Tuesday, May 18, 2010

HeroesCon 2010: G.I. JOE Roll Call

I did this last year, and I figured I would do it again for anyone planning to attend HeroesCon 2010, our local convention here in Charlotte. Some of the bigger guests include Mark Bagley, Cliff Chiang, Frank Cho, Tommy Lee Edwards, Cully Hamner, Adam Hughes, Steve Niles, Tim Sale, Ben Templesmith, Ethan Van Sciver, and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.

Superheroes dominate the scene, but for G.I. JOE fans, here's some of the talent associated with the property over the years:
  • Robert Atkins - Artist on IDW's 2009 G.I. JOE reboot.
  • Jeremy Dale - Artist on several of the comics released in 25th Anniversary two-packs.
  • Marc Deering - Inker on G.I. JOE: Snake-Eyes.
  • Tom Feister - Cover artist on IDW's G.I. JOE Origins.
  • Christos Gage - Cowriter of G.I. JOE: Cobra.
  • S.L. Gallant - Artist on IDW's G.I. JOE and the movie prequel books.
  • Michael Golden - Artist behind the incredible cover of G.I. JOE Yearbook #2 (which he signed for me last year).
  • Merrill Hagan - Writer on IDW's G.I. JOE Origins.
  • Rick Ketcham - Inker on IDW's G.I. JOE.
  • Eric Layton - Inker in DDP run.
  • Chris Stevens - Artist on G.I. JOE: Master & Apprentice II.
  • Rod Whigham - Artist on about two dozen issues of Marvel's G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero.
  • David Wohl - Editor on several of the later issues in Marvel's G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero.
  • John 'Waki' Wycough - Inker on IDW's G.I. JOE.
Unlike last year, it doesn't look like any of the larger publishers are going to have much of a presence this time. Check out the complete HeroesCon guest list, and get ready to enjoy one of the best weekends Charlotte has to offer all year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Down; Nine To Go

Only a few hours after publishing my take on the Top Ten '80s Action Figure Lines That Need A Comeback, Icon Heroes issued a press release announcing a line of ThunderCats "Staction" figures. Remember the Masters Of The Universe toys that had no articulation? That's the "staction" part, Static Action Figures. You can check out the announcement about the figures, vehicle replicas, and environments here.

Ask, and you shall receive, huh? Next time I'll write about how great a billion-dollar cashier's check made out to me would be.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Top Ten '80s Action Figure Lines That Need A Comeback

Retro is all the rage these days, isn't it? Everything old is new again, especially if the "old" is from the '80s. New adaptations of The Karate Kid and The A-Team will hit theaters soon (they actually open on the same day), with sequels to Predator and TRON coming in July and December respectively. The remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street just opened a couple of weeks ago. MacGruber, as stupid as it looks, is a parody of an '80s television show. The Expendables, which opens in August, isn't a sequel or a remake, but it's definitely a throwback to the '80s action genre. Even Red Dawn, which was as '80s as you could get (if only all Cold War-era propaganda was as fun), is getting a remake.

And that's just what's coming out this year. Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and The Last Starfighter sequels are in the works, and so are remakes of Footloose, Police Academy, Poltergeist (which may or may not be released this year), Private Benjamin, RoboCop, and Short Circuit. Before you ask, there's no remake of Big Trouble In Little China on the schedule. Not yet, anyway. A Conan reboot opens next year, and Columbia hired Mike Finch and Alex Litvak, writers of the aforementioned Predators, to write a new Masters Of The Universe script.

No action figure captures the '80s better than Chuckles.Speaking of Masters Of The Universe, Hollywood studios aren't the only ones who've been getting into the '80s nostalgia. Despite having loyal collectors for years, Hasbro's 25th Anniversary G.I. JOE line sparked the interest of many adults who hadn't paid much attention to the property since the days of playing in the backyard. They kept that going until debuting a line for G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra, the brand's first live-action movie, two years later. This came after the success they found - both at the box office and in the toy aisles - by taking Transformers to the big screen. They also worked Secret Wars comic book two-packs into their 3¾" Marvel Universe, recalling Mattel's '84-'85 Secret Wars line. Mattel themselves found more of a market than they seemed to expect when they introduced their direct-to-consumer Masters Of The Universe Classics. Their DC Universe Classics line clearly draws inspiration from Kenner's Super Powers Collection, and they just launched a new Ghostbusters line recently (with toys based on The Real Ghostbusters still to come). Playmates released a 25th Anniversary line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures last year, reproductions of the toys originally sold in 1988.

