GeneralsJoes Conversation with Mark Bellomo

I hesitate to call this an “interview” because when I have a chance to talk with Mark Bellomo about G.I. Joe and toys, it feels a lot less formal than that.  When Mark let me know about Totally Tubular ’80s Toys, I knew it was a good chance to talk to him a little bit about the book, and about the world of G.I. Joe in 2010, and as expected, his answers really deliver the goods.  He’s got terrific insight, some invaluable information, and it’s just a great read.

Mark Bellomo has been able to take his love of toys and really build a secondary career out of it, and I think he’s got some terrific “behind the scenes” insight that toy fans would love to know.

To read the full interview, click the “Read the Rest of this Entry” link below.  And of course, do yourself a favor and consider picking up Totally Tubular ’80s Toys at Amazon.com.  You can also check out my full review right here.

GJ: Congratulations on producing another excellent toy book!

MB: Right on, brother-man!  Totally Tubular 80’s Toys was both a labor of love AND a compulsion.

GJ: Where do you find all the free time?

MB: I’m an ergomaniac who works 18-20 hours per day; I haven’t had a vacation amounting to more than three days since my honeymoon back in 2005.  Then again, I go through physical withdrawal if I haven’t engaged in something monumentally productive within a 24-hour span; I’m not kidding, here.  More specifically, I’m an “achievement-oriented workaholic.”  Right now, I’m writing the next intro to IDW’s G.I. Joe: Special Missions volume three, I’m noting prices and new products for the Star Wars section Krause’s Toys & Prices 2012, I’m performing lots of press for Totally Tubular, and I’m writing a 2.2 million dollar grant for my university.

GJ: So, I assume you have a normal full time job, or is this now your official occupation?

MB: I have a VERY full time job as the Associate Director of Special Programs at a public university in Upstate New York.  At the college, I administrate two Federal grants which serve well over 2000 students per academic year: a Talent Search grant—essentially comprised of ten staff members who travel to the local high schools and middle schools of five different counties where they directly assist first-generation, income eligible (low-income) students who have the potential to succeed in higher education but do not have the means, and a Student Support Services grant—a six-member staff and another seventy+ tutors who provide first-generation, income-eligible college students with services that will help them to pursue a post-secondary education (e.g. peer tutoring , writers’ assistance, study skills, research writing workshops, financial literacy presentations, and specialized assistance in working with ED, PD, or LD students [university students with Emotional Disabilities, Physical Disabilities, or Learning Disabilities]).

Writing books about action figures, toys and pop culture is one of my hobbies… a logical extension of merely collecting action figures, toys, and pop culture memorabilia.

GJ: When did you feel like you made the leap from “normal” fan to toy “entrepreneur”?

MB: I don’t know if—in my mind—I’ve EVER made the leap from toy fan to entrepreneur.  Listen, man… I’m just a fan like any other collector out there.  I just happened to apply my literary background to toy collecting.  I still get AS excited as everyone else when they find the latest assortment of G.I. Joe: The Pursuit of Cobra action figures hanging on the retail pegs of a local department store.

My good fortune in studying American Modernist writers early on in my academic career lends itself to writing collectible guides.  You see, many of the best Modernist writers utilized a very terse, compact, viscous style and employed an exceedingly careful word choice (“le mot juste”… a term Flaubert coined to describe writers who possesses a slavish devotion to finding the perfect word)—a word choice that oddly enough translates into constructing succinct flavor text for entries placed into action figure guidebooks (!).  Whether writing about vintage Star Wars action figures or über-popular modern toy lines such as Mattel’s 6” DC [Universe] Classics, the perfect word choice is quite important—heck, even when commenting on a character’s fictional existence.

GJ: I know with your G.I. Joe books, you took pride in the fact that you owned everything you took pictures of for the book.  Is that the case for Totally Tubular 80’s Toys as well?

