Black Ice: A Slippery Slope for the Customizing Community?

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A Black Ice figure.

On, April 8th 2006, Mike Heddle aka BHT, formerly the owner of Bounty Hunter Toys and currently the administrator of JoeCanuck.com, held the 3rd Annual Canadian Joe Meet in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Besides the toy sellers, freebies, Joe talk, video game wrestling (with GI Joe characters), good eats, and customs on display, there was the Black Ice exclusive figure. This exclusive was limited to 30 figures, 29 of which were either sold to attendees or those who helped in the creation and production process. One figure was set aside specifically to be sold on eBay. That auction for better or worse may possibly have ramifications in the GI Joe collecting and customizing community. In order to fully understand those possibilities a closer inspection of the figure and other custom exclusives is needed.

The Black Ice figure while master minded by BHT was a group effort as explained by Raptor, "I initially consulted with BHT on the parts, and how they would fit together. Finding 30 of the same figure as a base is difficult, but I happened to have been building up a large stock of Mirages for a custom project, which I happily provided. I also hooked BHT up with another board member (whose identity is being withheld), a specialist in custom casting." In addition to Raptor and the casting specialist, Loop provided the filecard artwork, Pete the Greek came up with the weapons and accessories, and a few other individuals were used to bounce ideas around with. The bulk of the work, though, was done by BHT himself. He dyed, painted, assembled, and numbered all of the 30 figures plus he came up with the figure’s name and background for the filecard. According to BHT, the original concept grew and transformed through the help and feedback he received from everyone involved. "I guess I put the package together, but people supplied the parts. Through conversations with guys like Raptor, Beav, Nova and a select few other people, the design was born. I think (Raptor) came up with the all black idea. A name popped in my head (Black Ice), and I went from there. The only things that remained the same from (Raptor’s) original idea and the final product were the legs and arms. The paint design was simple enough, yet effective to look 'kick ass' in my opinion. I enjoyed making him.... yet dreaded working on him since I knew I had 30 of him to make!"

Black Ice's filecard.
The Canadian Joe Meet had humble beginnings with just five people showing up at the first one. Just some guys talking Joes, eating dinner at Crabby Joes, and having some drinks. Despite the good time had by all it was considered a disappointment because of the low turn out. "It almost died then and there," Raptor recalls, "as there wasn't a lot of interest." The next year however, BHT came up with the first Joe Canuck exclusive figure aptly named Joe Canuck. Because BHT wanted to do something special for the Canadian meet, and not insult attendees by charging for a common figure, he asked a fellow Canuck for help. BHT reveals, "Loop sculpted the head and did the artwork. He even hand-painted each of the JoeCanuck heads." He further explains the idea behind the meet and the exclusive, "My only intention since day one of the ‘Annual’ Canadian Joe Meets was for other fans of G.I. Joe to get together and enjoy their hobby. The figure was a way to encourage people to come from outside the local area of Hamilton Ontario. You HAD to be present to get the figure. That was the only hitch. If you weren't there - you wouldn't get one. That changed a little with the Black Ice figure since I had input from so many people this time around."

Usually the cost of the meet is covered by the cover charge ($5) and the sellers who pay for their table space. In order to help pay for the costs for the 2007 meet BHT decided to set aside an extra Black Ice figure to sell on eBay. Black Ice on eBay The figure sold for $356.05 US. It surpassed BHT’s expectations by a long shot. "Once I finished the write up and the description (complete with links to General Hawk’s review), I knew it would hit around $75.00 - MAYBE $100.00 if I was lucky. I wasn't able to be near a computer the last day of the auction, so I had (Raptor) call my Cell phone for me when it ended. I was floored that it sold for so much! I'm just thankful I wasn't driving when I got the call!" Movie franchise and celebrity customs in the 12 inch, 1/6 scale often sell for hundreds of dollars. Marvel Legends style GI Joe customs have been known to fetch big bucks as well. Black Ice, though, is the highest amount paid for any 3 3/4" GI Joe custom.

