Wednesday, April 29, 2020

G.I. Joe & Me

I'm 43 years old, and like so many of my generation, I've somehow allowed G.I. Joe toys to re-enter my life.

I promise I wasn't even trying. It was all really sort of thrust upon me in the true Shakespearean sense.

Sure, I could have turned away and continued on with getting old and lame, but there Joe was softly a-knockin', and I just kinda let him in. We embraced, and a fiery old passion was rekindled.

To continue down this track, I've definitely gone to third base with Joe at this point. Though to be fair, the fact I've got a copy of Silent Interlude signed by none other than Larry Hama, and I didn't have to stand in line to get it probably qualifies as a home run.

So yeah, I guess I've gone all the way with Joe.

Please understand: I don't go to conventions or obsess about acquiring more shit, but not long ago I had nothing G.I. Joe. These days, I'm fairly loaded -- A bigger collection than I had as a kid by some measure.

Here's what happened

(This was over five years ago)

A garage sale was imminent in Henderson, KY. My parents' next-door neighbors had a large box of well-used Joes that belonged to their two sons and were nice enough to give me first dibs on it.

Never mind that these were the kinds of Joes and Cobras so heavily played with that many were missing their little plastic penis parts and were caked with late-'80s play slime, among other things.

The opportunity here was clear: I was to be their savior.

The Bannwart Collection. Acquired September 2014.

Right around the same time, a coworker was telling me about how he still had his entire original G.I. Joe collection. A seriously stunning achievement: Four of those Official Collector Display Cases full of Joes and Cobras from the early-to-mid '80s in pristine condition with all the accessories. It was like they'd never been played with.

Portions of The Vincent Collection.

Only problem, he said, was the o-rings inside them all had rotted out, so most of them were either in pieces or were Fully Poseable Modern Army Figures of the loose and floppy variety.

I told him I knew how to fix those. He handed them over and told me to keep any duplicates in return for fixing the entire lot. The fact he planned on giving the whole thing to his then 4-year-old daughter was a large cloud looming over the proceedings I could not fully process, but I nursed the broken figures back to health as if they were my own, and for the brief time they were in my possession, I saw a beauty that had eluded me for decades.

What a 4-year-old could do to those beautiful things -- the possibilities are too painful to consider. I can only dream they somehow escaped certain doom like they had so many times in the syndicated cartoon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Following the initial publication of this post, we have been notified that the little girl in question and her two siblings were denied any playtime or contact with the recently repaired Joes, and they currently sit safely in storage far above their reach. This decision apparently came following an observed play test with vintage Star Wars toys during which Darth Vader's cape was tragically torn. We extend our most heartfelt gratitude for the good sense exhibited by Mr. Vincent and apologize wholeheartedly if the children were at all offended by our characterization of them as little Joe-killing savages. 

Anyway, mere weeks after returning the restored Vincent Collection, yet another coworker came to me with his own childhood collection and asked if I wanted to do the same for him. Boxes of Joes and Cobras -- huge variety in amazing shape except, once again, for their decaying o-rings.

Suffice it to say that I did what I had to do, as only I could do it.

The Comes Collection (before).
The Comes Collection (in surgery).
The Comes Collection (after).

Within a couple of months, I had acquired someone's childhood collection and restored two others. My thoughts at the time:

That was the most goddamn fun I've had in quite a while. I think I'll just sort of keep rolling with this and see what happens.

Cut to a few years later, and I'm flying from Seattle to Baltimore to spend a long weekend with my oldest friend repairing a massive amount of old Joes and Cobras in his basement before splitting up the spoils.

And then, in February 2020, mere weeks before the onset of Rona Pandy 2020, I scored a toy collector's wet dream.

But before we get to that, let's address the big question that really gets to the heart of what's going on here.

What happened to my childhood G.I. Joe collection?

Of all the G.I. Joe toys I had as a kid in South Buffalo, only the character file cards cut from the backs of the packaging have survived. The reasons for that span the spectrum of unbridled childhood joy to sheer adolescent insanity.

In short, I played with those toys so much that little remained. Whether they were lost, broken or in one inexplicable moment of madness in the summer of 1988 thrown one-by-one up into the Sorrento Cheese-infused air and obliterated with a baseball bat. Their tiny heads collected in a small plastic box.