MB: Every toy pictured in every photo in every one of my books is from my own personal collection. It’s a rule of mine that I’ll NEVER break.  The reason for this is simple: How can someone write a book about a series of artifacts, in an educated manner, if they haven’t physically manipulated each artifact?  This imperative has forced my hand to complete the following toy lines: Mego’s 8” World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (+ Planet of the Apes, Wizard of Oz, Star Trek, CHiPs, Dukes of Hazard, etc.), vintage 3 ¾” and 12” Star Wars, Playmates’ Star Trek: The Next Generation, modern Star Wars, Marvel Legends (Toy Biz and Hasbro), Transformers: Generation One (and Gen Two, etc.), DC Universe Classics, vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (everything from the first three years: 1988-1990), vintage and modern 3 ¾” G.I. Joe line (everything from ’82-on), Thundercats, Silverhawks, Palisades’ Muppets, Playmates’ Simpsons, and heaps of other boys’ toy lines… and when I say I’ve completed these lines, I mean I own all of the domestically-released action figures, vehicles, playsets, weapons, accessories, paperwork, and creatures in these toy lines.

However, perhaps more important than this rigorously binding rule is the fact that… well… I LOVE toys and action figures.  I JUST can’t get enough of them.  I love action figures and toys to such an extent that I want to memorialize these artifacts by researching them, and then documenting their history and back story in my books.  I can’t tell you how much sleep I’ve lost in my life thinking about action figures, both as a kid and as an adult.  It’d amount to years.

Now, most folks would think that at this point in my life I should feel satisfied with the depth and breadth of my collection—that this guy who owns almost 30,000 action figures and around 120,000 comic books should be finished collecting—particularly after I’ve completed all of my favorite toy lines.  But there’s always more great stuff out there.   Recently, I feel compelled to branch out and tell the story of many girls’ toys lines: Strawberry Shortcake, She-Ra (Princess of Power), Rainbow Brite, Glamour Gals, Barbie, Cabbage Patch Kids, etc., etc., etc.  Most people ask me: “Where do you keep all this stuff?”

Apart from in my home (where I VAULT all my VERY high-end collectibles, protecting them with weapons [plural] and an alarm system), I own three 15’ long x 15’ wide x 10’ high storage spaces along with three other places where I keep my collectibles—they’re spread out all across New York State.  You can view one of these storage spaces on Chad Hucal’s independent film The Collectable Spectacle, a YouTube movie that records—in detail—the process of putting together the 2nd edition of my Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe.  For those of you who watch the film: fear not folks, I’ve cleaned up my toys, and have begun to preserve my collection a little better since then.

GJ: What was the genesis of the Totally Tubular 80’s Toys book?

MB: As I was writing the 2nd edition of The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe, I was thinking ahead to my next project; whenever I’m in the midst of completing ONE book, I’m always concerned about pitching my NEXT book.  During this process back in late 2008, I hinted to my acquisitions editor that I felt Krause should produce a toy guide that could encapsulate all of those secondary and tertiary toy lines from the eighties that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) stand on their own due to the relatively few pieces contained in these collections.  My editor replied: “Could we focus on the 1980’s?”  Of course we could!

So then, I took all of the secondary and tertiary toy lines of the 1980’s that wouldn’t stand alone in a book unto themselves (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, M.A.S.K., Bionic Six, Silverhawks, etc.), combined them with the most popular primary toy lines of the 80’s which were utilized as linchpins (Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Masters of the Universe), and suggested to Paul Kennedy (my sainted acquisitions editor) that we include Top Ten Lists for television programs,  films, Billboard singles, and other assorted tidbits of pop culture trivia from the 1980’s.  Mix in entries on stuffed animals, video games, trendy fads and crazes, board games, and assorted plush and PVC toys, and you’ve got the final product.  I’m just glad that Krause footed the bill for all of those spectacular photos of celebrities and movie stars to utilize at the end of each chapter!

GJ: How was producing this book different than the books you’ve made focused on a singular toy line?

