During their heyday of the 1980s, the forces of G.I. Joe tirelessly traveled around the globe defeating the evil world-conquering schemes of terrorist organization Cobra both in the animated episodes of their epic cartoon and Marvel comic book.
This Saturday, however, these Real American Heroes embark on a different sort of mission altogether -- starring in their own art show. Local toy geek Grey Rogers, who operates the niche shop G.I. Joe vs. Transformers inside CenPho nerd haven Arizona Collectors Marketplace, is putting on the exhibition, which celebrates the long-running toy line, animated show, and comic.
The 32-year-old, a onetime army brat who religiously watched the '80s cartoon and collected its multitude of militaristic action figures and vehicles, told Jackalope Ranch that his lifelong love of all things G.I. Joe related -- as well as Hasbo's Transformers (hence the name of his shop) -- is what prompted him to hold the event.
It's also loosely tied into the next weekend's premiere of the latest live action movie from the franchise G.I. Joe: Retaliation starring Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
"We grew up with this stuff and it obviously made such an impression with people from that era that it lives on and they keep revamping it for new generations," Rogers says. "That was my impetus for doing the store. And I've wanted to do sort of cultural event like this for a awhile now."
Although G.I. Joe dates back to the early 1960, when Hasbro marketed the original 12-inch-tall "movable fighting man" dolls to boys, the art show will largely focus on the vastly popular "Real American Hero" toy line and its various media and ephemera.
Rogers enlisted several Valley artists who create works featuring the heroes G.I. Joe and the vile villains of Cobra for the exhibition, including "everything from photography to paintings," as well as some rare ephemera from Joe history.
One of the highlights, Rogers says, are the pictures created by lensman and graphic designer Danny Neumann, a writer for the website Action Figure Insider whose series of shots depicting plastic toys and dolls in comedic and meaningful poses was featured at eye lounge last fall.
"His forte is photographing toys in interesting locations and poses," Rogers says. "So he did a series with G.I. Joe figures on location doing what they should be doing in a witty way, you could say."
Illustrator and painters like Matthew Molleur (who frequently conjures up works starring characters from G.I. Joe and other '80s childhood favorites like Optimus Prime) and James Hiralez, and Ellison Keomaka (whose fantastic mural of retro movie icons adorns the Collectors Marketplace) will also show of original works and sell prints.
Local author Dan Klingensmith, who is working on a book titled Creating G.I. Joe, devoted to artwork and design behind the Real American Hero line, will be bringing out a slew of original production and conceptual pieces and designs for the toys and comics that were culled from his private treasure trove.
"We're only showcasing a small part of his substantial collection. It varies and goes all the way from prototype and conceptual designs to sculpt sheets that would go from the artists to the toy sculptors," Rogers says. "There's also what's called 'final presentation art,' which has the full-color presentations of what each character was going to be like. Some have notes scribbled on them and things like that. He's even got a paint code sheet that told the factory what colors to spray on each piece of the toys."
Also included in Klingensmith's enviable cache of Joe-related ephemera are sketches and works created by such individuals as Larry Hama (the comics scribe who created a majority of the backstory for the comics) and production artist Ron Rudat (who helped design the toys).
Rogers is also planning to screen the 1987 animated film G.I. Joe: The Movie, which was based on the '80s cartoon, and the 2009 live action flick G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
He's also arranged for a special appearance by a cabal of local cosplayers who will dress as several characters from the Joe universe, such as Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, The Baroness, and the dreaded Cobra Commander. Representatives of Paramount Pictures will also be at the show giving away shwag promoting G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Rogers says he's expecting plenty of former children from the '80s at Saturday's event who, like himself, are nostalgic for those lost afternoons where they were utterly engrossed in the animated exploits of G.I. Joes like Duke, Shipwreck, and Roadblock battling Destro, Zartan, and the other dastardly foes of Cobra.
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"I'm also hoping it will appeal to a wider audience than just toy collectors that want to see some cool artwork and photography that has an interesting and unique subject matter," he says. "It's something I know that a lot of people would be interested in seeing."
And knowing, as they used to say at the end of every G.I. Joe episode, is half the battle.
The Art of G.I. Joe exhibition takes place from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, at AZ Collector's Marketplace. G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens in theaters across the Valley on Friday, March 28.