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.
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.”
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.
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)!