MB: All of the books I’ve ever written are time-consuming, unique experiences that demand a lot of ardent perseverance.  For instance, it takes me about six full months to research the material for each guide I construct.  So then, from June 2009 until January 2010, I surrounded myself with every aspect of the 1980’s.  I watched endless 80’s movies: dramas, comedies, thrillers, action/adventures.  I “YouTubed” as many 80’s toy commercials as I could find, from Chia Pet advertisements to clips of Jem and the Holograms.  I viewed the many DVD boxed sets (and some antiquated VHS tapes) that were available at retail for every 80’s toy line in the book, from Centurions to The Dukes of Hazzard to Rambo and the Forces of Freedom.  Most importantly, I checked every toy sample from every line of my collection to ensure that I had all of the toys’ various accessories required for the book’s photos; if a toy wasn’t complete… it wasn’t included.  I know how obsessive this seems, but for me to misrepresent an accessory in any of my guides is inexcusable: I should be thrown into a gunny sack for a violation of this rule.

For instance, how many people know that the Princess of Power Crystal Castle (p. 119) includes two carpets: One for She-Ra’s bedroom and one for the bath?  Or how about spending three full years finding a MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) M*A*S*H* 4077th Military Base playset in order to ensure that the toy has all of its appropriate accessories such as the free-standing basketball hoop, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III’s record player, or the “medical chart” labels that attach to the headboard of each of the hospital patients’ beds?

It took years (decades, actually) to compile the toy collection featured in this book, and it is my responsibility to represent these toys responsibly.  To that end, there were a few toys that were either pulled at the 11th hour due to their incomplete nature, and conversely, there were some accessories that arrived in the mail mere days before the photo shoot occurred in the summer of 2009 in order for me to photograph a particular toy.

GJ: Was it a challenge balancing a smaller level of detail, or trying to dig out only the “hot points” versus being able to fully explore each toy line in its fullest?

MB: Indeed it was a challenge.  I had to cut—are you ready for this?—100,000+ words from the book over the course of the last two weeks before submission.  I have a real problem with “pulling back” in regards to detail.  I always want to add more to my books: more flavor text, more images, more EVERYTHING.  But there’s only so much you can do within the context of a 256-page, photo-heavy book.

GJ: When can we expect to see a fully dedicated My Little Pony tome?  Inquiring minds (like my 5-year old) want to know!

MB: Unfortunately Justin, the total amount of pieces within the My Little Pony line is truly massive, with the size of a complete MLP collection rivaling the dimensions of almost every male-oriented toy line ever created.  My Little Pony’s simple formula—selling a colorful, pint-sized pony with rooted hair and vibrant accessories to young girls—is testament to the line’s thirty-plus year endurance (1983-present).

Tell your daughter that I’m sorry, but due to the limited amount of time I have in my life, I’m more than likely not going to construct a My Little Pony guidebook (well… never say never).  However, there is a SPECTACULAR guide out there for MLP fans which I don’t mind pimping one bit.  For your daughter’s sake, check out Summer Hayes’ The My Little Pony G1 Collector’s Inventory—it’s quite brilliant:   http://www.amazon.com/Little-Pony-Collectors-Inventory-illustrated/dp/0978606310/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1287961128&sr=1-1 .

On a related note, you mentioning your daughter’s love of My Little Pony will allow me to make an important digression: in the two years I spent researching the decade of the 1980’s for Totally Tubular, I grew a profoundly deep appreciation for 80’s girls’ toy lines.  From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, when collecting girls’ toy lines, the colorful and inventive designs make them stand out on a display shelf.  If your wife or girlfriend grew up in the 1980’s like mine did, then she’ll appreciate your interest in these toys.

My main attraction to these girls’ toy lines—Strawberry Shortcake, Glamour Gals, Rainbow Brite, She-Ra the Princess of Power, and Jem and the Holograms (among many others)—is that they’re a real challenge to collect and complete with all of their respective accessories.

Let’s use the best example we can; a girls’ toy line that represents what I’m trying to explain: She-Ra, Princess of Power.  Consider this: What’s the ratio in production of Mattel’s [He-Man and the] Masters of the Universe action figures to the company’s [She-Ra,] Princess of Power fashion dolls?  10 to 1?  20 to 1?  100 to 1?  Female action figures such as She-Ra were produced in MUCH smaller quantities in relation to their male counterparts.  For instance, the rarest DOMESTIC Masters of the Universe figure is… let’s see: Scare Glow with the solid green variation of his halberd (Series Six, 1987).  And what does he sell for MLC (Mint, Loose, and Complete)?  $100-115 at the most?