There were witnesses to the horrible spectacle that occurred in that backyard on Eden St. in South Buffalo. If only one of them would have shaken me -- slapped me into a more sane and lucid state -- perhaps today my poor wife wouldn't have to walk by Cobra Commander shaking his fist at her as she enters and exits her car.

Three of my favorites -- Ace, Wild Bill and Scrap Iron -- survived the massacre only because they were lost at the time. They turned up during the big move from western New York to western Kentucky and were eventually given up ...

... in a garage sale of all things.

From high school to college to a married man and father, I carried the burden of those senseless actions -- awful sins for which I can finally atone. I treated my own G.I. Joes with such cynical violence that I am forever obligated to save what Joes I can from whatever hell may await them. Though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I was an altar boy for a period, and this is my life penance:
No vintage Joe nor Cobra shall suffer so long as I breathe.

The Score

The short of it is I was paying bills in my garage when someone in my local Buy Nothing group put her husband's entire G.I. Joe collection up for grabs. To say I nearly shit myself upon reading the post would be a gross exaggeration, but within seconds I was in the throes of a full adrenaline rush.

To my dismay a few people had already expressed their interest before I could -- strategically mentioning their little children and the idea of a shared father-son experience with the toys as reasons they were the more worthy candidates.

Disgusted with humanity, I took the high road and rightly declared that I was the only logical choice as none among the other interested parties were capable of giving these priceless artifacts from the 1980s the loving home they deserved. To hammer home the point, I pleaded my case in a direct message to the wife of the poor man about to forever lose his childhood that she had to choose me.

And then this wife made us wait until the NEXT morning before the winner would be announced.

I hardly slept. The thought of someone else walking off with that prize was more than I could stand.

And of course, when I checked my phone soon after waking up, a winner was chosen, and it wasn't me. It was some other dad who expressed how neat it would be to rummage through this rare collection of toys about which he surely knew nothing with his supposed son.

I was apoplectic. Even after calming down, I refused to accept that I had lost. I sent the winner -- we'll call him Tom S. -- a direct message informing him that I'd be happy to take whatever bits of the haul he didn't care to keep.

Again, I am agnostic in every sense of the word, but God bless Tom S., because he wrote me back:

Why do you want the toys?

Holy shit was this door wide open again. I knew right then and there that I had him.

I replied with a carefully thought-out treatise detailing my history of restoring vintage Joe collections and how -- ahem -- my four-year-old and I would love the chance at restoring this particular collection.

He told me to just come get it. Turns out his kid wasn't nearly as into it as he thought he'd be, and the whole shebang would be waiting for me out in front of his garage.

Motherfucker. God bless Tom S. indeed.

It all came in two large boxes that had been collecting dust in a Texas attic for who knows how many years.

The Buy Nothing Collection: Box 1.

The Buy Nothing Collection: Box 1 opened.

The Buy Nothing Collection: Box 2.

There weren't a ton of actual Joes, but the ones included were in great shape, and the number of complete vehicle and play sets more than made up for any lack of actual figures.

This guy saved every vehicle blueprint, character file card and redeemable flag point that came into his possession. He had created his own folders for storing this stuff, complete with his elementary-level-handwriting-labeling system. Everything smelled like it had come from a different time and place.

This was a time capsule from the 1980s -- a window into someone's childhood that seemed a lot like my own. The pics below are just a few highlights.

I had just enough o-rings left to fix these guys.
The Cobra Rattler was missing only a single missile. I did a quick clean-up job on it and kept the original stickers.

 Not pictured are the APC, Dragonfly XH-1 (broken rotor mast sadly), VAMP, Killer W.H.A.L.E, Armadillo, Silver Mirage (broken wheel), Headquarters Command Center, JUMP, Triple T, Cobra Mamba and Tactical Battle Platform.

The MMS, Manta and Cobra Rifle Range were sent across country to my friend Paul in Baltimore as part of Operation: Share The Spoils. For the record, it was Paul who sent me that book signed by Larry Hama.

The MMS and Hawk happily resettled in Bel Air, MD.

My very first G.I. Joe toy, the MOBAT -- Motorized Battle Tank -- was my big Santa present for Xmas 1983. And though Santa must have accidentally thrown out the sticker sheet on mine, I was enthralled by it.

