Evolution of Customizing
It started with a screw driver. Maybe we were trying to fix a busted o-ring or replace the arm of a figure with a broken thumb. It was all downhill from there. The next thing we knew we were using markers and limited paint to change hair color or neon weapons to black. Even Hasbro endorsed this type of customizing (see newsletter from 1983 below). We then began mixing and color matching the parts or specific color schemes of a figure. We filled in military specialties that Hasbro missed. We created distinct characters to play along side our heroes and villains.
Then one day we took things to the next level. We weren't just adding paint in one or two places, we were painting the entire figure to be totally different from any of its parts. We also moved away from the Testors' model enamels to the cheaper acrylic and then to the more expensive plastic model specific acrylic paint. We started clear coating so the figures paint wouldn't chip. We added weapons from Star Wars or Corps! figures. We started cutting things. We took a holster from a Chap Mei figure to add it to our custom. We removed pouches from the Intoyz or XD figures to add and boil and popped the head, hands, and feet from BBi figures all to make our custom better. The modern release of Microman made adding wrist articulation possible. Our recipe lists became enormous with bits and pieces from here, there and everywhere. We started posting picutres online for feedback.
The more we cut the better we got. Our only limitations became our imaginations as a sharp X-acto and a dremel tool made hollowing out helmets and cutting and replacing limbs easier. Pin necks were easily converted to ball necks. Our painting skills improved as the camo patterns became more and more intricate even moving into the insane modern electronic dots. While the debate of new sculpt versus old sculpt raged in the community we were in our laboratories combining them. Taking the best of both worlds even so far as learning how to change lower arms on both styles.
When parts became a limitation we adapted and started creating our own. Either by using clay or epoxy to shape onto the figure or by casting our own parts. In the beginning there were a few brazen enough to attempt casting. It has become a stepping stone and a right of passage for most of us. Casting products have made the rare part and the celebrity head attainable to all. Yet, there are those that can achieve the same results with a dentist pick and a lump of clay. Moving away from the simple addition to existing parts, we created our own parts from scratch. We created our own weapons. From Project 95 to Raven's Casting to J&R to Marauder John to Good to Go there are suppliers of goods to help us out along the way and to nudge us along to try our own hands at it.
The evolution continues as we reach into other hobbies to see what other tricks are out there. Killuminati brought the 12" real clothes to the 3 3/4" community. From the Transformers community we began using RIT dye to change the colors in a more favorable way over paint. We started looking to rail road enthusiasts and miniature war gamers for ideas on how to make our figures more realistic or apply insignias better.
While once upon a time we felt like we were alone or part of a few, the members of the hobby grow and grow. Every toy site has a section dedicated to customs. From Yo Joe to the Biv to Joecustoms and Evilface and personal pages customs get dedicated sites and message boards onto themselves feeding the creativity and bringing in new blood everyday. There are literally tens of thousands of GI Joe customs online. Customizers are able to support their hobby through commissions and online sales of their work. Some regional Joe meets began having mass produced customs as exclusives. The 3 3/4" customs section at the national GI Joe convention grew from two or three entries a decade ago to now having several rows of tables dedicated to our craft.
Who knows where the future will lead or what new technologies or old tricks await us. All that is certain is that whatever comes our way we'll use it, adapt it, and make it our own. In other words, we'll customize it.