JoeCon ’15 – the 2015 G.I. Joe Convention report

title card with GI Joe figures

This year’s convention was different than last year’s for several reasons. Firstly, this year’s was a return. I had last year’s experiences and friendships to reconnect with, whereas last year — while it wasn’t my first JoeCon, the year that had been my first con was such a cursory trip that last year kind of counted as “first.” Secondly, Hasbro was in attendance this year. They weren’t last year. That put a bit of a pall over the whole proceeding in ’14, so everyone was excited for their presence this time. Plus, a new Manager of Global Brand Development had been instated, and this would be us Joe fans’ first opportunity to meet him in person. Thirdly, there was a certain pressure on me last year to do some important book networking — talking to fans, reaching out to a potential interview subject, and buying some toys I need for a photo shoot.

This year I could relax and not try to do everything, although I did do some important book networking, talked to fans, reached out to a potential interview subject, and bought some toys. And lastly, 2014 was the year I met Gary “Goggles” Head in person, and we hit it off and made plans to meet up again later in the summer. With his passing, there was a Gary-sized hole at the con this year.

But it was a great trip, so let’s look at some images and talk little plastic men, shall we? (Click on pictures to embiggen.)

GI Joe heads dollar bin

Friday at ORD, I bumped into Kirk Bozigian and Sam Damon.

Kirk Bozigian Sam Damon and Tim Finn

Also, Bill Merklein was on the plane.

Tim Finn Bill Merklein

I met Bill in October. It was great.

Tim Finn visits Bill Merklein

But back to Springfield, Illinois, I was jogging off a days’ worth of sitting in airports and airplanes, and caught this bit of history not 30 seconds from my hotel. Lincoln’s house and several neighbor houses have been preserved. Two blocks where the street is closed to cars, paved with crushed brown pebbles. There sit two wooden carriages. Placards explain everything.

History is real, not an abstraction in a book, and it’s all around us. Sometimes it takes the synchronicity of a historical commission, the National Parks Service, and an out of state toy convention to make that apparent. My dad would’ve loved this.

Lincoln's House

The Hilton filled up, so I stayed across the street at the Other Hilton. It’s the only tall building.

G.I. Joe Con 2015 other hotel

We toasted Gary.

G.I. Joe Convention 2015 Gary

Talked to Justin and Diana, amongst others. Back at the hotel, I mused on this vending machine fodder pun:

G.I. Joe Convention hotel vending

Saturday morning. Left to right, below: Hotel, convention center, Bennigan’s, other hotel.

JoeCon 2015 convention center

Everything is named after Abraham Lincoln. I was a little worried about food options since Bennigan’s was my Other Hilton’s restaurant, and no offense, Bennigan’s, but I haven’t eaten at Bennigan’s since 1994, but A) my Other Hilton also had a second restaurant, and B) I don’t eat well on these trips (skipped meals, poor snacking) anyway, so some steamed veggie food truck materializing out of dense, oxygenated air wasn’t going to save me.

Here’s the whole con room!

G.I. Joe Con 2015 interior

The Action Force panel made me a fan. I hadn’t known anything about AF in 1984, and now I kinda want to own it all, this UK version of G.I. Joe. Two Brits:

JoeCon 2015 SKETCH Chris McLeod Dave Tree

Hasbro panel. The photo, of course, captures the likenesses. My pencil, not so much:

Hasbro panel JoeCon 2015

Hasbro showed the 2015 G.I. Joe product line, on-sale at Toys R Us in August. Of note, Sightline, a figure named after Gary. Keep scrolling.

Oh, here’s a big crowd, only a third of it visible in this shot, for the Hasbro panel.

crowd at JoeCon2015 Hasbro panel

Voice actor panel. I’d interviewed Brian Cummings ten years back and have seen Morgan Loftig at a previous show, so the big thrill was hearing Zack Hoffman perform, and doing so as Zartan.

JoeCon2015 Tim Finn sketch of voice actors

I only took a few photos from the art contest. Just the ones that struck me. No names on the pieces, so that the judges could judge fairly. But I wish to give credit, so if these are yours, let me know.

Scooby-Doo et al as post-apocalyptic survivors, and the Misery Machine, a recolored G.I. Joe Warthog! GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Scooby Doo Misery Machine

Samurai B.A.T.

GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Samurai BAT

The Oktober Guard from Tom Scioli’s crazy Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic book. (Not Tom Scioli’s custom toys.) [Edit: Matt Lint got in touch to say these were his. Cool, Matt.]

GI Joe Con 2015 art contest Oktober Guard

Hey, the Thunder Machine! It’s a real car! That’s a human being for scale.

G.I. Joe Con 2015 Thunder Machine

Many years ago, the convention was mostly 12-inch GI Joe dealers and collectors, with very little for the 3 3/4-inch G.I. Joe. Now it’s the opposite. Here was the one dedicated 12-inch dealer. Nice guy. Hello, Ace!

G.I. Joe Con 2015 interior 12-inch dealer

In the far back corner was a working 1992 Konami stand-up G.I. Joe arcade cabinet!

Konami GI Joe video game

Below I’ve pasted two screen shots together. At left, Mark Bright art adapted from the comic book. At right, actual game play.

Konami GI Joe video game screen pics

My brother and I stumbled onto this for the first time in 1992 while on a road trip, not having known of its existence. Every time I see it, I think of how shocked we were, halfway through the 9-hour drive between our aunt’s house and ours, and then a few years later when we saw it again on a different trip, at the beach on our annual summer vacation. And then many years after that when Andrew Franks and I made a pact to buy it, should it still be at that arcade, when we made that same trip. It wasn’t there, so the very occasional opportunity to see it and play it, as here at JoeCon, is wonderful. I forget the name of the dealer who lugged his Konami G.I. Joe arcade cabinet to Springfield this year (his table was a few feet away), but thank you, sir!

After Hasbro’s panel, the 2015 product line was put on display in a glass case. I took just a few photos to get a little sampling. The best Zartan ever, Chuckles inspired by some recent IDW comics, and Sightline, and Joe spotter named after Gary “Goggles” Head. Since he has goggles.

Hasbro booth JoeCon 2015 Zartan Chuckles Sightline

An orange (yes, orange) HISS with a driver and a gunner. Weird. Nice!

Hasbro booth JoeCon 2015 Hiss


GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Zarana Tollbooth Lt Falcon

Zarana and Tollbooth, I didn’t get your real names. Get in touch if you’d like. Falcon, at right, is Robert Carson Mataxis.

Former Hasbro designer Frank Coroneos drew this wonderful, strange, and large concept piece for a Joe vehicle that will never exist. Yes, it looks like the Diamondback. (Coroneos designed the Diamonback.) Frank whipped this up at his table on Saturday to sell at the charity auction that night. It’s named after that thing that Lincoln was, and has several Gary “Goggles” Head-inspired touches, like Gary’s arctic goggles as a design element, and a “Dub Dual Step Gog Actuator.” At auction it sold for [Edit: amount fixed] $1750.

Frank Coroneos Emancipator art for JoeCon 2015 auciton

Frank and I had spoken for only a moment at the con a year earlier. I had meant to follow up sometime in the last twelve months, and was delighted he wanted to chat — while he was drawing this, no less.

After the con room closed, I snuck into the awards dinner, where people pay extra to eat probably-not-great convention center food (I used to do this at BotCon in the ’90s) so I could see the costume contest. My vote goes to Scoop and a very particular Snake-Eyes.

Scoop and Snake Eyes cosplay JoeCon 2015

Here’s the line-up from the kids contest. Note Polly and Timber.

Kids category costume contest JoeCon 2015

Okay, I want to point this out again:

GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Snake Eyes Kavanaugh

And this:

GI Joe Con 2015 cosplay Snake Eyes Polly Kavanaugh

That’s Snake-Eyes in drag, and Polly the parrot with sunglasses and a berret, from episode #14, “Chaos in the Sea of Lost Souls.”

GI Joe ep14 screencap Snake Eyes Polly

James M. Kavanaugh Jr., you crazy bastard.



I was interviewed in front of an audience of 25 people for a special “live” recording of Gary Godsoe, Mike Irizarry, and Justin Bell’s “What’s On Joe Mind” (not a typo) podcast. There were three guests, one at a time, each speaking for a few minutes about publishing, and each taking that seat on the left.

JoeCon2015 Tim Finn sketch of podcast panel

This is what it actually looked like.

