PART 1: Tour of Targets
I was reminded this week via a YouTube video that, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was the GI Joe Guy.
It's on my resume.
My road to resurrecting the fully articulated man of action began when I got a freelance gig writing articles for a magazine published right here in the Milwaukee area called COLLECTING TOYS, produced by Kalmbach Publishing. I was dispatched to the first Official GI Joe Collector's Convention in New York in 1994.
(A few hours before boarding a plane for New York, I met Neil Young in a prop storeroom at Kalmbach Publishing, but that's another story...).
So, the short version of this tale is: While I was at the press conference on board the USS Intrepid, I glanced to my right and saw an older gentleman who had a look on his face like he was watching his child graduating. I walked over and introduced myself, and boldly said, "You invented GI Joe, didn't you."
""Yes, I did," he said. That was Don Levine, and the rest is history to be told another time.
One thing led to another, and Levine and I collaborated on a book-and-figure set called The GI Joe Masterpiece Edition. Along with an oral history of the creation of the very first action figure, the set included a recreation of the classic GI Joe. And, true to the original Hasbro formula, we made a bunch of different varieties - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines; all hair colors; Caucasian and African American (and, eventually, an Astronaut special edition).
It helped me pay off my student loans.
When the product was launched, my publisher, Chronicle Books, made a pretty nice deal with Target stores where they would stock and promote the sets, and Levine and I -- traveling separately -- would make appearances at a bunch of their stores. That would mean that some Target stores would get the guy who helped create GI Joe, and others would get the guy who wrote about the guys who created GI Joe. I always felt like the stores on my schedule -- I think I did about twenty, all over the country -- got cheated.
It was quite an experience, though. There was a guy with a sign meeting me at every airport; a limo to the hotel and the Target stores (usually two per town).
A limo pulling up to a Target gets noticed. People stopped and gawked, waiting to see who would emerge -- is it a NASCAR driver? A model making an appearance for Revlon? A famous chef demonstrating cookware?
Nope. Just me. The GI Joe guy.
Surprisingly, a pretty impressive line of people formed at the events. I met and talked to all kinds of interesting folks who had wonderful stories about how GI Joe was meaningful to them, and they told me how great it was to be able to have their old fully articulated friend back.
My Target Tour began right in my home city of Milwaukee, however, meaning the limo dropped me off at the very same place where, days before, I bought socks, underwear, and potato chips. Suddenly, I'm sitting at a table under a giant picture of myself. It was... awkward.
This was all brought to mind by a YouTube video I stumbled upon this past week by "MIB MASTER TOY MUSEUM 1979." In it, he gives viewers an overview of the Masterpiece Edition, which he calls "very special" because it's signed by... me, a "famed author."
Enormously flattering, to say the least.
I'm referred to as a collector, which I was not. However, he pronounces my name correctly, which is pretty rare. It's a very generous clip, and I appreciate being reminded of an interesting period of time. Back then, we didn't have iPhones with which to shoot selfies and document every milestone, so it's fun to see things re-emerge from the mists of time.
Also, I hope the person for whom I signed the book actually requested my name scrawled right on the cover (I generally signed the inside title page).
More about my GI Joe adventures later ...