With G.I. JOE, Transformers, Super Powers, Secret Wars, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, and He-Man out of the way, and STAR WARS having been back on the scene since '95, what are the top action figure lines from the '80s that still need to be revisited?

  1. SilverHawks: "Partly metal, partly real..." Never one of my favorites, but that's why it comes in at number ten. I had a couple of the figures, and I watched the cartoon from time to time, but I couldn't name any of the characters off the top of my head. In fact, my favorite thing about SilverHawks is the collection of audio outtakes that showed up on the interweb back in the '90s. The Kenner figures really weren't bad, but this is more of a nostalgia pick than anything else.

  2. Starriors: TOMY's Starriors line wasn't terribly popular, and I didn't know much about them as a kid. I only had three of the toys: Motormouth, Gouge, and (my favorite) Hotshot. I wanted Deadeye after seeing him in one of the comics, but I don't know if I ever even saw him in a store. I really liked these at first, but I lost interest pretty quickly, as G.I. JOE, STAR WARS, Transformers, and Super Powers were taking up most of my time in '84. In fact, Hotshot found himself fighting in one of those universes more often than not. The Starriors toys were very cool, though, and an updated take on them with modern articulation - and maybe some new comics - is something I would definitely collect.

  3. Battle Beasts: What do you get when you give weapons, armor, and bloodlust to a bunch of anthropomorphized animals? Battle Beasts! Or at least that's what they were called here in the states. Originally marketed as BeastFormers by Takara in Japan, they were intended to be a spin-off of Transformers, even appearing in the Japanese version of the cartoon. Hasbro didn't see it that way (and rightfully so, if you ask me), releasing them independent of the robots in disguise here in the States. Each figure had a hologram "Battle Badge" on its chest that determined the team for which it would fight, fire, wood, or water. The hologram decals were similar to the Autobot and Decepticon decals on early Transformers, in that you had to heat them up by rubbing on them to see the image. Diamond Select Toys bought the rights to Battle Beasts last year, and they're supposed to be getting a new line. Of course, this was supposed to start in December of '09, and then March, and now it could be delayed until next year or never happen at all. That would be a shame, because Battle Beasts kicked ass.

  4. Army Ants: While we're on the subject of anthropomorphized creatures with weapons, it's time for Army Ants. General Mc-Anther leads his blue army against the orange forces of General Patant. Another Hasbro line, some of the Ants shared names with G.I. JOE characters like Stalker, Blow Torch, Knockdown, Repeater, and Recoil, with the Ant versions of those last two actually predating their JOE counterparts. Others shared names with Transformers, including Bone Crusher and Snarl. Aside from the two generals, Hasbro surprisingly didn't go crazy with the puns. Army Ants had no screws or metal parts to rust, so leaving them out in the yard overnight was never a problem.

  5. Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand.The Karate Kid: First of all, considering it's from 1986, my Mr. Miyagi figure looks a hell of a lot like Pat Morita. Seriously, that's a damn good sculpt for the '80s, and it's not a bad one by modern standards. In fact, most of Remco's The Karate Kid figures were solid. I'd still love to see a company like NECA or Bif Bang Pow! take a crack at the likes of Daniel LaRusso (plus the Had-His-Ass-Kicked-For-Ten-Minutes chase variant), Mr. Miyagi, Johnny Lawrence, John Kreese, Ali, Sato, and Chozen. The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid, Part II were just released on Blu-ray for the first time, and I'd be all over a new toy line based on those two movies.

