Tag Archives: G.I. Joe comics

The Comic That Changed Everything – Part One

Part One – Two Three FourFive – SixSevenEightNine

Because my mom didn’t want to cook dinner every night of the week, Wednesdays we ate out.  This tradition lasted for about 6 years.  We loved our local mall.  (Ironic since the growth of the suburban mall in the 1970s reflected the flight of retail stores from the American Downtown, a trend that closed my grandfather’s Baltimore department store years earlier.)  After a renovation that added an entirely new wing complete with 3-screen movie theatre, video arcade, and food court, Montgomery Mall had us hooked.  So after Mom came home from work she and brother Kevin and I would drive up the Beltway (the loop of interstate around Washington, D.C., and now the bane of many an automotive commuter) eager for a reliable night out in the consistent 72 degrees of our hermetic shopping experience.

After fast food dinner, we’d browse the book store and then split up – my mom to the department stores, and Kevin and I to – the arcade was actually called this, with a red and green neon sign – The Name of the Game.  A half-hour later we’d drive home in time to finish homework and watch whatever ABC sitcoms were dulling our senses that particular season.

In the June between 5th and 6th grade, while strolling into Waldenbooks, past magazines and bestsellers, I looked up at the two spinner racks of comics and saw a revelation.  His name was Road Pig.

The G.I. Joe cartoon had been in reruns for two years, a death spiral we could not fathom it pulling out of.  New toys continually refreshed the line, but they didn’t speak or move.  The explosions were imaginary, made in the onomatopoetic lexicon of little boys splayed out on a shag carpet.

From that top rack I pulled a comic book – odd thing it was – and noted several important elements:  A bold “G.I. JOE” logo.  The aforementioned Road Pig, a villain we had met in our role play, but never on television.  He was brandishing his cinderblock-on-a-stick, a weapon so bizarre that if new episodes were on the air we inherently knew it would not appear, much like Snake-Eyes’ sword, television restrictions being what they were.  On this cover image Road Pig was hauling two… who were they?  I didn’t actually know since they were out of costume, but I could tell they were older Joes, circa year one.  And a foreboding sign on the wall, pointing past them to something called the “Brain Wave Scanner.”  Whatever all of this was, it begged several questions and I was curious for the answers.

Opening this flimsy periodical offered more surprises and teases.  Over the first four pages, more characters who were too new to have appeared on the G.I. Joe cartoon!  And an entire panel where one group of them – the Iron Grenadiers with their ceremonial swords (like U.S. Marines in their dress blues) actually brandish them!  Threateningly!  At other villains!  It was too much for me to take.  The Iron Grenadier action figures did come packed with swords, but they were permanently sheathed.  So if Snake-Eyes was never going to use his sword on television (he did have it in hand once, but didn’t get to impale a robot or anything), and the Iron Grenadier toys made it physically impossible to properly use these other swords, that an “episode” of the G.I. Joe comic book had more relaxed rules concerning action and “violence” content made my eyes bulge.

And then a Cobra villain shoots another Cobra villain!  All before page 5!  (It was just a tranquilizer gun, but a kind of gattling tranq on steroids.)

But this was the icky G.I. Joe comic book!  Hadn’t I already tried this out with Yearbook #3 and #4?  Weren’t those printed on a dull newsprint, with a limited palette that could not rival the saturated intensity of animation cel vinyl photographed on 35mm film and telecined for broadcast?  Yes.  They were.  But there were a few more colors here than those earlier comics, (or perhaps a more adept color artist), and the pull of all these characters and actions that were not available on television overrode my aesthetic concerns.

I flipped back to the cover.  One dollar.  That was a lot, but it also wasn’t.  Kevin and I had a weekly allowance, and did not spend it on candy or gum.  Or prose books.  Those were all parental purchases.  We tended to measure money with our own private system:  The least expensive toys we bought were about three dollars.  At Toys”R”Us, that meant a single G.I. Joe action figure, or an Autobot minicar (like Bumblebee).  Everything scaled up from there in multiples of three and five.  A $12 or $15 Joe vehicle was possible after a few weeks or months of saving.  The $30 Metroplex was a bit out of my reach and became a birthday request.  The $100 U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier was an utter impossibility.  (Even the rich kid down the street didn’t have that, and he had a Millenium Falcon!)

So when I showed G.I. Joe issue #90 to my brother, his immediate response deflated, but did not surprise me:  “Cool.  Don’t buy it.”

Did I? Find out next week!

Part One – Two Three FourFive – SixSevenEightNine

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My First Comic Book Ever Was “G.I. Joe Yearbook” #3 – Part Three

Note for last week’s readers:  The part two chicken scratch doodle of Another World has been partially updated.

In our last episode, Tim bought his first comic book ever, G.I. Joe Yearbook #3…

G.I.Joe Yearbook #4 cover art by Mike Zeck

G.I.Joe Yearbook #4 cover art by Mike Zeck, 1988.

