Tag Archives: action figure spare parts

Kentucky toy surgeon rescues G.I. Joes on their deathbeds

GI Joe Surgery

GI Joe Surgery

Culture Schlock — By Darren Garnick
“Kentucky toy surgeon rescues GI Joes on their deathbeds”

The Telegraph — February 15, 2002

**

LOUISVILLE — It may sound a little bizarre at first, but it makes perfect sense why Joe “The Medic” DeGrella wants all his G.I. Joes to be naked.

“The clothing and accessories are actually worth more than the figures themselves,” the 43-year-old toy surgeon says. “I don’t want the boxes. I don’t want the clothing. I just don’t want to be responsible.”

DeGrella runs a triage unit for military action figures in the basement of his suburban home just outside Louisville, Kentucky. The patients, who arrive by mail, are predominantly GI Joes from the 1960s and early 1970s – although the occasional Barbie or Chatty Cathy has never been refused treatment. Typical hospital bills range from $20 to $100, and customers who spend more than $30 receive a complimentary mini Purple Heart.

Action figure surgery may be bloodless, but the operating room is hardly pretty. To tighten loose vintage figures, DeGrella needs to crack open the torso and completely gut out the rubber intestines. The quality of elastics – as anyone who used to bundle baseball cards knows – was horrendous years ago, but new technology ensures that this procedure will likely only happen once.

DeGrella’s cellar has emerged into one of the nation’s leading centers for GI Joe health care. It was here where researchers (well, OK, it’s a one-man faculty) developed a new nylon joint that revolutionized shoulder replacements for future generations.

DeGrella, a former building contractor who turned full-time toy medic in the early 1990s, claims he can fix just about any ailment. Only twice in his career have figures arrived DOA — the worst casualty was a GI Joe with a burned head and torso along with missing limbs. In the cosmetic arena, the medic also retouches hair and beards with magnetized fibers.

The biggest health hazards to GI Joes are “children and dogs,” in that order, DeGrella says. Another huge problem is osteoporosis, which means “stress cracks” in the limbs and torso. In the dermatology department, vintage black GI Joes have experienced major longevity issues. The chemical used to color the figures’ skin inadvertently caused them to crumble with age.

Fortunately, there is no need to get Jesse Jackson involved — modern African-American Joes no longer use the same kind of plastic

DeGrella began his self-taught medical career at age 9, when he recovered a GI Joe that he lost in a creek. The missing soldier was found pinned under a rock and the prognosis wasn’t optimistic: “He had been underwater for three months. The elastic had just rotted away, so when I picked him up, he basically fell apart in my hand,” the medic recalls. “The body was faded. The hair was washed off.”

The boy improvised his first restrung torso and used model paint to restore various features. Throwing the doll away would’ve been heresy. “It was like finding a long lost friend. I probably had seven or eight GI Joes, but this one remained my favorite,” says DeGrella.

He later gave up collecting as a teenager, cashing in his entire collection for a paltry $20. Enjoying a much higher budget years later, DeGrella relaunched his interest as an adult. Oddly enough, though, his skill at fixing GI Joes led to his collection’s second demise.

Prospective clients “would ask me if I was a collector and I’d say yes. They’d say, ‘Well, how do I know you’re not going to keep my GI Joe parts and send me back some junk?'” remembers DeGrella. “In order to gain the trust of my customers, I needed to give up collecting. So I sold my GI Joes just to give others peace of mind.”

But the choice between collector and healer was not a difficult one. Reliving his childhood every day, DeGrella insists that he doesn’t miss his acquisition years: “I get to play with GI Joes every day. I basically see every piece of GI Joe that was ever made by Hasbro… “It’s almost like therapy to me.”

**
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears in The Telegraph’s Encore magazine every Friday. His Six Million Dollar Man doll remains missing in action. Feedback and suggestions are welcomed via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

The GI Joe Medic with some spare body parts

The GI Joe Medic with some spare body parts

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Pink Aisle Refugees – Guys who shop for (and train) Barbie commandos

Customized militarized Barbies at a recent G.I. Joe Convention

Customized militarized Barbies at a recent G.I. Joe Convention

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Pink Aisle Refugees: Guys not afraid to call a doll a doll’”

The Telegraph — August 8, 2002
**
They call themselves “Pink Aisle Refugees.”  At best, they are a courageous bunch of men shattering society’s prohibition against boys who play with dolls.  At worst, they are hack plastic surgeons, forcing countless Barbies to go under the knife against their will.

Welcome to the Internet’s “Men With Dolls Forum,” a place where female action figures are put on a special pedestal above all toys with a Y-chromosome.

