Posted 22/03/2013 by Axel in Columns

G.I.Joe Special #3: Mega Collector Gary “Goggles” Head

The Collector: Gary “Goggles” Head

Name: Gary “Goggles” Head aka Gyre-Viper


Podcast: www.jdso.podbean.com


How did it all begin? Where did your passion for G.I. Joe start?

G.I. Joe has always been a passion of mine.  They were by far my favorite toy line growing up from 1982 all the way through the early 90’s. Even as a kid I considered them superior to every other toy. Their scale and their articulation, the character diversity and personalities and the aesthetics… that’s what drew me in and that’s what has always kept it at the forefront of my collecting (but more on that later). I watched the cartoons, both Sunbow and DiC.  Trying to watch them now is almost impossible to do with a straight face, because both incarnations were cheesed-up and silly.

Did you read the Larry Hama comic books?

I’ve never read a single G.I. Joe comic. I was pretty much strictly an X-Men reader and that satisfied what it was I was looking to get out of comic books.  G.I. Joe was too realistic for my comic book reading tastes.

When did you start collecting G.I. Joe?

As far as full-on G.I. Joe COLLECTING??  As in collecting with a purpose and putting my money and time where my passion was for the brand?  That actually began pretty recently… back in April of 2009.   I didn’t even know there was G.I. Joe on the shelves and in the stores again.  I didn’t know there was a 25th Anniversary line.  But one day, on my way to the comic store, I passed a specialty shop that had the 25th Extreme Condition sets in the window.  Those definitely caught my eye.  The last I had heard of G.I. Joe prior to this was Sigma 6, which I had stumbled across one day on television in passing but didn’t pay much attention to it.   So somewhere in April of ’09, I was walking through Target’s toy aisle, now knowing that the 25th Anniversary line existed, and saw the Matt Trakker M.A.S.K. cross-over figure and after that I was drawn back into the brand.  I had always told myself that one day I would collect G.I. Joe again but I was thinking the vintage line, the stuff I grew up with.  I had no idea that it would be a modern incarnation that would finally pull me back in.

moc35lCan you tell us what you collect?

I collect G.I. Joe pre-production, prototypes, and canceled/unreleased figures. I love the archaeology of it. Digging up things either collectors have never seen before or normally would never be able to see in person, and sharing those things with everyone in the hobby that cares to experience it.

I spend a lot of time talking to former Hasbro designers, sculptors, marketers, etc. and picking their brains for the hidden stories and anecdotes behind G.I. Joe’s inception, history and everything in between. For me, that information is part of my collection. I love the history behind the brand and the toy making process.

I am a staff member and volunteer for the Joe Declassified organization whose mission statement is to bring the hidden and lost history of the G.I. Joe brand into transparency.

Tell us about Joe Declassified.

The members and contributors of Joe Declassified hunt down rare and/or historical items from GI Joe’s history, document and archive them, and then through various outlets, share those discoveries with the G.I. Joe collecting community.  We have a booth that we set up at conventions where we display collections of rarities, international items, prototypes, artwork, test shots, 2ups, and all sorts of artifacts from G.I. Joe’s history.  We have a front page blog (www.joedeclassified.com) and a forum (www.joedeclassified.com/forum) that serve the same purpose.  We now have a podcast (www.jdso.podbean.com) we can use as an outlet to do the same.  We even have an annual magazine we publish that we distribute at conventions for free (you can download previous issues on the blog).  Joe Declassified is wholly not-for-profit.  Everything we do comes from donations and volunteers.  We are committed to elevating the discussions and expanding the hobby through this transparency, as responsibly as possible.  I mention all of this here, in regards to my own collection because sharing and preserving is why I collect what I collect.  Joe Declassified embodies and reflects my own reasons for collecting.

Is it safe to say you only collect the rare and historical items?

While my collecting focus is all prototypes and unreleased/canceled items, I still support the brand at retail.  But normally whatever I buy in the stores I end up giving away to friends or people who can’t get G.I. Joe easily in other parts of the world or I give those things away as prizes in raffles and contests across the hobby and community, either on forums or at conventions and meets.

wardog-artWhat is your favorite piece?

For some people this is hard to answer. And it should be.  I am  no exception.  For me though, “better” or “more significant” doesn’t exactly qualify as “favorite.”

I’m going to have to go with my unproduced G.I. Joe Star Brigade War Dog aka Big Mouth hard copy. War Dog is this crazy alien dog-like beast that was going to come out in the Star Brigade line and never made it into production.  It was never released.  I was lucky enough to get in touch with a former Hasbro sculptor who had some War Dog pieces from his days at Hasbro.

Why the fascination with the War Dog?

