“What an incentive positive feedback is!”
Years of Collecting Frustration Finally Give Way to an Adulthood Full of Creative Achievement
Many of the master customizers profiled here on The Joe Report stand out not only for their expertise, creativity and artistic prowess (they ALL have those in spades), but also for their uncanny ability to incorporate natural “found” objects and materials into the creation of ultra-realistic 1:6 scale miniature dioramas. Rather than buy everything pre-made and display something everyone else already has, they prefer to put their imaginations and creativity to the ultimate test—customization.
If you’re unaware, examples of found materials would include such items as scraps of wood, rope, metal, riverbed gravel, boulders, stones, sticks, straw, sand and even good ol’ fashioned dirt. Yes, we said DIRT. Remember when playing down in the dirt seemed as natural as breathing? Well, for many GIjOE fans, customizers, and kitbashers of 1:6 scale, that feeling has never gone away!
But of course, there’s nothing wrong with utilizing modern or “artificial” materials as well, including items such as styrofoam blocks, paper towel rolls, sheets of styrene plastic, tin cans or any cheap “junk” you can find at a local dollar store. In fact, developing a keen eye for what qualifies as usable 1:6 scale props and building materials is one of the defining traits and hallmarks of a budding “master miniaturist.”
The outstanding customizer we’re profiling today is Angelo D’Annibale of upstate New York, who has really begun to make a name for himself in the 1:6 scale community. Photos his unique “natural” creations have been setting fan forums on fire and prompting many to attempt to duplicate his distinctive handcrafting techniques. We tracked Angelo down recently and asked him to share his backstory regarding his GIjOE collecting addiction, customization methods and display techniques. He generously replied:
“I was born in 1969, so I missed the heyday of GIjOE. By the time I was old enough to understand and play with GIjOEs, the 12″ figures were very hard to find. I recall many afternoons watching in horror as my older cousins tortured poor Joe and used fireworks to maim and disfigure the toy I so badly wanted.”
“I was determined to have one of my own. Since my cousins littered the grass and sidewalk with disembodied Joe parts, I was able to collect the results of their carnage, one piece at a time. And like a young Dr. Frankenstein, I’d soon pieced together my own, 12-inch, 1:6 scale ‘FrankenJoe.’ In 1978, my family made an overseas trip to Italy. We needed to bring some gifts for my male cousins, so we went shopping at a local Schenectady ‘Two Guys’ department store. Unfortunately, GIjOEs were absent from most store shelves by that time and any hope I had of finding one on the store shelves was non-existent.”
“I searched for something that would be small enough to place in a suitcase, yet cool enough for my young Italian cousins. As I rounded the next aisle, I was stunned when I saw what I thought was a figment of my imagination— AT G.I.JOEs! It couldn’t be! I had to be dreaming! But no (thankfully), I wasn’t dreaming. There were indeed, several AT figures, in their coffin boxes(!), just waiting for me up there on the shelves. I could hardly contain my excitement! My parents agreed to buy them, they fit perfectly in my suitcase and they definitely had that “cool” factor I had hoped for.”
“My lucky cousins in Italy (Sergio, Rocco and Victorio) all got their GIjOE gifts, but I didn’t get one! My mother told me, ‘These are for family. Not for you.’ I was devastated. Here had been a perfect chance to own my very own, brand-new-in-the-box GIjOEs, but now it appeared that dream would NEVER come true. Of course, two days after arriving in Italy, those new Joes had all lost their pistols, clothing, and one had even plunged to his ultimate demise from the third story of our apartment complex onto the top of my uncle’s car. After that experience, I vowed that I would someday own my own GIjOEs and that I would take VERY good care of them.”
“Fast forward 4 years: My parents enjoyed taking long Sunday drives up to Lake George. The car ride was usually boring to me, so I asked for a comic book to read from the local Del Gros Deli convenient store (Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, and The Haunted Tank were all my favorites). That particular Sunday, though, something else caught my eye: a new title showing a tank moving through a park, with men running from it with the name ‘GIjOE’ in bold letters at the top of the cover. I grabbed it and savored every page as we drove to Lake George that day. When I finished reading, I realized that this was the 5th issue. I had missed 4 already! Finding those back issues took some time, but I eventually managed it and purchased every issue from that day forward. Even while I was away at college in Central New York, my mom would go to a comic book store and buy me the latest issue.”
“I can still remember the comic’s 6th issue in particular. It has such a cool cover! It depicted a medic (Doc) sitting behind a Snow Trooper (SnowJob) on a snowmobile. I thought how cool it would be if they actually made these Joes into toys. Well, the next Sunday, we were at Mohawk Mall and I (of course) had to visit the Kay B toy store. While walking down the action figure aisle, what did I see? A GIjOE ‘Polar Battle Bear!’ That SAME snowmobile on the cover!”
“Thus began my renewed obsession with collecting GIjOE toys. I collected many of the new 3.75″ figures, vehicles and accessories, even when I was getting too old to enjoy imaginative play. I simply had to have them. I had missed out on collecting Joes the first time around. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
But then interestingly, I did lose interest. Those new GIjOE weapons were all pink(?) and orange and blue, and the 3.75″ figures and vehicles just didn’t have the same appeal to me as the original 12-inch versions. It almost seemed (to me) as if Hasbro was trying to end the GIjOE line. So eventually, I just stopped collecting. To make matters worse, the Marvel GIjOE comic series had ended too!”