  6. Voltron: Defender of the Universe: No, I'm not talking about the stupid Vehicle Voltron thing, but Lion Force Voltron, the real Voltron. Was the fully assembled Voltron the greatest toy ever? I have no idea, because I didn't have it. This is on the list for purely selfish reasons, as I had the following Voltron toys: Keith, the Black Lion, and King Zarkon from Panosh Place. Oh, and I had some really small Voltron figure (maybe from Bandai?) that didn't even separate into the individual lions. Words cannot express what only having one Voltron lion will do to a little boy. That kind of frustration never goes away. And even though I can barely make it through an episode of the Lion Force cartoon these days, I still want the completed Voltron toy. I know Trendmasters did one in the late '90s, and I've seen the Toynami stuff at a local store recently. Nuh-uh. I want the original Voltron, I want it to split into five lions, and I want each of those lions to hold a figure in his/her uniform from the series. And sure, I could track down the original toys on eBay, but that's not exactly the point of this list, is it? Nicktoons supposedly has a new Lion Force cartoon in the works, so there's at least a slim a chance that this could happen. I can hope, can't I?

  7. ThunderCats: Like SilverHawks, this is another one that was never among my favorites. If I was being selfish with Voltron, I'm being altruistic with this pick. I don't think I ever had any ThunderCats toys, to be perfectly honest, but I watched the cartoon more than I watched SilverHawks. I at least knew the villain's name when it came time for a trivia contest, and that was enough to win a Zartan figure from a local television station (see my Must-Haves For Collectors page for that story). ThunderCats enjoyed a measure of popularity, though, and the cat-people concept is something that could really work for modern toys. Those outfits would need to be updated and improved, but I can't deny the potential. ThunderCats and SilverHawks were both produced by Rankin/Bass and owned by Lorimar-Telepictures, and Warner Bros. acquired the rights to their library in 1989. There has been fan interest in new toys, but no company seems to have come close to working out a licensing agreement with Warner Bros. A ThunderCats movie was apparently on the table at one point, but it got scrapped. For now, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing Lion-O or Snarf any time soon. One more thing they had in common with SilverHawks? There are ThunderCats outtakes, too.

  8. TRONTRON: With TRON: Legacy coming to theaters in December, this is probably the most likely candidate on the list after Battle Beasts for a new toy line, at least in the near future. The original figures were kind of lousy, but I loved them, anyway. The Light Cycles were awesome, though, and I would frequently loan them out to figures from other lines. Completely translucent plastic obviously wouldn't be the way to go today, but I'm hoping to see someone get the license and do something incredible with characters from the sequel, and hopefully with a few from the original, as well. New vehicles would be a real treat, especially in-scale Recognizers.

  9. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: Mattel really swung for the fences with their Captain Power toys, an ambitious approach to the crowded action figure market of the '80s. In addition to using your own imagination, the live-action television show provided an interactive experience, allowing you to "shoot" at enemies on the screen. You could also find yourself getting shot, which resulted in Captain Power being ejected from the XT-7. I loved these, I had all the VHS tapes, and I tuned in for the show every weekend. I managed to have Jonathan Power, Lt. Tank Ellis, Major Hawk Masterson, a Soaron Sky Sentry, and a Blastarr Ground Guardian in my collection. The Powerjet XT-7 was my only vehicle, but that was enough. Considering how much smaller the demand for action figures is these days, largely due to competition from things like video games, an updated Captain Power seems like a no-brainer. How difficult could it really be to develop an XT-7 that works with the Wii, for example? That would take the "interactive" aspect of the concept to new levels, since the television show and videos only allowed you to score points. You didn't get to help decide the fate of your heroes. Tie Captain Power in with the Wii, and suddenly kids who play the game can continue their adventures away from the console with the action figures. Resurrecting the characters on television is most likely out of the question, thanks to the Children's Television Act of 1990. Something like Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future would be a sure bet to get classified as a, "program-length commercial," as the original was already controversial in the '80s.

  10. Matt Trakker joins G.I. JOE.M.A.S.K.: I'm sure this is the predictable choice for any list like this, but that's because Kenner's M.A.S.K. toys were so much fun. The intent was obvious, trying to capture the attention of kids who were into G.I. JOE and Transformers, both of which were Hasbro brands. Kenner already had STAR WARS, but that line was coming to an end in 1985, the same year the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand was introduced. M.A.S.K. figures were smaller than STAR WARS or G.I. JOE, maybe half the size, which likely kept costs down on the real selling point of the line, the vehicles. You had a car that turned into a jet, a motorcycle that turned into a helicopter, a Jeep that launched a hidden boat, and a helicopter that turned into a jet. Never really got the point of that last one, but whatever. The thing to remember is that M.A.S.K. was awesome, and it's easily the best action figure line of the '80s that hasn't been revisited properly.

