A Real American Book! 2018 in Review

Tim Finn GI Joe

It’s that time of year again, when I list what I did for this book in the last 12 months and apologize that it’s taking so long! Last year in such a blog post I mused on what it’s like to research and write.

That’s all about the same. I still rely on a smart and funny New York-based producer named Nick Nadel as my editor. I still get wonderful new material from Rhode Island’s Glad Works, a design studio located in of all places Pawtucket. There, graphic designer Liz Sousa takes my finished texts, notes and lists, jpegs, and tiffs, and lays out chapter-magic. Also there, photographer Tim Marshall lights and composes original images of G.I. Joe toys and merchandise with which to populate said chapters. At cultural events like JoeCon and the Ottawa International Animation Festival (not toy-related, but I’m already there with my laptop, so why not show interested parties some finished materials?) I tell people about my research and offer previews of my book. (Chapter 10 makes for a nice preview, and I’ve got the “pitch” of it down pat — it’s a nice mix of behind-the-scenes info on toys, animation, and comics, offers a few fun anecdotes, and I’ve got pictures of people who were there at the time. Nothing says “I’m not messing around” like my photo of a guy in his studio in 1991.)

This continues to all be fun and satisfying when it’s happening, a tad frustrating when a potential interviewee isn’t responsive, and a little sad when everything else (my shop, my teaching gig, Every Day Stuff like getting my car’s oil changed) keep me from sitting down at my computer.

So, what did I do all 2018-and-some-of-2019? (I count my book years from mid-February to mid-February rather than the standard calendar January through December so as to include my school’s winter break, where I make a big “year-end” push.)


-Wrote and posted 10 blog articles here. We can count it as nine since one was a mild housekeeping update. But that number’s up from the last two years. I know many of you love the brief articles showcasing a single toy or piece of art, and don’t need a 10,000 word essay on a convention, so I’m trying to get back to that. (That said, I owe you a 10,000-word essay on a convention.)

-This overlaps with two of the blog posts, but we all said goodbye to two important G.I. Joe alums this year, Russ Heath and Robert J. Walsh. I eulogized them here at ARealAmericanBook!, and it’s all fun and games and toys and nostalgia for us-fans, but it’s a job and life for professionals like them. I’m pleased to have met these gentlemen, and to be able to describe their contributions in my book. I don’t look forward to writing such blog entries in the future, although time does inexorably move forward. But to turn this back to happy news, Heath drew something for me, and Walsh showed me his studio, an object and an experience I treasure.

-Phone-talked with editor Nick on his notes for Chapters 16, 17, and drafts of 18 and 19.

-Started my first draft of Chapter 20.

-Received tweaked layouts from designer Liz for Chapters 11, 13, 14, 15, and 17.


GI Joe convention 2018

-Traveled to Chattanooga, TN for the official 2018 G.I. Joe Convention, the last one there’ll ever be. (This is the big write-up I still owe you!)

-Bought a few toys on ebay for photoshoots.

-Bought a few items from the Hakes auction of Kevin Watts’ collection so I could get nice photos of them for the book. While we haven’t spoken in person in several years, Kevin is a friend, and I miss seeing him at conventions. He offered some early encouragement when I was showing the first finished chapters to a select few people a decade back (yes, a DECADE), and had some key networking suggestions.

Executed one new photoshoot with photographer Tim Marshall. That makes photoshoot #17, although it was over two days. Fun fact: The last time we did a two-day photoshoot I counted it as two. I think we’ll do another session later this year, and I have a notion and a hope to travel cross-country to photograph some rare items if I can get the right person to say “yes.”

-Conducted 16 new interviews. One was with a key Hasbro artist (a future revision for Chapter 7!), some were with people pitching Hasbro on outside stuff in the early 1990s (Chapter 18!), others were fans getting organized in the ’80s (Chapter 12!), one was in R&D at Kenner (Chapter 19!), and another didn’t get hired at Hasbro until 2007 (Chapter 20!). Quite the range! A year ago, and two years ago, and three years ago someone asked “When will you be finished?” My answer began with “I need to do two or three more interviews.” Clearly that number was incorrect. These interviews got transcribed and bits from them were seeded into various chapters.