Well… the rarest domestic Princess of Power doll from the She-Ra line is Spinnerella (Series Three, 1987).  There hasn’t been a recorded sale of this figure MLC or MOSC (Mint on Sealed Card) on eBay in months (MLC), if not years (MOSC).  Yet in order to complete my POP collection (when drafting my He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book, I’ll cover the She-Ra, Princess of Power line to add weight to the tome), I was willing to purchase Spinnerella for $800-900 MLC; double-down on that amount for a MOC specimen.

Why is she so expensive?  The price is prohibitively high because there’s SOOOOO much more to contend with when collecting female action figures.  When you combine low production numbers with the toy’s delicate nature and the figure’s fragile, unique, fabric accessories, you have an artifact that’s almost worth its weight in gold.

For comparison’s sake, we’ll use an accessible example for comparison’s sake.

Let’s look at the original Luke Skywalker figure from 1978.  When you open the package, you have the Luke figure itself and his sliding yellow lightsaber.  That’s it: a solid figure with rough paint applications and a single accessory.  With Spinnerella, you’ve got an action figure with delicate paint applications and long, easily-damaged rooted hair.  Spinnerella also comes with a slew of soft goods: a fabric hairpiece, a fabric belt with colorful fabric streamers, and two fabric wristbands with streamers.  Other than her outfit, Spinnerella also came complete with a pink stand (with action feature), a pink shield, a pink comb, and a paper Princess of Power mini-comic entitled “The Great Rebellion.”  In comparison to male action figures, there’s so very much more to vie for when collecting female action figures.  They’re AWESOME; I wish more male collectors would give them a chance.

The great thing about including female action figures, fashion dolls, and plush toys in Totally Tubular is the fact that I’m hearing tales from all over the U.S. of male collectors buying the book, reading it, loving it, then walking into their living room one evening to find their wife or girlfriend reading the book from cover-to-cover.  I think that’s one of the nicest complements I could possibly receive!

GJ: How did you decide which toy lines to cover and which ones to leave out of the 80’s book?  I would think the decision was easy for some, but perhaps not for others.  For instance, in 1987 I love seeing Captain Power and Visionaries, yet didn’t see anything for “Spiral Zone” or “Bravestarr”.  Granted, I understand there’s no way to cover them all, but what goes into each decision for which makes the “cut” and which doesn’t?

MB: Okay.  I took a list of 140 toy lines that were produced between 1980 and 1989 to 250 people from different walks of life: friends, acquaintances in the hobby, a few college students, a slew of convention-goers, a smattering of media members, and most importantly—LOTS of “average Joes [and Janes]” who grew up in the eighties and were completely unfamiliar with the collectible market (these folks MUST buy the book to drive sales).  These were the people I truly wanted to reach with Totally Tubular 80’s Toys, so I had to carefully note which toy lines they responded to… and unfortunately, as cool as Spiral Zone figures are—they had NO idea what the heck those thingies were.  So then, I had the interviewee place a check mark by each of the 140 toy lines that they either: recognized fondly, that they recognized as popular, or that they thought I should include in the book.   With the exception of two or three lines (due to either textual constraints, poor photos, or limited availability of the toys in question), the 100 toy lines included in Totally Tubular 80’s Toys were the ones that received the most check marks.  I know, I know… as an action figure fan, it’s difficult to believe that Barnyard Commandos beat out Spiral Zone (Come ON!  I wanted an excuse to open my MISB Overlord to display him!), that New Kids on the Block trumped Bravestarr (would have LOVED to have a pic in the book of Fort Kerium fully assembled), and that Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies surpassed Kenner’s Police Academy (and me with a MOSC Stakeout Sweetchuck…) in terms of popularity, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The thirty-nine 80’s toy lines that didn’t make it into the book, but should appear on my upcoming website(which should be up and running by March 2011) are:

