We Interrupt this Blog…

New York Toy Fair comes around each year at this time.  For a span of twelve years, I would have to work eighteen hours on – then sleep six hours before beginning again. This would last for almost a month to keep up with all the demands from clients for Toy Fair models.  This year, I thought would be easier, but I am fighting some tight deadlines again before I attend Toy Fair the weekend.

I also want to keep up with my commitment to my loyal readers who keep encouraging me.  So rather than discuss the behind the scenes stories that require me to check my details, this week, we will go deeper behind the scenes.

Why make all these 12-inch figures? To play with them of course!  When I was on the GI Joe Team, it was a great balance as the more seasoned designers really wanted to focus on collector detail. They were also very good at it.  While I love collector detail, at the end of the day, it is all about making a great toy to play with.  If you followed many of these articles, you know that the toys I played with had a significant influence on the toys I made – and continue to make.

Therefore, this post will reveal some real Backyard Battles I had with my daughter and son.  We documented these few as we played or reset for photos.  There are not too many out-of-the-box figures here.  Many were modified for the adventure or were created just to act out that story.

Note that most of these were shot on film… so you could not see how well everything was in focus.

Please enjoy these while I finish some other designs and provide another full, fun-fact article next week.

Wagon Train on Old Marx Trail

This started as, “Can I put all my Western Marx figures into on big scene to shoot?”  It really took three.  This was decades ago so it would take even more now.

Marx Wagon train

Marx Shoot Out at the Wagon Train

Sherriff Garrett takes Sam Cobra into custody

Marx American Native Village

Marx Cavalry with Scouts

Marx Cavalry with the General

Marx Cavalry with scouts ready to move out

Marx Cavalry and scouts ready moving

Pacific Amphibious Landing

This image is a small view of a large scene created at a local Joe club picnic.  The entire scene was comprised of about 100 marines outnumbering 50 enemy soldiers, 2 jeeps and a buffalo landing craft.  The marines were assembled in squads for different duties. Besides the bazooka teams there were machine gun crews, mobile communications centers, sharpshooters and engineers removing beach obstacles.  The location was a reservoir lake made by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The ripples from boats on the lake made perfectly scaled beach waves. It took about six of us an hour or so to set this up.

The Phantom Foils the Mercenaries

Phantom meeting mercenary poachers – but they disregard his warning

The Phantom has always been one of my favorite superheroes. Many of you who have known me for years are probably thinking, “It’s because he is wearing purple, right?”  They may be right.  In my teen years, I even shot a short film using an 8mm camera about the Phantom. Fast forward to a big backyard adventure with my daughter.

Mercenaries hiring native rouge thugs

Sleepy Native village at night

Mercenaries attack the village

Mercenaries in a sticky situation

Mercenaries in the Deadly Desert Sands

Mercenary caravan attacked by animals

The Phantom subdues the mercenaries and the rouge tribe

The Adventure Team Mystery of the Hot Desert Sands

In this case, the hot desert sands were in Myrtle Beach, but my son and I still had fun.

The Adventure Team Searching in the Desert Sands

The Adventure Team Discovering a Lost Mummy

Joe battling the skeleton at the step pyramid

Snow is a fun place to play – but you have to do it quickly to avoid frostbitten fingers.  Here is a Hoth adventure.

Luke crashed in snow

The Force is frozen with this one

Rebels in the Snow

Bounty hunters in snow

Snowtrooper on patrol

Speaking of Yeti

Capture the Yeti – or Joe About to be Captured by Momma Yeti

My Yeti Shelf, which reappears each Christmas to help decorate the house. I am sure EVERYONE has a yeti shelf at home – right?

Post your favorite 1/6th scale Backyard Adventure.

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Navigating the Spider-Verse of Spiderman Toys

Ever since Spiderman became a success in the early 1960s, various toy companies made sure Spiderman was available on shelf for us to buy and play with.  The earliest large Spiderman I can remember is the 6-inch solid molded version by Marx.  They had released a set of six Marvel Superheroes in their popular 6-inch size solid-poly line, which also included Daredevil, Captain America, Thor, Ironman and the Hulk.  While these were sculpted well, they were molding in one large injection tool of all six then, they ran the tool in several colors and then assorted the colors during pack out.  Unfortunately, this meant you might get a green Spiderman and red Hulk.  It just did not seem right to me – even at that very young age.

It was great when Ideal released their Captain Action version of Spiderman.  These were all sold as “uniform and equipment” sets in an age where you bought one figure and many accessory sets.  It was the old sales plan of “Sell them a razor and they will keep buying blades.” Each figure came with a costume, boots, belt, gear and a mask.  The Spiderman mask for this set was unique as it was a one-piece with a slit down the sides (so his ears could stick out) and extended to cover his neck.  The other masks in the series (like Batman or Phantom) were 2-part masks.  The biggest problem this figure had was non-red hands.  However, as I hated the gloves on GI Joe and the Mego figures, it was not a huge problem for me. (One side note – if you are also trying to assemble the best 1/6th scale superheroes set, the 6-inch Mego figures may seem too small but that makes the Mr. Myxlplyx just the right size).

It would not be until 1980 when a new 12-inch version of Spiderman swung off the shelves. This was the Amazing Energized Spiderman. This figure came from Remco and was hard plastic with a molded-on costume. The feature was fun.  He is motorized, so you could attach a hook up high and watch him slide up the rope.  Since it used batteries inside, the designers also allowed the kids to tap into that power with plug in accessories like a flash light (similar to Billy Blastoff by Eldon in the late 1960s).  Remco also sold a Green Goblin version as well as Batman and Superman.  The problem was his complete lack of articulation, which left him with his left arm raised as if he was continually requesting permission to go to the bathroom. After you made him fly up a few times, your fun was done.

With all the toys produced from Marvel comic books, Marvel decided to open its own toy company instead of licensing odd variations of their characters.  The first 12-inch Toy Biz versions of Spiderman were odd.  They used the same body for each of their 12-inch superheroes, which was common among toy companies, but their proportions were very bulky and overly muscular front to back.  It worked fine for their Wolverine figure, but did not fit the scrawny Peter Parker look.  This body also has the unique distinction of having the thickest thighs of any other 12-inch figure so far. The one advantage of their sets was including a costume so you could play with Peter Parker (on steroids) or Spiderman.

Later, they released variations of the Spectacular Spiderman who could change into the Scarlet Spiderman.  As I had stopped keeping up with the comic books before then, they just looked odd to me. However, they were the first adaptations of Spider-verse variations.

Toy Biz continued to release multiple versions of the Marvel characters.  There was a whole series of 10-inch figures with very limited articulation with just turning arms and legs.  They made so many different characters and not as much tooling, so that it became a fun game in the toy store to look at the new figures and see which old figures they repainted and called it a different character.

As the price of toys was climbing with inflation, Toy Biz tried saving money while keeping articulation using roto-molding tools, which is much less expensive. Roto molding is process where you have a cavity and squirt in liquid PVC, close the mold then spin it in an oven.  Usually the parts are softer but they can be made hard also.  Most heads for GI Joe and Barbie are made that way.  It works well, but the process does not work well with defined or flat edges.  You can get plenty of articulation points, but how you design the joints makes a big difference.  I have a roto-molded Toy Biz Hulk that is great.  However, Spiderman did not look as good.  It looks like a toy that broke apart and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not quite get it back together again. Note the gaps in the joints.

