Thursday, February 8, 2018

Playing Frankenstein

As a young collector, G.I.Joe was MY toyline, unlike Transformers and Masters of the Universe, Joes were much cheaper so I could actually get more toys using just my allowance. I amassed quite the collection as a kid but unfortunately sold off most of them when I started getting interested in other...stuff.

Fast forward to the year 2007, Hasbro celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 3¾ inch “A Real American Hero” action figure by launching a new toy line featuring action figures with updated sculpts, improved articulation and details. I was sorely tempted to collect this exciting new 25th Anniversary line but initially, I resisted. At that point, all I collected were Transformers which I rationalized was OK because I could fiddle around and transform the robots from time to time….as opposed to a Joe figure which would just be posed on a shelf.

Then in 2008, I moved to Singapore. Thanks to a significant bump in my salary and thus more “disposable income”, the temptation to check out these new Joes started eating at me again. So during a moment of weakness (which coincided with a lull in any new Transformer releases) I told myself that if Hasbro *ever* did a modern update of my favorite but very obscure Joe, Airborne, I would give in and buy it. And so with that in mind, I googled “25th Anniversary Airborne” not expecting to find anything, but to my surprise….there he was! So on my next trip to China Square Central I set off to find him. And find him I did, along with an updated Beachhead, Mutt & Junkyard as well as Wild Bill...and just like that, I was hooked.

Unlike Manila, G.I.Joe wasn’t THAT popular in Singapore and I had to rely on hobby specialty shops to satisfy my Joe cravings. But when I went home for the holidays, it was open season on G.I.Joe purchases. I scoured every single retail store for every character I could find...and there were a lot. By the end of 2008 I was no longer in denial...I was a full fledged G.I.Joe collector again.

A small portion of my collection....

Anyway, one thing the Real American Hero toyline is famous for is that it introduced literally hundreds of unique characters to the franchise, and despite the prolific release schedule of the 25th Anniversary line, it would be a tall order for Hasbro to recreate every single character from the original line. It was inevitable that many characters, mostly the obscure ones, but some key popular ones as well would be left out of this modern revival.

Eventually, despite the numerous characters Hasbro had already released, I began getting obsessed with those certain ones we didn’t get. So instead of waiting for characters that may or may not come, I decided to take things into my own hands.

Because of the numerous characters released, it was not out of the ordinary for Hasbro to mix, match and reuse parts in order to create new figures. If you looked close enough, one would notice that different characters shared the same parts, just painted differently. The same was true for the updated 25th Anniversary line, so I figured that I *could* come up with certain characters that I wanted by assembling them out of parts from existing characters.

Now as a kid, especially towards the tail end of my toy collecting days, I would regularly take apart my Joes to make new characters (I actually turned them into wrestlers to compete in my own wrestling federation...but that’s another story for another time) so this whole idea of creating new action figures out of mixing and matching parts was nothing new to me. What I’d never done before was actually painting I had to do my own online research for that...but it seemed doable.

So armed with a game plan, I set off to do my first ever custom. Luckily, the Joe I set off to make didn’t require any special parts, true I had to cannibalize some perfectly fine action figures to get the specific parts I wanted but I was able to score some cheap loose Joes at the CSC Sunday flea market.

Now customizing and painting an action figure the right way is a very tedious process. First you have to completely take apart the figure (or figures) and patiently paint each part with numerous light coats of paint at 5 to 10 minute intervals to allow each coat to properly dry.

Of course my first attempt was far from perfect, but I was ultimately OK with it, and it definitely whetted my appetite for more and more customs. It gave me a sense of empowerment, no longer would I have to wait for Hasbro to release a specific character I wanted, I could just make them myself.

Pretty soon, I was playing Dr. Frankenstein looking for ideal body parts for my projects. Luckily instead of having to search through graveyards & morgues, I instead rummaged through countless loose toy bins at the CSC Sunday flea market for that perfect figure or part for a specific custom I had in mind. It came to a point where I was even buying brand new figures just because they had the perfect body part I needed. Fortunately there were quite a lot of even brand new figures available for cheap. And as if that wasn’t enough I would even resort to getting original ARAH action figures from eBay just so I could get my hands on their original weapons & accessories for my customs. And no toyline was off limits, pretty soon I was using parts from Star Wars figures and obscure lines like Indiana Jones and so on. I had a vast collection of body parts and accessories just waiting to be used as part of my next custom project.

I also had a good collection of paints and brushes as well as carving tools and even my own mini vice for popping open figures. See unlike the original figures that were basically held together by a screw, the later figures had their torsos glued shut. So i had to use a bench vice to squeeze these newer action figures and literally pop them open like nuts. I know it seems rather scary but it actually wasn’t that difficult to do.

Anyway, towards the later part of my customizing days, I was really pushing the envelope not being satisfied with just putting together different parts and painting them. I was cutting up web gear & equipment to create my own. I even started using epoxy putty to sculpt details such as hair on my figures. It was really fun coming up with creative solutions to getting the exact look and figure I wanted. Every new character I set out to do presented more challenges for me.

In a span of about 3 years I customized about 30 plus unique figures. And not to toot my own horn but I’d like to think I got pretty good at it. I also discovered a whole new community of G.I.Joe customizers online that I could share my work with, exchange character “recipes” and draw inspiration from. There were more than a couple of occasions when my work would be “front paged” or featured as the “custom of the week” on some G.I.Joe fan websites. It really is satisfying having something you create get noticed and appreciated.

to be concluded...