Please Note: The following article was published on the now defunct toy blog, Toy Bender, which I ran.
Luke Ellison isn’t an ordinary man by any means. Although he may look like an average guy, he is in reality the rare breed of person that has been able to transcend these mortal bounds to be immortalized as a toy. More specifically, his face is shared by one of America’s greatest heroes, G.I. Joe. His G.I. Joe counterpart’s name is Red Zone and he’s a member of the G.I. Joe special unit Steel Brigade. How did an average toy collecting guy get turned into a G.I. Joe? Luke was the lucky winner of a contest in the now defunct magazine FHM. I had a chance to ask a Luke a few questions about his claim to fame.
Vincent: For readers who aren’t familiar at all with the FHM contest, how did you find out about it and what did you have to do to win?
Ellison: Basically, I patron the various G.I. Joe message boards for updates on stuff and a couple years ago was this link to a contest through FHM Magazine. The contest called for submissions of people dressed as a member of G.I. Joe or COBRA in a funny, every day experience. I dressed up as Shipwreck coming home from port, meeting my bastard baby son for the first time. Surprisingly I won. The winner (being myself) got to fly to Hasbro HQ in Pawtucket and have their likeness applied to a future G.I. Joe action figure for mass retail distribution.
Vincent: How did you find out that you won and how did you react? Did the prize patrol come to your door? I hope there were some balloons at least.
Ellison: I received a call from an FHM editor telling me I had won. At first I thought it was a joke. But then I received a call from Hasbro and a couple months later I was flown out to Rhode Island for the weekend. It was an extremely drawn out process. It was like waiting for surgery or something. Or that excitement level before getting on a roller coaster. I don’t recall getting too overly excited until the day I actually met the design team and then the geek in me exploded. Literally. I had to wear an adult diaper.
Vincent: Was the Hasbro H.Q. the magical wonderland that I have pictured in my head?
Ellison: I pictured a magical wonderland as well. Like something out Willy Wonka. But no, its a giant office with cubicles and security doors and regular folks working. They do, however, have thousands of toys laying everywhere. Prototypes, finished pieces, stuff from all Hasbro’s different brands. It was like a really cluttered work environment full of plastic goodness. The sculpting area where they keep the new prototypes was off limits. So in my mind, that’s where the “real” magic happens. That area is where they keep the crazy stuff from the general employees.
Vincent: How was your likeness captured? What was your part in the making of the figure?
Ellison: Again, not to spoil the “magic”, but I had envisioned this giant glowing chamber, like a tanning bed, that would scan me and I’d be floating in the air as lights traced my contour… but no. I was taken to this little room where two of the mock-up artists work. They had me sit in a stool in front of a brick wall where a 3D scanner captured my face as I rotated my butt around on the stool. The image capture went to a 3D printer that was given to the sculptors to make my character’s head. I had asked to be a bad guy, either a Dreadnok or a generic trooper. I didn’t know I was going to be a member of the Steel Brigade until my figure was debuted at one of the conventions. It was a cool surprise.
Vincent: What do your friends and family think about your image being immortalised in plastic?
Ellison: Every one of my friends are more geeked about it than I am. I’m introduced at the bar as RED ZONE or G.I. Joe. I can’t go anywhere with my parents ’cause they carry the figure around and break it out at every opportunity they have.
Vincent: Have you gotten any kind of benefits or recognition from fame from your FHM appearance? You’d think this would be good for getting free shots in those bars…
Ellison: I had my fifteen minutes of fame when the local news got wind of the story. I was interviewed several times on NBC and CBS news, which actually got picked up nationally, was featured in several local papers, and was on 3 of the biggest radio stations in town. Sadly, no free alcohol. Hasbro did send me several huge boxes of toys that I gave away on Christmas for a toy drive. I figure I’d need to be in a cartoon or video game before being recognized. I do kinda look like the character in the upcoming Disaster: Day of Crisis though. Maybe I’ll pretend to be him.