Then, what I believe is one year later, but could have been only half that, we returned to Another World.  I bought G.I. Joe Yearbook #4, looked at but passed on another Mad, and Kevin bought two back issues: G.I. Joe #61 and #62.  (Or maybe he’d bought them on that first visit?  Memory’s funny that way.)  At home he promptly put them on a high shelf in his room where I couldn’t reach them.  He never offered them to me, and I never snuck a peak when he was elsewhere.  I didn’t even touch them until later when we were regular comics readers and those two issues were incorporated into our burgeoning G.I. Joe collection.  This should demonstrate the strange disinterest I had in comic books at that initial point.  (It is also indicative of our overly strong sense of personal ownership.  My toys were mine, Kevin’s were his.  We didn’t share, and we didn’t much trade.  This is not meant to sound mean, it’s just how our personalities worked.  We played with our G.I. Joe toys side-by-side, my characters and vehicles interacting with his, but him only holding and role-playing with his, and me with mine.  Weird, I know.  It’s worth an entire blog post, how we played with our toys.)  By then we had found D&D wares at the Waldenbooks at our mall (an important location that I’ll come back to in a later blog post), and rarely returned to Another World.  In fact, I don’t think Kevin ever went back.  I did go every year or three — it was friend and future editor Nick Nadel‘s local shop once he entered the picture, but until I had a driver’s license there was no point in shopping at this third-closest store.  It did move and renovate, and finally closed when parent company/comics mail order giant American Entertainment went belly up a decade later.)

But back to those two issues–

G.I. Joe #61 and #62 covers by Mike Zeck

G.I. Joe #61 and #62 covers by Mike Zeck, 1987.

Before Kevin whisked them away I do recall seeing these two covers, which by themselves form a kind of contained story, and being worried for the protagonists.  This is a point I’ll come back to at a later date on the blog — the power of the cover image — but for now you can likely acknowledge that even if you’re not a G.I. Joe fan or a comics reader, these guys are in trouble.  The barbed wire, the handcuffs, the menacing weapons.  Trouble!

As with the first comic I’d bought, Yearbook #4 did not turn me into a lifelong reader.  I just recall thinking there weren’t enough Joes in the lead Oktober Guard story, being confused by the recap pages that mixed narration with word balloons, and wishing the Joes in the back-up yarn wore their regular costumes and not their civvies.  Years later Tony Salmons would give me some original art from that story.

G.I.Joe Yearbook #4 pg 4 panel 4, art by Tony Salmons

G.I.Joe Yearbook #4 original art by Tony Salmons

So here’s where the biography stands:  Kevin and I have been buying G.I. Joe toys and watching the G.I. Joe cartoon for four years — half a lifetime.  For me it vies with Transformers as my favorite thing ever, for Kevin it’s no contest.  We read books and newspaper comics, and now own four actual G.I. Joe comic books.  But we’re still not readers!  What’s missing?

Tune in next week!

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My First Comic Book Ever Was “G.I. Joe Yearbook” #3 – Part Two

In our last episode, Tim’s parents took him and his brother to their first comic book store…

29 July 2011 - Still updating this art. At left, Another World's back entrance, not open to foot traffic, on Wisconsin Ave. On right, the front entrance on P Street. Wisconsin is visible in the background.

But this is where my memory gets fuzzy.  I believe we went to Another World one more time, six months or a full year later.  As best as I can piece it together, on the first visit, in addition to the Dungeons & Dragons set, I bought two periodicals:  I saw an issue of Mad Magazine and had to have it.  Mad was still a kind of forbidden fruit, and we had just gotten into it a few months earlier, but our subscription hadn’t kicked in.  For now it was the serendipity of seeing one on a newsstand, having the money, and getting the parental permission.  My other buy was G.I. Joe Yearbook #3.  (I should here define the series “G.I. Joe Yearbook” as an annual run of double-sized specials that complemented the regular, monthly G.I. Joe series.)  Interesting, Kevin also bought a copy.  Why did it grab us?  Probably because the cover showed favorite characters in distress, a scenario I was intrigued to see to its resolution.

G.I. Joe Yearbook 3 cover by Mike Zeck

Art by Mike Zeck.

I don’t want to undersell that point.  The cover made me worried about the characters.  Snake-Eyes is in trouble!  Scarlett defends him!  Storm Shadow — a villain — is also helping?  (This is a stark contrast to many comic book covers nowadays that feature glamor poses with little drama or story content.)

So Kevin bought Yearbook #3 as well – we were occasionally selfish and territorial about our possessions, and didn’t consistently share everything. 

Yearbook #3 was just a curiosity.  It did not turn me into a lifelong comics reader.  That would happen two years later.  But it was still an entertaining book, with a wordless story told only in pictures and pantomime that did in fact follow up on the cover image. My aversion to newsprint was abating.  (I can’t reconcile how newspaper comics were fine but comic books printed with the same palette on the same stock were not.  It might be that I was used to higher quality color and printing from glossy magazines like Hotdog and Dynamite, that I was already picky and fetishizing the bound periodical as a keepsake.)  (I mean “festishizing” in the general, non-sexual sense of the word.)  But as much neat content as it had, like a fun “Kitchen Viper” joke, and an article on the TV show, Yearbook #3 was still this weird… thing I didn’t entirely love.  It’s like an album you don’t appreciate until months or years later, but in this analogy, it wasn’t a single album, it was the entire pastime of listening to music.  I liked prose books, I liked magazines, I liked Garfield collections, I liked cartoons, but comics still hadn’t clicked.

I recall pulling Yearbook #3 off my shelf and reading it a few times afterwards, one time lying on my brother’s bedroom floor.  But it sparked no storylines for our G.I. Joe toy games, and no discussion of buying additional comic books.

What was the comic that changed Tim’s life forever?  Tune in next week to find out!

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