FOR THE LOVE OF JOE The Baroness and friend. PHOTO: Elizabeth Rau
Roadblock flew in from Miami, and Tunnel Rat took the train from Jersey. But it was Baroness, aka Penelope Pappas, who got the cameras clicking at the 17th annual G.I. Joe Collectors’ Convention.
Maybe it was the skin-tight black vinyl jumpsuit or six-inch high platform boots or chest plate emblazoned with a cobra. Maybe it was the toy machine gun perched in the V of her arm. “I’ve been with Joe since I was a little girl,” said Pappas, who is 30 and still playing. “The Baroness is my favorite. She’s that femme fatale girl who would just as soon kiss you as kill you.”
And so it went at “Joe Con,” held over the weekend at the Rhode Island Convention Center and hosted by Hasbro, creator and maker of the G.I. Joe line. The grand ballroom was packed with G.I. Joe figures and accessories, as well as thousands of fans, like Victor Latour, 25, decked out as the heavy machine gunner Roadblock, Fred Aczon, 34, steely-faced as the explosive device expert Tunnel Rat, and Baroness Pappas, who drove up from Atlantic City with her fiancé, a Joe lover too.
Hasbro and the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club, which has 2,500 members throughout the United States and world, including Singapore, Belgium, and Japan, collaborated on the event, the first in Providence. “It’s really a slice of Americana,” said Brian Savage, 48, of Fort Worth, Texas, club director and owner of “I don’t know — thousands” of G.I. Joe toys that he stores in a warehouse for safekeeping. “He’s kind of the Anyone Hero.”
“America’s moveable fighting man” exploded onto the scene in 1964 when the Pawtucket-based toy company came out with the 12-inch model, advertised as an action figure to captivate boys. (The “doll” word was strictly prohibited.) Over the years, the scar-faced soldier has evolved into dozens of characters. And in 1982 the figure shrank to its current height of 3 inches, shorter but still fearless.
G.I. Joe fans looking for, say, new hands for a roughed-up vintage Green Beret or a pencil the size of a rice kernel came to the right place. The joy was in the details. Among the offerings: a Sig550 Assault Rifle with Double Clip and Scope, 75 cents; a G.I. Joe cartridge belt, $2; a three-color camo Africa halftrack, $350.
Everyone had a G.I. Joe story, which usually included the same two words: kid and memories.
Consider the remembrances of Joao Argento, 31, who was browsing on eBay at his home in Brazil years ago and spotted a G.I. Joe helicopter that he had played with as a nine-year-old: “There came a feeling inside me that I cannot explain.” He bought it. But one was not enough. “I said to myself that I want one in better condition. I want one in a sealed box. If you ask me why I said this to myself, I do not know.”
Soon, he was the proud owner of hundreds of little plastic men. Because of postal delivery problems in Brazil, he shipped the toys to a friend in Florida. When he went to pick them up, he was offered a job as dance instructor, his profession. Now he lives in Orlando, teaching the Samba and collecting (and occasionally selling) G.I. Joes.