Breaking the Ice
Rolando: I'm sitting here with Mr. camper Dan, the founder and originator of the Bivouac website. How are you this wonderful day, Mr. camper Dan?.
camper: I'm great, thanks. And please...just call me dan. Mr. camper Dan is...kinda weird.
Rolando: [sighing] My sincerest apologies. Let me make it up to you with a nice quiet dinner? I have a romantic little getaway in the mountains...
camper: No way, I'm not falling for that.
Rolando: Would you care for a glass of wine then? Or maybe a nice Moët et Chandon perhaps?
camper: No, I don't want to drink anything you're offering. Look, are we going to do this interview or not? I'm losing my patience here. I got stuff to do.
At what point for you did the GI Joe go from toys, comics and cartoons into something that you wanted to dedicate a website for?
Rolando: Alright, Don't be such a Grumpy Gus! So. Tell me. Inquiring minds want to know. At what point for you did the GI Joe go from toys, comics and cartoons into something that you wanted to dedicate a website for?
camper: Wow, that's actually a real question.
Rolando: Why, yes it is! See, I'm not all about a sexy good time, eh?
camper: I guess. Anyway, it was the fall of '95 and the internet as we know it was relatively new. The web was just starting to get that buzz around it. I lived in Boston and worked at a high-tech company that was always connected, so I started poking around the internet at lunch and on my free time. I couldn't believe the stuff that was out there, so I just started looking at anything that popped in my head. I came across Eugene Son, Connor Malone & Corey Stinson's websites (which later would become Yojoe.com) and next thing I knew many hours had passed. I had so much fun on those sites reliving my childhood, that I knew I wanted to be a part of it all.
Rolando: Ahh....so would it be fair to say that seeing a group of three men on the internet doing something you never saw before got you curious...so much that you couldn't help but want to join in on the sexy fun they were having?
camper: Uh, I guess you could say that. If you twisted everything into something that wasn't really what I said. But we're talking GI Joe sites here, you know.
Rolando: Oh, yes...I know.
camper: Well, as much as you're smiling and winking at me, I just want to make sure. And that lip licking? Foul.
So, How did the name Bivouac come about?
Rolando: So, How did the name Bivouac come about?
camper: Early on the site was located all over the place. I needed to call it something because "Dan's Site" really didn't have that ring to it. I wanted to tie it into the Joe line somehow, and thinking about how 'mobile' it was at first I decided on The Bivouac when it came to giving it a domain name. Plus, it started as a sub-domain at a place I worked, and I needed a small name so the web address wouldn't be too long. The name stuck. My original site was made primarily for dioramas, but if that's where it stayed we wouldn't be talking right now.
So how did a site for dio's transform into a customs site? Was it from a chance rendezvous? The result of a torrid webcam session?
Rolando: So how did a site for dio's transform into a customs site? Was it from a chance rendezvous? The result of a torrid webcam session?
camper: - No, nothing like that. At all. I wanted to keep it fresh, and since a remarkably miniscule population did dio's I allowed pretty much any fan created item or ‘miscellanea' that wasn't found anywhere else. People started posting customs, which was a pretty rare splinter group in the community to begin with back then. The more people posted customs, the more people got interested in them. Next thing I knew, people were posting customs on a regular basis and everything else, including dios, took a back seat to them. Then, around the time Eugene Son, Connor Malone, and Corey Stinson were combining their respective sites into Yojoe.com they decided that they didn't want to have customs posted there. Just production level items. Corey asked me if I'd host them, I said yes and next thing you know The Bivouac was the place to go for customs. I hate to say that it happened all at once, but looking back that's what it seems like. Not very glorious, huh?
