GI Joe was there...and so were we!

I loaded my two sons into the family all-terrain-transport (read: minivan) for Frisco, Texas--and the final day of JoeCon, the 2008 National GIJoe Collector's Convention.

The hobby of GIJoe collecting subdivides along very specific lines: the primary arbiter is one's preference for 12" 'classic' figures versus 3 3/4" 'star wars era' figures (there is also a new 'inbetween' Sigma scale, where the figures are about 8" tall, but that line doesn't yet have a noticeable fan/collector base). The 3 3/4" scale figures were just starting to dominate collecting when the lady wife and I went to the 1998 Convention on a nostalgic whim (and because it was in San Antonio, and there is never a bad excuse to visit San Antonio, and the Alamo); ten years later (and with a big-budget Hollywood movie coming out in 2009 based entirely on the 3 3/4" mythos), I found the 2008 con heavily geared toward the smaller line. Though that scale of figure and all of its attendant Cobra/Dreadnok/'Yo Joe!' mythos postdated my childhood, it had an advantage for my boys, and younger enthusiasts in general: the smaller scale figures and accessories are sufficiently inexpensive that a *lot* of them were given away as door and event prizes (kudos Hasbro and RadioDisney!), so both boys came home with such figures of their own.

I do not consider myself a collector. While I probably have enough action figures to qualify, most were bought for who or what they represented (I have Joes of many figures of historical interest, from Teddy Roosevelt to Ulysses S. Grant to George Patton, for example, and commemoratives of Tuskegee Airmen and NASA events as well as the Sea Wolf-class submarine launch) rather than specifically because they were Joes; moreover, I don't know nearly enough about the hobby. 12" Joes *were* the toy of choice in my youth, however...and I belong to a 'subera' within the 12" classic collector base, the Adventure Team, that didn't get much love a decade ago--but seems to be flourishing now, even dominating the (admittedly diminished) 12" market at the convention. This year's 'convention exclusive' figure pack was a 12" Adventure Team set, the 'Search for the Sasquatch,' which we had to have (and I can say 'we' legitimately, because the boys and I took it out of its packaging and set it up for play as soon as we got home)...and I noticed several such exclusives from recent conventions, including deep sea and polar bear themed sets, had decided 'AT' qualities about them, as well. I suspect the traditionalist Joe collector, whose interests are 12" scale and authentic military reproduction equipment, probably despairs of seeing the smaller scale overtake the hobby generally, and the more lightly-regarded Adventure Team era dominating classic scale--but it was a quite pleasant blast of nostalgia, for me: memories of my (admittedly hard-haired and hard-handed classic) Joe leading my brothers' and neighbor's life-like-haired and kung-fu-gripped Joes on day-long adventures through the cattle pastures and watering ponds of my rural youth (and later across the artificial dirt mountains of construction sites, as it became less rural) with all the great Adventure Team equipment of the era--led by the greatest classic toy I ever owned, the ATII Mobile Support Vehicle (thanks Mom and Dad :)--flooded back to me, as I walked the aisles with my own sons.

Any confluence of subcultures always fascinates me, at events like this: though I did not encounter the local 40K hobbyist who has built a small space marine force fully converted to represent the GIJoe villains Cobra, as I half-expected, one of the first people I bumped into in the hall was Mike Y'Barbo, former Warhammer 40,000 Grand Tournament Winner and a regular opponent of mine in the early tournament days of 40K third edition, toting a bunch of Cobra figures and models out to the parking garage (Mike, a Chaos and Dark Eldar player, and first innovator of what became a GT-dominating army theme for a time, the 'all dark lance all the time' mobile DE force, obviously has a villainous streak in him somewhere). Most pleasant surprise, however, was discovering artist Dave Dorman was a convention guest: Dave is one of my favorite talents, and among his many beautiful licensed paintings for various superhero, Star Wars and other GIJoe products, Dave also did the gorgeous box art for the Sasquatch con exclusive and con Tshirt, which he was happy to sign (you probably know Dave's genre art from somewhere, as his luminous style is very distinctive: Check him out at or his original science fiction work at

Kudos to longtime organizer Brian Savage and all of his con crew (check out the sponsoring GI Joe Collectors Club at for subscriptions to the club newsletter/magazine, which also provides access to exclusive premiums like the Sasquatch set and first word, once it becomes available, about the 2009 JoeCon). I was particularly impressed with how much effort was made to insure kids--like the two I brought in tow--got fully caught up in the excitement: at noon, two score 3 3/4" Joes with functioning parachutes were dropped from a remote-controlled helicopter for the kids to chase, there was a 'GIJoe Boot Camp' where kids could earn merit badges for various thematic tasks like sharpshooting (with water guns), knot-tying, and team-boot-polishing; and a portable rock wall was set up in the parking lot (which my five-year-old at least attempted, and my nine-year-old triumphantly conquered). Inside, there was a 'play pit' with a handsome variety of vehicles, figures and clothing/equipment from all eras for kids to get hands-on with, and an obstacle course with 12" scale remote-controlled Stuart tanks that my sons could have stayed and played with for hours. Uniformed scouts (and, I believe, active-duty military personnel) were also welcomed to the event with free admission. All in all, a first-rate effort to make a collector's event, an adult-oriented con by definition, into something thoroughly family-friendly.

The 2000s are a different era to grow up in than the 1970s were. There are many, many more diversions in terms of toys alone to occupy a boy's interest, to say nothing of electronic games, ownable and rentable movies and hundreds of television channels (instead of five). And there aren't many places where a handful of boys can run off for hours unsupervised and turn an empty dog house into Adventure Team HQ, complete with tanks, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters and jet-packs parked outside to soar off in ever direction in, with only your kitted-out 12" Joe and your imagination to define your day. My boys have a couple of 12" Joes--and now some 3 3/4"s, courtesy of the con, as well--and when they choose to unpack them to play with, a great time is had...but in their 'toy hierarchy,' I don't suspect GIJoe will ever have the kind of supremacy for them he had for me, at the same age. I didn't have Star Wars figures and MegaBloks Dragons and Heroclix superheroes and, for my boys probably most paramount, Warhammer 40K to compete for my attentions. But it is nice that 'America's Moveable Fighting Man' (and his international co-conspirator, Action Man, who was also much in evidence at the con) is still out there, when he *is* called upon. It is nice that there is an event like the annual JoeCon which celebrates so enduring and positive a bit of subculture. And it is especially nice that they do it so well.

I re-joined the Club, before I left the convention. I look forward to receiving the newsletter again, especially as next year's movie ramps up. And if a JoeCon another year happens to be close, or happens to coincide with a family-vacation-worthy destination, I will look forward to going back. And I can guarantee I won't be the only one in this household now eager to return.