Joemichaels70 Interview

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Hi JoeMichaels, can you take us in the way back machine to your very first custom?

The very first figure I can remember 'customizing' was when I tried to re-paint the eyes on my original Tatooine Luke, which had rubbed off due to play wear. It did not turn out well, and unfortunately I don't have a picture, but if you can imagine Luke with a black 'censor bar' over his eyes, you wouldn't be far off. The first Joe I remember customizing was a character cleverly named Blue Hood. He came about after I discovered that Joes could be taken apart (which I discovered after breaking the o-ring in Torpedo) and re-assembled. In this case, I took an extra mail-in Cobra Commander, Torpedo, and some legs from a Buck Rogers villain. He was an assasin ninja that worked for Cobra. My first custom was Rip Tide, Security for the USS FLAGG. This was one of the earliest customs I made after discovering JoeCustoms and buying some fodder off eBay. He was my first posting to the critiques forum, and first entry in the gallery.

Some of the most popular customs at the JC table in New Orleans were your Royal Flush Gang and The Losers. Why the love for the obscure comic characters?

Fringe characters, outside the norm, considered cast-off or unworthy of mainstream attention and only pop up occasionally? Hmm. I don't know... :tictoc: But seriously, it's like I mentioned in the JC Podcast #3, I was an avid comic book reader, as well as a Star Wars and GI Joe fan, and remember many times as a kid wishing I had character X to play with. Now, even with Marvel Universe, and to a *much* lesser degree, DC figures, a lot of the characters I'd wished I had are becoming available. But not all. So I make them. I also should plug the NJC (No Joe Challenge) in here, as that monthly/bi-monthly contest has really pushed me to think about new and creative ways that 'classic' comic or other superheroes could fit in the larger GI Joe universe.

Speaking of comic characters, when customizing your Arnim Zola figure, you chose to use your own face on his chest-mounted videoscreen. What was the inspiration behind that?

After I made that 'modern' Red Skull figure at the Rhode Island Convention, I knew I wanted to add some more 'modern' customs of the same vintage-type Captain America villains. One that bubbled to the top was Arnim Zola, and I had hoped that one would be forthcoming from the MU line, especially after seeing the Marvel Legends BAF. When it became apparent that one wasn't forthcoming, I decided to make my own. Then, using last year's Custom Celebration Two-Week Figure challenge as an impetus to make one, I got started. I went looking on the internet for a suitable scowly Zola face, and after seeing what was available, and how it looked shrunk down to fit in the BAT torso, I became discouraged. Which then turned into a 'why don't I just use my own damn face, and get the expression I want?' conversation. I was a little hesitant to use my own face because of all the unwanted groupie attention it would garner - but in the end I just figured 'why the heck not?' I guess that makes that custom the most 'self-custom' of any custom I've ever made. So, I made a bunch of faces into my phone, picked the most appropriate, shrunk it down, turned it into a duo-tone, added a video screen filter and the rest is Lance Sputnik history...

As one of the masters of "tech detail", what should the rest of us look for before throwing out anything?


Just kidding... There are actually many things to think about when deciding what is worth keeping vs. recycling or just tossing in the trash. I don't want to get all philosophical about "sculptors look at a chunk of rock and see 'what could be' vs. 'what is,'" nor do I want to talk about landfill and a giant island of toxic flotsam in the Pacific. What I will talk about is how awesome of a job Hasbro and other toy companies did when making these toys (playsets and vehicles) when they were originally released - man, that is some fantastic detail! But now something is broken, or discolored, or is missing it junk? NO!

What to look for

Does it have a control panel? Does it have a nice flat panel? Does it have a repeating pattern? Does it have a seat? Does it have a ladder or stairs? Can the wheels (or wings, or guns, or antennas) be re-purposed? Was it originally out-of-scale, but parts of it, viewed alone, can be used in-scale? If the answer to any of those questions is 'yes,' then it's worth hanging on to.


Then, you have to ask yourself, "do I have the tools, the time, the patience, to take this part down to it's component tech detail?" I'm fortunate enough to have access to the best tools for this part of the job: a table saw (with a grinding blade,) a bandsaw, a table-top belt sander with side-grinding wheel, etc., so it's relatively easy for me. But you don't necessarily *need* those tools -- I've done much work reducing parts down with nothing more than a coping saw, or a tin snips, or a Dremel with a cut-off wheel -- it just takes longer, and usually requires more clean-up or finish work to make it ready to be used as something on another project.