Rolando: No, not glorious at all. I cannot be alone in hoping for something a bit more titillating, like you dreamed it in a sexy dream that you couldn't forget, or it was a symbol of a forbidden love affair that left the two of you despondent and aching with an unquenchable desire that could only be quenched during the occasional cattle drive . You make it sound as if it was the result a person afflicted with nothing more than boredom and mediocrity and a bunch of dumb luck!
camper: Yep. You're pretty much dead on with the dumb luck thing. If it wasn't me, it could have been anyone else. It was a right place at the right time kind of thing.
Were you disappointed that the dio's or diostories didn't take off?
Rolando: Were you disappointed that the dio's or diostories didn't take off?
camper: Of course, it's why I started the site to begin with. People did dio's for Star Wars, and I wanted to get people to do them for Joe. There were some impressive one-shot dios at the time for Star Wars, and I felt Joe deserved the same treatment. It was an uphill battle though, as doing a dio or even a dio story was a LOT harder then than it is now, and now isn't exactly a breeze either. Digital cameras were obscenely expensive, and the quality was very poor for even the good ones. Believe it or not, a regular camera and flatbed scanner was more cost effective then a digital camera back then. All you needed to show off a custom was a scanner. You could just lay it directly on the scanner and be done with it, and almost everyone did. You couldn't do that for a dio, let alone a diostory. It was just a lot cheaper and easier for a customizer to get their stuff on the web than it was for a dio guy. So I just transferred much of my energy into customs.
So, what brought you out of the closet to become a customizer?
Rolando: So, what brought you out of the closet to become a customizer?
camper: [Laughing] I didn't know I was in a closet. I guess I got inspired. There was some serious talent back in the day, even before the masters we have now were even known. Thomas Wheeler, Brian Holst, Corey Stinson...all of them had some fantastic stuff that I've never seen before, and I wanted to try my hand at making my own stuff but at the level they were doing it. I did customs when I was a kid, mostly part swapping to make 2 broken figures into 1 good one. If I did any color modification, it was with a marker and a bottle of white out. Even as I kid I always had ideas, but never any raw talent or enough creativity to make them happen. As an adult I was more willing to give things a shot, and being able to afford my own materials to work with made it easier. So I guess what brought me out of the ‘closet' was the desire to see if time improved my skills or not. Unfortunately, they were only slightly better.
Rolando: If you need help comming out of any other closets I can certainly help if you're confused. I have a myspace account with plenty of pictures...
camper: Not interested, 'male' is not my type. So can we just stick to the questions please?
Do you think that there are different levels of customizer?
Rolando: Alright, alright...don't get your undies all in a bind. Do you think that there are different levels of customizer?
camper: Without a doubt there are people who turn out stuff that continues to floor me. Evilface, Livevil, Chad & Matt, Alyosha, Grand Slam, Sgartz...and so many more that deserve mentioning but just don't have the time. They all have massive levels of skill, but at the same time they're no different than the 6 year old today that takes a marker to one of their figures. They're not satisfied with what the toy company produces, and they alter it to fit in with what they think it should be. Sure, the talented customizer will usually have a more pleasing custom than a 6 year old, but the people with talent are only building on what was there years before they even knew what a customizer was. The title is something that an adult gives themselves to identify themselves to others, more or less to establish a common ground. A kid doesn't call themselves a customizer, they're just enjoying their toys the way they like best. And at that most basic level, we're all equal. No matter how much variance in skill someone has.
Rolando: Interesting. I'm not so sure I agree, but whatever.
camper: Look, you're asking for my answers and I'm giving them.
So how did the Group Projects come about?
Rolando: So how did the Group Projects come about?
camper: It was a skill building exercise, designed to focus on the 'complete package' of a custom. There were people who were great at painting, but poor at bios. People who could write characters better than Hasbro dreamed, but couldn't paint all that well. Then there were those who just had no idea where to even begin. The whole point and purpose was to work together from start to finish in order to help build skills in the entire lifecycle of a custom. Get the creativity working on all aspects from bios to parts to paints, and do something that not only you never tried before, but something you hadn't really considered. We (the original participants) came to an agreement that the team concept would be the most efficient way to do this. Make a custom fit within a specified group that everyone participating in the project would help flesh out. People who had never written bios before, were writing bios. People who only did repaints were coming up with entirely new characters. People who went for the obvious parts combinations tried something different. Shadow Ops was the result, and as you can see it was a massive success. There are what, 15 group projects, with a 3 or 4 month timeframe each? I figured it would fizzle out at 10, tops. Of all the things I'm happy to have been part of in the Joe community, the group projects are about as close to the top as I can get.