Another Toy Biz Spiderman came out where he had even more articulation and they avoided that big gap problem by going to back to traditional injection molded tooling to solve the gap problems.  It is a fun figure for posing.  The problem comes when you get a great pose then realize the thigh is oval so if you move it in the middle, you get weird ledges appearing where the parts do not line up properly.

Toy Biz tried one last time with figures from the Spiderman 2 movie.  This was clearly their best figure.  It has great articulation and a fabric costume to cover all the visually intrusive joint lines.  Then even gave Spiderman a one-piece mask that was make out of Krayton or TPR so it was very stretchy.  It has been hanging from the ceiling in my studio for about twenty years now, swinging from one spider web while shooting another web at a GI Joe Amphibious Assault Marine scaling the wall with a rope ladder.  The figure does suffer from one flaw – quality control.  It was not as aspect of manufacturing that Toy Biz was strong in.  The uniform has a shoulder seam where they caught part of the excess fabric on the wrong side of the seam.  That is one reason I put him high in the room so I would not see the glaring quality issues.  And… that great stretchy mask, split over time even when not being played with.

There was one other Spiderman made as part of the 3rd version of Captain Action by Round 2. Unfortunately, I did not buy that one, as money was tight when it was available. It has separate, snap-in hands like the high-end figures, a good sewn costume and a good mask.  I chose to buy the Loki version instead since I thought my current Spiderman 2 would be the best one to play with in my stable of 12-inch super heroes.  Therefore, I will just have to guess that one is pretty good since it looks good in the package.

Therefore, the best Spiderman currently on the market (unless you are into the $100+ figures) is the Hasbro Marvel Legends Series.  It has great articulation that is sculpted very well to avoid those split thigh issues. It also has different heads in case you want to play with Spiderman, Peter or Peter with his lips exposed in case he is hanging upside down and runs into Mary Jane. 

While the legends are the best sculpted and articulated figures , I just wish they had sewn costumes. I would rather live with a little less articulation that fabric always inhibits.  That has not stopped me from buying Legends figures – especially when all the joints are hidden with black as on the Black Panther.

With all that being said, I refuse to sell off my Ideal Captain Action Spiderman – though he sees less action these days as he is getting older.  The Toy Biz Spiderman 2 is still swinging on the ceiling, and I have a Legends Spiderman for creating some great poses.

What is your favorite 1/6th scale superhero?

We Choose to Go to the Moon!

I was extremely young at the time, but I remember all the adults sitting around the living room watching the first astronauts land on the moon.  At that time, I did not understand it.  Later, in color, I remember seeing the splash down of a few capsules in the ocean.  One I specifically remember as it preempted Saturday morning cartoons.

That did not stop me from playing astronaut. My first vehicle for 1/6th scale figures was the capsule from the Adventures of GI Joe Space Walk Mystery.  Like most of the toys owned by the last child in a large family, it was not new.  It did not have all the parts. Okay, it none of the parts that are removable: but it was mine.

Not knowing the difference between capsules, modules and landers, that vehicle blasted off from my backyard and landed on the moon, or on a desert planet (the alley), or the planet of Giant trees (the Mulberry tree in the front yard). The astronaut also took many space walks; tethered properly to the vehicle with shoelaces.

I was not lucky enough to the official GI Joe Astronaut, luckily my GI Joe Action Marine dressed as the Captain Action Flash Gordon volunteered for duty. I always wondered why the Flash Gordon set never looked like the Flash Gordon from the old comic strips, but as an adult, I assume the answer was that now real men were actually blasting into space.


One of the early projects they assigned to me when working on GI Joe, was the diorama to highlight the new Col Buzz Aldrin figure. 

Compared to the Spacewalk Mystery uniform, it was astounding in detail.  At that time, the soft goods team in Pawtucket created the uniforms while the rest of the design and engineering happened in Cincinnati. This uniform was lined and puffy like a real uniform (Although the vintage silver fabric is still REALLY cool.) It had several plastic components sewn in, so you could attach all the hoses into the uniform properly. The figure came with molded gloves to slip over the hands.  They looked decent.  I always hated the fabric gloves that slipped over the like mittens so Joe could never hold anything.  However, the way they redesigned the space glove hands for the AT Secret of Planet Xenome was great!  They no longer had the big gap revealing Joe’s palms to the elements.  They also hid the soft goods well by molding them as gauntlets so the fabric could slip under the ledge.

The helmet looks and functions well but it is oversized.  I was told at that time that the team had to remake the helmets in a rush as the first helmet they designed looked perfect to scale, but the engineer or designer did not account for the head size, therefore it would not fit.  The second time around they made sure if fit, but it is a bit oversized.  At least it has a movable and vacumetalized blast shield instead of just a facemask.

In the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the mall in Washington DC, they have the real uniforms to inspect close up. One of the times I was there, they even had gloves you could touch and see how many layers were inside and what each did.  The real uniforms are far more remarkable up close than they look in pictures.

When I started writing these articles, I thought of them, as “behind the scenes history” to fulfill what was suggested to me, “We need the history documented.” However, several of the readers have commented that they are enjoying hearing how I made some of the models or things that I never finished, as they are trying out the techniques and concepts for themselves.  “Give us more ideas!” one reader wrote. With that in mind, here are technical details of how I made the diorama.

First, start with studying.  I reviewed as many of the original photos as I could find. This provided a target for how to make the base look just right, instead of guessing.  Painting the set to get the high contrast black and white ground would be very important. I also needed some unevenness on the back wall to suggest the distant mountain background.

The next detail was to get the structure strong enough for shipping. Instead of using the thinner foam core boards, I used ½” black Gator board.  It is more study and less likely to warp. It is harder to cut but worth the struggle. They are sold in sheets of 4’ x 8’ so one sheet was the vertical back and another was the base.  To attack the two and be shippable, I took some extra gator board cut off the sides to build vertical braces about 6” tall, which I hot-glued to the base, then added wood screws for extra strength. I added holes and screwed the backboard into place to make it stronger for shipping and set up.

Next bought I bought several sheets of the hard blue insulation foam panels from the hardware store.  These I attached together;  probably using contact cement since white glue makes a harder line to sand through.  Those sheets were the size limiter, so I cut the Gator boards were to fit the size of the foam. 

With those panels as one giant chunk, I had to I had to dig out sections underneath so they would cover up the three back braces.  This forced where I could have low valleys and peaks. I took various hand tools and started whacking away at the foam to make the surface uneven.  These tools included rasps, files, chisel, surform plane and maybe others.  One thing I knew that I needed to make it clearly the moon were a few impact craters.  Those required the chisel to dig down and hand sanding to get a smooth finish. One last step I used for finishing once I had the basic look, a heat gun, carefully, to smooth it all out. 

Normally, once this is over, you would add a layer of house paint since spray paint melts the foam. This gave me an idea that I tested out with the scraps of blue foam.  It was indeed melting the foam and it melted it more the closer the spray was to the foam.  It added a very cool effect that looked more like the photos.  Cans of gray and black spray paint used from odd angles finished off the look of the base.

For the background, I splattered stars on it by dipping a toothbrush in a little paint, then pulling my finger slowly back across of the top of the brush to splatter that paint as fine droplets on the board.  Later, I added a few larger stars by hand.  The earth image was a color photocopy of one of the photos taken by an astronaut.  The lander was a color copy also.  NOTE – to make the copies match better, take a thick black marker to the edge of the paper before you glue it down with spray glue so it does not show a white line.

