Archive for Wednesday, July 12, 2000

G.I. Joe deployed to Baldwin library

July 12, 2000

When Mark Kirk told his mother to discard or donate some of his childhood belongings, including his G.I. Joe action figures, she didn't listen. Instead, she set the toys aside for his own children.

Now the action figures he used to dig foxholes for in his mother's flowerbed are part of a collection of about 60. The collection is on display at the Baldwin City Public Library through Aug. 5.

"They became one of my favorite toys," Kirk said.

There was a G.I. Joe under the Christmas tree for Kirk in 1964, the first year the action figure was made. Others would follow, including a G.I. Joe astronaut complete with a space shuttle and a record of sounds.

When his five-year-old son was born, Kirk's wife, Michelle, gave him a new G.I. Joe, and "that started me collecting," Kirk said.

Kirk said he browses antique stores and the Internet for G.I. Joe finds, but most of the figures in his collection were purchased new from the store. Except for a period in the 1980s, the popular G.I. Joe has always been in toy stores.

"I've seen them at antique stores, but they seem ridiculously overpriced," Kirk said. "I've bought one from the Internet. Often, it's hitting the toy stores. I find out when they are going to come out."

During the 1980s, a 3 1/2-inch G.I. Joe was made similar in size to Star Wars action figures.

"A lot of college kids now remember the little guy," said Kirk, who teaches theater and communication courses at Baker University.

Kirk considers himself an amateur historian, and his G.I. Joes reflect his interest in history. His figures range from a Civi War Ulysses S. Grant, to figures from both World Wars (including German soldiers) and the Vietnam War.

"I grew up around the military, so I've always been interested in history," Kirk said.

Kirk said the G.I. Joes he collects are "largely intended for adult collectors." He still uses his as toys.

"The three of us were playing G.I. Joe this morning," Kirk said of himself and his two sons, 5 and 1 1/2.

"I try not to be fanatical about it," Kirk said of collecting. He said there are often men in the G.I. Joe aisle at toy stores with serious faces, making frantic calls on cellular phones to report finds. "This is a very casual thing. The super-serious collector never takes it out of its box. A toy, if you don't play with it, is useless."

A line of G.I. Joe action figures for children is also returning to store toy shelves.

"They decided to develop a market for children again. That's neat, because my son loves playing with them," he said.

The display at the library also includes two female action figures a paratrooper and a Vietnam War nurse.

"When I was setting the display up, a little girl saw the nurse and was immediately interested in that," Kirk said.

Other library visitors were surprised at how many different G.I. Joe figures there were.

"People who came by to chat had no idea how many there were," Kirk said. "Neither did I, until I started collecting them."

In fact, the popularity of G.I. Joe, created a big market for similar 12-inch tall, soldier-type, action figures.

So how does one tell if a G.I. Joe is authentic or not?

Kirk said trademarks of an authentic G.I. Joe include a thumbnail where the thumbprint should be on the left hand and a scar on a cheek.

"You don't notice it when you look at the figure," he said. "Initially it looks like a defect."

He said the scar adds masculinity to G.I. Joe, because in the 1960s, the "notion of boys playing with dolls was completely wrong."

"That's where the term action figure came from," he said.

The library display is accompanied by information about the G.I. Joe collection. It can be seen during library hours through Aug. 5.

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