Category Archives: Prehistory

I Was a Teenage Sunbow Intern – Part 3

Close up of Sunbow Entertainment logo for Tim Finn's blog entry about his internship

In our last episode ([Part 1] [Part 2]), Tim called Sunbow.  Would he call again?

In February or March, I called back, and Randy asked about an interview.  Hopping on the Greyhound from Providence to NYC was no big deal, so soon I was in the tiny lobby of 100 Fifth Avenue.  It was grey with dark walls, and just big enough for one black desk with a security guard and a company directory of white letters and floor numbers behind him, and two elevators.  It was not grand, but it was a tall building in Manhattan on a busy street a block from Union Square and a subway station, so much of that New York mystique was intact.

The elevator opened onto the fifth floor, a tiny annex with a glass wall that separated the elevator foyer from the office itself.  On that glass was the Sunbow logo (I grew up with Sunbow Productions, the company was now called Sunbow Entertainment), and through it was visible the receptionist’s desk in front of two orange walls that blocked the rest of the office, a load-bearing column (also orange or perhaps magenta) and two hallways.  One went right and the other straight.  This was the corner of the entire floor, and the rest of Sunbow stretched out unseen behind the receptionist’s desk, behind her orange walls.  Sunbow had moved a few times since its founding, and as of 1998, took up just one floor, though the entire floor, here.  The receptionist was nice.  I was nervous.  Private offices with views of Manhattan lined the edges of the whole space, while cubicles with half walls took up most of the middle and rear.  Walls had enlarged, framed stills from Sunbow’s TV shows – My Little Pony, The Tick, Salty’s Lighthouse.  No G.I. Joe or Transformers, though.  A glass-walled conference room took up the center.

Randy was busy, so Tamara Shear (Hi, Tammy), who I hadn’t spoken to yet, handled the interview.  She was number three in Production, and shared an office with Randy.  We sat in the conference room, which was nice since it offered some privacy – I would have been nervous if in Tammy’s office the phone had interrupted us – but it also added a level of severity to the proceeding.

It was also informal and pleasant.  I probably told Tammy about Animation at RISD, and she talked about the two shows Sunbow was making at the time – Salty’s Lighthouse, an educational show for The Learning Channel, and The Brothers Flub, a comedy for Nickelodeon.  And that the company had three departments – Development, Production, and Sales.  Plus an office on the West Coast where artwork was made.  This office, Sunbow East, generated no artwork, and the artists who worked for the company were not in New York.  This was disappointing to hear, but I probably also had the good sense to know that even being a traditional gopher would yield valuable experience, networking, and a resume entry.  Tammy asked to see my portfolio, which was… I dunno… good-not-great?  I think my drawings were fine for a sophomore, and the animation was probably cute enough to be memorable, but a CalArts character animator I was not.  Having issue #5 of my Transformers parody comic might have helped – it showed follow-through, even if fan-art was a kind of black mark.  I don’t recall my “Little Timmy Meets Tracks” film getting a reaction one way or the other, but I suspect that my resume looked good, and I was probably wearing a tie.  Those combined with the RISD name and a positive experience with That Other RISD Student who had interned (a note to students:  Don’t mess around with jobs and internships.  You’ll make it harder for the next person) must have left a good enough impression.

Tammy ended the interview by asking about my availability for the summer. I wasn’t sure since I lived in Rhode Island and would have to figure out housing in NYC, but we agreed that I would call at the end of the spring and fine tune my schedule.  But here two conflicting memories muddy the narrative, and I don’t know how to reconcile them.  On the one hand, I was actually being offered an internship, but it was in such a casual way that I didn’t fully comprehend it.  “When would you be able to start?” is different than “You’re hired.  When would you be able to start?” The first one, which is what I recollect, implies they’re not decided, so I was nervous I didn’t get the internship, and worried about it until I did call back in May and was certain the position was still waiting for me.   On the other hand, the interview had been a breeze, and rather than making me feel like I had to prove my worth or pass some test, Tammy and I had just chatted, and getting the internship felt obvious after such a great interview, like it was a foregone conclusion after the first minute.  So whether I walked out feeling anxious or cocky is lost to memory, but it was probably both.