Convention or regional GI Joe meet exclusives are not new to the hobby. James DeSimone created the Police Officer, Race Car Driver, and Cobra Infiltrate Jinx in the 1990’s for the his GI Joe Conventions. * According to Terry Dizard, aka RedClaw, administrator of YoJoe.com, "Hasbro turned a blind eye towards the DeSimone figures, which were made from mail-order stock. The Race Car Driver, Jinx, and Police Officer - all are mail-order exclusives/Hasbro direct figures. It is uncertain whether or not Hasbro supplied the figures directly or just allowed DeSimone to purchase them en masse. Regardless of that point, the figures are painted with Testors model paint OR in the case of Jinx, just a Sharpie Marker, and are not official G.I.Joe figures in any capacity." Recently, Viperlord purchased a mint on card Cobra Infiltrate Jinx, the very one shown on YoJoe.com, which was the exclusive from the 1993 DeSimone show for $232.50 US. This might seem fairly high for what is essentially a custom, but the DeSimone figures do carry with them a certain level of prestige and have been recognized and accepted by most of the collector community over the years since their release. In 2005 the Sacramento GI Joe Show began having exclusive 3 3/4" GI Joes in the form of the Brown Water Warriors. Last year’s figure was King Rat and on September 30, 2006 they will be offering Reed Rat.

Gauging an accurate value for these figures is quite troublesome though as these exclusives so rarely exchange hands on the open market. Something to keep in mind is that unlike the Joe Canuck numbered figures these other exclusives are easy to duplicate and no one besides the people who created them know exactly how many of the figures actually exist. While King Rat and Reed Rat might cost you as much as $40-60 on the secondary market, one of the DeSimone exclusives will cost you upwards of $200. As Mike T of Mike’s Forgotten Figures warns, "DeSimone as recently as a few years ago would gladly make one of his Jinx figures for anyone who was willing to pay his current asking price. He is aware of how much they go for and isn't above cashing in on his creations. As such, high dollar purchases should be considered HIGHLY risky as there really is no guarantee that more of these items won't be introduced into the collecting community at any time." Mike T’s "buyers beware" comments should be taken to heart. Viperlord, however, confesses why he finally purchased the Cobra Infiltrate Jinx, "I know this is going to elicit some laughter from some of you guys, but I honestly don't care. I've wanted this figure for a LONG time... I could have made one for $1.50. I even bought a Jinx from GSmiley to do it. But I wanted the original. I don't know why, but this figure really excites me."

The auction's result.

All these other exclusives prove one thing. There is nothing categorically unique about the Black Ice figure. It is not the first GI Joe meet exclusive. It isn’t even the first Joe Canuck meet exclusive. It is not the first group effort. That title belongs to Wowboy’s Bombshell custom. He recruited the talents of Loop for the head sculpt, Livevil for torso sanding, Grandslam for sanding and work on the arms and added his own talent to the mix to create her. Yet the Black Ice figure captivates our attention. Unfortunately it is not just because it is a neat action figure. There are those who have been watching the trends of the community that worry the Black Ice figure may have opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box on the community. Mike T explains, "While it’s cool and goes to a good cause, the reality is that it’s still a custom and people have now made it the most expensive unproduced piece in the entire line... Are we really heading to a time where fan created customs are going to be the only things of value in this hobby? How will groups like (the GI Joe Collector’s Club) and Hasbro react? Are we going to see every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there make up 'unofficial' customs and try to hawk them for big bucks on Ebay? ($356.05), now you’re talking serious money that a lot of guys would like to get; even at the expense of the legitimacy of the overall hobby... I don’t think (BHT) is out to destroy the hobby nor do I think the circumstances of this figure were not a factor in its pricing. However, there are any number of people out there who will see this and think their custom is ‘better’ and fully expect people to pay hundreds of dollars for it. Don’t think a few of those (customizers) aren’t watching this auction with dollar signs in their eyes. Those are the (ones) I’m concerned about."

Hasbro has said the line is not dead but there are very few 3 3/4" items to be released until the 25th Anniversary items next year. That is a long time for collectors’ interest to be taken elsewhere. During the line’s previous down times collectors have looked towards other toy lines or have gone to eBay to fill in holes in their collection. If collectors did take a new interest in customs and customizers saw a way to not only make a quick buck but some big bucks there could very well be a rash of "copycat" customs out there. BHT had this to offer, "If someone is going to do an exclusive for their show/con/meet, then more power to them - I know what a pain in the hands it can be!" He hopes that nobody would take this as some sort of competition.