    I say, "properly," because Hasbro took ownership of M.A.S.K. with their 1991 acquisition of Tonka, which had bought Kenner in 1987. Included in the eleventh wave of the 25th Anniversary/Modern Era G.I. JOE line was a Specialist Trakker figure, as seen above. This "new" character's real name? Matt Trakker. Check out Trakker's filecard over at YoJoe.com, and you'll see how Hasbro managed to fit the M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. teams into the G.I. JOE universe. Many fans interpreted this as a tease of possible things to come, but Hasbro reps have insisted they have no plans of launching a new M.A.S.K. line. There's always hope that those plans could change, though.

I have to give an honorable mention to M.U.S.C.L.E., but sorry, fans of Centurions, Sectaurs, and Visionaries. I know they will all have their supporters, but they never made the cut for me. I would have put Super Naturals or Manglors on the list before any of those.

Looking back, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Thinking and writing about all of this stuff is probably going to cost me a fortune.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two More Quick Tips For Aspiring Webmasters

You'll probably read this and think to yourself, "Well, that's just common sense. Everyone knows you shouldn't do those things." You'd think so, wouldn't you?

  1. Create your own content; plagiarism is never cool. Lifting content or images from other sites without obtaining permission - or at least giving credit - is in really poor taste. I'm not talking about quoting something from another site or posting an image with a link back to the original source. That's pretty standard, and it's covered by the concept of fair use. As long as you cite, credit, and link back, you're basically sharing and providing a referral. I'm talking about trying to pass another's work off as your own. This applies to any creative endeavor, not just a collecting site. Check out the backlash against Tom Perkins, who recited others' movie reviews verbatim for his own YouTube videos. The interweb is a big place, friends, and despite evidence to the contrary on any number of sites, there are some pretty sharp people who use it. You won't get away with that sort of thing. Even if you could, why bother? What's the point of creating something if you don't want to actually do the creating?

  2. When one of your members stabs his girlfriend to death and then kills himself, don't be surprised (or ban people!) when other participants find an "R.I.P." thread for the guy offensive. Believe it or not, there are those who aren't going to mourn a murderer, no matter how many times he's posted on a message board.
Now you know!

Friday, May 07, 2010

So You Want To Start Your Own Collecting Site

Here's something I mentioned briefly on my Twitter page back in February. I only touched on it briefly (140-character limit, and all), but as the trend continues, I've decided to expand on the idea a bit without such pesky restrictions.

Here's what I wrote:
1. A lot of people are "graduating" from posting on message boards to launching their own "fan" sites these days.
2. Participating on a forum doesn't prepare you for creating a decent site. You need at least one of two things to deliver anything worthwhile.
3. The first thing is a consistent source of insider info, and that's something you don't get by having a few thousands posts on another site.
4. The second thing is the ability to write well, and most of these new "webmasters" are seriously lacking in that department.
5. No one wants to go to yet another site for commentary written by some functionally illiterate goon with nothing original to say.
6. If they did, these "webmasters" wouldn't have to keep spamming forum threads with links to their new sites.

Before I continue, I'm not suggesting that anyone look to my site for an example of how to do things. This is my personal site, dedicated to my own collection. Sure, I have some tips and tricks for other collectors, and I write about topical issues on this blog from time to time, but this isn't a news or review site. Its primary function is to serve as a place where I can showcase my collection online, even though the galleries are hopelessly outdated. But because this is just my personal site, I can take my sweet time with updates, as it's more for me than for any kind of audience. In fact, that's one of the reasons why I've avoided getting heavily involved with that kind of site, because my free time is often too limited to devote the necessary attention to such an endeavor. I sincerely appreciate those who do so much to provide the rest of us with fresh information, and I'm sure you do, too. It takes a hell of a commitment to do that consistently.