Use it or lose it

Finally, you need to ask yourself, "will I use this?" Which is a loaded question that encompasses 'do I have the time, inspiration, and talent to use the final tech detail in a project?' as well as 'am I making the best use of my customizing time creating raw materials, when something already readily available will work just as well?' and last, but CERTAINLY not least: 'do I have the space to keep all this stuff until I need it or will use it (especially if you have it sorted by type?)'

I spent a summer cutting down three GIANT boxes of vehicle shells and broken playset parts (thanks, nova!) into component tech detail -- now, I have a dozen+ smaller boxes, sorted into categories & type. But, I also have a pretty big garage, where I'm fortunate enough to have enough space to store it. Plus, I already have plans for projects that will use up most of this stuff (if I'm ambitious enough) so it won't sit in my garage forever.

In summary

Still, if the answer to all these questions is 'yes,' then I recommend you do it! Re-purposing, or kit-bashing, has a long and awesome history in our hobby and related hobbies, and goes all the way to Hollywood -- where do you think Lucasfilm got the detail for their Star Wars models? Also, I spent quite some time poring over Lance Sputnik's Defiant, finding all kinds of re-purposed GI Joe tech detail they used when making that playset!

Note: I entertained the idea of going into a small business, cutting up tech detail, and offering it for sale to other customizers, but then I realized that the time involved wouldn't be worth the small amount of money that the tech detail would be worth -- if you do this, you need to do it for yourself!

What have you tried that didn't work and what did you learn from the experience?


Using spray sealant on ME/New Sculpt/MU/Star Wars Parts after painting: Man, what a mess. There is a reaction that occurs with any sealant containing Acetone or another Benzene-ring formula and the underlying soft plastic that discolors or makes shiny the paint (at best) or makes the paint sticky and uncured (at worst) -- either way, it was heart-breaking to see that happen over time on customs I had spent so much time painting and weathering and finishing. From this experience, I was resigned to not sealing my ME customs at all, which I wasn't happy with, as I felt they were more fragile and prone to chipping or rub, even from just normal posing or handling, let alone playing with. Most of this changed with drbindy's suggestion and use of Mod-Podge as a sealant. I've started to use Mod-Podge for sealing all of my ME customs now, and even as a base coat over the bare factory paint, to allow my customizing paint to 'bite' the figure. The one thing that Mod-Podge does, in a negative fashion, is take away from the ability to use pastels as a weathering agent - it takes the dusty/dirty feel of the custom, and kind of 'pretties' or cleans it up some, and really lessens the effect.


Using Tamiya Clear Paint: Wow, this stuff is hard to work with -- it's very finicky! My first few forays into using this paint have been trying, to say the least. This paint needs to be mixed very well before use (or you wind up with all the pigment at the bottom, giving a very thin, usually off-colored, wash from the top of the jar,) plus you need to make sure the paint itself is thinned before use, or you run the risk of 'tearing' the previous coat -- which is another thing -- if you use these paints, you'll have much better luck with MANY thin coats over trying to do one, two (or more) thick coats. I've found that it's even worth using a coat of Mod-Podge between coats to protect the undercoat. Another tip/trick is to paint silver over the part you'll be using the clear paint on, especially if you're going for a 'glowing' or precious metal effect.


Using a chop saw (power mitre saw) with wide-space teeth for cutting tech detail... let's just say I'm glad I still have all my fingers, but damn that hurt! The saw grabbed the part and tore it out of my hands and threw it at the ceiling with enough force to make my wife stick her head out in the garage and tell me to stop for the night.

What project or new technique have you always wanted to try but haven't had the chance yet?


One project that I've been working towards, but haven't had the chance to finish (or really start on yet,) is using foam insulation to create the landscape of my Cobra Island dio/display. I've been working towards that with my Dreadnok Outback display shelf, as well as my MOTH Arctic dio display (as well as my Hall of Justice steps display, and to a lesser degree, my BPRD base display,) but all of that has mainly been practice for my big/grand/central Cobra Island dio display - which will be the main attraction when folks walk into my GI Joe room. The Cobra Island display will feature the Black Pearl ship as the 'Sunken Freighter,' as well as a wood-frame 'Moray Pen' area (with additional Water Moccasins & Dreadnok boats area,) as well as a Terror Drome and customized 'Dreadnok Mountain' on Lazy Susan Hinges. I've had to go out to Google to figure out how to make the Lazy Susan Hinges work the way I expect and want them to, and I'm looking forward to putting this all together -- having the ability to use all 360 degrees of the Terror Drome, and to a lesser degree the Dreadnok Mountain custom playset (made from 2x Cobra Mountain Playsets + Star Wars Playset with the same base mold,) and still have them be on a front-facing shelf is really interesting/exciting for me!


