UR Professor Researches G.I. Joe Collecting and the Internet’s Original “Sandbox” Newsgroup for An Upcoming Book on “Virtual Communities”


Renowned University of Richmond professor (and toy collector) Dr. Joe Essid, works surrounded by assorted action figures from his extensive vintage toy collection. “The Action Man on the left was one that I helped my late mother-in-law complete.” Essid’s chapter on GIjOE collecting and the original online “Sandbox” newsgroup will appear in the new book, “Identity and Leadership in Virtual Communities: Establishing Credibility and Influence,” to be published in early 2014. (Photo: Joe Essid)

Academic research books are not typically known to “fly off bookstore shelves” or hover near the top of a best-seller list. Most are targeted and sold directly to libraries, academic institutions and a select group of fellow professors, while the remainder tend to linger unsold in boxes in warehouses, fading quietly away on Amazon or elsewhere. But ONE book appears set to buck that trend.

Although it hasn’t been published yet, an upcoming academic tome impressively entitled, “Identity and Leadership in Virtual Communities: Establishing Credibility and Influence,” is already generating significant pre-press excitement and wide-spread anticipation among an unexpected audience of non-academic readers—GIjOE fans and collectors.

The one, the only, Sandbox logo. (Art: Daryl Williams)

The one, the only, original USENET Sandbox logo. (Art: Daryl Williams)

Why all this sudden “Joehead” interest in some “dry as dust” academic publication? Two words: The SANDBOX. The new 15-chapter book will feature one very special chapter written by well-known GIjOE fan and collector, Dr. Joe Essid, who, as it also turns out, is a professor in the Departments of English and Rhetoric & Communication Studies at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

As a longtime fan of vintage toys such as GIjOE, Action Man, and Major Matt Mason, Professor Essid’s intimate knowledge of the subject matter, coupled with his academic background, made him an obvious choice for researching the history of the Sandbox. As longtime users of the Sandbox will recall, the ‘Box was an often contentious, but widely accessed place on the ‘net. As such, its historical significance and impact on the hobby of action figure collecting deserves to duely recorded and remembered.

Slated to “hit the stands” sometime in early 2014, Dr. Essid’s chapter in the book has GIjOE fans around the world looking eagerly around, wondering, “Will he mention ME? Is he going to talk about you-know-who? What about that famous flame-war I had with such and such?” Relax. To any worried ‘Boxer out there, Essid wants to reassure you that no one will be embarrassed, saying:

“My publisher asked that I not name names or even use online pseudonyms, but to change them all.”

This screenshot shows Google’s activity record for the discussion group alt.toys.gi-joe (aka “The Sandbox”) and its dramatic decline in use over the years as fans switched to more versatile forums. Click to enlarge.

In addition to collecting and writing about toys, Essid directs the Writing Center at the University of Richmond, writes op-ed, speculative fiction, and academic prose about technology in the classroom. We asked him about his life and his upcoming publication. Here’s what he had to say:

“I came to my project about the ‘Sandbox’ community from a long history with GIjOE. I’ve collected vintage figures since 1966, when my dad reluctantly bought me an Action Marine ‘doll’ from the local hardware store. Some of my fondest memories of that era involve Richmond’s downtown Sears store, where an elevator ride to the basement meant the slow revelation of the Joe section past the washers and dryers and Craftsman tools. I’d RUN over to see what was in stock each week!

Two decades later, by the time I went to grad school for a PhD in English, my childhood collection had dwindled. What remained were a Land Adventurer whose beard I’d shaved (very nicely; I build scale models too) and a Negro Adventurer. Thanks to my future mother-in-law, who collected Joes, ‘Boxer Gary Braswell and I resumed the collecting we had shared in our childhood. Gary and my wife’s mom are both gone now, as is Garry Douglas of London, who was interviewed by me in 2006, along with several other ‘Boxers, for my article.

At that time, an academic publisher wanted to put out an anthology about the stylistic and rhetorical strategies that online communities use. The Sandbox was then a USENET group, a real free-for-all of flame-wars, trolls, and “Good Joes” who helped newcomers to the hobby.


When he’s not teaching, researching, or writing about GIjOEs, Essid’s acting like one. Here, while outfitted in full ‘lumberjack gear’ including safety helmet, full-face shield, hearing protection, work gloves and boots, Joe uses his trusty chainsaw to “lay up some cords” for the Winter. Vrroom!
(Photo: Joe Essid)

Going back to that era, when Hasbro’s re-issues of 1:6 scale figures coincided with the rise of Internet access, was astounding. Real friendships got made: Garry Douglas gave my wife and me a five-star tour of his native London in 2009, and, since I know London well, Garry and I had a tipsy great time showing each other our favorite pubs! That would never have happened without The Sandbox.” —Dr. Joe Essid

Bottom Line: Essid’s new book may be a research text for academia, but longtime Sandboxers will surely know who’s “who” and what’s “what.” It should make for some very interesting reading. Our sincerest thanks to Dr. Essid for his generous assistance with this article. We wish you all the best success with your new book. Go, JOE (Essid)!


7 thoughts on “UR Professor Researches G.I. Joe Collecting and the Internet’s Original “Sandbox” Newsgroup for An Upcoming Book on “Virtual Communities”

  1. Ken Davis says:

    “…no-one will be embarrassed…”

    B..b-but its only by embarrassment is one graced with the blessed Plywood Enema!!! The sacramental rites of Chik-A-Fila pickle-choking, and ITFC-numbering, and Full-Metal Knight pinging……humility is at our VERY CORE! Without shame we are just mere miscreants, catch-penny cyber denizens ……almost-nothings.
    We want our embarrassment, we NEEEEEEED our embarrassment!!!

  2. “plywood enema” MAN, that is funny. HA

  3. The strange Irony, is that while many of us hope to be mentioned, (Me! Me!) One of the people who almost MUST be mentioned, is the least “deserving”; The Queen Troll in High Heels and an Undersized T-Shirt. Cause let’s face it: that jackwagon was the core and instigator of most of the REALLY interesting (and annoying) flame wars. I’ve long thought that if I can ever get to a Convention, I want to do a vignette of the Queen Troll, being vanquished by the mighty THOR, but I haven’t yet found decent 1/6 goats to pull the Radio Flyer chariot!

    • Carin Reddig says:

      Buzz, Check out the goat sold by American Girl as part of the Josefina line. Technically it may be a little over scale for Joe, but I think you will find it close enough.

  4. Tanker says:

    Ken, you forgot the flaming of the “asbestos underpants”. Other than that I can’t wait to see what the good doctor has in store for me… 🙂

  5. Joe Essid says:

    We did about five photos and I could not manage a smile without busting out laughing. It looks like I’m *sitting* on a Joe in this pic, but so be it! Can’t wait to see the book in print, as it has a couple pics of my own Joes, and in the glossary of Box-specific jargon, I have one military-era Joe showing the reader what a “nosepicker” hand means.

  6. celeotnes says:

    As an academic who studies consumer culture, I’m not surprised at all by the interest in this topic. A few points: 1) most universities require informants’/interviewees’ identities to be masked as part of university ethics protocols (e.g., to protect from lawsuits in case revealing any characteristics would somehow harm the folks who shared their stories); 2) I am certain that the author of this blog article really didn’t mean to use the words “dry as dust,” as since his own spouse happens to be a professor who writes about extremely fascinating topics in consumer culture he certainly knows that some academic writing (especially, I’m sure, about G.I. Joe) will no doubt be fascinating! 🙂

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