Either way, I now had a plan for the summer.  As the end of the school year approached, I started talking with my friend Nick, who lived in New York City, about apartments.  If visiting New York made me nervous, finding a place and living there for three months was much worse.

Where would Tim live?  Tune in next time to find out!

[Click here for Part 4]

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I Was a Teenage Sunbow Intern – Part 2

In our last episode, Tim heard about Sunbow Entertainment’s summer internship!

New York still intimidated me when I visited, but I had been there several times recently, and part of the culture at RISD was that You Went To New York. I don’t necessarily mean professionally after graduation, but at some point you would visit because that’s the center of the art world, and it’s only 3 hours away, and the inertia began with the Freshman Foundation bus trip there a year prior.  Every freshman goes there for a day.  And I’d visit Nick there (Hi, Nick), friend and now G.I. Joe book editor, each year for his birthday.  (And have ever since.)  So being in the Big City was a little scary: it’s dirty, it has a reputation for crime, and if goes on forever — sidewalks horizontally, buildings vertically.  But it had some appeal as well.  Though I’ve always taken art and history museums for granted, even then I knew New York was THE PLACE for that.  And though I wasn’t yet thinking about life after college, I must have had some abstract notion of going to New York or Los Angeles when the time came.  Before Flash and the internet decentralized the animation production process, those were the two cities where you’d go if you wanted a job in the industry.  (Not entirely true, but I didn’t know anything as a college sophomore.)

I got a number for Sunbow from Dee or Mystery Person, and in the late fall or early winter of sophomore year, called.  I should take a moment here to point out that this very act is a nerve wracking one.  I don’t know what everyone’s relationships to telephones are anymore since cell phones are also HD video cameras and internet hubs in your pocket, and famous people are easy to find through e-mail and Facebook.  But before I was using these much, there was the paper letter and the cold call.  And telephoning an office filled with busy and important people, people who can easily say “No” and hang up on you in the fulfillment of a filmic cliché, was intimidating.  Plus it was long distance (*sigh,* I’m dating myself), so each attempt would cost ten cents or something.  Again, paying a dime for a call isn’t a big deal by itself, but it adds to the heaviness of the act.

I had been good at public speaking (thank you, grade school), and had made a few important phone calls before, so this was doable.   Randy Koshinskie, #2 in the Production department took the call.  Randy was warm and kind (Hi, Randy), and while I didn’t know it at the time, in 8 months he’d be my boss.

The trick was to get in and out quickly.  Introduction, say something nice about the company, or at least prove I knew something about it, express an interest, and then shut up.  So it probably went something like this:

“Hi, my name is Tim Finn.  I’m an animation sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design.  Dee Boyd or Someone interned with you last summer and gave me this number.  I’m looking for internships this coming summer and would be interested if you have any available.”

Without nerding out or sucking up I demonstrated some knowledge of Sunbow’s library, and that I was a big fan of Sunbow’s Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons. Randy seemed pleased with that, but in telling me a little about the company explained that Sunbow was very different than it had been in 1985, now making only a few shows and recently focusing on educational programming.  He asked if I had a portfolio.  I did.  At that point it consisted of a few figure drawings, some zoo animation drawings, a background or two, and a VHS (or U-Matic!) tape of my three Animation I projects.  (One of which depicted the Autobot Tracks transforming from Corvette mode to a robot and rescuing me from being lost in the barren wasteland of Washington state.  Which is either the cutest portfolio piece ever for a Sunbow internship application, or the most embarrassing.)    Also, the then-newest issue of Nick’s and my hilarious and now slightly embarrassing Transformers parody comic book.  My timeline is fuzzy, but I think this was before Christmas and Randy said I should call back in a few months when the Production department would start working out its summer internships.

Did Tim make that fateful call?  Tune in next time to find out!

