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Adventures in Storytelling

When I had the privilege of attending the Disney University program during my Mattel years, they taught us about the importance of storytelling. Walt Disney often spoke about how his early cartoons, films and theme parks are all versions of storytelling.

GI Joe package art has always been well done, but when you look at the package art that Larry Selman created, it is extraordinary.  Not only does Larry compose the images well, but he strives to make them amazingly accurate. He also tells a story if you look close enough. 

One of his earliest paintings for GI Joe packages was for the Blue Angel GI Joe. The painting clearly shows a Blue Angel pilot in the cockpit with another plane in the background, but take a close look at the visor.

There is a reflection in the visor of a third plane illustrating that this is not just a pilot in a cockpit but he is in the middle of a flight maneuver with planes peeling away from him on both sides.

In the package art created for the two different Tuskegee pilots, Larry is telling a story of the men returning from a mission. There are planes still coming in for landings in the background while a bomber crew is discussing the last mission with one of the fighter pilots; demonstrating two airplanes in flight with his hands.

When GI Joe changed over from military to adventure theming in 1969, Hasbro included small comic books giving us the tales of their adventures beyond what we saw on commercials.

These adventure comics continued with the GI Joe Adventure Team in 1970 as booklets for all of their larger sets including GI Joe Adventure Team Revenge of the Spy Shark. As kids, we read these over and over and over, then played them out with our Joes.

As times changed and the price of television advertising grew, the GI Joe Design Team added adventures to the backs of the packages for the Classic Collection GI Joes for their Adventures of GI Joe segment.  Although I always explained the history or the adventure for every GI Joe I presented, it was my privilege to write the adventure for many of my designs.  One of the first was I wrote was for The Adventures of GI Joe Trouble at Coyote Crossing. The story is about a GI Joe trooper in the Western United States apprehending some criminals.

Another figure was a reimagined version of the vintage GI Joe Adventure Team Capture of the Pygmy Gorilla as The Adventures of GI Joe Rescue Pygmy Gorilla (with the monkey-sized Gorilla).  You can see from the package art that we planned to have a real sized gorilla – at least larger than the vintage set, but there was a “miscommunication in the chain of command” about its size and shape. It is funny to note that the story wording was changed to only tranquilize the gorilla but the art still shows a fur sizzling blast from a bazooka on the package.

For the Adventures of GI Joe 2010, we were in a rush to hit a ship date to launch at the same time as Mattel’s new twelve inch figure line Max Steel, so the story was simplified into a couple of paragraphs augmented with a central image and a couple of smaller images of setting and action to set the tone. I had fun writing all of the 2010 stories.

Later, when it was decided to keep a permanent segment of GI Joes aimed at children, I talked management into doing GI Joe Double Duty. They were very skeptical that I could create two adventure scenarios in one low priced Joe figure, but once I proved that, they were very happy to move forward.  Here is the original story overview that was presented for the line but never appeared in print:

“As world peace is increasingly threatened by a new breed of extreme, radical, techno-terrorists, the United States Military recruited the toughest roughnecks and armed them with the most powerful, ultra-tech weaponry, to form the GI Joe G-2 Team. They are trained twice as hard, armed with twice the gear and tasked to complete missions twice as dangerous as the average GI.”

The artwork on these comic panels was definitely lacking quality but the mission stories were clear and fun.

When I played with GI Joes, it always started with the story, then packing (or making) the gear to play out the adventure.  Here are two story and gear plans for Adventure Team figures that never made it to the model stage:

Alien Intruder

Premise: A meteorite crashes into the desert disrupting sending the Adventure Team out to investigate. As Joe closes in with his tracking gear, he is attacked by a glowing, multi armed alien intent on having a “taste” of the new planet.

Gear: Desert gear (to keep cost down), tracking equipment (existing) use remaining money for a large rotocast alien with multiple appendages and gaping mouth (similar in-box battle as Sinbad with Scorpion).

Invisible Infiltration

Premise: An international guild of thieves has stolen experimental weaponry and is auctioning it off to terrorists.  Joe must infiltrate their headquarters and retrieve it before it falls into the wrong hands.

Gear: He wears clothing, gloves and mask that come off to reveal Joe has turned invisible.  Joe is shot in all clear parts (but we need a gear belt or something to hide the thigh joints).  If cost feasible, use color-change on some weapons to make them go invisible.  Joe’s clear briefcase could have silver/Mylar labels on inside to hide anything put in it.

Departing from twelve inch figures briefly, no matter the toy, I always planned the story.  Several of my stories for the toys in the Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders line at Kenner became full episodes. My favorite was about a “zebra-corn” character I created, then explained the storyline to the director to integrate the new character into the animation. Ironically, the episode “Shadowsong” aired with my storyline, however the product never shipped as sales slumped on the line.

What happens when you have all these stories continually trying to burst out of you? Why you write a full book of course.  My first novel became live on Amazon last week as a kindle e-book.  Later, there will be printed versions available.

All the GI Joe, toy, comic and science fiction conventions I attended from age sixteen on, inspired me to write a mystery that takes place at a science fiction convention.  It has the same sense of humor I use in most of my writing but is spun with quirky characters and fun twists.  While I have been writing many behind the scenes stories of toys, this novel contains many stories of things I have seen at conventions, things I have done at conventions and things I have always wanted to do at conventions.

I hope you all enjoy it.  My teenage son was laughing as he read the early versions and we all know that the hardest things in to world to make laugh are cats and teenage boys.

Here is its amazon link to review in more detail.

Which is your favorite 1/6th scale adventure?

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