Air Raiders, Army Ants, Blackstar, Bravestarr, Cabbage Patch Kids (poseable action figures), Care Bears (poseable action figures), CHiPs (8” & 3 ¾” figures [not including these figures in the book was a MISTAKE!!!]), Crystar, Defenders of the Earth, Dragonriders of the Styx, Dukes of Hazzard, Dune, Eagle Force, Filmation’s Ghostbusters, Food Fighters, Golden Girl, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Infaceables, Lost World of the Warlord (cut from Totally Tubular at the 11th hour), Love Boat (cut at the 11th hour), Magnum. P.I.  (couldn’t obtain the LJN Ferrari and figure set in time to go to print…), Mighty Crusaders, My Buddy (MISTAKE!!!), My Pet Monster and Rark (MISTAKE!!!), Other World, Police Academy, Power Lords, Sgt. Rock, Shrinky Dinks (cut at the 11th hour), Sky Commanders, Spiral Zone, Starcom, Starriors, Tigersharks, Universal Monsters (3 ¾” Remco), Warrior Beasts, Wheeled Warriors, [Official] World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (produced domestically ‘till 1983; cut at the 11th hour, much to my sadness…), and Zorro (the 3 ¾” Gabriel line)

GJ: Would you ever consider doing an additional volume or an “Appendix” of sorts covering some of the more obscure stuff?  I understand it would be a very niche market, but us obscure 80’s toy fans have to have something to hold on to…

MB: I would DEFINITELY be interested in pursuing an appendix to my books covering some of the more obscure toy lines.  I’ll probably post this appendix within a global system of interconnected computer networks that can be accessed by anyone connected to the “Inter-Net.”  It’ll probably be a “Web Site”!  It’ll probably be a REALLY big website.  A REALLY, REALLY big website that will allow anyone with an Internet connection the ability to access every domestic 3 ¾” G.I. Joe figure, playset, vehicle, and accessory, PLUS every domestic vintage 3 ¾” and 12” Star Wars figure, creature, playset, vehicle, and accessory (yup… even the mail-away stuff and vinyl cases).

Also throw into these online toy archives the entire line of domestic (and some Japanese [e.g. Victory Saber, etc.]) Generation One Transformers figures and accessories, as well as images and flavor text for every vintage domestic (and some European [e.g. Tytus, Megator,etc.]) Masters of the Universe figure, creature, playset, vehicle, and accessory.  And a bunch of other toy lines… such as all of those memorialized in Totally Tubular.  Plus more.  How about Micronauts?  Mego figures?  Every Marvel Legend figure plus variants?  Every DC Universe Classic plus variants?  Every Marvel Universe 3 ¾” figure?  G.I. Joe figures, vehicles, weapons and accessories from 1997-present?  Masters of the Universe Classics?  Shogun Warriors?  Playmates Star Trek?

MANY of these lines DEMAND to be covered in great detail on the Internet.  But for some odd reason, they’re just NOT.  Furthermore, wouldn’t it be nice for collectors to have a one-stop research site—a comprehensive, research-based action figure website that they DON’T HAVE TO SUBSCRIBE TO!  A website that’ll not only show them a good selection of cool action figures that allows collectors to trace the development of the hobby since its inception in 1964 (12” Joes, and Ideal’s Captain Action [1966 ), but will showcase all the loose pieces and parts that toys were produced with these figures, allowing collectors to search for characters from every major toy line in one place.  I’m trying to get the money together for this site right now; this is the most ambitious project I’ve ever embarked upon…  and it’s going to take a lot to get it off the ground.

www.markbellomo.com.  Up and running by the beginning of March, 2011.

And you know what?  To accompany these action figure archives, I’ll probably post some exclusive interviews with folks like Bob Budiansky (for G1 Transformers), Larry Hama (for 3 ¾” Joes and C.O.P.S. ‘n Crooks), Jim Shooter (because during his tenure at Marvel Comics, the company pursued licensed properties like they were goin’ out of style…), Ron Rudat (who worked on MANY different toy lines and is one of the nicest guys in the galaxy), Donald Glut (for Masters of the Universe; there’s LOTS of info that should be made public) and even some exclusive info on the late, great creator of the ThunderCats that I’ve been sandbagging for a while… those ThunderCats fans out there know of whom I speak.

