Off The Shelf – Canadian HATE
Tuesdays, Costello takes a toy off one of his shelves and explains how it got there to begin with.
Most of the toys on my shelf are items I purchased because they appealed to me in some way. Today, I’m looking at one of the more personal items in my collection. The 2009 Canadian GI Joe Collection convention set.
When access to The Internet was becoming common place, I used this emerging greatest research tool humanity ever developed to look at GI Joes. This lead me to YoJoe.com (still the action figure resource all other toylines wish they had), which lead to a GI Joe customizer message board called The Bivouac. Biv was eventually replaced by JoeCustoms.com, which eventually had a Canadian website spin off called JoeCanuck. GI Joes were releasing in the States regularly but barely anything made it to Canada, so we were more of a support group than anything. However, get enough like-minded individuals in the same place and things can happen.
A cadre of Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area collectors talked themselves into a local meet-up. And since the site spun off from a group of customizers, someone came up with the idea of creating a custom action figure as an attendee bonus. The first year there were 20 someodd attendees, so this was fairly doable.
Over the next few years, the legend of the Canadian Joe Con figures grew, as did attendance at the conventions, and the team helping make the meets happen. By 2009, the team consisted myself, Michael Heddle, Edward Dam, Jason Loo, Dave Mumby, Charles Cushman, and Peter Sarganis. Around that time, GI Joe had returned to retail in a big way, and our plucky little meets were on a lot of fan’s radar. We had also gotten the attention of Hasbro Canada.
Ed worked out an arrangement where Hasbro would donate some overstock to us to make a convention set on the condition that profits for the sale of the set would go to charity. This meant we could have exclusives in the triple digits at no material cost. That was huge. However, it also meant a few obstacles:
First of all, that would take a lot more work. The team working on the convention exclusives had increased, but the labour hours had scaled up a greater amount.
Second of all, these sets were overstock for a reason. They weren’t bad, but the market was saturated. We’d need to find a clever way to represent already familiar parts in an era where Hasbro was regularly reusing its parts to save on production costs.
Fortunately, Michael Heddle had an incredibly clever idea.
As the owner of the award winning collectibles store Bounty Hunter Toys, Mike had proven he was savvy about the toy collecting hobby and market. He knew the challenge of reskinning the most impressive piece in the sets we were cannibalizing, the 25th anniversary version the HISS Tank, was finding a unique take on the most recognizable vehicle in all of GI Joe. It had already been done in black, red, and blue, and collectors didn’t seem to be clamouring for the rest of colours of the HISS rainbow.
Mike’s spin went in a flashier direction: chrome.
GI Joe had dabbled in chrome often enough that it fit the line, but not so often that it was played out. On top of that, Mike had a contact at a trophy manufacturer who could apply the chrome paint quickly and easily. It added to the set’s cost, but it meant the most impressive piece in the set was one of the easier pieces to execute.
On top of having a brilliant idea, Mike promoted it brilliantly. At the time news of new toy releases was coming from Chinese websites. Press releases were slow to release then, but the Internet was as fast as ever, so if a toy factory worker shared pictures somewhere online, even if it was on a Chinese website, it was spotted and shared in North American within a day, if not a few hours.
Mike made a contact in China and sent them a few pictures to share online. Immediately, there was more buzz for our convention exclusive item than there was for anything coming to toy stores from Hasbro. And since this was deal was brokered with Hasbro Canada but produced independently, GI Joe collectors with Hasbro USA contacts still had no information where this chrome HISS came from or how they could get it. When Mike revealed that this was only available at this year’s Canadian GI Joe Convention, our status grew from fabled to mythical.
I was merely a witness to and cheerleader for the development of the chrome HISS (which Mike named the HATE). My contributions to the set were less impactful but more personal.
In my rediscovering GI Joe ten years earlier, I was fascinated to find out there was officially a Canadian member of the team: Backstop, the Persuader driver. Not only was he Canadian, he was from Montreal.
When we were tooling around with the parts we had, I realized the Serpentor in the set would make a decent Back-Stop homage. That’s when Charles suggested that since we have Hasbro’s ear, why not ask if we can just call the figure Backstop? Backstop was a low priority character by any measurement (an official v2 wouldn’t be released for another 8 years, and was one of the last 1987 figures to be updated to the 25th anniversary line), and he had Canadian roots. Hasbro Canada granted us the use of their trademark.
I personally painted all 100 Backstops we sold that year, wrote a story for a comic we included in the set that is the only Backstop-lead GI Joe comic (fan fiction or otherwise), illustrated by the illustrious Jason Loo of The Pitiful Human Lizard.
The rest of the set included two other action figures, another vehicle,filecards, blueprints, and stickers, all in a custom made box.
This wasn’t the only Canadian GI Joe Convention set I worked on, but it’s the one I worked on the most and the one I have the strongest connection to. It was an amazing set, was a blast to work on, and rewarding to see the fan reaction unfold. All that, and it raised $5000 for Mac Kids Children’s Miracle Network : Hamilton.
There aren’t many pieces of my shelf that I feel this connected to in this many ways.