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I Was a Teenage Sunbow Intern

The story of how G.I. Joe got me into comics may need a rest for now, so here’s a different story:

I Was a Teenage Sunbow Intern title card for Tim Finn blog

I WAS A TEENAGE SUNBOW INTERN

In college at RISD I majored in Animation.  It was a great four years.  While the Alumni and Career Services office did have some 3-ring binders of information on companies offering jobs and internships, I barely spent any time looking.  And while our professors did give us much in the way of problem solving, technical skills, and creative thinking, landing an internship was not stressed.  That’s not a complaint.  (It’s a recent requirement for upperclassmen at my school, and I assume RISD Animation has moved in this direction.)  It’s not a complaint because at the time it did not seem like a deficiency and because I stumbled into an internship anyway.  Here’s how.

Summers in high school were a mix of wasted relaxation and real art productivity.  A portfolio class helped prepare me for college admissions.  The summer after that first year of college I vacationed with my family, drew comics, and attended BotCon.  No job, but something would coalesce.  In the fall of college sophomore year I took Animation I class, and worked weekly in the Film Animation Video equipment lock-up office.  There I gabbed with J. Gaston (Hi, J.) and tried not to do any work, instead letting J. fetch all the Bolexes and tripods while I doodled.

Someone who may have been Dee Boyd (Hi, Dee), my TA from Animation I class, mentioned someone else in our department had had an internship the previous summer at a studio in New York.  I don’t know how this came up in conversation, but as sometimes happens during the exchange of equipment and a liability signature, someone will talk about some project they’re up to, or some accomplishment a friend has made.  And while I don’t think I was talking about G.I. Joe and Transformers that day, I was starting to be known as a G.I. Joe and Transformers crazy person.  (Freshman year I had hosted a screening of Transformers: The Movie and 15 minutes of Transformers toy commercials in a dorm lounge with a big screen TV.  For the next three years I hosted it in the RISD Auditorium, where I sold shrinkwrapped VHS episodes I had imported from Canada since they were long out of print and unavailable in the States.  I also made a half-hearted attempt to secure a film print of TF:TM since we were equipped with two 35mm projectors, VHS looking only so good on the big screen.)  So Dee or Unnamed Upperclassman mentioned Sunbow, and probably something about how it wasn’t impossible to get the internship, or how it was interesting, or how I might follow up and try myself.

An internship at the studio that had produced my favorite cartoons ever?  And also such notable shows as My Little Pony, Visionaries, and The Tick?  Wow!  But how could I ever reach out to such an institution?

Tune in next time to find out!

[Click here for Part 2] 

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 15

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin placed their biggest mail order of G.I. Joe comics yet, and the excruciating wait began…

My grade school had half-day Fridays every single week, so I would have lunch at Roy Rogers with Betty, my family’s housekeeper/nanny/second mom, on the way home.  And my brother, in 9th grade at a different school, didn’t get home until 4 or 5pm, whereas I was already playing Dig Dug on our IBM XT and watching Dennis the Menace at 1.  On a Friday after what felt like months, where every day I longed to see a package awaiting me at my front door, Betty and I pulled into the driveway, my neck still careening for an angle on the screen door in case THIS WAS THE DAY.

Indeed the screen door was just a tad ajar, but in no way the amount needed to make room for an eight-foot tall box of comics.  And there had been a few false alarms — small packages for my mom, or all our regular mail bundled together with a rubber band, so I wasn’t going to get my hopes up again on the short flagstone walk to the front stoop.  But there it was anyway, another modestly sized, tightly taped East Coast Comics box!

I have no recollection of getting it inside, or forming half-words to Betty to express its significance, but soon I was kneeling on the bed in my parents’ room, an odd place for the unpacking operation, but one that makes its own sense.  Betty watched soap operas downstairs in the family room, and from an early age my brother and I knew we weren’t allowed to join in.  (At the time soap operas showed the occasional sex scene, all tastefully under the covers, really nothing more than prone kissing – tame by today’s standards.  But nonetheless we were chased out of the room if we lingered too long while fetching an action figure or an afterschool Pudding Pop.)  So that room was out.