Why is it my favorite piece?  One of the things I try to keep as a constant “theme” for my collection (as I’m very, VERY picky about what I keep)… is probably best described as a “freak show.”  I mean this in the best way possible.  I want people to look at pieces in my collection and have to remind themselves that they are looking at G.I. Joe.   Some of it is absurd, some of it is strange, some of it silly.  Some of it is as serious as you can get but it still isn’t obvious usually what you are looking at.  War Dog is all about this. You’d be forgiven for thinking he was from Star Wars or even Jurassic Park.  NOTHING about War Dog screams “I’m a G.I. Joe character.”  So between the lost and found history of War Dog, the oddness of War Dog… he really does trigger what it is I want from my collection. (By the way for anyone reading this that is unfamiliar with any of my terms ie pre-production, hard copy, etc.  www.JoeIntel.com has a glossary of G.I. Joe pre-production terms that is extremely helpful to anyone interested in prototypes etc.).


Do you still have a Holy Grail?

Of course.  Collecting might get boring if I didn’t.  Heheheheh.

I’ve bought the Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe, and quite enjoy it. I ask all my guests this very same question. How would you rate the influence of Mark Bellomo on collecting G.I. Joe?

I’m not just saying this because I know Mark.  Mark (not just his books, but Mark himself) is everything a hobby needs.  I’ll refer to the stats of Dungeons and Dragons:  Mark has the strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma to get things done.  Things that help keep a hobby together. But yeah, I rate his influence pretty damn high.

Can someone still start collecting G.I. Joe toys? Is it an easy hobby to take up?

Yes.  As I said earlier, I’ve only been full-on collecting for almost four years at the time of this interview. That is NOT a long time. The hobby is easy to take up because of these things:

People like Mark Bellomo whose books are basically the initiation into the hobby, the legendary archives of YoJoe.com, the exemplary insight of the hobby’s voice: Justin Bell of GeneralsJoes.com.  You have the encyclopedic JoeIntel.com.  The podcasts: What’s On Joe Mind (whatsonjoemind.podbean.com) and the Joe Declassified podcast (jdso.podbean.com).

joe-intel-screenshotYou have James Kavanaugh, Jr with his amazing G.I. Joe reference books (www.rahcguide.com), essentially picking up where Mark Bellomo left off.   There’s the COIL Club and their ever-growing COIL Con conventions.  Everyone involved in COIL Club and COIL Con are some of the hardest working collectors in this hobby.  There’s the Iowa: Assembly Required crew… their convention is like a home-cooked meal. There’s JoeCustoms.com and JoeBattlelines.com which are the staples of the hobby’s online existence. Responsible for social connections and community projects that without… a hobby this would not be.

There’s Joe Declassified, which as I’ve explained, takes things to another level.   You have Kevin Watts of www.cobra788.blogspot.com, Patrick Stewart of YoJoe and Joe Declassified, Chris Murray of Joe Intel and Joe Declassified… those guys are the experts that the experts go to for answers.   Then there’s people like Amber and Todd Jordan of Kokomo Toys which is a veritable mecca for G.I. Joe collectors… but Amber and Todd are also some of the nicest, most helpful people on the planet.

I mention all of this because these are some of the people and these are some of the things that not only make this hobby great but make it very easy for new collectors or returning collectors to get caught up… and to stay on top of things at the same time.

2012-Canadian-GI-Joe-Convention-Joe-Declassified-Panel-2-300x225Do you go to the Joe conventions? Would you recommend them?

Yes and YES.  I went to my first Joe Con in 2010 and it was amazing.  The best thing about Joe Con, you can go to Joe Con and not even care about G.I. Joe and still have a great time.  There are so many nice and welcoming individuals that you meet at Joe Con.  If I didn’t collect G.I. Joe I would still go every year. I went to the Canadian Joe Con for the first time in 2012 and that was fantastic. There is COIL Con which gets stronger and stronger every year. You can find the COIL documentary on youtube, just search “Coil Con Documentary.” And there’s the Iowa: Assembly Required meet which is extremely unique. Attending a G.I. Joe convention is something I think everyone should try and do.  Whether it is a small, local meet-up or one of the large conventions.

A lot of collectors complain of scalpers. Your opinion?

It is my hope that all adult collectors will one day learn to buy toys like adults.  This is a hobby.  Therefore it is a choice.  When you were a child, your parents bought everything for you. But this is a hobby. Plain and simple.  My motto:  “If you want it, buy it.” I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who are trying to take advantage of other people.  But you can’t file every person out there with an above-retail price as a scalper. Yes, some people are going to try to trick and use buyers to whatever extent they can. As long as you remain informed you can avoid those situations. In fact, if you spend more time networking and being positive and friendly in the hobby,  instead of spending all your time complaining about “scalpers,” the more likely you are to find people or know people who will help you out and then you don’t have to pay inflated prices for the most part.

BUT… again… this is a hobby.  These aren’t things you need.  These are things you want. And if you want them then you have to decide whether or not to get them.  And it stops there, really.

