a tundra soldier, which is not quite arctic. I realize here I’m misusing the word “arctic.” I should just be writing “cold weather” — I got all the cold weather Joes — since an antarctic figure would be a different category. Anyhoo, I skipped Avalanche because he was underpainted and looked silly.

1989 Windchill and his crazy vehicle, the dragstrip racer-like Arctic Blast, was the one that got away. Never bought him, and the tooth fairy had moved on to other, younger kids. But I enjoy peaking behind the scenes at this Mark Pennington sculpt input sheet for Windchill.

1989 Mark Pennington G.I. Joe Windchill

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

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

Wild Weasel color study circa 1983

84 Wild Weasel color study close up

We all likely respond to Wild Weasel’s signature red flight suit. Depending on the light, it’s a little maroon, a little magenta. But overall, it’s red. Red, the color of blood, the color of rage, the color of evil, the color of the Red Baron’s plane. Much of what made Cobra stand out so much from G.I. Joe those first few years, 1982 – 1986 or so, was color: Joes were generally greens, browns, and tans. Cobra was generally blue, black, and red.

After figure designer Ron Rudat finalized each Joe or Cobra, he would color several — sometimes several dozen — photocopies of his final drawing, and with markers or ink, brainstorm a myriad of color schemes. You lose much of the effect if you see any one by itself, as the real revelation comes in seeing ten or fifteen laid out together, all the strange and wonderful possibilities that might have been.

But here’s a might-have-been for Wild Weasel.

84 Wild Weasel color studyI think he might have gotten lost against a dark blue plane had he arrived in this grey. But it’s neat nonetheless. (Perhaps these duds against a red plane!) In what colors have you wanted to see Wild Weasel?

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A Real American Book! 2014 in Review

Tim Finn GI Joe book

Running this blog is strange. It’s great to be able to have a place to post images that won’t fit in the book that I’m writing, but there’s still a nebulous disconnect that I can’t shake — only a handful of people have seen the book-so-far, and maybe everyone else abstractly figures I’ll never finish or never quite started.

Tim Finn GI Joe book

Above: printouts of chapters 2 through 8, researched and written and edited and designed. The good news is that they’re finished, and were finished in 2011. The bad news is that in the past year I’ve learned more about several important moments in G.I. Joe history, and scanned or photographed some key pieces of G.I. Joe art, so chapters 2, 3, 6, and 8 need revisions. But the good news is that I learned those facts and saw those images, so the book will be more accurate, and more interesting.

Tim Finn LUCAD Hub Comics

The other bad news, I write half-jokingly, is that I still teach and I still own Hub Comics, so there are many days where there isn’t time to write. School vacations are wonderful, though. May and September are not — end of the semester, Free Comic Book Day, start of the semester, field trips, grades. This summer was to be a return to form, like the year or two before I bought a comic book store, when I seemingly wrote every day for weeks on end. Then, unexpectedly, my father died, which meant taking time off from writing. He was also one of my two editors. (And a very good writer.)

Dad Xmas 2010 TRU framed

In practice, however, not having him around to read and comment on each chapter doesn’t hurt the book. Other-editor Nick Nadel is up to the task of helping me whip this into shape. I’ve been leaning on Nick since 2001, or 1990, depending on how you count. I’ve posted this photo before on my website, but not here, so this is what it sometimes looks like when we get together twice a year.

Tim Finn Nick Nadel

But most of the time we’re on Skype, so imagine that same photo with a split screen down the middle and the New York City skyline behind Nick.

So what did I do this year, anyway?

-Started a Twitter for the book
-Added 23 posts to this blog
-Edited a G.I. Joe podcast (and recorded a second one, stay tuned).
-While in Los Angeles, met with two gents I’d interviewed years back and had coffee with a new interviewee
-Flew to Chicago so a knowledgeable fan could read chapters 1-10 and offer feedback
-Drove to Connecticut for an interview
-Drove to Rhode Island for a follow-up interview
-Trained to New York for an interview
-Telephoned New York for an interview
-Found four people online who had small but important contributions
-Wrote and edited and rewrote significant portions of chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and X. Yes, there’s a “chapter X.”

(And all while teaching two classes, running a store, and hosting two art openings, two events, and four signings there. Phew!)

(Also, I’m cheating with that tally by including these first two weeks of 2015.)

And the interviews listed above represents a variety of contributors — toy alums, comics talent, animation people, and film folk. What didn’t work out? Unfortunately, three people politely declined to be interviewed, two more didn’t respond to requests, and there’s another person out there that I just can’t find. There are enough facts and recollections in the 190 interviews that I do have to reasonably fill in those gaps, but a few sentences here and there will be vague and a few points of view are under-represented. But the book is interesting, accurate, and fun.

What’s in store for 2015? I think I can…

-With my photographer visit a collector in Texas to shoot his collection, which will help me write chapter 15.
-Attend JoeCon 2015
-Finish chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.
-Figure out where chapter X goes, or if it needs to be broken into thirds and spread across chapters 13, 14, and 15.
-Send the finished text of chapters 9-13 to my book designer.
-Set up a shoot with my photographer for the picture that heads chapter 11.
-Start and finish writing chapters 16 and 17.

Which gets me pretty close to finishing.

That would leave my designer laying out chapters 14-17, and X, and another photoshoot or two. And getting the book published. Which is a long way of saying I think I can just about finish writing this in 2015. But getting it published is a whole other project, and at least a whole other blog post.

