…. and Knowing is Half the Toy Show…..

This past weekend, March 19-20, Atlanta welcome one of the largest gatherings of GI Joe enthusiasts as the Marriott Century Center hosted JoeLanta, the annual action figure and toy show.   With featured guests, concerts, vendors, and a charity drive, this was not just about playing– the attendees came for some real action!  Hasbos’ favorite sons (and daughters) continue to be as popular as they ever were.

Many folks know that originally GI Joes were based on a twelve-inch design and shifted to the smaller action figures that are still popular today.  That shift was originally a response to the popularity of Star Wars Toys, but soon took the smaller toys launched an undeniable dynasty.  This legacy from the early 1980s continues to this day.  Cartoons, comics, generation after generation of toys, and even a live action film…in nearly all media GI Joe still has a thriving popularity. One only needs to watch most episodes of Robot Chicken or Venture Brothers to see how GI Joe still affects popular culture.

Comic Book Creators

Two of the guests at JoeLanta were comic book legends whose work influenced the GI Joe culture.

Larry Hama, a long time writer for Marvel Comics, was on hand signing comics and posters for the fans.  Hama accepted the job of writing the GI Joe comic after the other writer in the “famous Marvel Bullpen” turn down the assignment.  He created many of the popular characters for the comic book, characters that ended up in both the TV series “GI Joe: Real American Heroes” and as toys.

Hama’s GI Joe is famous for going beyond the idea of a little boy’s toy and because of the interesting, competent, and well-rounded females characters, his comics were popular with young women also.

Tom Feister is a cover artist for the independent comic book “GI Joe: Origins,” published by IDW.  Tom also has been the main artist for GI Joe comics as well.  Tom told the story that as a kid, he “toured the Marvel artist and the only professional I met in the office that as Larry Hama.”  That day Larry swore Tom to secrecy and then revealed crucial upcoming plot secrets.

“Years later, we collaborated on ‘GI Joe: Origins,’” Tom pointed out.

But wait…there was more.

JoeLanta, like most toy shows, had a thriving vendor room where GI memorabilia was widely available from the most average and common place to the rarest.  However, this event offered so much more for attendees.  When asked about his favorite part of JoeLanta, GI Joe enthusiast and TV director Jack Walsh, had no problem saying “It might be crass, but the shopping!”

Conventions in Atlanta are renowned for their costuming, known as cosplay, for costume play. With it’s wide range of characters to choose from, costuming was a natural choice at  JoeLanta.  Along with those dressed as traditional twelve-inch GI Joe action figures, there were plenty of folks dressed as the more notable characters of the TV series.  A standout in the costuming world, cosplay expert Miracole Burns portrayed the GI Joe Character The Baroness. Miracole was recently featured in the WPBA documentary, “4 Days At Dragon*Con.”

Many of us dreaded the school assignment to “make a diorama,” but not the fans of JoeLanta.  At JoeLanta diorama making is a completion. Not only do they take diorama seriously, they have revitalized this old concept and the competitors create dynamic and intriguing dioramas. Along with the diorama competition, there was also a contest to create your own action figure.

Other events during the weekend included a fan-film festival and a concert by the band Radio Cult.

The Cody Lane Foundation
Proceeds of Joelanta go to benefit the Cody Lane Foundation’s goal of building a toy diorama museum in the Atlanta area.  Cody Lane was a young GI enthusiast and diorama expert who pass away at the age of 17.  It is the goal of the Cody Lane Foundation to create a diorama museum, in honor of Cody Lane’s favorite art form.

JoeLanta 2012: Make you plans now

GI Joe is part of America’s cultural heritage, but it’s also just a lot of fun.  Regardless of the how the recent film was received, the comics, toys, cartoons, and culture references are woven into the childhood of so many of us.  It doesn’t matter if you think of GI Joe as having kung-fu grip, or if you know he is fighting cobra commander, take some time to plan for JoeLanta 2012 and you will find a little bit of your childhood waiting for you.