I have, however, contributed to "fan" and "news" sites in different capacities. I've helped with news updates, redesigned established sites, and built sites from scratch. I've also written content for a few sites, going back almost a decade. In addition to all that hobby stuff, I've designed and written copy for literally hundreds of sites professionally. I wouldn't include all of them in a portfolio, but they were what I was paid to do. My point is that I know what makes for a quality web site, and I know all too well what does not.

Action figure web sites are a dime a dozen. Where there were relatively few of them ten years ago, the interweb is littered with them now. Plenty of decent ones attract only modest traffic, but you've decided this series of tubes needs another one.

It needs your site.

You've been posting on toy forums for several years now, shared photos of your collection, and interacted with webmasters and other collectors. Now you want to move on from just being a message board member to having your own playground. But why? What are you going to bring to the table? Do you believe you can do it better than those who are already covering this stuff? What can you offer that will make me want to visit your site?

If you haven't thought that far ahead, these are some things you'll need to get started.

  1. Insider info: Everything else on the list is secondary if you can cover this one. Are you tight with employees who work for the big manufacturers, people who can and (more importantly) will share knowledge and images with you? You know, the kind of stuff that no other sites have gotten their hands on yet? The most likely answer to this question is no. The action figure collecting hobby, right down to the smallest niche, already has more Drudge-style aggregate sites than it needs. Besides, the forums themselves are sufficient for that sort of thing. If you're just repeating news stories you got from other sources, that's not really news. It's redundancy. That's not to say you should never post something as "news" if another site got to it first, but if that's all you're doing, you're just taking up cyberspace.

  2. Competent writing: This is where so many wannabes fail. Remember #1? If you don't have the connections necessary to make that a reality, this is crucial. I can do my best to ignore the ramblings of the functionally illiterate if they provide me with images and intel that no one else has. If your site is just like several others, though, forget about it. If you write poorly, I won't be checking back to see what you have to say, and you might be surprised by just how many people feel the same way. I'm not saying you have to be Ralph Ellison; you don't even have to be some kind of grammar Nazi. You do, however, need to be capable of writing coherent prose that is not replete with thoughtless errors one might expect from a third-grader. Do you know how to properly use were, wear, and where? What about their, they're, and there? It's and its? If you don't, you have no business publishing your words on the internet. That doesn't mean you can't have a site, but if you want to have one that's up to snuff, you damn well better partner up with a good writer (or several).

    In addition to having adequate command of the language, you should possess the ability to craft what you have to say into an interesting and entertaining read. You might take fantastic photos, but images aren't the sole ingredient responsible for making any of the most popular action figure review sites a hit with collectors. The ability of the reviewers to capture visitors' attention with their words is just as important. If you produce several paragraphs of flat, monotonous text, your readers won't be your readers for long.

  3. Photoshop skills: There are plenty of software packages available today that have made a grasp of HTML optional for potential webmasters, but that software won't design your logos and banners. This element of starting a web site really speaks for itself. If your site comes out looking like it was designed in the '90s, check out some online tutorials or find someone who will be willing to help you.

  4. A decent camera: If you're going to showcase pictures of toys, nothing will send people scrambling for their back button faster than grainy, out-of-focus photos. Make sure your camera has a macro setting, and invest a few bucks into lights that won't result in overly yellow pictures.

  5. Unique content: We're back to a question I asked earlier: What are you going to bring to the table? What makes your site different than all the others? What are you doing or saying that others aren't? The idea needs to come before the execution. All the pretty design and slick photography in the world won't do you a damn bit of good if you're not doing something to stand out from the crowd. Plenty of web sites already post news in the form of press releases, feature reviews of recently released toys, and offer commentary on products and the hobby in general. Come up with a plan to distinguish your new site from everyone who came before you. One of the ways to accomplish this was covered in the second part of this list. If you're reviewing the same figure as someone on another site, but you can write a better, more entertaining piece on it, that's a start. And if you're an incredibly talented customizer like Casimir, then you don't need to mess around with news or reviews, because you already have something special.

  6. An actual site before you start promoting it: If you link me to an "under construction" page or one of those Go Daddy pages you get when you first register a domain name, good luck ever getting me back to the site.

