Derryl DePriest Interview
What was your first GI Joe toy and do you remember how you got it?
I started playing GI Joe in the 1970s with the Adventure Team. My first GI Joe, I believe, was a Sea Adventurer I got for Christmas Day along with the Mobile Support vehicle, to this day the greatest toy ever created. It was the USS Flagg of its day, only not as huge! My love for GI Joe is so strong because of the amazing, powerful storytelling that the line inspired. I grew up in San Diego, and I could and did play GI Joe year-round with my two brothers and friends, creating epic stories that carried over days.
This powerful ability to inspire imaginative play is true of not only the 12” line but is a core attribute of the brand that carried over into the 3-3/4” line. GI Joe has the power to put you at the heart of the story, as the storyteller, whether you role-played as a member of the team, or you were the god-like storyteller. It is a powerful premise that I think underscores why people who played with GI Joe have such a strong emotional connection to the brand. There is no other brand like it for the action brand space (note that I don’t say it’s just for boys either…).
My time playing with toys extended to about 1980, covering Star Wars, but as I entered high school I stopped getting new toys to play with. My money was going toward comics instead. This was right before the Joe 3-3/4” line came out, and I saw the new Joes come out and remembered feeling, “This is for a new generation, not me.” In the meantime, after college I started collecting toys, concentrating on 12” Joe and all the 3-3/4” Star Wars I missed.
It was around 1989, when I was in grad school in Rochester, NY that a comic buddy told me that I should check out the GI Joe comic – that this writer named Larry Hama was doing fantastic work creating an amazing world for GI Joe. I did…and I was hooked! Larry’s writing was incredible, and I fell under the spell of the world and characters that he created. I was immediately hooked and started reading all the back issues to that point. My favorite character was Stalker, probably because he got the starring turn in Special Missions, and he did so many cool things like undercover work, had Ranger skills, plus was a strong team leader. Stalker is one of Larry’s greatest creations for sure.
Of course being the obsessive compulsive collector I am, I started getting the figures, beginning with the newest ones on the shelf. I remember vividly going to the shelves of a TRU, NY and bringing home my first new Joe – Stalker Tundra Ranger. Not only was he my favorite character, but this figure may be one of the most amazing Joes of all time because of the sleek design and outrageous value with the kayak and gear.
Stalker was my gateway to the world of Joe vs Cobra, and I got all figures and mail-ins from there to the end of the line. I didn’t get all the vehicle though because of space…that was a painful lesson, as later I’ve had to go back and get them. I’m still working on a few holes. I also started scouring garage sales in Rochester, and then back in California.
What is your favorite GI Joe item in your collection?
For 12”, it’s probably the two original Joes I can identify as being mine that I had as a kid. For 3-3/4”, it may be the handful of custom teams I’ve created.
Have you ever customized a figure or even an accessory before and if so what was it?
I’m not a sculptor and my painting skills are average, so I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to create to my satisfaction. Instead, I had a ton of fun making strictly “stock” customs – finding combinations that looked great together with some goal in mind. I always liked army building, and I wanted to have teams of Joes that shared the same uniform. Ideally, they would have their personality expressed with their head or some other key attribute, so they didn’t all look the same.
I should note that my time for customs stopped around the mid-2000s, so I haven’t done anything since then. So my work is a snapshot of stock vintage o-ring customs. It’s like a look back in time! I should also note that for the most part, I was not proud of the Newsculpt era o-ring figures so I didn’t use them…I stuck to strictly vintage. Now, these are some expensive customs to build…figures were much cheaper when I was amassing them at garage sales and toy shows.
I’m an army builder at heart so most of my customs were centered around building squads of figures. A few of the concepts I built around include:
A GI Joe Strike Team, built using Fast Draw’s head, Mercer’s torso, and Destro’s lower torso and arms. This is probably my favorite build because all the parts work perfectly together. I love it when Hasbro used similar colors even across years. For team leader, I selected Dial-Tone because I love berets and his looks great with this uniform. The rest of the troops could be anybody, or Steel Brigade members.
My next favorite build is probably the Tiger Force Ranger team. I couldn’t resist creating a “pure” Tiger Force trooper from Dusty’s torso and Bazooka’s legs. They go together soooo well. This inspired me to create the deco input for the Tiger Force Jinx in the TRU 6-pack set in 2004. Lt. Falcon is a natural leader for this team; the green helmets and weapons from one of the early Battle Gear sets also make great additions to this set.
Some of the favorite figures to build around “as is” are BF2000 Dodger and Mega Marines Gung-Ho. These bodies are perfect as is for a futuristic type strike team, one light, one heavy. I like finding heads with good helmets in matching colors, or cool heads that match the mood of the team. Also, the stock old school gray and green Battle Gear helmet colors also go well with these sets.
A fun, but expensive, one I liked to play with were the Maroon Marauders, combining elements of Tracker, Mission Brazil Dial-Tone’s lower torso, and arms from Bazooka (V3). These parts work perfectly together, but unfortunately this is an expensive custom given the Dial-Tone so I didn’t get far building a team.
Finally I had a few more concept figures in the works when I lost the time to do customs, including nice combos using the leftover piece of Dial-Tone and Bazooka, and a killer yellow Tiger Force combining parts from Frostbite, Lifeline, and Skystriker. I hope to build more of these in the future.
Finally, given my interest in both 12” and 3-3/4” Joes, I wanted to create a stock Adventure Team, using vintage parts. This is a work in progress that I hope to refine someday, adding in the rest of the missing figures. The goal here is to make the figures as plain as possible, with no web gear.
Laster on, while at Hasbro, I created a number of custom re-decos to propose putting into the line. I knew that while I could put the polish on these they’d need, you don’t need to have finishing skills if something was going to get factory produced…other people would make it look better. A small number of these did get put into production, namely the Tiger Force Jinx and Medi-Viper were based on my customs. I proposed some more that did not get made – including these custom Night Vipers based on German WII-era camo which I always thought would be an incredible concept. These are probably my favorite figures, along with my early Adventure Team customs.
You’ve always been a big supporter of the GI Joe fan community. Do you have a favorite moment or moments that stick out from any of those interactions?
I’m a fan first and foremost myself, so all of my interactions with fans are things that recharge my batteries and get me excited about collecting and enjoying Joe. While I was in charge of GI Joe for close to 15 years while at Hasbro, the times I got to attend JoeCon were the best, especially when we had something great and fun to reveal. I enjoy pretty much every conversation I have with a Joe fan, because I know it’s from a place of passion and I can relate to that myself. But I think my favorite moment was when Troy McKie gave me a custom “me” figure he had built with an insanely detailed Disneyland Hawaiian shirt and a miniature display case of Joe toys. It was incredible!
If Hollywood ever gets around to making a movie about the history of GI Joe, a) who do you hope would play in that movie and b) what do you hope they get right about your legacy?
I would hope it would be someone who is as passionate about the brand as I am. I’m hard pressed to think of an actor who could pull that off, so let me project to someone who has boundless charisma and could sell the story….Chris McLeod gets my vote!