Would you say Hasbro caters to its fans? (Manufacturer Mattel for instance does not seem to care a great deal about their customers)

Coil-Con-Logo---HissTank_1346078826Yes. Well, more specifically, the design team does.  They lurk the forums, they engage as totally and as honestly as possible with fans at the conventions.  But you have to keep in mind a LOT of things.  One is very much overlooked.   That these artists, sculptors, and designers… they have ideas, too.  Also this is their job, their career.   Then you have to take into account the absolute mixed signals they get from fans sometimes.  “We want this but when you give it to us, we’ve decided we don’t want it.”  I’m by no means suggesting the designers are infallible or that Hasbro has never made mistakes.  But I also won’t pretend (as some do) that they don’t have a bottom line.  Some collectors tend to take things really personally.  And they don’t take into account that maybe people at Hasbro do, too.  Then you have to consider things like cost, tooling, outsourcing, legal stuff, packaging, oil and plastic, shipping, steel molds, marketing, pay checks, shareholders, the retailers who have a LOT of control, research, kids, collectors, parents, the competition.  The list goes on and on.  So at the end of the day, when it finally comes down to catering to a few thousand adults, all with different tastes and ideas, all with different budgets and reasons for purchasing toys…  the answer is clear:  yeah, when they can cater they do cater.  And when they REALLY cater… they do it unlike any other toy line on the planet.  Which ties into the next question, isn’t that something!

What, in your humble opinion, is the appeal of the franchise?

There’s nothing else like G.I. Joe.  The vintage line, while its inception is based on the competing lines that existed at the time (Star Wars, Buck Rogers, etc)… G.I. Joe changed everything.  Not just for toys.  G.I. Joe was a force of nature back then.  So many characters, so much personality, there was a time where Hasbro just threw money at the brand and not just the finished product.  They paid their sculptors and artists and marketers a LOT.  Some sculptors would be paid like $8,000 per 2up pattern/sculpture.  Multiply that by the number of G.I. Joe action figures that ended up at retail for $4 or whatever.  And the brand resonated because all money aside, the people behind the brand… their talent and ideas… allowed G.I. Joe to grow and flourish and become iconic.  Whether it was Larry Hama’s file cards which took kids in deeper into a character’s mind and life than you’d think would be possible with toys, or Bill Merklein’s sculpting (which if you ask anyone that knew Bill, will tell you he was “the guy”)… these are the things that made the brand larger than life and created the fans that still exist today.

665These days, obviously things are different.  But here’s the thing… now, compared to all other toy lines that you can find on a shelf at Target or Wal-Mart… there’s STILL nothing else like G.I. Joe.  Lines like the Pursuit of Cobra or the 30th Anniversary are like art fused with toys.  Gorgeous sculpting and inspired designs, whether reinterpreting the icons of the 80’s and 90’s or providing stellar and accurate updates of characters you grew up with… the brand is just unmatched design-wise.  There are a few things lacking these days like the file cards.  Occasionally it is obvious when someone above the design team or an outside influence has kinda maybe over- or underestimated something.  But all in all, despite G.I. Joe’s shortcomings, the toys are AMAZING when they are amazing.  And nothing else comes close.

Which are your favorite and least favorite characters.

I don’t really think I have a favorite or least favorite character.  I mean my dream team of Joes would be something like Updraft, Bullhorn, Sci-Fi, Low-Light, Psyche-Out, Fast Draw, Cover Girl, and Blizzard.   (I’m sure I’m leaving someone out).  I mean if I really had to pick a least favorite character it would someone like Duke or Scarlett or Bazooka.  Maybe Baroness or Sgt. Slaughter.

Was GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra a good interpretation of the property?

Rise of Cobra was so bad as just a film, I don’t mean a G.I. Joe film, I mean just as a film in itself… it was so terrible, that I can’t even get past that point to really think about or talk about whether or not it was a good interpretation of the property.  You can blame the writer’s strike all you like… all that does is serve as evidence that it was a rushed film with bad writing, bad acting, plot holes, CGI holes, and Channing Tatum. As far as a “good interpretation?”  Yeah I mean it was obviously G.I. Joe.  It might not be your G.I. Joe or my G.I. Joe.  But look at Extreme, Sigma 6, Sgt. Savage, Star Brigade, DiC, Sunbow, Marvel, IDW, Devil’s Due… G.I. Joe is really diverse and has many, many different interpretations.   I think had it been a better film, it might have been a “better” interpretation.  But like I said, I don’t really even get that far with it.

Do you look forward to the new movie?

I’m excited that the new film might bring some health to the brand, which no matter how you look at it, hasn’t fully recovered from the inflictions brought upon by Rise of Cobra.  But to be honest, the movie looks kinda fun but it doesn’t look amazing.  I don’t think a sequel to Rise of Cobra was the right move.  I just don’t.  It looks a lot better than the first one but it still looks LIKE the first one.  I just think ROC really shattered the hobby.  Retaliation kinda seems like them trying to put a band-aid on it.  Instead of moving on.

In closing, I can only say thank you. And make that a BIG thank you!

It is at this point I realize I am in way over my head. Conventions, books, collectors, experts, …I need to get it all in.

In the next episode we will be sticking with the toys and figures for a while. Because then we’ll talk to the people who talk about the toys. Yes, on monday, your Brainfreeze columnist gets to talk to the dreaded toy reviewer.




Et alors?