  7. SEO: Answer these two questions. First, do you want to get any organic traffic to your site? And by organic traffic, I mean people finding and arriving at your site in the course of their normal browsing activities, not through paid links (which you won't spend money to use, anyway). Yes? Okay, here's your second question. Do you know what search engine optimization is and how to implement it? If you don't, you need to learn. A great site will languish in obscurity if no one can find it. Some people will swear up and down that SEO is, "cheating," but that's only because they don't know how to do it. I'm not saying you need to make your site all spammy, but you should definitely get familiar with linking structures and how to use anchor text to your advantage. The basics, which are all you'll need for something like this, aren't that difficult. I did it professionally for two years without any formal training. You don't need to enroll in a class, or anything. Just do some research on the web.

  8. Visitors over sponsors: It's one of the of the worst-kept secrets about popular toy sites, that webmasters, reviewers, and sometimes staff members get free products from online retailers who advertise on the site. Some of them get free merchandise straight from manufacturers, as well. Maybe that's why you're hoping your new site will take off, but if that's the case, you're going into it for all the wrong reasons. If that's your sole motivation, you're not likely to have much success, either.

    This advice really only applies if "community" is going to be part of your site, and it comes down to one simple rule: Don't be a dick. If you have active forums or comment sections for your posts, that's your "community." Most sites get more traffic from people who don't participate in online discussions than from people who will, but how you treat members of your "community" will make an impression on both sets of visitors. If you get to the point where an online retailer wants to advertise on your site, don't look at that as an obligation to censor anyone who criticizes the business. I'm obviously not talking about blatant trolling, but if someone has what could be construed as a legitimate complaint about a sponsor, the price for silencing that will be the trust of your readers. If a sponsor leaves, others can take its place. If your readers bail on you, I guarantee there won't be any sponsors.
There's certainly more to creating and maintaining a successful collecting site than what I've covered here, but these are areas where I see the most mistakes. Much of the negativity directed at various sites could have been avoided if the people behind them gave consideration to these points before getting started. If you do that, you'll at least have a head start.

I nearly beat that whole no-character-limit thing to death, didn't I?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Cobra S.A.W.-Viper, 25th Anniversary Style

Missing from all the army builders in the 25th Anniversary/Modern Era G.I. JOE line is the S.A.W.-Viper. These guys are fairly infamous in the minds of comic fans, as one of them executed (or, "popped caps on," if you remember the story) Doc, Crankcase, Heavy Metal, and Thunder in issue #109 of G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero. Both heroes and villains had died in the series, but this was the first time we'd seen a massacre of characters who were actually part of the toy line. Even though it was the result of Tomax and Xamot misunderstanding an order from Cobra Commander, the S.A.W.-Viper was all too eager to accept the assignment.

Having picked up quite a few DVD Battles sets on clearance from discount retailers, I saw the potential in one of the extra Roadblock figures I had. I went with a mix of the original v1 figure and the v3 figure for the color scheme, ordered some custom accessories, and broke out the paint. Here's the end result, my 25th-style Cobra S.A.W.-Viper. If you click the photo for the larger version, you'll get an idea of just how limited I am when it comes to skills with a brush. It looks better in person than it does all blown up on a monitor, though, so I'm happy with it.

Cobra S.A.W.-Viper 25th Anniversary Style
Figure: DVD Battles 2 ("The Revenge Of Cobra") Roadblock (v18)

Webgear and pistol: G.I. JOE Trooper

Helmet: Serpent Heavy Gunner Helmet Purple from Broken Arrow Toys

Weapon: M249 SAW from Marauder "Gun-Runners"

Cobra S.A.W.-Viper, 25th Anniversary Style

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Just Deserts

Via Ron Marz on his Twitter page, htmlcomics is officially toast. Not only is the site gone, but the site's owner might be gone, too. Here's the scoop from CBR. Be sure to read this bit, as well.

I'm not one to wish an FBI raid on anyone, but when you rip people off, that's what you have coming to you. Not only is he a thief, but he's also a creepy bastard. He talked a big game about wanting to battle lawyers, and now we'll see how long it takes for him to tuck his tail between his legs and beg for leniency.