Since those figures would never stand in great poses like that in shipping, I attached each figure to a post that fit into a hole in the base.  Each rod was clear and about 3/8” thick. I drilled a hole straight through the rod near the top, then added some of the silver wire ties used to hold toys in packages.  So the wires would not show, I opened the uniform, slid the wire around Joe’s waist, then out the back so it was sticking though the Velcro closure – making them mostly unseen.

If you are not into dioramas, and went “La la la” in your head, here is another fun fact; each of the accessories in the astronaut’s hands were designed for a special GI Joe Astronaut accessory set.  The designer on that project did proper research to find any cool parts that the astronauts really used.  Even the properly hanging flag was one of those parts.  Although they are very cool parts, they were dropped for timing reasons.  As mentioned in other articles, the accessory sets ship through a different merchandising chain due to the vagaries of the toy industry.  As there was only one astronaut, and if that set was not on shelf at the exact time, it could not really be used with any other figure. Therefore, it was deemed too specific and was dropped. At least we get to see what those parts were.

What is your favorite 1/6th scale space mission?

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The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian – A Dream Project Part 2

One of the unexpected aspects of toy design is that sometimes people will give you a project and forget to give you the reference.  This what happened on this project.  When I sent in the models, I received a call saying, “Hey these don’t match the reference.”

“What reference?” I asked.

“The reference from Disney on the film,” they replied.

“No one has given me any reference from Disney on this film.  Is there reference?”

Even though I had been working with three different people on multiple types of toys for Prince Caspian, everyone was working so fast that no one thought to give me access to the Disney reference portal.  I had created all the designs using the first film for ultimate reference then filled in gaps with my imagination based on my extensive knowledge of the books.  I was even listening to the audio novels of the books when doing the mindless part of the work to double check descriptions

Why did I not question this before starting?  When I was working inside Hasbro one year, they decided to try to get the next Disney property and win it away from Mattel.  This was an “ALL Hands on Deck” project as multiple design groups created models of toys concepts for Hercules.  We made dozens of models including fashion dolls, action figures and role-play toys. However, Disney refused to give Hasbro or Mattel any artwork so we would both be using the same starting point to show how clever each company was.

One of my favorite concepts from this was a Pegasus with expanding wings. For all the Marx enthusiasts out there, does the body look right but not the head? The body came from the Johnny West’s horse Flame but the head came from the Barbie Dallas horse.  Flame is still my favorite 1/6th scale horse.  Too bad, Marx never adjusted to hooves since the balance is precarious.

Prince Caspian

As mentioned above, this version of Prince Caspian looks nothing like the character from the film.  However, we showed it anyway as the meeting was showing just a taste of what the company could do.  I specifically made him with gold chainmail to separate him from the King Peter and King Edmund.  He also used a different shield and helmet.  Since this was a true rush job, I pulled those parts from a (terrible) Hercules figure made by a Chinese company “Toy-o-rama”.  Those were the only parts on the figure that looked good – mostly since they were vacumetalized in gold.  I spent more time trying to get the feature right.  Since the other two Kings had fighting features, I wanted Prince Caspian to have a unique one.  Kenner made Legends of Batman Power Guardian Batman with a sword as a fencer.  When you turned the wheel on his back, it turned a spring so the hand would spin.  There were other versions of this with a straight rod that turned but it required the arm to look more like a straight poll than an arm.  Accordingly, I took apart a Joe torso, drilled out the arm and made my own 1/6th scale version of that mechanism.  The genius of that mechanism is that it does not turn the same as the wheel you are spinning.  The spring allows the motion to work through an uneven channel but it also stores the energy a bit, so that when it spins, it goes very fast and in spurts like he is fencing.

Queen Lucy

I am annoyed when toy companies make all the figures the same size.  I get that they need to use tooling wisely but sometimes you just have to push the boundaries to get it right. (Sabrina the Teenwitch is a good example.  Melissa Joan Hart is cute but she never had the body of a typical fashion doll, so the figure never looked right. Even though the sculpting looked much like her – but I digress.)  Knowing that Lucy was a young girl and not a young woman like her sister Susan, I created her character using the smaller Mattel Skipper body.  The dress was very pretty with an overabundance of sparkle to make it fit the fashion doll genre. She came with accessories of the trumpet and a small Repicheep that I sculpted with Sculpy… quickly.

King Miraz

In the film, Miraz looked like a conquistador. Since I did not have that reference, I made him look Moorish like the villains from Tashbaan in the later books. His chainmail is black to help him look more ominous. For boots, I used the GI Joe Fireman boots first created for the Adventures of GI Joe Peril of the Raging inferno. However, to make them more ominous, I took 1/8” black foam, which I laminated to a think black snakeskin vinyl.  Since it looked good to make the boots look more like grieves, I added a more of that as a pointed armor look for gauntlets and shoulder armor. The head was the GI Joe Venom vs Valor Ripper. The mechanism in this figure is the same two-armed movement as used in King Edmund; however, I gave him a long weapon to achieve a different look when fighting.  The pike used for Miraz is the lance from Sir Stuart the Silver Knight. The shield is also from a Marx Viking but one that was only about 6″ tall with almost no articulation.

The helmet has its own story.  In the days before 3D printers, when I was a junior designer at Mattel, I would often spend my lunchtime using their tools to make cool new parts for my 1/6th scale action figures. One time, I sacrificed one of the small helmets from the Marx Odin the Viking Chieftain by cutting off the horns and making a small silicone mold from it.  I added a pinhole to the bottom of the mold corresponding with the helmet top point, then used it to vacuform helmets using scraps from the dump bins.  I used that base to make various Viking helmets to have a full ship of unique Vikings. I made some with small wings, some with deer antlers and some more accurate looking with just brow and nose guards. Since this project was a rush, I used one of those helmets with just an added finial. This was mostly because the tip of the helmet was so thin from vacuforming that it had crushed a bit. 

Most of the other helmets did not survive my backyard adventures and the ship only made it is far as the frame and the one side of paneling, but it is visible to the right in this Marx Viking raid photo.

But wait… there is more!

I know most people reading this are mostly into action figures, but here is a bonus image of the Aslan plush with roaring mechanism.  When you squeezed its belly, the head would swing back and mouth open to roar.  This Aslan was one of the hardest pieces of plush I ever worked on.  Just in case anyone is getting their panties in a twist about a plush toy – it is in scale to the 1/6th scale action figures.

Sadly, a major retailer did not purchase these figures so they never continued into full development.  However, I did receive a wonderful letter from the President of the company thanking me for all the support and models.  He noted that my work made the difference for them to win the license.

Did you ever have adventures in Narnia with your 1/6th scale figures?

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The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian – A dream project Part 1

People often say to me, “Wow being a toy designer must be fun all the time.”  It is a ton of fun, but not all the time; mostly due to heavy deadlines. However, some projects are just magical to work on. Working on GI Joe for five years was a dream come true.  Creating the toys, characters and storylines for Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders was a time of unbridled creativity for me. Designing product for the “Prince Caspian” movie from “The Chronicles of Narnia” was another dream come true.  I love that book series and reread it every couple of years (okay… I re-listen to it on audio books while my hands are doing other things.)

As with many fun projects, this one came out of the blue.  An old colleague of mine, who was then a design director at PlayAlong Toys, called to ask for my help with the Prince Caspian toys and I accepted a large amount of work with a short deadline. 