So now you now where I am. Please feel free to spread the word — Like A Real American Book! on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, and tell your friends and family that are interested in popular culture about this. Google “Tim Finn book” or my name and “gi joe.” That’s always welcome.


But I’d like to say thanks to three key people: To Gary Goggles-Head, for spending a weekend offering feedback, for keeping me in the loop, and for running the G.I. Joe discussion group on Facebook; to Clutch, for being this blog’s most dedicated commenter; and to TV writer/producer/editor/funny person Nick Nadel, for smoothing out the clunkiest of sentences.

Also a helmet-tip to Nate and JMM, who get the silver and bronze medals for commenting here at the blog, and all the interesting and patient fans in the aforementioned G.I. Joe discussion group on Facebook. I don’t often ask questions or chime in, but it’s great having access to such a knowledge base. And to those fans who occasionally send an e-mail saying “I’m really digging the blog, keep up the good work, can’t wait for the book!” That means a lot.

Back to writing for me.

Tim Finn gi joe


Filed under Book Behind the Scenes, Photography, Writing Process

Dreadnok Thrasher color comp

1986 Thrasher sketch color comp Ron Rudat

Today’s post is a color comp of a photocopy of a Ron Rudat presentation sketch for the 1986 Dreadnok Thrasher. So this would probably have been colored in 1985. It’s pretty close to his final colors. I had no memory of the Thrasher action figure coming with a weapon, so I guess that’s a rare case of my brother and I losing a G.I. Joe accessory — and it must have been immediately upon opening the toy — and then me completely forgetting it existed. It was a mild surprise just now when I looked up the figure on YoJoe. I did recall a faint connection to sports, what with the chest pads, but it wasn’t until seeing this —

1986 Thrasher sketch color comp 2— and the red-colored glove that I see all the lacrosse uniform bits. Red would’ve stood out on the figure, and maybe it was painted black to keep costs down and not add one more color, but plastic Thrasher loses a little of that athlete-gone-bad attitude for having just a black glove. Like it could be any kind of glove.

Musing aside, Ron Rudat would marker up dozens of these copies, searching for the right color combination. I want to point out that now and then, Rudat would use a silver pen, which my scanner doesn’t quite pick up unless you see it at an angle or in close-up:

1986 Thrasher sketch color comp 3

I always loved Thrasher because of his attitude and voice on the show. (“Taking a dip, love?”) While I liked the toy as well, he tended to stay in the Thunder Machine since his head was just a tiny bit too big, despite being otherwise nicely sculpted and painted.

What do you think of that lacrosse stick weapon?

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

Russ Heath Crimson Guard Immortal

Russ Heath Crimson Guard Immortal model sheetRuss Heath, comics artist and animation character designer extraordinaire, makes a return appearance here at A Real American Book! Here’s his model for Cobra’s Crimson Guard Immortal, from DIC’s first season.

Russ Heath Crimson Guard Immortal model sheetThe line is impeccable as always, and Heath packs in more detail than any animation studio would want to reproduce. (But that’s why he was hired.) Interesting to note the word at the bottom, “Android.” I thought that meant this sheet was for the episode “A is for Android,” but CGs don’t appear in that episode. So I guess someone along the way thought that one or all of the Crimson Guard were not people in costumes, but robots. (Like me and Stormtroopers when I was 5.)

Also, I’ve never been sure what “Immortal” means here. Is that a military term? Like “corps”? Did Hasbro make it up? Is it like “Batman Forever,” it just sounds good?

As a kid growing up with G.I. Joe, I was always thrilled by the Crimson Guard, how their uniform elevated them above rank and file Cobra Troopers — that fancy brocade, their black gloves, the knee-high boots. And was disappointed that this update lost all that fanciness. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good looking Cobra, but it feels more like a shock trooper or urban warfare specialist than the guys who’d get to guard Serpentor in the Terrordrome. Even if that’s not what they’re supposed to do.

Either way, what do you think of the Crimson Guard Immortal?


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Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero test shot

G.I. Joe Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero test shot detailYou’ve all been enthusiastic in your reactions to these Mortal Kombat test shots, so here’s another one from 1994. It’s Sub-Zero. Or Scorpion, or Reptile, or Smoke. But probably Sub-Zero. Turns out they were all the same mold, with some color difference.

G.I. Joe Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero test shot detail

Interestingly, this test shot has a Cobra tampo on it. Here’s a close-up:

G.I. Joe Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero test shot detail

Sub-Zero’s arms come from another G.I. Joe figure, the 1992 ninja codenamed “Dice.” Sub-Zero isn’t a Cobra agent, and the Mortal Kombat toy line bore no “G.I. Joe” logos, names, or insignia. Adding a tampo is an extra step, so looking at this figure I thought that this test shot in fact had a set of production Dice arms on it, that someone at the factory in China pulled them off a “regular” Dice figure. But Dice has two colors on his gauntlets, black with purple details, so these are not production arms. I suppose the process of running off test shots for these arms included the Cobra tampo, even though production samples of Sub-Zero/Scorpion/Reptile/Smoke would have no such printing.

G.I. Joe Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero test shot detailSo this is a bit of a puzzle to me. Nothing epic, just a small head-scratcher. Perhaps you know, and can tell me in the comments. Also, please continue to school me in Mortal Kombat lore, as I never played the game and only saw the first film. Oh, as with the Kano test shot, this villain’s special feature, the “Spring Action Flying Dragon,” works.


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