“A few years later as I was walking through the mall (again), I stopped by the Kay Bee Toy Store, just for old times’ sake. Sure enough, as I rounded the corner I saw what looked like a 12″ GIjOE. Yes! But while the lettering on the package said GIjOE, the packaging and figure inside seemed…odd. Something just wasn’t right. First of all, Joe’s hands were HUGE. He had a giant, oversized weapon that made weird noises and lit up. And his face…well, it just wasn’t the same. His body was built more like…a Barbie…with little to no articulation. ‘That’s pretty lame,’ I thought to myself. But I ended up buying one anyway. As we all know now, that particular Joe’s name was ‘Duke.’ But he wasn’t the Duke from the 3.75″ line, nor was he a 12″ GIjOE (at least like the Joes I remembered).”
“More figures from the unusual “Hall of Fame” line soon appeared, but I simply had no interest in them. However, later on, when other toy companies began getting into the 1:6 scale market, such as 21st Century Toys (and their awesome WWII stuff) and Dragon (even better detail, articulation and realism), I quickly developed a WWII action figure obsession that has continued to this day.
During WWII, my Uncle John had fought in the Ardennes. He fought with the 28th Infantry Division and his weapon was an 81mm mortar. I would talk to my uncle about the war and he would tell me stories. Some were sad, some were funny, and some were downright SCARY. For example…”
“One tale I remember quite vividly was about how one night while asleep, he was awoken by hands that were feeling about his boots. He looked up and was startled to see a large Moroccan soldier holding a BIG knife—and smiling.
The soldier was identifying Uncle John (in the dark) as an Allied soldier by feeling the leggings and laces of his boots. If the boots had been the smooth leather type of a Nazi…then the end of his story would not have been so pleasant!
Inspired, I chose to create my first 1:6 scale diorama about my uncle. It would be for his birthday and I wanted to give him something different—something SPECIAL.”
“I selected a Dragon figure that I thought looked like him during the war, found a mortar that could almost pass for an 81mm mortar and used an old picture frame to build a mortar pit. To finish it all off, I added real twigs, straw and sand using techniques I’d seen and read about in various military modeling magazines (see photo at right).
I began to focus on collecting WWII figures and vehicles of the European Theater and quickly amassed quite a sizable collection. Soon, I had TOO many things and nowhere to display them. And I’m the sort of collector who’s always felt that toys left in their boxes would have a sad, ‘unloved’ existence. Something had to be done!”
“Fortunately, our home was over 125 years old and in a few years we decided to put on an addition. You can imagine my excitement! I drew up plans and designed how I wanted to set up the new 20′ x 20′ room. I added built-in tables as well, because I knew I wanted to showcase as much as possible, especially the GIjOEs that started it all for me—the Adventure Team!
The main table in my new Joe Room is currently dedicated to my favorite, the ‘Search for The Stolen Idol’ Adventure Team set. I installed a wallpaper mural that had a huge Buddha on it as the backdrop and designed the rest if the display table around it. The other tables are ‘fluid’ and allow me to change their set-ups to display a wide variety of scenes and figures.”
“I continually look for new ideas online, especially over at The Trenches and Patches of Pride. I’ve discovered that there is a huge following for GIjOE and that what people are doing with 1:6 scale customs is amazing. Last year, I saw a post on the Trenches about a rope bridge that someone had made out of a wooden laundry drying rack. Boy, that was cool! A few days later, I was at one of my favorite spots for finding diorama ‘stuff’ (a local $1 store) and I found some bamboo garden stakes. They were the perfect diameter to make an AWESOME bridge. It would be some work, sure, but I was up to the challenge.”
“First, I cut the bamboo into 4” lengths and then drilled tiny little holes into each one. I was determined that my bridge would be big—REALLY big. I have a small creek in our backyard and I thought, ‘Hmm, if I could just make it long enough, I could stretch it all the way across (it’s 10 feet wide so that’s a ton of bamboo)!
Well, after cramped hands, and many bamboo splinters, I finished the bridge. I was SO excited. Cut to A.C.Moore, another awesome store for dioramas. I am looking at the plastic animals that they have and spot what appears to be a gorilla that is (almost) 1:6 scale. I thought, it’s ‘GIjOE AT Pygmy Gorilla’ adventure time!
“When I got home, I ran to the backyard with iPad in hand and after taking a bazillion pictures, I decided to share what I had created. I post the bridge with Joe and the gorilla on The Trenches…and I received a great deal of positive feedback! What an incentive positive feedback is! You want my advice? SHARE what you have, what you have done, and what you are proud of. People should see what you can do!”
“I constantly search the internet for pictures of WWII scenes and I look through magazines every time we go to Barnes and Noble. I can’t believe all the talented individuals out there! The One Sixth Division and Sixth Army Group are two online forums that have given me MANY ideas and inspired me to create ever-better dioramas. Nevertheless, I feel my work pales in comparison to some of the more talented folks whose work I have witnessed and have to give them all credit for helping me.”
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks to Angelo D’Annibale for his help with this article. Normally, we’d close with a few witty words of summation, but today we turn it over to Angelo, who writes:
“Hello Mark, I wanted to end by thanking you again for allowing me the opportunity to share what I have done. I feel very strongly about the 1:6 hobby and wanted to share how it all started with me and where it has gone. Thanks for all you do for the hobby with your sites. Have fun, be creative, ask questions, look and research, and always (and most importantly)—NEVER grow up!” —Angelo D’Annibale