GJ: So now that you’ve got this book in the bag, what’s next on the agenda?

MB: See above.  My website is going to be a BIG project.  Then… a tome on super-heroes perhaps?  Star Wars?  I’m not sure what’s next.  But the website takes precedence over anything else right now.

GJ: Any plans for a third volume of The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe?  I know there likely isn’t enough demand for anything past 1994, but I’m sure the readers would love to know.

MB: There will be a third edition of The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe: 1982-1994.  Probably in two or three more years with a few extra pages and updated prices… in time for the next G.I. Joe film.  As for a companion VOLUME?  Almost every single 3 ¾” G.I. Joe collector who’s a fan of The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe approaches me and asks at every one of my convention appearances: “When are you going to come out with a book covering figures and vehicles from 1997-present?”

My answer:  “IT WOULD BE VERY, VERY DIFFICULT TO JUSTIFY THIS TO A BOOK COMPANY.”

For this proposed second volume, if you JUST tally up the action figures—sans vehicles and accessories—that were released between 1997 and 2006 (for the sake of length, let’s stop this second volume before 2007; prior to Hasbro releasing the 25th Anniversary line AND before G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra premiered), you’re talking a little less than 750 toys with accessories (approx. 640 figures and 100+ vehicles).  When proposing/pitching this book to the marketing execs at Krause/F&W, we must also be aware of the fact that the designer who constructs the book’s layout must also be mindful that the accessories included with the action figures from 2002-present were often larger and FAR more complex than their vintage counterparts’—and released in MUCH greater numbers.  Which means, at a 256 page minimum (the smallest page count where we can ask customers to pony up $24.99 at retail), we’re talking two-and-a-half figures per page WITHOUT allowing for larger borders around each figure for the increased weapon load.  That’s ALSO not including the 100+ vehicles and accessories that were released by Hasbro during that time period.  Remember, we also need to add eight pages for front matter (index, intro, foreword, acknowledgments, “How to Use This Book”), a two-page index, a page dedicated to a bibliography, and two full pages at the beginning of each chapter for an introductory spread (18 MORE pages).

Page count would SURELY be an issue for this second volume, The Ultimate Guide to G.I. Joe: Volume Two; 1997-2006.

Ultimately, it would be the lagging sales of the book which would kill it from the first day of release.  If the sales goal for each collectible book that I sell is a minimum of… let’s say, 15,000 copies over the course of three years (five thousand copies per year), I think that pitching a second volume of this book would perform a disservice to Krause—there’s NO WAY we’d sell 5,000 copies per year of the second volume.  Aficionados and casual fans alike remember the original vintage line quite fondly because of iconic characters such as Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Roadblock, Destro, Cobra Commander, the Baroness, Zartan, the Crimson Guard Commanders, and Major Bludd.  Furthermore, they’ll remember and connect with these characters because of the figures being outfitted in their original costumes.  NOT in Valor vs. Venom attire, and not in G.I. Joe vs. Cobra attire.

Moreover, casual G.I. Joe fans aren’t familiar with characters such as Dart, Sure Fire, Neo-Vipers, Agent Faces, Black Out, Kamakura, Cobra Coils, and many, many others.  The book would be a VERY difficult sale at retail.  I believe we’d only move between 650-1500 copies during the lifetime of the book.

GJ: Recently, at the Canadian JoeCon, you’d mentioned something about G.I. Joe: Special Missions for IDW.  Can you elaborate on your connection to that?

MB: I cannot elaborate on my connection to G.I. Joe: Special Missions in any capacity, other than to encourage Joe fans—whether seasoned veteran or novice beginner—to pick up the trade paperback collections of IDW’s G.I. Joe: Special Missions (volumes 1-4) if you’re fond of brilliant narratives (Larry Hama), gorgeous artwork (mostly Herb Trimpe), and… well-researched forewords written by yours truly.

GJ: So, I would think, after being in the hobby so long, you’ve pretty much seen it all.  Are you ever surprised by something that happens in the toy industry these days?