When a large company, like a Mattel or Hasbro wants to buy into a license, they seldom have to compete. (They did for the second Star Wars trilogy movies – but that is a fun story for another day).  When you are a small or medium sized company, you usually have to prove yourself to the licensor that you are qualified to be awarded the “Master Toy License” for a new brand.  That license gives you the right to create any type of toy you want in the traditional toy market with that license.  In this case, PlayAlong needed to give a presentation to Disney Consumer Products showing the breadth of product they wanted and the quality they were capable of providing.

Often licensors will “slice and dice” the license up.  Disney is notorious for this.  During the theatrical re-release of “101 Dalmatians” in the early 1990s, Mattel was selling great plush Dalmatians.  The problem was that Applause was also and the Disney Store/Disney Parks had a third line with almost identical product.  The way the sliced up the license was – Disney Parks/Stores has their product in their own stores. Mattel had the rights to sell in Mass Market (Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, Sears, etc.) while Applause had all specialty stores, (Card shops, gift stores, educational toy stores, etc.).

PlayAlong was medium sized company with big aspirations and wanted the full Master Toy license to be the only company making that product no matter where it would be retailed.  They assigned me to make small beanie plush, feature plush, the soft goods for the action figures and a full-sized audio animatronic Aslan.  Eagerly I went to work making wonderful product.  About a week and a half into the work, I received an update email addressed to their internal team and many vendors as there was much more work in progress besides what I was working on.  The list showed all the other categories that the company was preparing for. It also listed who was working on what segment.  On that list was “12” Action Figures/Fashion Dolls.”  I immediately called the department head and asked, “So…why have you not assigned the 12” Action Figures and Fashion Dolls to me? 

He stammered and said, “Uh, uh… because I already gave you a ton of work to get done in that time frame?”

“I will make time!” I insisted and promised to complete all the currently assigned work AND 6 12” figures by the deadline. Not much sleep was to be had in those three weeks.

King Peter

To make all of these figures more fun, each of the 12” action features had a different internal feature.  King Peter had one slashing arm with a loose elbow that is activated by a button on the back. To make this model, I used the GI Joe Vietnam Jungle Recon which I worked on and had a slashing action with a machete.

Instead of just moving the arm up and down, that sword keeps going down more like a real fighting action.  The Soft goods shirt, pants and cowl used a silver knit to look like chainmail.  Since there was very little time to do all the work, I sacrificed one of my precious Marx Silver Knights (good thing we have eBay so I could replace the parts).

Both King Peter and King Edmond are wearing greaves, gauntlets, and helmets made from the crested helmet combine with the visor. The sword and shield I made by hand to match the reference from the film. He is also wearing a red surcoat made just for this figure. This is the same costume Peter wore the same costume that he did in the first film “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” from the end battle scene.

King Edmond

Since not many people will buy two figures that look the same except for a different head, I had to make a few changes on Edmond.  I gave him a broadsword that has gold vacumetalizing on it.  There were modifications but, it originally came from Prince Philip of Sleeping Beauty from the Mattel Disney Classics line.  A large two-handed broadsword also gave a great excuse to us the two-armed swinging/raising mechanism from the GI Joe Coast Guard Cold Water Emersion Suit. To break up his look a little more, I gave him a red cape instead of the red surcoat.

Queen Susan

We designed the fashion dolls to fit with the 12” action figures but did not have any action features. Their focus was on glorious gowns and more authenticity.  The fabric sewn into her gown has enough shimmer and sparkle to make Barbie jealous.  Even the cape with full hood had metallic trim and ties.  Her accessories are handmade with styrene and Sculpy to match the actual look of her bow, arrows and quiver.

Now that the background story and the first three of the figures are revealed, stay tuned for part 2 to see the rest and to hear what happened to the line.

Did you use your 1/6th figures to play out stories from your favorite books?

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Sinbad – Great, Great, Great, Great, Grandfather of the Adventure Team

Adventure Team Sinbad – Legend of the Seven Seas represents a rare confluence of needs between Hasbro and DreamWorks.  DreamWorks had a new boy-targeted animated film they were creating. Also at the time, Hasbro was courting DreamWorks to produce a GI Joe movie – which later was made through Paramount Pictures.

DreamWorks often worked well in advance of films to entice toy companies to buy into a new property and would even give advanced presentations to major retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys r Us to build enthusiasm.  In this case, DreamWorks commissioned a model of a GI Joe version of Sinbad along with a large cyclops to battle it.  This helped Hasbro see the potential fit of Sinbad into GI Joe.  DreamWorks also suggested the positioning of Sinbad as the original Adventure team member, which seemed a good fit since Hasbro has just relaunched the Adventure Team name.

For those of us who grew up watching the Classic Ray Harryhausen films such as “The Seven Voyage of Sinbad,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,” Sinbad was definitely an adventurer.  The stop-motion monsters were the best part (….besides the hot, scantily dressed women).

The original model from DreamWorks was highly detailed and much more realistic. Look at his crossbow grappling hook launcher and scimitar! This version of Sinbad even wore ancient Middle Eastern camouflage pants. However, for the final figures, they aimed it a more animated look with flatter colors.

The head was the primary part that skews the look towards animation.  If you have not seen the sculpting, check out this image of the original wax head.  It is very fine work.

As with many GI Joes and to offset the extra overhead of a license, we used as much existing tooling as possible to be able to afford tooling the new monsters that Sinbad would be fighting.

GI Joe Sinbad vs Roc

One of the issues in creating these figures, entailed not only designing to a price point, but also to be able fit all the parts into the package.  Package sizes are predetermined for assortments early, so if Sinbad was to fit in as part of the Alpha and Bravo assortment refreshes, he had to fit the packages.  That is why each of the concept models was shown it the correct box proving up front it would fit.  Getting the monster to be the right size was a tricky balance to make it as large as affordable, but still fit.

Many times in conversations or panels, I have had people cringe when explaining how we made a concept model from preproduction parts or destroyed another concept model to make a new one. If you look carefully at the wings on the Roc, they were preproduction, unpainted wings from the Princess of Power Swift wind.  (I can already hear the groans). I used those clear wings to help show we really needed to shoot the bird in clear and add paint over the top to obtain that icy look.

The original model had the full parka and cape of the animation but both were replaced with the molded sweater torso for cost. We included knives to be used for climbing the ice as added fun.

GI Joe Sinbad vs Serpens

Finally, GI Joe had a big enough snake to wrestle. The one has a wire inside to wrap him around Joe.  There is also gaping jaws and slashing claws to avoid.

To give Sinbad and edge, I gave this figure as many weapons as I could afford (Yes, I slipped in a groaner). He carries two ninja sais – like our favorite turtle Raphael. These came from the very first Action Man Ninja. The sword is the Marine saber from the Hall of Fame Gung-Ho. There are three throwing stars made for GI Joe Nunchuk, which were later used in a few Action Man sets. General George Washington donated the telescope. More parts were originally included but removed for cost.

GI Joe Sinbad vs Scorpius

This was the only Bravo price point figure in the set.  It has an appropriately larger monster in it also.  The scorpion type monster was engineered very well in production retaining the posable tail and limbs I fought to keep.  This is another example where I worked hard to lower the rest of the cost to give a reasonable size monster to truly threaten Joe.

The weapons and armor for this figure came from several Action Man sets. The staff and cutlass came from Action Man Ninja Kick.  The Sword and grieves came from Action Man Power Arm Ninja.  The Belt/holster came from Action Man Jungle Dart. The chest piece came from Action Man Ninja. However, there were some real GI Joe parts: the boots from GI Joe Nunchuck, and the arm guards from Hall of Fame Karate Chopping Snake Eyes.