JoeCon 2015 WOJM podcast Tim Finn

I’m still not sure about selfies. Or that word.

Bill Merklein showed me the in-progress sculpt he’s making of me. That’s a 16mm camera. I love it!

Bill Merklein sculpt in progress


Arty shot of Erik Arana of Boss Fight.

Erik Arana Boss Fight JoeCon 2015

Boss Fight’s upcoming figures from its Greek Mythology line. Amazing.

Boss Fight JoeCon 2015 Skeleton

The con was about over. Erik and Fred and Dave of Boss Fight were being interviewed for a podcast, so I said my goodbyes and headed out.

Boss Fight JoeCon 2015 podcast

Saw this:

Springfield IL shop JoeCon 2015 Springfield IL shop window display JoeCon 2015

Thank you, Plush Jerry Garcia!

At the airport I saw this, and thought of my students and their linear perspective lessons.

Have No Narrow Perspectives by Ryan and Trevor Oakes

This is what it looks like from a few feet away, Have No Narrow Perspectives, by Ryan and Trevor Oakes, 2008 — a drawing of Anish Kapour’s “The Bean” (actually called Cloud Gate.) Airports are a wonderful place for public art.

Have No Narrow Perspectives by Ryan and Trevor Oakes


Great con. Bought a few ’90s action figures for a book photoshoot this summer, got to catch up with friends, attend fun panels, and meet new people. Got outside a little bit, and thanked the nice people who said kind things about my blog and my book.

Oh, and O’Hare has an aeroponic garden!

But why end on something beautiful and inspiring when I can end on something disorienting and terrifying?

ORD terrifying



Filed under Convention Reviews

Remembering Herb Trimpe

Remembering Herb Trimpe

Just a day after returning home from that calendar peak of G.I. Joe excitement, the annual G.I. Joe Convention, I learned the sad news that someone very important in the history of G.I. Joe, Herb Trimpe, had died.

Herb Trimpe is best known in comics for drawing a seven-year run on The Incredible Hulk, including the first appearance of some obscure, unpopular X-Man with claws, but to G.I. Joe fans, he’s best known for drawing G.I. Joe issue #1 in 1982. (Well, it was published in 1982, so let’s say it was drawn in 1981.) Trimpe drew most of that first year (and wrote issue #8), and signed on to draw the wonderful spin-off Special Missions, almost all of its 29 issues, between 1986 and 1989. He also pencilled the tepid 4 issue G.I. Joe and the Transformers crossover in ’86, and about the only interesting that that can be said about that miniseries is that Herb Trimpe pencilled it. He returned for issue #99 of the regular monthly G.I Joe, a fill-in that let the series’ then-regular artist get ahead for the double-sized issue #100, and Trimpe came back one more time to draw and write issue #120, another fill-in between the end of one artist’s run and the beginning of another’s.

I interviewed Trimpe (“TRIM-pee”) in April of 2002, probably only my 8th or 9th interview for the book. He was pleasant and lively, and had a few good anecdotes from his various jobs. I was mostly interested in the one that involved drawing comic books, but I was struck to learn that since Marvel had stopped offering him work, his teaching career (which I had heard about) had transitioned to volunteering at Ground Zero. Remember, this was seven months after September 11th:

“After leaving the comic business, I spent three years in school and went straight into the job. I never really stopped to think about what I actually wanted to do when I grew up. So I got my BA and I got a masters degree in humanistic education over that three-year period. And during those classes, I met a lot of teachers. And they said, ‘You know, you really should get your teaching certificate.’ Because, you know, you can always do it once you do it. So I did. I went ahead and did my student teaching and got my teaching certificate, and got a job right away.

“…I taught two years in public school. Technically I’m on leave of absence right now. I took a year’s leave of absence to work out some projects that I hadn’t been able to finish, do some commission work that had been building up. And also I was very fortunate to be able to work as a volunteer down at the Trade Center in New York. So I’ve been going down there once a week. It’s an ongoing thing down there. Since early October I’ve been down there.”

This was interesting. Just a few weeks after the attack, Trimpe was there, digging. And Trimpe was in a transition state in his life — having gone from a decades-long regular gig at Marvel, to school, to commissions and volunteering. I had worked at an animation studio for a year and a half, and was hitting a state of transition of my own — about to quit and go back to school to teach. So we sort of had something in common.

