Oh, how far we've come. 2011 seems like a good time for reflection. A lot has changed in the world of GI Joe over the past decade, which also lines up with when I started customizing GI Joes as a hobby. For customizing, two major changes have occurred. The first, is the toy industry's re-visiting of the 1/18 scale as a viable scale for their action figure lines. The second, the one I want to discuss here, is the growing market of castings and reproduction items through online stores. These stores cater not only to customizers but to the casual fan as well by providing items either not available at retail or providing them in a quantity that isn't. I don't think one can truly grasp how important this change has been to the development and growth of our hobby without looking at how exactly the market has grown.
In the Beginning, there was Project 95 on the Yo Joe mailing list. There might have been others before, but none were as popular with the fans as this one. John Missal, aka Lobster Overlord here, was able to provide reproduction parts for some of the unproduced 1995 line up of figures as well as BAT parts and heads for the army builder heads for the Olmec Bronze Bomber figures.
Then came Raven's Castings. Raven's store was something like 26 different weapons, some from GI Joe and some from other lines that Joe didn't have models for. He did all the work himself and kept the store stocked. He got so overrun with orders that he was doing more casting then customizing.
I remember when these guys popped up, Raven saying, "Thank God." Master Gunzz pumped out a ton of items from repro rifles, heads, and visors, to hollowed out helmets and Rattler gunner canopies, as well as, insanely cool things like a clear Zartan Swamp skier. He's also the first person I can remember selling character specific custom kits to turn one produced figure into another or a better version. He was also the first person to present items using clear resin. About the time Hasbro Legal aimed their sites on protecting the brand name and came after fan sites and stores, the Cease & Desist letters were enough to make him close his doors...at least by himself.
Build-a-Rama came into existence right about when 21st Century XD's and Blue Box inc (BBi)'s World War II lines were taking off. They provide diorama pieces that worked easily with Joes like crates, stowage, fencing, rubble etc. They alos provide items catered exclusively for the GI Joe customizers like a computer station and throne. Their stuff is top notch and filled a gaping hole no bigger company has yet to attempt.
Slayer Design Studio
Dave Bekker and the fellas at Good to Go attempted something no one had tried before in the community. They tried to make a one stop shopping source for customizers. One that had everything from back screws to cast heads to both repro and original weapons. With the store change to Tri-Gate Creations they moved away from the one stop shop idea and with the help of Master Gunzz and some talented sculptors, began focusing on the casting and reproduction side of the business. While some of it was aimed at sci-fi and fantasy the store also focused on reproductions of fan creations as well as company produced items. With the change to Slayer Design Studios and move to a pre-order system, they have become a go to destination for one of a kind items, such as full figure futuristic armored warrior kits. Most of their items are all original sculpts that they have cast and even provide paint options for. Because of their wide selection of weapons and parts and ability to create anyone's vision (including making yourself), they have made it possible for anyone to make the custom of their dreams a reality.
JFAK's Shrunken Treasures took what other toylines, in mostly the 1/6 scale, were putting out and shrink cast them to work with Joes. Heads from McFarlane Movie Masters, Jakks WWE, as well as custom and repro GI Joe heads became available to customizers. JFAK closed his doors when he was spending so much time working on other people's custom projects that he never had time for his own. Many Predator teams and Rocky customs owe him thanks for their existence.
Marauder John and his Marauder Inc. store changed the landscape of cast weapons. His store started with maybe two dozen weapons all accurately detailed from actual weapons that were specifically designed to work with Joes and Star Wars and manufactured using toy industry factory standards. He beat Hasbro to modular weapon kits with removable scopes, ammo clips, forward grips, and silencers, as well as, pop culture influenced weapons like the Colonial Marine rifles. Being able to buy cheap, sturdy weapons in bulk emptied the wallets of many a customizer and collector alike. Armies are now stockpiled with weapons from the gun runner.
JRuben was the first to aim sticker reproduction at the GI Joe community. Being able to give your custom vehicle authentic looking decals or refurbish a collection piece was a game changer. JRuben does business strictly through email.
The Cobra Stickers online store has production level stickers for vehicles and figures that are even diecut. While there are other methods for creating logos, these reproduction stickers look closer to the originals than anything else.
Speaking of something different, D&J customs has offered up displays like no one else. While they do have some stands and back drops I'm mostly talking about the reproduction Cobra Missile Command base and Pitt playset accessories. Not satisfied with the cardboard cut outs the originals were made from J_Man and Cabanajack teamed up to produce the items using sheet plastic so it holds up better.
God of War Creations
God of War Creations has produced some of the best translucent cast figure kits and parts out there. Stealth armor. Stealth BATs. He's got some truly epic offerings.
Hunter Artworks carries reproduction and original sculpt figure parts, weapons, and accessories. The weapons include the marvelous Hall of Hammers.
Many thanks go out to all of those who paved the way and to those who still help make customizer's ideas come to life. If it was not for these services, a lot of our visions would not have been possible, or at the very least, they would have taken us a lot longer to see the light of day.