My room was too narrow for stacks of loose comics so large they threatened to asphyxiate me should they topple over.  What I needed was a big space to spread out so I could take in all the G.I. Joe goodness at once.  We watched TV on our parents’ bed, and sometimes read for school there, so it was atop the brown 1970s bedspread and before the orange, brown, and white tulips of Vera Wang’s wallpaper that I gingerly dumped 40 new G.I. Joe comics out in front of me.

I’ve alluded to this a few times before here at Real American Book, the unattainably nostalgic feeling of reading during that first year of collecting comics.  This was when a comic took 45 minutes to finish, when I would read every page three times, and then read the comic again.  When I was legitimately concerned that whatever deathtrap or point blank pistol promised inescapable death to Snake-Eyes, to Ed Marks, to Daredevil on the cover might actually happen.  I was worried Snake-Eyes would step on that landmine on the cover of G.I. Joe #63 even though I had already read issue #s 90-95 — starring an alive and well Snake-Eyes!  (Okay, not always well, since he got hot ash thrown in his face in #95.)  But here now was an almost overwhelming tableau of those images, Marvel’s 1980s cover stock and color saturation popping off that bedspread, yellows that blinded, red that promised of blood, white in the steely eyes of determined heroes, flamboyant purples for villains, dangerous green jungles, ultramarine skies.  Like an amateur card dealer I shuffled the comics around with the palms of my hands, over and over, prepping for a game of Go Fish that would never finish, would never start.  These cover images, most drawn by Mike Zeck and Ron Wagner, are indelibly burned into my brain, and the power they hold, supported by the interior narratives, multiplied by the unassailable guilding of nostalgia make most other comics dissatisfying by comparison.

There would be no buyer’s remorse for this splurge.  Only the satisfaction of having half-completed an entire run of Marvel G.I. Joe in one fell swoop.

I must have spent a half hour just looking at them, moving them around, arranging them, picking some up, flipping through them.  Looking at them.  Looking at them.

While I was still curious how 40 comics hadn’t needed a box bigger than a coffin, that concern faded, and the entire stack went with me into my bedroom.  I sat propped up against two navy blue pillows on my lower bunk bed, Prince’s Batman soundtrack playing on my boom box.  (Oh, how I’ve tried to keep the ‘80s from overwhelming every paragraph of this blog.  Oh, how I failed on that last sentence.)  And there I read comics for hours.

I should note here once again how memory misaligns.  For years I’ve remembered this big order as my second, but the date (12/15/89) on the one I showed in part 14 of this story means this bigger order had to be our third.  And I remember it arrived in the spring of 1989, but the Batman album didn’t street until June 15 of that year.  And I wouldn’t have bought it opening day.  But school got out in early June, and not only did I come from school that East Coast day, I must have told Will all about it the following Monday.  Right?  So how was I listening to an album that I hadn’t bought yet?  Could I be conflating a later reading session with this victorious day of postal receipt?

Regardless of the answer, I have no memory of Kevin coming home later, and me telling him the good news, and him sorting through the stack, taking in the pulp bounty for himself.  But I do remember both of us spent hours that weekend reading, me prone on the family room floor, elbows digging into our soft yellow shag carpet, and Kevin lying on the couch, a tall pile of comics on the coffee table between us.  The coffee table where my father kept his coffee table books, the ones that indirectly seeded the idea for A Real American Book.

And though the dual afternoons offered us much in the way of thrilling narratives, double crosses and death-defying escapes, it doesn’t quite compare to that break in the tension storm when my months-long anxiety at last broke, and that giant East Coast Comics order finally arrived, on a spring Friday afternoon at the end of 6th grade.

I still think about that day when I listen to Batman.

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part 13

Punisher War Journal issue 19 detail by Jim Lee and Klaus Janson

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] – [13]

In our last episode, Tim went on a tangent from describing buying G.I. Joe comics and this week the tangent expands!

The title of this series of articles refers to G.I. Joe issue #90, and how scanning just a few pages kicked off a sequence of events that turned me from a G.I. Joe fan who liked reading into a comic book collector/reader for life.  And how one issue of G.I. Joe became the next one, and then the older ones, and all the newest ones, and then The ‘Nam.