Rolando: Actually, as of this interview there are 23 Group projects.
camper: 23?? Holy Crap!
What made the Bivouac stand out at the time from other GI Joe fan websites?
Rolando: What made the Bivouac stand out at the time from other GI Joe fan websites?
camper: All the other big sites had their niche, between the toys, comic and cartoon. But they all dealt with production quality items in some way, either discussing them or showing pictures of them. The Biv was more a ‘for the fan, by the fan' kind of place, meaning that the content was made by them and contributed by them. Without everyone else's stuff that they made up, there simply was no site. I always looked at it like it was the more creative leg of the community, rather than a site dedicated to production items even though it was based on them. Space was more of a commodity then, so I made it a policy early on that I won't double host. Meaning, if you had your figure on your own site it wouldn't be on the Biv too. I think that the byproduct of my hosting policy resulted in the ‘only seen here' kind of content, and that helped generate traffic. What really set the site apart though, was the message board. I originally intended it to be a forum for people to discuss customs & dio's, as the Pit was the place to go for regular Joe talk. Like the rest of the site, the board evolved on its own and it became inseparable. I was just along for the ride.
So which one would you say is your favorite custom?
Rolando: So after seeing so many customs, you must have a good appreciation for them. So which one would you say is your favorite custom?
camper: How can anyone pick something like that? Like I said before there's some serious talent out there, and I can't even begin to try and narrow it down to even a hundred figures let alone one. One thing I've noticed is that over the years the techniques and skills have progressed beyond where the early customizers imagined was even possible. I do have to admit that the customs I like best are the 'whole package'. Anyone can take a figure and paint him up to a professional level but it takes a lot more work and thought to create a persona around it, or fill a gap that is lacking in a very crowded mythos. Though, for my own personal group of customs I've done, the one I like the best is my custom Dreadnok "Rocko". He's a relatively simple concept, and came to me after Wheeler's "Pigpen" custom. I've always wanted to go back to him and touch him up a little and give him a better pic, but I never did. The bio is what I'm most pleased with him, especially the detailed backstory I gave him. I don't think I ever posted that, and would have to go back to my old files to pull it up.
Do you still make customs?
Rolando: Do you still make customs?
camper: Honestly, running the Biv burned me out on them. I still have ideas, and I've got about 20 or so that have been in the works since the late 90's. Now, I only make customs if I have a need for them for my own projects.
What projects are you working on?
Rolando: What projects are you working on? Hopefully something that I can be part of, hmm?
camper: Way back when I started a dio story, "Death of a Friend". It was always meant to be the prelude to a much larger story, but it ended up being a small little chapter since I never went back to it. Between time and circumstances, it's been in the making since '97 or '98. While I've since started it back up (including a reshoot of the original) I'm still working on the script, believe it or not. The next 10 chapters are fully written, but I expect that from beginning to end it will have a few thousand images.
Rolando: A few thousand?
camper: Yeah, if I don't do some serious cutting or even break it up into multiple stories I suspect that it will be the largest diostory ever written.
Rolando: Wouldn't that be a sight to see...there must be a place for Rolando, eh? Perhaps a scene where Cobra Commander is learning a new forbidden dance?
camper: Maybe, but I highly doubt it. Anyway, the key is getting it finished. Unfortunately time isn't on my side right now, but at least it's giving me time to finish the script and flesh out ideas.
