GI Joe: The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action

by John Michlig

Published by Chronicle Books

208 pages, 1998


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Don't Call Him a Doll!

Reviewed by David Middleton

 

His name was taken from a 1945 war movie The Story of GI Joe starring one of the more manlier men in film: Robert Mitchum. Maverick toyman Don Levine wanted to create an action figure who young men could identify with. In 1964, what would fit the bill better than the U.S Army soldier; the grunt; the dog-face? All American, fully articulated, tough, scar on his right cheek -- and in some later incarnations unshaven -- GI Joe was a man's man, all right. No Barbie or Ken dolls for young impressionable boys here.

Growing up I was never much of a fan of the GI Joe doll... er, I mean action figure. While my friends were pretending to kill each other and small replicas of themselves, I was off exploring distant planets with my tiny spacesuited buddy Major Matt Mason. So when I first heard about GI Joe: The Complete Story of America's Man of Action, I thought, 'How interesting could a book on the history of an action figure be?'

But, from its bold cover to its unusual and innovative interior graphics, GI Joe grabs you by the dog tags, drags you in and orders you to read on. I had picked up other books on dolls/action figures before and while they obviously had some kitsch value for the aficionado or collector, they all seemed just books with pictures of dolls. There were a few words on how rare they were or how much they were worth in today's collectibles market and just a bit of history. Not so with GI Joe. This has to be the ultimate book on the topic: I can't imagine anything more complete. A veritable GI Joe encyclopedia, jammed with information, photos, drawings and historical tidbits on this well loved American toy. Brilliant design and lay-out make this an easy and interesting read. The stories Michlig tells about the challenges and pitfalls of the toy business and how difficult it was to get GI Joe off the drawing board read more like tales recounted by war veterans than toy makers. One of the many accounts tells of the creative team's desire to make all the military equipment that GI Joe would handle as authentic as possible. There was even an almost military-like secrecy around the project.

JERRY EINHORN: I spouted off about how we needed to do.03 caliber machine guns and.50 caliber machine guns and M-1s and helmets and uniforms and this and the other thing, so as the guy who last left the military -- I'd been in Korea for thirteen months, from 1952 to 1953 -- it fell to me to research the equipment and weapons we'd need to make a complete soldier. Don sent me out to find these things, but warned that we were under strict secrecy. "Make up whatever story you want, but do not give away our plans," he said. "If the police pick you up, we don't know you. If they toss you in jail, you rot."

Eye-catching color, dynamic design and tight writing combined with great in-your-face graphics make this an all 'round fun and informative way for even a non-GI Joe lover to spend their reading time. This book is as big and bold as its hero. | September 14, 1998

 

David Middleton is art director of January Magazine.