But something had to bridge my brother and I into the Marvel Universe proper, since Joe and The ‘Nam were both in their own universes.  Kevin and I didn’t know anything about super-heroes, which is what most of Marvel and DC Comics publish.  To put this in context, it’s important to remember than in the 1980s, super-heroes had no cultural footprint.  My 2nd grade sticker album had a Colossus sticker (from a junk store or a birthday party favor), but I had no idea who he was.  The Superman films crashed and burned with the embarrassing Quest For PeaceThe Incredible Hulk was relegated to a few made-for-TV movies that were more dramatic than super-heroic.  The 1966 Batman TV series showed up in reruns some summers, but it had little effect on us.  Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was over, and we hadn’t ever watched it anyway.  I didn’t pay attention to the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip, but if I did I would have noticed how little happens.  This is still a decade and a half before Marvel’s live-action films, starting with Blade and X-Men, shook up Hollywood.  It’s still years before Fox’s Spider-Man cartoon, Fox’s Batman: The Animated Series, and any live-action Batman sequels.

So rather than super-heroes plural, we only had a sense of Batman.  Certainly the Batmania of 1989 was enough for our pop culture appetite, but in terms of comic books, there was no entry point.  Whatever was needed to get us into DC Comics hadn’t happened yet.  But in the pages of G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam were checklists and ads for other Marvel books.  And the Marvel logo on the top left corner was familiar, so if we were to try out something super-heroic, it would likely be Marvel.  So as 6th grade was winding down, a full year after we started G.I. Joe, Kevin led the way into the Marvel Universe, tugged by the giant gun and overwhelming coolness of this:

Punisher War Journal issue 19 cover by Jim Lee and Klaus Janson

And what a perfect entre.  The Punisher isn’t a super-hero, but he interacts with them.  As a Vietnam vet, Frank Castle was the bridge to the other two comics we read – one about Vietnam and the other with occasional flashbacks to it.  And again, we were boys who liked guns.  The Punisher may get slammed or ignored for being a one-note vigilante book, but that’s an unfair judgment.  Even the stories lacking pathos are exciting action tales, and a handful of stories from the 1980s – notably Grant and Zeck’s “Circle of Blood” and the odd Mike Baron yarn – are smart and compelling.  And to my surprise, Garth Ennis’ 2004-2008 run on the character comprises some of the most satisfying comics I’ve ever read.  (But they’re bloody and grim, and not for everyone.)

A month after Punisher War Journal #19, we picked up (the regular) Punisher with issue #35, which happened to be the start of a 6-part, biweekly-shipping story arc.  Two months later, we took the super-hero plunge with Uncanny X-Men #268.  (Which doesn’t modestly flaunt super-powers since the three spotlight characters in this one issue don’t fly or shoot eye beams.)  Another two months later it was Daredevil, with issue 286.  Again, another grounded hero.  While Matt Murdock does have enhanced senses, he doesn’t fly and he doesn’t shoot eye beams, and his costume is as restrained as super-hero tights go.  And even if he had been over the top, we were primed by now.  Somewhere in there was Wolverine #24 as well, a character a friend in school had talked up. (And written a paper about.)

I don’t want to overdo it on this street-level, depowered bit.  Super-heroes with fantastic powers could well have grabbed us earlier, and we would likely have accepted it.  Sci-fi and fantasy were a-okay in ours books.  I loved Transformers and Tron, Kevin was getting into Dungeons and Dragons, and we both liked the animated G.I. Joe: The Movie, even with its 40,000 year-old Himalayan snake man who wants to conquer Earth.  Make that re-conquer Earth.  But the path is worth noting, that we didn’t jump into super-heroes immediately.  It probably says more about culture than us.  Had we been born five years later we’d probably have been watching Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers instead of reading the black and white Turtles book and ignoring Power Rangers.