-Visited a Kenner alum in Rhode Island. This was a follow-up to one of those interviews, and I got to see a basement that could only be described as breathtaking (that’s just a sample above) and pick up a killer item for Chapter 19.

-Sent follow-up questions to many previous interviewees. Got back some details and photos.

-Locked in the text, sent images for, and got back the first draft layout of Chapter 16. I’ve been writing this one for years, so to finally see it arranged with images was big. It’s all about 1994, a tale of ups and downs.

-Sort of finished the text for Chapter 18. I don’t know what to do with this. A small part of it is begging for some quotes from a person who isn’t interested in an interview. So it’s finished without this person’s involvement, but I hold out hope I can get a few questions answered. For now I’m finalizing the edit with Nick and moving on.

-This one’s frustrating: Got a lead on a crazy cache of (sorry to be vague) some 1990s treasure that would melt my brain if I could get my hands on even a fraction of it, much less stand in front of it with my hands calmly folded behind my back and my greediest intentions masked by a calm visage. I’ve heard tell of this from two different directions and made my darndest pitch to be allowed access, but with no response. As a pop culture “archeologist,” this makes me quite sad. As a G.I. Joe author, it would serve up one key image — a firsthand, primary object — for a later chapter. I (and all you readers!) can survive without it, and that later chapter has some pretty good proxies, so I’m proceeding assuming nothing will come of this lead.

—Addendum: Bits of that crazy cache seem to be getting out there, so in between starting this blog post a week ago and today I’ve secured that object (or an iteration of it) and I’m most relieved! This didn’t happen with the bang I wanted, and it wasn’t a whimper either. I’m calling it a win.

So what’s left?

I need to get transcribed an interview from last week and track down one person to incorporate some changes into Chapter 12. (This is “NEW Chapter 12,” not “old Chapter 12,” from when 12 and 13 were mooshed together.) I’m so close to a first draft of 12, and then I can send it to Editor Nick. He and I are supposed to go over what I believe is the final text of Chapter 19 next week. Then I can send it plus images to Designer Liz. I’m actually done with the text of Chapter 18, but this one’s a real challenge to find images for because of its content, so I’ve been dragging my heels on sending it to Liz for months. I think it’ll just have to stick out a little, and visually be more words and not so many pictures. Chapter 20, sort of the end of the book, needs a lot of input. Then I need to compare Chapters 1 through 10 with 11 through 20 and make sure the two halves of the book are balanced, which they right now decidedly are not. Then I need to revise 1 through 10 and incorporate some of the interviews I got in the last five years that haven’t been incorporated. Then Designer Liz tweaks those chapters for text changes and art additions. Then I’m done.

Thank you all for your quiet support. Readers and fans, thanks for your continued patience. Please spread the word about this blog to your friends and family who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, or are interested in pop culture history.


Filed under Book Behind the Scenes, Photography, Writing Process

4 responses to “A Real American Book! 2018 in Review

  1. Dan P

    Was that a pic from Bills basement of the molds?

    Can u provide more info on the cache u describe?

    Sent while on the run.


    • Those molds in that basement. AAAHHH! Can’t wait to hear/see details on that.

      • I should clarify: Those are not G.I. Joe molds, nor are they molds of anything from the 1980s or ’90s. They’re current projects, and I was trying to show that this person is active and making things, even after being at Kenner. The contents of this basement were “breathtaking” in a general sense. There was a lot of key stuff there, but much of it was behind the purview of my book — non-Joe stuff.
        [EDIT: I meant “beyond” the purview of my book.]

      • Understood. Still very cool to see though. Thx for sharing!

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