There are those who believe this was simply a case of rare circumstances. General Hawk of GeneralsJoes.com and a staff member of JoeCustoms, JoeSightings, JoeBattlelines, and Sigma 6 Central had this to say, "I think Black Ice just happened to be a very unique combination of a cool figure, neat character, and appealing convention exclusive...it just all came together perfectly. I’m sure the tireless review reporting of myself helped things along. The positives here WAY outweigh the negatives, though. The publicity alone for the Canadian JoeCon and the JoeCanuck boards will be a terrific thing." Raptor concurs, "I think that it's a real validation of the work that went into the figure - but I don't think it will have a major impact on the hobby. It's not the same as selling a single custom figure - it's a limited high quality run of an original character, with fantastic artwork, original bio card and accessories. Multiply the effort by 30 and you've got a huge project that could only be tackled by a group of creative people working closely together without regard to ego or credit, which is a pretty rare occurrence for a project like this." He also reminds us that, "The (356.05) price tag is as much a result of the eBay bidding process - and remember that the money went towards the cost of the Joe Canuck meet, so it'll be going to promote the enjoyment of Joe for an entire community of Joe fans, which might have influenced the bidding a little higher."

In order for a custom to earn as much as Black Ice did you would also need the rare buyer willing to spend that kind of money. A customizer would need to know what would make a buyer reach deep into their pockets for a custom like this. The reasoning behind the eBay bid for this figure can be found with the winning bidder himself, Dryhawk, from comments made on JoeCanuck.com, "I truly am happy with my purchase, as I feel that the Black Ice figure is easily the best Convention piece I’ve ever seen. I’m happy to help fund the next Joe Meet you guys have... I’d gladly help again next year for the next exclusive. Thanks again, and I’m excited to get him in the mail. He is in a good home."

There is another cause for caution when it comes to this exclusive figure, one not so encompassing on the community but just as detrimental. Not only has the bar been raised on what the exclusive for the Annual Canadian Joe Meet should be but also the attention given to this local meet will certainly cause it to have many more attendees next year. As General Hawk puts it, "I think a more serious and character-driven exclusive is highly desired. And this means expectations are going to be pretty darn high as well." It is one thing to have a local meet where everyone either knows each other or is familiar with one another. It is quite another to watch as a small event outgrows itself and becomes too big for the participants and their original intent. BHT addressed how he would feel if the figure ever became bigger than the meet itself, "I would think (or hope) that people have read the updates, threads and reports on the Canadian Joe Meets, and want to come to them regardless of an exclusive item or not. Sure, the chance to have something limited to that event is a great idea, but ANY gathering of Joe Fans - make that, collectors of anything, SHOULD be about their passion of that hobby - NOT the exclusive or one of a kind item. I do think the popularity of the Black Ice eBay auction has increased the members, viewers, and lurkers over at JoeCanuck.com - and for that I'm glad. The more that join the boards - the better amount of people we should see at the Canadian Joe Meets. It's not about the figure, it shouldn't be about the figure, and to be honest - if it DOES become about the figure, then I'll stop doing them. Not everyone that came to the Canadian Joe Meet this year wanted a Black Ice figure, and they still had fun."

Whether this exclusive custom is truly a once in a lifetime occurrence or if it has set a precedent for greedy customizers to exploit product starved collectors remains to be seen. At the very least Black Ice served his purpose in gaining interest in the Annual Canadian Joe Meet and helping to pay for next year’s meet. BHT promises the proceeds will be used for a bigger meeting hall next year, more door prizes, flyers, Timbits (the official food of the Canadian Joe Meet), to continue to fund JoeCanuck.com - the home of the Canadian Joe Meet, and whatever else he can think of to make the day fun. This is good because there is already talk of a much larger American invasion for next year’s meet. As for next year’s exclusive, BHT is not talking about what he has up his sleeve and only hinted this, "I have an idea in mind for three things actually. One would build off the Black Ice vs. Joe Canuck idea. The other would be a 'tongue in cheek' idea for Canadians. And the last one is one that I'd like to do, but fear it would take too much work, and could get me into some legal trouble. Rest assured, people will appreciate each of them." He added this, "(T)his time you will HAVE to be there to get it. No more of this 'shipping things out' stuff."

* James DeSimone could not be reached for comment.
** Update 6/8/07: BHT was able to auction off a one of a kind "repaint" (red instead of blue) Black Ice figure Mint on Card for $265.00 to help cover costs for the 2008 JoeCanuck meet. [1]
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