MB: Oh my, yes.  I remember back in ’04 I said to my collector friend Adam, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Hasbro re-released single-carded 3 ¾” G.I. Joe action figures based on their classic designs?  With fully-painted artwork on their packages?  And with improved poseability and tooling?”

And Hasbro—to my shock and eternal gratitude—delivered with the 25th anniversary G.I. Joe line!

Just a few years back I was musing on the ’82 cardbacks for the original eight Masters of the Universe figures (He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela, Stratos, Skeletor, Beast Man, Zodac, and Mer-Man), commenting to a fellow collector that this gorgeous painted artwork for the original eight characters looked dissimilar to the characters’ plastic counterparts: something was lost in the translation.  Merely gaze upon the painted representation of the original Mer-Man and you’ll see what I mean: his painted head looks NOTHING like the head of his action figure.

Then Mattel released their brilliant (but QUITE expensive) Masters of the Universe Classics.  The 2009 Mer-Man release in this line of action figures includes an extra head within its package that looks EXACTLY like the original 8-back painting of Mer-Man’s face!

Justin, it seems we’re standing witness to an age when collectors finally have the power to communicate to major toy companies.  These companies will ACTUALLY LISTEN to collectors—and not just pay them lip service—rewarding collectors by allowing them to directly influence the company’s product line.  Between Hasbro’s “Fan Choice” Star Wars figures and Mattel’s DC Universe Classics (among others), collectors have a much higher stake in what’s being produced for sale both at retail AND online on websites such as MattyCollector.com and HasbroToyShop.com.

GJ: Obviously the bulk of what you do focuses on the joys of nostalgia…what are your thoughts about the current trend of G.I. Joe?

MB: I wholeheartedly appreciate the current direction of the G.I. Joe line.  Just picked up Wave 2 of G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra, and I couldn’t be happier.  I consider myself VERY lucky to be living in this day and age, and to be able to obtain action figures with such an unbelievable degree of detail, accessories, and poseability.  The sculpts for “Arctic Threat” Destro, “Desert Battle” Zartan, “Jungle Assault” Snake Eyes, “Jungle Assault” Recondo, “Jungle Assault” Jungle Viper, and “Desert Battle” Dusty are STELLAR.  The quality of Hasbro’s current G.I. Joe product seems to be constantly increasing… look at the new H.I.S.S. tank.  WOW.

GJ: Do you collect G.I. Joe: The Pursuit of Cobra items?  If so, is it out of a sense of completism, or because you think the toys are great?

MB: A little of both, I suppose.  I’ll NEVER stop collecting G.I. Joe figures… ever, ever: EVER.  I’ll give up breathing first.

GJ: What do you think about the direction G.I. Joe is heading towards with G.I. Joe: Renegades?

MB: I’ll answer this question with a response I excerpted from my interview with General’s Joes from early 2009, which is VERY germane to this issue:

“Whenever there’s a new effort being made to support a long-lived franchise with a devoted fan following such as G.I. Joe (e.g. with a new major motion picture or animated series), there’s going to be a certain amount of resistance by the diehards who’ve been around for YEARS. But I view the G.I. Joe franchise in 2010 exactly as I did back in the 1980’s: WHATEVER CALLS ATTENTION TO THE LINE IS FINE BY ME.  For instance, as a kid I didn’t like the Sunbow cartoon; I worshipped the more realistic Marvel comic book. Yet the Sunbow cartoon sold a heckuva lot of little plastic Joes. MUCH more than Larry Hama’s comic book did, as good as it was. Yet, if it weren’t for the Sunbow cartoon, the Marvel Comic wouldn’t have lasted past issue #75. The cartoon sustained the comic book. Apply this to G.I. Joe in 2010: as a license SPRAWLS—grows larger and larger—fans can pick and choose their degree of immersion in the fantasy; more specifically—which narratives OF the fantasy they can follow. If you’re a fan of the animated G.I. Joe: Renegades, Hasbro’s gotcha covered. If you like the film manifestation of these characters, Hasbro’s gotcha covered. If you long for the days of old, Hasbro infrequently releases 25th anniversary-type style sculpts and has got you covered.”