Even if you were not a fan of the Sinbad figures, at least let your shelf of true Adventure Team Figures have fun with these monsters. Who knows, the Commander could spontaneously shout, “The Adventure Team is needed in the Middle East,” or “I’ve got an icy assignment for you!” and, of course, “The Adventure Team has the Scorpion controlled!”

 

How many of you played Sinbad with your 1/6th figures in your youth? (I did!)

 

January 13th is the last day to subscribe and be part of the drawing for THE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE FREE GIVE-AWAY!

The winner notified by email.  To enter, just scroll down to the bottom of the site.  There is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article has been published

Who Are those Usual Suspects? Part 2

And now, the reveal of all the final suspects shown in the pictures…

SUSPECT #3

The third figure is a new one released by Mattel with the launch of the Wonder Woman film.  It is one if the best sculpted figures ever. I purchased her as I am still building a full ensemble of DC and Marvel Superheroes. She represents modern collecting.  This is a collector type figure that was harder to find.  Mattel released several very fashion doll versions of Wonder Woman but they all had spindly bodies and slightly oversized heads.  None of them impressed me, but when I saw this one on a business trip in a Bentonville Toys R Us, it impressed me.  There was no room in the suitcase so as soon as I was able, I scoured my local TRU until I found the one left on the shelf.

It should probably go without saying that I own WAY too many toys.  I had actually stopped buying actions figures for myself and this figure made me fall off the five-year bandwagon.  Since my current job with high travel requirements have forced me into keeping a stark on-the-road apartment, the Wonder Woman figured added a desperately needed touch of fun.

I am a huge fan of articulation and certainly, Mattel sacrificed articulation for sculpting quality on this figure.  However, it does have the minimum acceptable articulation with hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and wrists.  The figure even comes with two sets of hands.  One set can hold the lasso or sword.  Another set is sculpted as clenched fists.  The other aspect I usually require in a 1/6th figure is soft goods clothing. In this particular case, her costume is injection molded PVC and is not removable but they nailed the leather look of the costume from the film.

This Wonder Woman has three modes to play or display: 1) holding the sword and/or the lasso 2) deflecting bullets with her bracelets and 3) an action spinning motion portrayed with molded swishes that snap into her bracelets in the same holes as the bullets do.

The best part of the figures is the head and hair sculpting.  Usually, the best human head sculptings are created in rotocast PVC like a Barbie or GI Joe head.  That process allows for small undercuts and more organic flexibility to create the mold since the process if mostly chemical.  This Wonder Woman head is an injection molded part and still looks great even after they had to adjust for easy removal from the mold.

SUSPECT #4

For the Joe collectors out there, number four is the 1966 GI Joe Soldiers of the World Japanese Imperial Soldier. It is one of the few vintage GI Joe figures with a unique head.  Hasbro released their Soldiers of the World to augment their early military themed GI Joes in 1966.  From a sales point of view, they were a flop and were dropped the next year.  I loved them! Somehow, one of my brothers managed to get a GI Joe Fighting Men Counter Intelligence Manual which was a cross-sell booklet showing the Soldiers of the World collection.

It showed fully uniformed figures of six different non-US WWII soldiers. Three were Allied soldiers such as the French Resistance Fighter, Australian Jungle Fighter, and the British Commando.  There were also Axis soldiers represented by Russian Infantry Man, German Soldier, and Japanese Imperial Soldier.  The booklet showed these available as figures, accessory sets and figures with uniforms and accessories. If you looked very carefully, you could see that… maybe they were different heads but it was unclear as they were small black and white images.

One day in about 1970, the local drug store was selling off some old stock of these.  It was confusing since they were accessory packs, however, unlike the cross-sell booklet, these included uniforms but no boots.  I know it was not 1966 as I bicycled alone to the store with all my allowance money when I heard about them. I bought one of each but there were no Japanese ones available. As I child, I never had any of the figures.

Fast forward to about 1986.  I was working at Mattel Toys in their old building in Hawthorne, CA on the same property where they also used to manufacture.  There was a basement full of old storage of different departments including lockers of reference from employees long gone.  People would occasionally clean those out and throw out things.  One day I happened to spot a doll head on the floor near the dumpster.  To my utter shock, it was clearly a GI Joe head but did not look like a normal GI Joe head.  It was also odd that it looked almost brand new and the neck on it was a talking GI Joe neck instead of the normal neck.  After talking with some collectors, I discovered that it was not my imagination and that the Soldiers of the World figures all had unique heads. There was even a rumor that the German figure had one long nasty scar on the side of his head. This rumor I have never found any proof to verify.  It is possible that the rumor came from the same source as the Marx Black Knight stories my brother taunted me with in my youth. Five of the figures used that same head, which looks like a more sinister GI Joe, but the Japanese figure had a clearly Asian sculpted version of the classic GI Joe head.

I found a collector willing to trade off that figure which has an excellent soft goods coat, backpack and pants with fake leggings.  The rifle, pistol, bayonet and helmet and unique to the figure also.  Each of the figures even came with 1/6th stamped metal awards historically correct to each figure.  These had little pins so they could be pushed into the fabric, then bent down to hold onto the uniform.  I have all the sets and boots now but only two with the correct heads.  The Japanese soldier and the head from the trashcan on my German soldier.  My Russian is wearing the far more appropriately looking Action Sailor with full red beard to keep him warm on the Eastern Front.

I believe I had to trade an Adventure Team GI Joe talking Commander in package to get this complete Japanese figure – but it was worth it.

 

SUSPECT #5

That fifth figure is undoubtedly confusing even to the most accomplished collectors wondering why it is there and that it should not look like that.  It is wearing a mis-colored preproduction raid jacket from the Law Enforcement Raid, but it is mostly there because is it purple and I wear a ton of purple.

The cargo pants are from the GI Joe Hall of Fame Joes Snake Eyes which are similar to the cargo pants I often wear (I should add the GI Joe tag to mine though). On his head is a set of Mickey Mouse Ears from the Mattel Heart Family Goes to Disneyland segment – more product I worked on as well as at least a hundred 1/6th Disney dolls.

The figures is the GI Joe Classic Collection WWII ETO Military Policeman, which I designed.

You have heard rumors and read that many Joe heads are based on real Joe designers which is absolutely true…and which is now against the rules to do inside Hasbro.  At the time, there was a suggestion to use my head.  I refused noting I do not have a face heroically appropriate for GI Joe.  However, I had no problem being the voice of a Joe. That is my voice in the MP.  It has freaked me out several times when I go to move a box of Joe stuff and the hair trigger activates so I hear my own voice yelling at me to say “Stop!” “Hands up!” “Advance to be recognized.”  So when I found the pin at Shanghai Disneyland last year saying “Hats required”, I bought it and added it to the Joe of me sitting on me shelf. He has shown up to a few toy conventions and will probably show up to more.

I hope you have appreciated the fun back-stories on these pieces and maybe it shed some light on questions you have on some of your own figures.

Don’t forget about THE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE FREE GIVE-AWAY!

The time to pick a winning email address is coming soon on January 13th with the winner notified by email.  To enter, just scroll down to the bottom of the site.  There is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone.

 

What interesting trades have you made obtain 1/6th figures?

Who Are those Usual Suspects?

In case there are some who may think I was only a designer concerned with new figures, please note the line up images.  These are some of the rarest figures that I have collected over the years.  It is more accurate to say, since I started playing with “Joes” that I never stopped collecting them.  The line between toy collector and toy designer has always been a fuzzy one.