Rolando: You're still scripting it then? So it could be longer than what you say, right?
camper: I've had to make changes to it for various reasons, and I'd rather not go into too many details as to why. Some of it is due to world events, others to things that I've read about happening in the new comics that I don't want to look like I'm imitating. Also, there were errors that needed to be corrected. The story is very tightly wrapped, and things that happened early affect the latter part. It's not so evident now, but it's very layered. So when I make a change anywhere in the story, there are lots of other little things I have to go back and work on.
Rolando: I'm impressed. You must be working very hard on it.
camper: Be impressed when it's done, not when I'm talking it up. Things could change between now and then, and anything could happen. Like I said, I might do massive cuts before I'm through.
Are you hosting any other websites out there?
Rolando: Well, I hope you do finish it even if you will not cast me. Are you hosting any other websites out there?
camper: Yeah, I do have another website, checkpointalpha.com. I'm doing the same thing I started out with way back when - hosting dios. I'm pretty slow-going with it though, slower than I ever was with the Biv (and towards the end that was pretty bad). For better or worse, I'm very much "I'll get to it, when I get to it". Other than my own, I've got Spin Doctor & Pentastar's stories up there, but hopefully in time I'll get more people to post. Of course, so long as they don't have their stories posted elsewhere.
Rolando: Old habits die hard, eh?
camper: Yep. I can be pretty stubborn. And I'm unwilling to change. Keep that in mind when you're giving me those loving glances.
What was the hardest part of running the Bivouac, or any other website?
Rolando: What was the hardest part of running the Bivouac, or any other website?
camper: Time is always number one, I've never had enough. That always played a part in getting the site the way I wanted it. Running the Biv was the hardest, due my being the ‘hub' of content updates. It's not like today where there are content management systems and people can post their own customs, I used to have to create a webpage manually for every custom posted to the Bivouac. It was very much a part time job just getting things ready for an update. Getting complaints about the speed in which I updated was always an annoyance, but many people who complained were often pushed to the bottom of the update list. If I posted their stuff at all. I laugh when people call Beav a ‘nazi' due to the way he runs his site, they must not have seen me in action.
If you had one piece of advice to pass on to a beginning dio artist, customizer, or web admin, what would it be?
Rolando: If you had one piece of advice to pass on to a beginning dio artist, customizer, or web admin, what would it be?
camper: Try it to see if you like it, but only keep doing it because you love it. It's so clichéd but it's the truth. If you don't enjoy doing something that is meant to be a source of fun, why bother? That's true in dios, customs, websites, video games, piano...any hobby. If you feel like you need a break, take one. Don't force yourself to like it, because in the end you'll make yourself hate it.
As for being a web admin, it isn't easy. If you're going to do it you REALLY got to have a love for the hobby and thick skin. If you want to do it to garner respect or accolades, you're wasting your time. There's little gratitude and barely any thanks for even the best of them, and people take you for granted. That is, until they try it themselves. Trust me, and I don't say that with any hint of resentment or anger. If I could go back in time and do it again, I wouldn't change a thing (well, maybe one or two). I only say it because I'd hate for someone to think that being a web admin for a popular site is a breeze, and that everyone thinks you crap ice cream. Not only can the experience put you off to running any kind of web site, but it can also sour your enjoyment of the hobby you started it for. I don't know any webmaster for any non-profit, fan-based web site that hasn't thrown their hands in the air with frustration at least once.
Why did you choose beav to carry on the mantle? Was it his sexiness?
Rolando: Why did you choose beav to carry on the mantle? Was it his sexiness?
camper: I needed a sucker, and he was the first fish to bite. No, seriously. A year or so before Beav offered to help me out with menus and graphics to turn it into a more professional looking site. Like a good web designer, he knew what I wanted even though I wasn't really sure what I wanted. When it was time for me to give it up, he was the person I had in mind, if he was willing to take it on. He told me he started working on a new message board to help moderate the nightmare the un-moderated Biv board became, and that was what made me decide to turn it over to him. He accepted, and it was done. I was disappointed he wanted to rename the Biv to Joecustoms, but his rebranding and reformatting gave it a fresh start and it far exceeded any expectations I could have had.