Trimpe didn’t have much of note to say about drawing G.I. Joe — it was part of his quota at Marvel and he did his job. But he had enjoyed working with Larry Hama and did get many toys shipped to him from Hasbro, a theme that has come up a few times in interviewing artists.

Five years later, I commissioned an original piece of G.I. Joe art from Trimpe. It was to somehow encapsulate that original run, which meant including a ton of details: the original 13 Joes; and also a nod to issues #6 and #7, the Oktober Guard team-up, with that iconic cover of issues #7 (Joe and Oktober Guard, back to back, surrounded!) and that amazing cliffhanger at the end of issue #6 (“Line up all the prisoners at the edge of the ravine — and kill them!”). And include the MOBAT (to nod to the cover of issue #1) and the VAMP (because it needed another vehicle). And a bit of Cobra stuff, like a helmet. Maybe even a subtle nod to the 1984 Missile Defense Unit, with some shot-out brick wall. This was a tall order, to cram all that into one image.

It turned out great. Click to enlarge.

GI Joe commission Trimpe


Filed under Uncategorized

G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 by Ron Wagner

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

“Silent Interlude” gets a lot of attention. People who’ve read comics, but have never read G.I. Joe, and who don’t like G.I. Joe, have heard of that twenty-first issue of Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe, with its wordless tale of action and rescue. And all that attention is deserved. But what never gets mentioned alongside this comic that Larry Hama wrote and drew (at the same time — it was a single step), is the other two silent stories published in the original Marvel run: “SFX,” issue #85, April 1989, penciled by Paul Ryan and Randy Emberlin; and “Hush Job” from Yearbook #3, drawn by Ron Wagner and Kim DeMulder.

Let’s take a look at page 4 of “Hush Job.”

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

To repeat: This is a silent story. It’s not that the word balloons fell off. There aren’t any.

Ron Wagner, a graduate of the Kubert School, really knows how to draw. Look at those two 3/4 rear views on Storm Shadow. And one is an up-shot. Look at that jaw in panel 4! Look at the intensity of Storm Shadow’s expression in the final panel!

Ron Wagner draws some of my favorite comics ever, and his work here, under DeMulder’s inks, really shines. Note that wonderful negative space treatment on the trees in panel 2. They’re left out, so color and the hatching at that edge creates the night sky. Wonderful depth in panel 1 — foreground, middle ground, background. Also note the storytelling. Silent stories are hard. (If you want to see Marvel stumble, check out the “‘Nuff Said” month of silent comics from 2002.) Here Ron Wagner pulls if off deftly — Storm Shadow and Timber at rest, yet we see the sky, so we’re ready for something to appear. Up-shot, and Scarlett does appear. Touchdown, and Storm Shadow is up. Scarlett shows a photo of Snake-Eyes, captive. Storm Shadow sees it, and is surprised and concerned. Every panel a strong composition, and the whole page has a great balance with darks at top and bottom, with horizontal panels bracketing three tall ones. Great!

Here’s a detail, click to embiggen:

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 pg 4 Wagner DeMulder

Ron Wagner drew Marvel comics for years: G.I. Joe, Nth Man, Excalibur, Punisher. And at DC, he drew a forgotten “event,” Genesis. Later, he storyboarded for various WB cartoons, where his storytelling skills undoubtedly made him shine but presumably the demands of animation timetables meant more focus on shapes and angles and less on lines and details. And in recent years, he’s drawn a few issues of G.I. Joe — yes, the Larry Hama series that continues the original one that you all ignore — and Wagner is about to draw four comics for DC as part of its “Convergence” event, one with Green Lantern (image below reposted from Wagner’s tumblr) —

Ron Wagner Bill Reinhold Convergence Green Lantern

— and the other with the Teen Titans. Wagner’s art has changed since 1987. In the 2000s, it’s streamlined, and there’s no feathering. That may be down to inkers, but I suspect that he’s saying more with less, as many of the best artists in comics tend to do.

What’s your favorite work by Ron Wagner?


Filed under Comic Books, G.I. Joe Behind the Scenes

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

Leave a comment

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?

Leave a comment

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

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