SUSPECT #1

As mentioned in other articles, the Ideal Superman Captain Action was one of my first action figures.  One year, the four youngest kids in my family, the only ones left that still played with toys, were all given Captain Action sets.  One brother received the Phantom and Steve Canyon, another brother received the Lone Ranger and Batman and my tomboy sister was given Aquaman and Flash Gordon.  We had no Captain Action figures so GI Joe had to fill in.  We had a blast that year. As they aged out of toys and I never did, all those figures eventually came down to me.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine had a real Captain Action wearing a Buck Rogers costume.  Since Buck’s images is not on the 1966 boxes, I did not know that he ever existed since Buck was issued in 1967, the second year of Captain Action.  I traded the figure from him by making my friend a werewolf costume including a handmade latex mask and claws for a movie he was hoping to make.

The figure is in good shape but not perfect. He is missing one glove and that one he has a rip in it.  One of the jets on his back has a broken pin so it does not hang properly.  There is one more subtly – take a moment to look at the pictures again.  Do you see the problem?

Congratulations on those with sharp eyes.  Yes, he is wearing one Buck Rogers’s boots and one Captain Action boots.  The Captain Action boots have a high point in the front instead of the side like Buck’s official boots.

This figure is cherished, as it is my first real Captain Action figure and it one of the more rare sets.

 

SUSPECT #2

The 1968 Marx Sir Cedric the Black Knight in the red-skinned edition sold in the UK. That figure still has the dubious honor of requiring the most money to obtain it.  Typically, I prefer to trade for expensive figures.  Then it does not seem like it came out of my back account.  It is more trading stock.

One time I went into a new collector shop to see a mint condition Mattel Major Matt Mason Captain Laser on a shelf.  The next time I came back, I brought the empty box from Captain Laser complete with the gun attachments still in their blister.

The shop owner offered me $20.  I said, “No, if you add this to your figure on the shelf it would at least double its price to be around $150.  How about $50 in store credit?”  He received the box and I received some undervalued 1/6th scale original Kenner Star Wars figures including Boba Fett.  Since most of my figures come out to play at some time or another, keeping things in box was never important to me.  I traded off other boxes in the same manor including packages from Mattel’s Hypnos and Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man.

This figure has particular personal significance.  When I was about five years old and had my beloved Gold Knight for about two years now,

one of my many brothers convinced me that in addition to the Gold Knight and Silver Knight that Marx actually made a black knight.  I was SO excited about this than when my grandparents asked me what a wanted for my birthday I told them about the Black Knight.  My brother also knew I asked. Obviously, I did not receive the toy I wanted and they said they looked all over for it and no one had heard of it. Instead I received an annoying little toy car named “Tijuana Taxi.” I was an action figure kid. Yes, I had some Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars but they might come out about once a month.

If you have not added up all the clues, let me clarify 1) this was in the late 1960’s 2) Marx never sold a Black Knight in the US 3) There was no internet at the time to find out what was sold outside the US  4) My brother was only 9 so there was no way a 9 year old American boy could know about what toys boys had in England since he had very few friends and none of them were English.  Therefore, my brother was/is a sadistic liar doing his best to torture a younger brother.

In the late 1980’s, I found out that the joke was on him.  Marx had a made a Black knight but it was only sold in the UK.  It also had a cool orange skin tone to be a Moorish knight, which clearly made him an enemy to American boys in that time period.  I HAD to get one. Then I found out there were two different versions of orange skin tones based on using the gold knight head or a repaint of the silver knight head.  There was also a horse.  I found a collector who was willing to sell the two versions and a horse, none of which were in great condition, but they came at a very hefty price.  It was around $1200.  I bought them.  To feel better about parting with that much money I traded off a Bob Mackie Barbie and a porcelain version of Solo in the Spotlight Barbie for cash.  Both of which I obtained at Mattel when they let us pick one toy from the toyshop for a Christmas Gift.  I knew those would jump in value and they did.

I was happy with my purchase thought the price stung.  About a year later, I was at a GI Joe Convention and saw in someone’s booth another Black Knight on horseback in about the same condition.  Cautiously, I asked, “How much for this?” I was stunned to hear “$35”. “Just $35?” I asked trying to be fair and told him I had just paid way more for one.  He said, “$35 is enough. I did not pay much for it and do not want to gouge people unfairly.”  Then I begged him to hold it while I ran back to my booth to bring him the cash.

Later, I bought the Reissue version of the Black knight with a Caucasian skin tone.  If I feel the need to play with a black knight, I take that one out for battle.  The vintage ones look on at their younger brother and smile down from the shelf in pride.  My original Sir Gordon the Gold Knight is also there presiding over his counsel of other gold knights, silver knights and blue knights.  The red knight will enter soon since his horse is already in the stable for him.

Stay tuned for back-stories of the other three suspects next week.

 

What is the action figure you sought the hardest to obtain?

 

THE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE FREE GIVE-AWAY!

So far, we have had good response and almost doubled subscribers.  There is still time to put your name into the drawing for the free pre-production GI Joe figure.  The name will be picked on January 13th with the winner notified by email.  To enter, just scroll down to the bottom of the site.  There is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone.

Away in a Manger, No Room for the… Toys

Decades ago, my wife, daughter and I visited a Cincinnati art museum with a special European Holiday exhibit. A prominent display was an Italian nativity scene that depicted not only the central scene of the birth of Jesus in a stable but also included most of Bethlehem. It was the size of a room at about 10 feet by 20 feet. They cleverly cheated the perspective by starting with figures at the front at 1/12th scale and then shrinking the scale as it went back to about 1/25th scale.  The detail was amazing.

As part of the history of the display, it mentioned that in Germany it was traditional to set up the display and move Mary, Joseph and the donkey closer to town each day. Only on Christmas morning would the baby Jesus figure be placed on the straw in the manger.

I thought, “This is fun. However, it would be even more fun in 1/6th scale. Therefore, we started small and built our way up.

At first, we used the dark haired friend of Barbie – Sweet Roses PJ. (since Mary was Jewish and peroxide was not discovered yet, so Mary would not have been blonde). For Joseph, we used a G I Joe Adventure Team commander since he had a full dark beard. We had Mary sitting on the Marx Shetland pony Poncho. Daily we moved the figures around the room, closer and closer to a small child’s table on which our 4-foot tree stood. On Christmas morning, the Mattel Heart Family Baby appeared in Mary’s arms.

Each year we added to it. The stable became populated with many other Marx horses. The Breyer donkey and Brahman Bull joined later for more historic color.

In two years, the table could not hold all the animals. It was time to make a real stable. Historically speaking, the manger scene would not have taken place in a wooden barn. Sheep and livestock were kept in the Tel of Bethlehem, which was a cave. The livestock would be put inside and the next day the traveler, herder or shepherd would arrive and as the sheep would know his voice, only that shepherd’s sheep would come out.

Therefore, the new setting must be a cave but to hold that growing herd of sheep, cattle and horses, it would not be small. For storage reasons I constructed it with a 1” PVC pipe frame, batting for form and a fabric cover so it could fold back down into a large tub for off-season storage.

Unlike the cave in Bethlehem, this one would be wired with electricity.  We took candle-like flicker bulbs, covered them with long yellow fake fur augmented with additional colors via Sharpie pens. There was also a flashlight reflector under each bulb and inside the fur.  These units were installed in niches in the back of the cave with one additional lamp stand near the front made of Sculpy to look like stone. The lightning effect is very effective with three different bulbs flickering.