What has been the biggest change (for better or worse) that has happened to customizing or the community at large?
Rolando: What has been the biggest change (for better or worse) that has happened to customizing or the community at large?
camper: A tough one. I'm going to have to go on the negative, and say the division within the fandom. Back in the day the places to go talk Joe were limited. I'm talking Pit days, that is. You knew almost everyone who was online, and everyone would help each other with their collection. Now, there seems to be a lot more ‘cliques'. You've got the Joecustoms crowd. Then the Devils Due crowd. Don't forget Joe Battlelines, Covert Missions, The Pit, yojoe message boards, joesightings, joecanuck, and however many others are out there. Each of them have people who span all across all forums, so you'll see a lot of the usual suspects. And each of them have an ‘old boys' network or pecking order, if you will. While I know that's a natural part of life, and anyone who works in an office with more than 3 people will agree, it unintentionally produces a byproduct of division and preferential treatment. I know that lots of people have become valuable members of the community due to one or more of the various posting places so there's even a bit of a positive in that too (plus, the variety of conversations really is nice) but aside from that there's a bit of familiarity that doesn't exist so much anymore. People tend to gravitate to where they feel the most comfortable, myself included. I just find it a shame that it's no longer in the same place. And the board wars...dear Lord, that's the kind of crap I'm talking about.
Is there anything you'd like the rest of the world to know about you that you don't think we do, like what kind of underwear you wear or what you'd like written on your tombstone?
Rolando: Is there anything you'd like the rest of the world to know about you that you don't think we do, like what kind of underwear you wear or what you'd like written on your tombstone?
camper: My underwear is off limits. As for my tombstone, I haven't really given any thought to what I want on it but more what I don't want on it. If I end up having something on my tombstone relating to GI Joe, than I did something seriously wrong in my life. Not because I dislike the toy line, which I don't. I have a great love for it. But it's only a small part of who I am. It's a hobby, an interest. If what's on a person's tombstone is a reflection of their life, I would want it to reflect the things that are the most important to me, namely my family. If anything to do with GI Joe makes it on my tombstone than that means it played a larger part in my life than it ever should have, and at some point my priorities got seriously screwed up. Unfortunately, I think there are those in the hobby that put GI Joe above their own children, and that's not only sad it's tragic.
If you were trapped alone on a desert island with plenty of food and water, what GI Joe figure and vehicle would you want to play with while you were there? Why?
Rolando: Wow camper, that was deep. But we cannot end on a sad note, so let's say that you are trapped alone on a desert island with plenty of food and water. Unfortunately I would not be there to comfort you, but what GI Joe figure and vehicle would you want to play with while you were there? Why?
camper: Alright, this is a fun one. I think I would want to bring along a v1 Shipwreck and a v1 Fang. While not specifically my favorite figure and vehicle, they are definitely on the top 10 list. Shipwreck....well the irony of a sailor on a deserted island for one, and also because he comes with Polly and I can have the two of them interact with each other. That way even if I go crazy from the solitude, my figure won't. Plus from the ‘toon he's the most ‘fun' of the series, so if I descend into madness I'd like to talk with him more than anyone else from the series. The Fang because I would need to busy my mind in some way, and playing a running ‘adventure' would help me to project my dilemma onto the toys rather than need to deal with it on a deeper level. I would create an imaginary adventure where Shipwreck & Polly were captured by Cobra, and escaped using the Fang. The fang would be the most playable vehicle as it would not be as limited as other vehicles, and could go anywhere I could, and it wouldn't be awkward to carry with 1 hand. Other than missing my friends and family, I think the biggest thing that would drive me crazy in this scenario would be the lack of a digital camera and a computer to upload them to. Can you imagine the dio's? Sheesh!