“A grown man shopping in the ‘Pink Aisle’ for Barbie clothes for his female action figures can feel more than a little alienated,” explains MWD member Matt Black, a corporate communications consultant from Philadelphia. “When we come together and discuss this feeling, we are refugees — seeking refuge in each others company.”

“But usually, this feeling doesn’t last long,”  he adds. “Either people become confident and proud — they say to the high school girl at the register, ‘Yes, this is for me, this is for MY doll!’ — or they’ve created their own cover-story. ‘It’s my niece’s birthday tomorrow, I don’t think she has this yet, but her mom can always exchange it, right?’  I started with the latter, but have graduated to the former.”

But the forum is far more than a messageboard for the Doll Pride Movement.  MWD brings together hobbyists who like to “customize” their figures, creating their own characters by altering hair color, facial expressions, body parts, clothing and accessories. Some changes are done by switching clothes and body parts from existing dolls. Other additions are designed from scratch.

Black, who goes by the screen name “TheRenCapt,” recently came to the aid of a colleague who accidentally smeared permanent marker on a Posh Spice doll while trying to touch up her eyebrows. Needless to say, cosmetology isn’t for amateurs.

LAM001: “… I’ve been left with a large purple stain over her left eye, that the goof off WON’T remove… Must I repaint her whole face?  Or has anyone any ideas for getting this stain off? Right now, she looks like she’s been beaten up.”

TheRenCapt: “I know that doll head well… Rule #1 of repaints — NO MARKERS! Put your Sharpies and felt-tips away! … It will bleed over time. Markers sink die INTO the vinyl. You want to paint on the surface. Acrylics are your friend. I use the tip of a needle (no joke) to paint eyebrows. As for the head, if you are deadset on using it, yes, it is a total repaint. Best advice: trash it and find a new one.”

The once non-existent (or closeted) world of men who collect dolls is now a booming market. Mattel has licensed a new line of Lingerie Barbies and it’s likely that women collectors aren’t the ones getting excited over teeny-weeny pink bras. Playboy figured they may as well move in on the silk turf, too. You can turn any G.I. Joe into Hugh Hefner with just two of their scantily-clad Playmate dolls.

“I wish I could give you some socially enlightened response,” says Rob Caswell, a Massachusetts-based artist who grew up in Nashua. “But alas, the main draw for me is quality 1/6th scale cheesecake… I can’t find any attraction in collecting a figure of, say, a frumpy meter maid.”

Thus, it may come as no shock that many of the doll alterations on the MWD forum are breast enhancement operations. Blue Box International has a popular line of well-endowed figures called Cy Girls Perfect Body, which are selling faster than the company can make them. The doll comes with a separate snap-on breast plate for enthusiasts who wish to make her chest even larger.

Merging Barbie with a Cy Girl Perfect Body is one of the more common procedures. “She’s generally accepted as an organ donor,” jokes Mark Volk Jr., a Washington D.C. systems analyst who founded Men With Dolls last June.  “Heads are used most often, usually with surgery to remove the awful smile or a face repaint,” he adds. “Though some members do use the super-articulated Gymnast Barbie body for some of their custom figures.”

Be forewarned: MWD members say it is often tough to fit standard-issue Barbie tube tops or halter tops over the new Perfect Body torso.

Men With Dolls welcomes members of all ages and genders, but the risque content might not be suitable for the collector who prefers Cinderella ballgowns over Madonna leather. Fashion tastes aside, the forum does attract its share of women participants.

“Their passion and craft abilities are easily on par with the male membership,” concedes Caswell, the ex-Nashuan. “They’re just like ‘one of the guys’ … or us guys are all ‘just one of the girls.’  I guess either fits, depending on your perspective about collecting female dolls.”

Craig Wren, a graphic designer based in Ohio, maintains that the MWD Forum is the ultimate compliment to women

“You can name just about any of our five senses and women have some way of delighting that sense,” he explains. “They look nice, they smell good, they feel soft and warm, they appeal to our need for nurturing and comfort, and of course, they provide us with love in many ways – from mothers to wives to daughters.”

“We would all be in a terribly miserable world if there were no females in it,” adds Wren, “and this is reflected in our collections.”

If behind every bust-enhanced Barbie are sentiments like these, maybe the “Men With Dolls”  should issue their own line of Mother’s Day and wedding anniversary cards.

**
Darren Garnick currently owns no Cy Girls or Barbies, but does boast dolls of Jerry Springer and Jesse Ventura.  Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears every Thursday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine.  Feedback and ideas are welcome via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Fashion, Guys Who Play With Dolls, War Toys