I remember staring at Steeler's face and being fascinated by his odd expression. He was the Tank Commander, and he looked bored. He came with an uzi and a visor none of the other Joes had. I thought he was awesome.

Incidentally, look at the pics above (Hawk) and below (Steeler). Same head.

Anyway, my original MOBAT, as great as it was, was eventually lost to the sands of time. In acquiring this amazing collection, I once again had the MOBAT -- complete with a Steeler in fantastic condition and the evasive little plastic mini-cannon cover on the top turret hatch.

I removed all of the original stickers, cleaned it and used a X-ACTO knife to apply new stickers from ToyHax (formerly reprolabels) with surgical precision. Little Dom was happy to help me with the new stickers, so I guess the part about doing this with my kid wasn't complete horse shit.

After all these years, I once again have a MOBAT. And it still works!

Now for the real question: Where the hell am I gonna put all of this shit?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Don't Call Me Stupid

I finished my January Animation Focus session with the great Carolina Lopez Dau last week, which produced the following:

It could maybe use another refinement pass, but I think I'm done with it for now.

I've been wanting to animate to a clip from A Fish Called Wanda for years now, and I ended up going with this one because it's short, which allowed me to go deep on it in the time that I had available to work on it.

I used the old, reliable -- and excellent -- Morpheus rig, which allowed me to make it look a little bit like Kevin Kline's Otto.

For shits, here are a couple of the early blocked-out passes to get a sense of where I started.

After my first feedback session with Carolina, I reworked the blocking pass entirely and came up with something much closer to the final piece. I feel like I could have gone in any number of directions with this, and I purposely avoided watching the actual scene from the movie in the interest of keeping the performance fresh and my own.

And besides, who could possibly beat Kevin Kline as Otto? Certainly not me.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Visionaries WIP Update

Really, really, really trying to wrap up some of these personal projects I've started and haven't been able to finish. Still not there with this Visionaries project I started a little while ago, but I have made a bit of progress. Unfortunately, I feel like it's still only half baked!

Still a lot I need to do with this one: Not happy with the owl's animation, and I still need to do the bit where he imbues Leoric with his "wisdom." Leoric will need to react to it and assume his idle pose at the end, and then there's all the FX that goes along with it.

I still want to tackle the following animations before moving on to the next thing:

  • Visionaries title animation
  • Lion transformation revisions
  • Idle animation
  • Whip reveal + attack animation
  • Walk or run animation

After that, I may move on from Visionaries and come back to it later when things finally calm down on the job hunt front. Eventually, I would love to do another character, namely Witterquick or one of the Darkling Lords (or even Merklyn). I also thought about doing a scrolling Prysmos background sequence with one of the Spectral Knights' vehicles speeding through the foreground.

We'll see how it goes I guess.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Spider-Man On The Eve Of 2019

Since 2018 was the year of the Spider-Verse, I've been itching to get to some fun 2D Spidey animations. I've got a couple more I'd like to do, but I started with this one, which pays a bit of tribute to a shot from the intro to Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends -- a Saturday morning cartoon I never missed as a kid.

I really wanted to approach Spidey's design in the Marvel Vs. Capcom games with this, which in my opinion is exactly how he should look in a video game. I didn't go quite so cartoony exaggerated, but it was definitely in my head as I did it. 

I also just love classic Spidey -- the one I grew up reading. With all of these crazy new versions of the character out there nowadays, I really wanted to bring it back to the original.

But even when I first started reading the comic books -- in the early to mid-80s -- they gave him a completely new costume which was not without some controversy. Looking back on it, I can't believe what a radical departure the black and white suit was compared to the original.

Anyway, I've always had a soft spot for it, so I wanted to depict the two versions of Spider-Man I grew up with -- pre-Ben Reilly-clone-Miles-Morales-Spider-Gwen-etc Spider-Man.

(Though it could be cool to include the 2099 version here, since that particular book was among the last I bought before I stopped buying comics).

I'd love to just keep doing these for the next month, but I've got an Animation Focus assignment to get to work on. So much I wanna do. It's past 4 am. Where can I find the time?

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Only had time to animate the BACK of this year's Christmas card. Started doing the front and ran outta time. Maybe when we get back from Oregon in a couple days.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Engine Trouble -- Final!

Added some animation to the girl to finish this one off. Next!

I really wanna do a Spider-Man piece to add to all the Spider-Verse madness going on.