This week marked the end of an era as the last National GI Joe Collectors Club convention ended. Until the advent of the internet and eBay, the only way to find all the obscure Joe products was to attend a GI Joe convention. The very first national convention that I am aware of was in Los Angeles in 1990 run by James D. Simone. The guest speaker was Kirk Bozigian who also gave talks at many subsequent Joe conventions as well as the final one in Chattanooga. I attended this first show while still a designer for Mattel. This was several years before working for Hasbro and fulfilling a childhood dream to work on the GI Joe line.
The conventions were taken over a few years later by Brian Savage of the Master Collector magazine, who made them bigger, more fun and helped to bond a community of collectors. Brian was often too busy to talk at conventions as he was running back and forth and speaking on the bullhorn trying to ensure the best convention possible for everyone. If you had a chance to talk to him, you would have quickly seen he was “one of us” with a collection that tops most others. Brian and his team gave us many great new Joes and remarkable convention sets. I had the privilege of working with Brian on a few of those convention sets.
One of my favorite Adventure Team (AT) sets was the Search for the Abominable Snowman. It took a few years and various versions to convince Hasbro to pull the trigger on that. Once it was finally in preproduction, I lobbied hard with Brian to use a version of it in brown and create the GI Joe Adventure Team Search for the Sasquatch. To me, this was a natural idea, considering the vintage abominable snowman was a white version of the pygmy gorilla. This one was WAY more fun as it was really fur, really posable and really big!
Following that logic, when we were in development on the GI Joe Adventure Team Kodiak Attack set (which did not ship but stay tuned for details in another blog); it would make a great polar bear in white. This shipped as GI Joe Fight for Survival: Polar Bear Attack. Once again, it was really fur, really posable and really big! I will admit that a Grizzly’s head is more of a square shape and a polar bear’s head is longer and more conical, but it was still very fun and posable. Until this came out, the only appropriately sized bear was the 12” long polar bear that I believe was made by Imperial, which looked great, but GI Joe is “America’s Movable Fighting Man!” so we need movable foes.
One other AT set that I was able to influence was the GI Joe Adventure Team Terror on the Sea Floor. In addition to creating many GI Joe concepts for Hasbro and making the first production appropriate model within cost, one of my unique contributions was to leverage existing tooling. Hasbro is a very large company with different departments making many different products in multiple locations. Much of the work for Action Man (AM) happened in London while Joe was being designed in Cincinnati and Pawtucket. There were also so many special AT sets that they were hard to track. As a 1/6th scale collector, I had a broader understanding for all the parts that shipped. One of the first things I did at any Joe convention was look for any new AM or 1/6th scale specials (Universal Monsters, Aliens, etc.) that I was not already aware of. These needed to be “in package” so I could supply the product name, year and factory code on the cost sheets so the parts would have proper documentation in order to determine the actual cost. When I found a very obscure carnivorous plant with a spring-loaded jaw and gripping tentacles, the scratchy phrase went off in my head “The Adventure Team is needed in Africa”. It became the centerpiece of a proposed concept The Adventures of GI Joe Jungle Survival. Here Joe would be in jungle gear with his trusty machete trying to hack his way free. Unfortunately, no one else was as excited about the idea as I was. The concept was later shown to the club where it still was not met with much enthusiasm but they later repositioned it as an underwater carnivorous plant – which was still fun.
Will we get more GI Joe convention figures? How will GI Joe conventions will look in the future? No one can yet say. With Hasbro taking over the conventions, they will undoubtably put their own spin on the shows. The last Hasbro Con, which featured Stan Lee as a guest, was on my list to attend, but work priorities sent me back to China for that week. I predict we will see a definite rise in regional Joe and Action Figure conventions from Dallas to Harrisburg to Toylanta — with many more in between. They may be smaller in attendance but their dealer rooms have been robust and our collector friends are there.
One way or another, the Joe Collector Community will continue to meet, collect, trade and even produce their own custom figures. I also look forward to more opportunities like being caught between the fiendish Baroness and the noble Scarlet.
One more convention inspired note – If anyone has wondered about the header picture for this blog, it was created for the photo contest at the Joe convention in Kansas City. Its title is “I Must Have Made a Wrong Turn at the Albuquerque Nebula.” The discriminating eye will notice 64 different figures all fitting into a 1/6th scale diorama. These figures are the work of 21 different toy companies from the 60s to 2006. They represent 13 different television shows, 30 different motion pictures and 42 different toy lines.
How many figures, shows or lines can you name?