“Folks, Hasbro’s a BILLION dollar company—they’re hedging their bets, and ultimately they’re going to win.  Let’s all take a step back and remember the dark, bleak days of 1999 and 2000. What did we have? About twenty figures made in two years time? We. Are. Privileged.”

What I told you above in 2009 is still germane to today’s discussion.

GJ: In our current political climate, do you think trying to market a military line for kids’ consumption is even a viable option?  If not, what do you think Hasbro can do to make G.I. Joe a respected and relevant brand once again in society today?

MB: An excellent question.  I don’t think that the parents groups are freaking out so much anymore about a line of military-themed action figures.  Most parents who don’t LIKE their kids playing with toy soldiers simply don’t allow those dolls in the house; rarely these days do you witness parents groups protesting about toys…  unless there’s lead in the toys’ production.

I think G.I. Joe IS a respected and relevant brand.  The only advice I’d ever give to Hasbro is to inject the line with a larger degree reality in order to suspend a consumer’s disbelief.  If the G.I. Joe team is a group of ARMY soldiers (or more precisely, its members are gleaned from all five military branches), then PLEASE allow your screenwriters, animators, and toymakers to perpetuate this military fiction IN GREAT AND INORDINATE DETAIL! Case in point: Don’t treat the G.I. Joe team as if they’re super-heroes because they’re NOT.  They’re a team of military specialists who exist in service to their country.  Delineate what their military schooling is, tell us what their PMS’s and SMS’s are (and use proper military nomenclature), utilize as much real-world weaponry as possible to SUSPEND A CHILD OR COLLECTOR’S DISBELIEF.  That’s what made G.I. Joe AND Transformers such successful franchises in the 1980’s… allowing a well-rendered fiction to develop BEHIND the toy line that drove the lines’ sales.

To wit: If Hasbro concocts an expertly-defined fictional back story for ANY modern toy line, then collectors (and most importantly, children) will buy into the fantasy (and the products) to a larger degree.  Ultimately, these consumers will also be more devoted to the brand.

GJ: If you were in charge of the G.I. Joe brand at Hasbro, what would you do with it?

MB: I think Hasbro’s doing a marvelous job right now on “The Big Three”: The sheer amount of stuff they put out for their Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers lines has me scrambling every single week—and leaves me feeling quite satisfied.  Hopefully, beginning in March of 2011, I’ll be able to review all of these new toy items as soon as they land at retail, and then after a week of posting the review, filter it into the archives section of my website.

However, in regard to the G.I. Joe line, a few changes would be welcome.  But as a disclaimer, let me state that these changes are purely personal and truly selfish to the Nth degree; the fact that I can obtain all-new, well-molded, highly-articulated, and SUPERBLY designed 3 ¾” items every freaking quarter of the retail year doesn’t give me the RIGHT to complain.  Any-hoo…  I suppose I’d like a return to standard-sized combat command file cards.  Give me file cards that help to suspend a collector’s disbelief—that LOOK like official, military-grade dossiers.  Those ROC file cards were… not good: a mere two-sentence description of the character followed by a weapon proficiency.  Yeeeg.  At least the POC dossiers offer a slight improvement: one more sentence with a few more specific details that render the character.

And playsets… more large playsets!  When’s the last time we saw a Cobra playset or vehicle with a price point over $39.99?  But again, what do I have to complain about?  They’re making spectacular product.

GJ: Mark, thank you very much for your time and effort with the interview!  Very enlightening stuff!

4 thoughts on “GeneralsJoes Conversation with Mark Bellomo

  1. What a great interview! I think I’m going to pick up his new book for my wife for Christmas (although maybe she’ll buy it for me and we’ll end up with two!). When he was originally asking for ideas for the book, she was gushing over the 80’s toys she remembers and I know she’ll be as into this book as I am into his GI Joe books.

    The only problem is explaining to our kids why they can’t buy these toys any more (at least not at the store).

    I can’t wait for the website… I’m hoping it is for obscure toy lines what YoJoe.com is for GI Joe or Brickset.com is for Lego sets.

  2. I picked it up last night and haven’t been able to put it down since. Great purchase!

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