During that first year, while purchasing only 6 monthly comic book series our collection went from one comic book to more than fifty.  You’ve already read about that first mail order shipment, but what was different about the next one?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] – [13]

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Twelve

The 'Nam issue 36 cover detail by Wayne Vansant

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin are interested in Vietnam, and have started reading comic books!

Marvel published a monthly series called The ‘Nam.  I didn’t really know what that was, but I could put two and two together:  The title design was a military stencil font, those three letters looked like the end of the word “Vietnam,” and there were Army guys in green on the covers.  While comic books starring super-heroes were grabbing some attention from Waldenbooks’ two spinner racks at our local mall, we hadn’t made that jump yet.  G.I. Joe was “realistic” in a way Uncanny X-Men (whatever that was!) was not, so if we were going to start reading a second comic book (third, counting our truncated following of Joe’s spin-off book G.I. Joe Special Missions), it needed to be similarly grounded.  I had been flipping through this ‘Nam comic for two months now.  Issue #36 had had a particularly compelling cover:

The 'Nam issue 36 cover by Wayne Vansant

I hadn’t experienced any racism in my life, but I knew what it was.  A friend of the family had been singled out a few times, and in grade school we talked about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every January.  There we even had a short play about mean parents not letting their kids befriend kids of other races that we performed each year.  And the nation’s capital was the next city over, so the 1963 March on Washington was referenced on local TV news and in the pages of the Washington Post probably a tad more than in the, say, Los Angeles or Anchorage media.  And as much as racism was a real topic that we talked about in history class, it wasn’t anything anyone talked about in any day-to-day fashion.  There was a heaviness to it, as if it was taboo.  So to see it a) on the cover of a comic book, and b) on the cover of a war comic, was surprising to me, a white suburban 6th grader.  The ‘Nam #36 was on-sale the same month Kevin and I got back from summer camp and bought G.I. Joe #92, our second real issue of that series, so we hadn’t passed the tipping point — we were still only buying a G.I. Joe comic book, not just any comic.  But by the time issue The ‘Nam #38 came out two months later, we had 20 or so comic books, and this cover was most compelling.  (If a little lurid for what was an otherwise tastefully done book.)

The 'Nam issue 38 cover by Mark Texeira

This moment, buying The ‘Nam (in what I believe was the last week of) the first month of 6th grade was the tipping point.  This is where Kevin and I went from enjoying more G.I. Joe stories than we could get from just the TV cartoon to becoming regular and devoted comic book readers; When we started buying a second, regular, monthly comic book series.  (So by a certain definition, it’s The ‘Nam #38 that was “The Comic That Changed Everything,” rather than G.I. Joe #90.)

This title, because of its higher quality paper stock, color separations, and limited distribution, was pricier than G.I. Joe.  It was $1.75 rather than a mere dollar.  But the dam was starting to burst.  Kevin and I just liked comics.  We liked stories, we liked art, we liked reading.  With this purchase it would no longer be confined to G.I. Joe stories, G.I. Joe art, G.I. Joe reading.  So I bought this issue of The ‘Nam, and tried to read it on the way home (but I get lightly car sick if I read, so I gave up after a page or two).  At home I discovered it’s a great comic.

Before I could buy the next one, however, I bought my first graphic novel.  Long before DC had any kind of backlist, back when Marvel had only published about fifteen trade paperback collections of famous runs of comic books and didn’t really know what they were doing (as evidenced by the ISBN number ending up on the spine of Marvel’s 1989 The Power of Iron Man and other cutely poor editorial and design choices), Marvel did have three modestly-priced graphic novels reprinting the first twelve issues of The ‘Nam.

The 'Nam TPB covers by Michael Golden

Next to the two spinner racks of individual comic books, Walden had a larger spinner rack of graphic novels (whatever those were!).  That included the second and third ‘Nam books, and for whatever reason, I found the cover of the third one the more compelling.  After hovering around for a few weeks, I bought it.  Excellent art, tight scripting, compelling characters, and the shocking death of a major character.  Regular readers had known him for nine months.  I’d only known him for twenty pages and yet it was an affecting surprise.  And soon I bought the other graphic novel, and then issue 39, and 40, and somewhere the first volume, and then we were regular readers, meaning we now collected a second comic book monthly besides G.I. Joe.