For the final electric effect we handmade a manger with a clear recessed lid. Strands of straw colored hay were strategically glued down. Inside the trough was another flicker bulb.  When the baby Jesus was placed in the manger, he radiated with a heavenly glow.

Since it was now too large to fit under a Christmas tree, we created a wooden frame that fit over the organ in our front room. The organ was given to us by an “organ donor” – really! (Feel free to groan that that one).The new footprint was about 5 feet wide by 4 feet deep. To complete the scene, we built another frame pf PVC that could disassemble. This one held a curtain of black velvet to angle into the corner. This was then lit with a cluster of white twinkling Christmas lights glued in from behind to be the bright star in the East, which the wise men followed. The rest of the lights became smaller stars in the sky.

Now we had a huge canvas to paint with 1/6th scale figures.

The year after the cave and background premiered, we added a few soft goods palm trees to help blend the look.  They have a base filled with plastic pellets to stand up right.  The felt palm fronds have a wire sewn down the center so we can bend and move them as needed. Winding one strip of tan fraying fabric worked surprisingly well to achieve the look of the segmented growth on palm trees.

Now that there was a central focus to the scene we switched out some of the stable animals favoring those with posing heads. A Barbie horse repainted to be Black Beauty was added to hang over Mary and Joseph to witness the wonder of the newborn king. The Marx Comanche horse could be posed to be sitting/kneeling to watch. In the past it has also included the Marx Mighty Viking Nodding Horse and the Kenner flocked Palomino horse Nugget from the fashion doll Dusty line since both had good pivoting necks.

Eventually the stable has enhanced with other animals from Marx livestock including: Thunderbolt with custom dapple gray paint and the foal Thundercolt, At another garage sales we found an interesting set of a horse and foal well sculpted and in 1/6th scale.  Later a modern cow from the same company was added as it was sitting down and well sculpted.

A new scene necessitated a better Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The new Mary used one of the highly articulated Barbie bodies. The head is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Belle rooted in black hair and repainted with more of a Middle Eastern look as it was used for the very first Jasmine fashion doll for Disney’s Aladdin. (I had the privilege of presenting the proposed product line for Aladdin to the Directors John Musker and Ron Clements). Joseph has a Classic Collection GI Joe body with a head I made to be Captain Nemo of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as one of the Disney Parks Special fashion dolls which was later dropped. It started as the Mattel Davy Crockett head then I added a beard made of Sculpy. The baby was Moses sculpted for the Kenner Prince of Egypt line but never used.

Between Aladdin and Prince of Egypt, most of the cast was dressed using early test models that I had saved.

Shepherds were added one year since they were the first to arrive.  The first was a Classic Collection GI Joe wearing an unused test costume for Moses.  After the line launched, the original presentation model of Moses was added to be a second shepherd.

One year we added the wise men. For these, we followed the Western traditional view of three wise men from the East as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. This gave us the chance to add variety with one being Asian, one North African and the other Caucasian. The Asian figure is the GI Joe Tarawa Japanese figure.  The North African is the GI Joe Hall of Fame Heavy Duty and the Caucasian used a Ken head with test rooting of a bushy beard.  His outfit was one made for the Haunted Mansion plump executioner with an over robe courtesy of Aladdin’s Jafar from the earlier style when he was still wearing all black. However, they are still on the way to Bethlehem since they did not arrive until Jesus, Mary and Joseph were living in a house.

If they were kings, they would have had attendants and retainers so we have a few, courtesy of some designs not used of Aladdin and Jasmine.  There is also a small heard of camels that would have used for transportation. These were test models of a camel from Aladdin and Habibi the Camel from Prince of Egypt.

When suddenly, up in the sky could be seen a host of angels… Well we finally added one and know where we need to expand next time we have extra time.  The Angel is the only figures that I specifically sewed a costume for.  The figure itself uses one of the Barbie bodies with straight arms used for several ballet figures.  The head has the flowing golden locks from Sleeping Beauty’s Princess Aurora.  We hang her each year with thin monofilament and she tends to pick up the breezes from the air unit and slowly spins around.

One year we added two Romans since Judea was under Roman control at the time.  We also happened have two really nice figures left over from a Hercules presentation.

The last figure added so far is the Little Drummer Boy.  Since it is a modern entry into the historical narrative, he was an afterthought to the scene.  We used the Hasbro Young Anakin Figure from the Star Wars the Phantom Menace.  I found him at a yard sale, he was small enough to fit and the clothing was non-descript enough so he could hide in the background with a drum.

Setting up this scene each year has become a family tradition to help us remember that Christmas really started and this moment and that Santa, elves and giving gifts are just ways to remind us of the greatest gift we were ever given.

May your holidays be happy and may your 1/6th scale figure collection increase!

 

Don’t forget to sign up for THE FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY by scrolling down to the bottom of this site, to the box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”. You will receive an email notice just once a week when a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone. On JANUARY 13th, we will pick a name randomly from the list of subscribers and send that person, free of charge a preproduction GI Joe figure.

Round Up the Usual Suspects! How to determine if a sample is real or fake

This is a milestone article – this is number 26.  A half of a year have articles had been posted.

During that time, I have received many very encouraging comments from posting new articles:

  • “My brother recommended I would possibly like this web site. He was totally right. This publish actually made my day.”
  • I LOVE reading these articles! Thanks for another great one!
  • “Another great article.”

I started writing the articles for the GI Joe Collector’s club. This was after a few fellow collectors suggested to “write down this information – we need do document Joe’s history.”  I designed GI Joes for about 5 years and was a collector so I could write some of that history with authority. Once the timing of the end of the Collector’s Club was announced, I wanted to keep going but push farther into other 1/6th scale figures.  When we went on our backyard adventures, we would usually say, “Do you want to play Joes?”  However, that play was never limited to GI Joe.  The Marx Best of the West Collection and Captain Action had a big part in the play mingling with all the others.  Occasionally even Big Foot from Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man would join in the action.  Big Jack, the African American friend of Mattel’s Big Jim was often on many deep African missions.  1/6th scale play never had a finite boundaries.  GI Joe was not the only 1/6th scale figure line I worked on.

While I have received very good reactions from most, one aspect the site is still lacking is reaching more people.  In order for any publisher to consider wanting to publish these stories and articles, I need more of an official following. Therefore, so I am going to reach into the dark side of my career experience with a shameless Marketing ploy:

THE FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY!

I need more people following the site, so to encourage that, I will have a non-biased person choose a name randomly from the list of people following the site on JANUARY 13th  and send that person, free of charge a preproduction GI Joe figure.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this site, there is a box that says “SIGN UP FOR NOTIFICATION”.  Just add your name and email address, click “SUBSCRIBE”, and you will receive an email notice just once a week noting that a new article to say a new article has been published.  I do not do any other mailings or lend/sell the names on the list to anyone.

If you have been one of my long time followers, THANK YOU! Your name is in the running for the give-away already so it is not just for new contacts.

In order to continue provided real insider information and fun stories instead of just being a marketing gimmick, the rest of this article will address the different types of samples available on the collector market and how to avoid being ripped off.