Another area of customizing that I've only recently attempted is Vehicle Customizing. Mostly what I've done so far has either been non-painted or brush painted, or, if I'm feeling ambitious, flat-spray painted custom vehicles. One thing I'd like to try and add to my arsenal is airbrush painting, and specifically, airbrush weathering. I've seen so many incredible custom playsets/displays, vehicles and figures (and Vinyl or Resin models) that are airbrushed -- I *really* want to add this ability to my skill set. I have a relatively cheap airbrush, and using compressed air from a can, I've tried, unsuccessfully, to airbrush on different things. I'm hoping that this year will be the year I can actually do something with the airbrush that doesn't wind up in the trash, or spray-painted over.

Do you listen or watch anything when you customize?

I listen to music. I've found that if I try to watch anything while customizing, I do a poor job of customizing AND watching whatever it is I have on the TV. Neither gets my full attention, and I find myself frustrated with both. In my customizing area I've got an (old, now) 400 disc CD changer, that I've been filling with *mostly* kid-safe, mellow-ish music over the years - it's probably about 2/3rds full at this point. I put it on 'random play' and am happy to just work along with whatever comes up. I've also found that I do my best, or at least most productive, customizing work when I'm multi-tasking. And by multi-tasking, I don't just mean working on multiple customs at one time, although I do that as well. I mean I do other things while I'm waiting for paint or sealer to dry, or sculpting material to set up -- things like: clean the basement, organize books or DVDs, computer stuff, work in my GI Joe room, etc. It helps to alleviate any selfish guilt I might have about spending my time on a hobby, instead of moving my life forward. NOT THAT I EVER THINK MY HOBBY DETRACTS FROM MY LIFE.  :tictoc: But seriously, by multi-tasking I've found that I don't over-customize, or over-think/fret, what I'm working on. I get less frustrated, for instance, painting eyes, when I can paint the eyes, walk away and do something for five minutes, and then come back to make a judgement on what I've done, rather than get too critical and keep painting over and over the same set of eyes, or more likely, smearing the paint because I've moved on to paint another part of the custom, and other things like that.

How long have you been playing guitar? As a follow up, what would your band name be?

Well, I've owned a guitar, or guitars, for about 23 years, not including the crazy piece of crap I got in ninth grade with the neck broken off & screwed back on with a deck screw. In those 23 years, I would guess I've actually played for about 2 of those years --10 years ago -- badly. Interestingly enough, I've been in three bands -- I played guitar and bled all over the microphone. OK, actually, it was one band. We had different names for the band, depending on who showed up to practice that night. If we all showed up (guitar, bass, drums, lead singer, not me,) we were called 'One In The Trunk.' If just the bass, drums and me showed up, we were 'Reach-Around Spank.' If it was just me & the drummer, we were 'Kevlar Fedora.' But mostly it was an excuse to get out of the house, and maybe drink a few beers. We had the best jam spot in all of the city, including all the professional bands in town (I'm talking about you, Prince & Husker Du & The Replacements & Soul Asylum & The Jayhawks & Brother Ali) -- an old Elks-type lodge, just outside of downtown Minneapolis, with a 270 degree view of the city. It was glorious and fun time, although we never actually played a gig.

Before you punch your last guitar pick, what do you hope you will have left as your legacy in the community?

One thing that would be cool would be to create the 'iconic figure' of a certain character -- some custom so cool that no matter what a toy company or other toy customizer made, folks would always say 'that's good, but it's not as good as joemichaels70's version of ..."

I have no idea of what that custom would (or will) be, but that's not going to stop me from trying to make it. As far as the site goes, and my time spent being a part of the administration of it, it would be cool to be known as a 'fair and just' mod for future mods, and for members of the website.

But really, if I could be remembered as a decent fellow, maybe even a funny guy, for those lucky enough to meet me in real life, or even just through the boards... well, heck, to be remembered at all is probably just enough.

You get to work on a GI Joe DVD, what one figure and one vehicle are you going to try to sneak in as an Easter egg in the menus?

My own figure? Arnim Zola or Alt Universe Crystal Ball (or every custom using the 'Law' head, with goatee and glasses, ever -- EAT IT Kirk Bozigian!!)

My favorite figure ever? Either Short-fuse (my first) or Airborne V1 (my favorite).

My favorite vehicle? The TTBP. I don't care that it's not a vehicle, I could sneak it in, I'm a genius that way.

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