But to be honest,  besides all this grand talk of pathos, characters, and dramatic tension, my brother and I were still just boys who liked guns.  G.I. Joe and The ‘Nam had those in spades.  So it was only natural that the next comic book title we tried out was replete with fire arms as well.

And what Marvel series in 1989 was all about guns?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] – Twelve

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The Comic That Changed Everything – Part Eleven

G.I. Joe issue 94 panel Snake-Eyes Vietnam flashback by Bright and Emberlin

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10] – Eleven

In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin bought G.I. Joe issue #94!

Part one of the NINJA COMMANDO’s spotlight reveals more about Snake-Eyes’ origin, and how he first crossed paths with the Baroness, and why she holds a grudge.  (Played out in general that she’s on the Cobra side and he’s a Joe, and specifically that she goes after him in Switzerland while he’s anesthetized.)  The flashback is Saigon, 1968.  And Vietnam was of interest for me.  Why?

My father subscribed to several military magazines, and those sat on our coffee table next to hardcover books on jets, and near novels and histories like God is My Co-Pilot, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and Time Life’s WWII set.  And while Dad was more interested in The Second World War than Vietnam, the latter was still fresh on the minds of many Americans.  Saigon fell just two months after my brother was born.  The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, “The Wall,” was dedicated the same year Real American Hero debuted.  And President Reagan’s rebuilding of the Armed Forces was still palpable.  Mom worked for Senator Dodd.  Dad worked for NASA.  Neither of those related to Vietnam, the place or the war, but as an “inside the Beltway” family the TV news was on every night for two hours, so though we didn’t have anyone in the family serving in the military, we were aware of it.

The Vietnam War, or I guess The Vietnam Conflict, since America still doesn’t technically consider it a war (if my 12th grade history serves me), was recent.  Americans were coming to terms with it.  College classes were now being taught on it.  Stone’s Platoon and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket were earning box office dollars and winning accolades.  At the same time, CBS was running a great TV series called Tour of Duty.  This show only lasted for three years, and had the unfortunate timeslot of Saturdays at 10pm.  (Not quite the kiss of death that it would be now, but still not great.)  (This meant I would watch “The Golden Girls” with my mom at 8, Tour of Duty at 10 with my brother and father, and PBS’s broadcast of the BBC Robin Hood at 11.  [Yes, I watched The Golden Girls because it was a well-written, well-acted, funny show.]

Tour of Duty was an hour long drama about the regular soldiers of Company B serving in Vietnam.  Season 1 was filmed in Hawaii, so it looked great, and benefited from writing that portrayed the ups and downs, and the shades of grey the average Army grunt experienced in country.  That this show came along when G.I. Joe was in full bloom, combined with my brother and father’s interest in war history and military armament, was a coincidence.  But it only enhanced our appreciation of the military themes in G.I. Joe.

The show lasted three years, and was about as gritty as the accepted standards of the time.  It was violent, but not overly so, and the violence was tastefully done.  This was before TV ratings, back when a “Parental Discretion is Advised” disclaimer was rare, and a big deal.  (The show didn’t have it.  ABC’s 1989 broadcast of Robocop did, for comparison.  And that was quite edited from the theatrical cut.)  More importantly, Tour of Duty dealt with racism, ethnic divisions, moral ambiguity and the fog of war, and the hopelessness of the day-in, day-out slog.  It, like G.I. Joe, was told from the grunt’s point of view.  There were no cutaways to the White House, the Pentagon, or the Paris Peace Talks.

So with all this swirling around in the cultural ether — TV shows and movies and government — it was quite exciting when Marvel’s G.I. Joe veered into Vietnam via flashback.

Moreso, those three months of checking the spinner racks at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks, where we went from G.I. Joe issues 90 to 92, and then to 94, offered something even more focused:  An entire comic book series about Vietnam.

What was it called?  Tune in next week to find out!

Part 1[2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9][10] – Eleven

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