Vincent: How did you first “get into” Joes? Were you a big fan of the cartoons or comics?
Ellison: G.I. Joe is one of my all time favorite childhood memories. The cartoon was more cannon for my playtime than the comic book. But I liked the comic because characters actually died. It just added that realism of warfare. I don’t remember my first G.I. Joe ’cause I was super young, but I do remember my cousin first getting Zartan and we’d watch him change colors and think it was the coolest thing ever.
Vincent: What’s the best thing about G.I. Joes, I mean why G.I. Joe and not something like He-Man or Care Bears?
Ellison: I think G.I. Joe brings out the patriotism in all of us, and a soldier is that definitive icon of someone who fights for a greater cause. Unlike Batman, He-man, or Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joes are based off real life (although exaggerated) armed forces and it gives kids that greater connection. They’re idols we can become if we so desire. Even though I’d love to be a crime fighter or a ninja, I just can’t afford the fancy equipment.
Vincent: Has the Joe line/series ever let you down in any way? I know growing up that it was kind of hard to accept after the movie that Cobra Commander was sort of like an alien and that whole Eco-warriors thing really lost me.
Ellison: The cartoon movie was entertaining and gave me a fresh way of looking at the Joe mythos. Cobra-La was funny though. I loved Nemesis Enforcer, but never played with him with his pitiful wings. We use to go around the playground screaming, “COBRA LA-LALALALALALALAAA!” Or we’d impersonate Sgt. Slaughter’s pile driving scene. Most of my Joes come from the ‘86-early 90’s line though, so I still have a certain liking for them even if they were cheesy compared to the early figures. I collected up to the bitter end when Extreme started, then picked back up with the 15th anniversary and of course the Joe vs Cobra era. Maybe it’s because I was poor and appreciated whatever toy I could get, but I really didn’t mind the Play-Doh Joes or water color changing Joes. Realistic? No. Kinda fun for a kid? Sure.
Vincent: Who is your favorite Joe (aside from yourself)? What about your favorite member of Cobra?
Ellison: Salvo was my favorite as a kid. I loved his rocket launcher and simplicity. During backyard battles with friends, I was always Duke though, mainly I think because his name rhymes with mine. Which is silly in retrospect, but that’s how I thought as a kid. W.O.R.M.S. was my favorite COBRA. His helmet reminded me of the Rocketeer, and I used him as COBRA’s aerial assassin. I’m tellin’ ya, kids think the weirdest things.
Vincent: How does it feel to be a G.I. Joe and be in the same ranks as other real world Joes like Sergeant Slaughter and William “The Fridge” Perry?
Ellison: I’ll never be in the same ranks as those guys. Just the same scale. I’m just happy to be the first action figure based off someone born in Toledo, Ohio. Take that, Katie Holmes-Cruise!
Vincent: What G.I. Joe stuff do you collect specifically?
Ellison: Yeah, I collect some of the toys. I have a few odd items like stickers, lunch boxes and shirts. But primarily its the 3.75? line. I photograph a lot of dioramas, so I collect 1/18th scale items to incorporate as well.
Vincent: What non-G.I. Joe items, if any, do you collect?
Ellison: I love all sorts of toys. I have a really nice M.A.S.K. collection, Transformers, Legos, and Marvel Legend’s Avengers. I’m kinda picky about comics and mostly grab trades over single issues. I use to be a major Sony fanboy, but Nintendo’s Wii has recently won my affection.
Vincent: Tell us the truth. Has your figure made out with the Baroness yet? I know mine would be all up in that.
Ellison: Aww man, the Baroness, Lady Jaye, Scarlett, Jinx, Cover Girl… all those ladies have been subjected to my plastic fantasies. Pretty soon he’ll be moving on to Slave Leia and Wonder Woman after a visit to Doc to check for herpes.
Vincent: Finally, is there any kind of website or project that you’d like to plug, or anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
Ellison: …if you want to check out some amazing G.I. Joe dios, go to JoeDios.com and take a look around!