FINAL PRODUCTION SAMPLES/GREEN TAG SAMPLES – The last step before a product starts full production is the sign off a final sample.  Inside Hasbro, we call them “Green Card” samples. Other companies have other names: “Golden Samples”, “Final Aesthetic Approval Samples,” etc.  They all mean the same thing – this is the “final sample that all production needs to match”.  At Hasbro, A full master/shipping carton is sent for review so every aspect of the final shipped product can be verified.  Tags are signed and attached on final samples from the Asia team, then shipped to the US. There, appropriate representatives sign three of the samples. One signed sample goes to the factory.  One signed sample goes back to Hasbro Far East and the last signed sample stays in the US Hasbro offices. In this way, all three locations have a clear view of what the product must look like in case anyone sees a problem. An average master carton of Joes holds six.  The other three green tag samples are usually dispersed among the engineers or designers.  Quite often, that sample is opened to harvest some of the latest parts to use for new models.  In short, finding a Green Tag sample is incredibly rare. These green tags are usually taped to top or back of a package so the card can be flipped up to read any notes on the back.

However, I have seen some Green Tag samples that I expect are fakes.  In the many years I spent signing of these samples, I do not recall seeing one where the information was hand written on the green card.  It was always nicely typed on a typewriter.  So when I saw this image:

It struck me that someone had been at the factory or knew someone who gave them blank cards.  Then they wrote the information on them and sold the normal product to collectors for more money as Green tag samples.  Yes it is possible that it could be real and someone did it in a hurry at the factory, but with all the rush projects I worked on, you would think I would have seen that.  Therefore, unless you are absolutely sure of the source, I would not pay extra for a sample with a green tag that has the specific product information hand written.

Before standardizing onto Green tags, Hasbro had simple pieces of paper taped to the boxes with information hand written in.  The figure from Princess Gwenevere and Jewel Riders with a paper tag was released around 1996.

Other companies also have versions of these.  Marx had small sample tags that were tied on the product with strings or wire.  From the 1960s to the late 1980’s Mattel would melt into all its samples the same phrase “SAMPLE NOT FOR SALES”.  On fabrics they used an ink stamp that looked almost the same.

The bottom line on buying a sample that is supposed to be real Green tag sample or Production Pilot Sample, check to see what those tags really look like before accepting them a face value.

PRODUCTION PILOT SAMPLES – Production Pilot, also known as “pre-production samples”, are usually just the toy with no packaging.  The new tools get shot with the correct plastics as it can take half a day to purge an injection-molding machine to run a new color. Therefore, many new parts are often shot in odd colors.  Be sure to check the color of your suspected part next to one that is a production part to be sure. Take a look at this set of parts.

If you spotted the lime green Vietnam era grenade launcher, you are correct. It is obviously a wrong color. Keep in mind that companies like Hasbro and Marx shipped many products with color variations in the vintage days just to use up old stock. Therefore, it is common to find brown boots instead of black boots or even Soldiers of the World heads on talking GI Joe Action Marines. If you have an injection-molded part molded in colors that were not available from on-shelf toys, then you have real preproduction part.  It is the only flawless way to tell.

Being in wrong colors is also true of fabric parts.  New uniforms have to be sewn in the correct fabrics to make sure the patterns and the construction is accurate, but may be a completely different color as it take several weeks to get a new fabric color dyed for production. Some people would think, “I can sew well, so I can fake the sewn parts.  It is harder than you think.  I have been sewing since I was about 10.  Sewing the 1/6th scale clothing is one of the hardest things to do. It requires a seam allowance of 1/8” in some places.  1/8” is the normal margin of error in sewing.  (The absolute hardest thing to sew is Barbie underwear – it literally requires sewing with a tweezers.)  There are some people good enough to sew that well so look carefully at the fabric of the piece in question to a production part. See the image of the GI Joe Tomb of the Unknowns figures.  One is a preproduction piece and the other is final shipped product.  If you have really sharp eyes you can see that the medals were shot in the wrong colors also.

In addition, many if not all the parts will lack painting. Now I know there is someone saying inside their head right now, “I can get the paint off plastic parts – that is no proof.”  It is much harder than you think to get ALL the paint off.  It is true that it works better on some plastic parts than others.  The best way is to let the part soak in one of the various forms of paint thinner for a while.  If you are doing this on a polypropylene part, you might get away with it.  If you use a styrene part, it will damage the plastic in various ways such as leaving a matte texture, a fingerprint if you touch it right after or it can also melt the part itself if it is left in too long.  On rotocast heads, it is very difficult, as paint does not like to come off.  Even if you do get most of it off, it can leave a dull tone to the part that no longer looks clean from production.

One other way to identify a pre-production sample is the lack of legal markings but it is not a perfect test.  Hasbro does not mark all of its parts so this can only be determined if you have one part with legal markings and one part without the markings. Mattel parts used to have an 8-digit code on anything that is not a small part. It is the best way to tell the difference between real Big Jim parts and knock offs.  However, I do not think they use the same standard anymore.  In addition, the legal marking may only be on one part of the product.  For instance, the Mattel Disney Classics dolls have the copy write information for the Disney on the back of the head at the neck but the body still has the Mattel copy write. (Mattel wanted to be very clear if they ever stopped using that Barbie body that Disney had no rights to it even though it was used on a Disney doll.)

One other way to check for a preproduction figure is to see if the plastic parts have any molding sprues or pins still on them.  Most toy companies (EXCEPT MARX) remove those parts.  There are occasions on very small parts like throwing stars and grenades that they leave them intact to pack out reasons.  To be sure your part is preproduction, check out your part with molding pins or runners compared to how it shows in the package or once you have opened a production item.  The below image shows the Mickey Mouse ears from the Mattel Heart Family Goes to Disneyland segment. It still has a molding pin on the side.  Leaving on runners and pins would not have been allowed by the quality control people.

PROTOTYPES, CONCEPT MODELS, PAINT MASTERS – these are much harder to authenticate.  As someone who has been paid for decades to make those, they use a variety of methods.  They could have correct parts but were painted a different color.  Many times that paint will start to chip off and it is easy to fake.  The soft goods are almost always hand made without tags and has rougher stitching.  The fabric itself could be completely different. One of the best ways to tell is if it used hard copy resin cast parts that are hand painted.  That is very typical.  If you are looking at one of these, compare it to a production part.  Quite often, there are subtle differences in the cast part from the production part.  At least one person I know of was taking production parts, sanding off the legal markings, making casts and selling the hard copies as prototype parts.  The best way to prove if a concept model, paint master or prototype is real is to check it against product photography in the catalogs.  Often there are enough subtle differences so you can see what has changed from the sample to the production part.  This is because the photography stage usually happens way before production.  Many models are created and shown at toy fair then dropped before any production tools are made.

Now that you know how to spot real preproduction samples, it is time to review the figure for FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY so you can be sure it is authentic.  The figure is the GI Joe Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement.  See if you can spot what makes it real.

If you guessed:

  • Unpainted head
  • Unpainted vest
  • Unpainted hat
  • Unpainted rifle (very subtle – you have good eyes if you caught that)
  • Unpainted upper arms (how many missed that one?)
  • Soft goods pants constructed in the wrong color

The only thing he does not have is a part molded in the wrong color.  Since none of those parts are new tools and were all used previously on other Joes in those colors, it is no surprise the colors are correct.

If you were very astute, you may have looked at the figure shown when noting Green Tag samples.

Now you have all the details so you so if you are the winner of the FREE PREPRODUCTION FIGURE GIVE-AWAY and it sits on your shelf, you can impress people by your knowledge of it.

Did you forget to scroll down and register and add yourself to the list of the usual suspects.