SR. PRODUCT DESIGNER, BOBBY VALA, TAKES US INSIDE THE MAKING OF THE COBRA MISSILE COMMAND HEADQUARTERS!
In any collecting community, there are always “those items.” Pieces that, due to age and time, have proven to be exceedingly rare. Maybe those items were produced in smaller numbers, maybe they were only released through certain outlets, or maybe they were cardboard playsets that were produced in a hurry for a major retailer for the 1982 Christmas catalog. It’s this last scenario that holds special significance for the G.I. Joe collector community as it describes the elusive Cobra Missile Command Headquarters. The unique nature of its construction means that obtaining an extant one today is no easy task. Yet, for fans all is not lost. Through careful restoration efforts, this rare piece of Joe lore has been brought to light once more. The Cobra Missile Command Headquarters is back and it’s better than ever!
THE MISSILE COMMAND BASE:
You’ve been given the task of recreating one of the rarest pieces in the entire G.I. Joe: A Real American line. How did you approach this once-in-a-lifetime task?
Bobby Vala: I guess it wasn’t how I approached it as it was more who approached me. Derryl DePriest came into my office one day and said, “Hey man, I’ve got an idea for the next SDCC item…Missile Command Headquarters!” He had just acquired one for his personal collection and thought that it would be something we could replicate without the usual tooling burden. Without saying anything, I got up from my chair, gave him a huge high five and said, “It’s a home run!” Luckily I was given the privilege to lead the design process and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out.
Can you describe the process of recreating a 35-year-old cardboard playset?
BV: Well once the elation wore off, I felt it…PRESSURE. We’re talking about the Missile Command Headquarters. Its considered by some collectors as the Holy Grail of ARAH. I had to make sure this set was everything the Joe fans hoped for. There were so many question we had to ask ourselves before we started turning the wheels. Should the cardboard parts be redesigned? Should it come with more figures? I met with Derryl several times trying to figure out the answers to these questions and what was the right direction to take. Once we had a path then the real fun began. Derryl was able to search our archives and we actually had an original un-punched set to reference. I had never seen one in person so holding the un-punched boards was a dream come true. Being able to reference the original set was a HUGE help in the design process for the new item.
Is this a faithful recreation of the original base or were some changes made?
BV: This was one of the important questions we needed to answer. To me, the original was flawless. Yes, it was only cardboard but design and engineering that went into it was spot on. Ron Rudat’s artwork was so detailed and intricate. Many factors went into it but we ultimately decided it was best to keep to the original design with just some minor tweaks.
Was there every any thought given to rescaling this piece for modern style 4” figures?
BV: Absolutely. It was one of the many questions we asked ourselves. Since the original set is so rare, I felt it was the best move to keep to the original scale. It’s a bit tight in the elevator and the seats but the 4” figure do fit. Keeping it the original size allowed for fans of the ARAH line to have a Missile Command HQ if they didn’t have the budget for the original. Since we had the original un-punched boards I was able to scan them and use the same die lines so it’s an exact match to the scale of the original.
The original CMH was designed without the aid of modern design software. As you were restoring the pieces, what was the most impressive detail you noticed?
BV: I don’t know if you’ve ever built one but the directions and folding method are very complex. This thing is 35+ years old and all cardboard that ends up turning into a three dimensional base with seats and a working elevator. If that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is.
Aside from its incredible scarcity today, why do you feel collectors are so fascinated by this particular piece of G.I. Joe lore?
BV: When the ARAH line debuted in 1982, it was very hero heavy from the figures to the vehicles. The Missile Command HQ was the only Cobra set which came with all of the Cobra issued figures and it made a huge impact. Also being part of that debut line which started it all makes such a sought after set. The other factor is that this was not a mainline item. This was a Sears exclusive so its rarity was amplified and fans do love the rare items.
The single biggest change to the 2017 Cobra Missile Headquarters is found in the figure builds which were upgraded to the new style of construction. With the classic O-ring tooling a thing of the past, designer Bobby Vala was tasked with recreating the classic figures.
Was there every any discussion of simply reissuing the 30th/Pursuit of Cobra Trooper in this set and saving some time? After all, his shadow is seen in the artwork along the upper gantry.
BV: Yes this was definitely something that was considered. That figure is such a great version. Since this was an SDCC exclusive I wanted to make sure the figures were special and not just something we’ve put out before.
How close are these designs to the 1982 originals?
BV: Since we were keeping the rest of the set true to the original, I wanted to make sure the figures we as close of a match to their original versions as possible. I studied the 82 figures and spent hours looking over my collection of modern day figures to figure out what parts I could use.
With all of the parts at Hasbro’s disposal, how many combinations were required to get it “just right”?
BV: I didn’t keep track of all the combinations but I can tell you it was A LOT! For a solid week there were hundreds of parts on my desk. After a few I had to start taking pictures of them so I would remember when I used a certain combination of parts.
Which of the three included figures proved to be the most challenging to design?
BV: I think it was the Cobra Trooper. He has a pouch on one of his legs and I remember it being quite troublesome finding a pouch thigh part. Every time I would find one it wouldn’t fit with a certain knee which would also throw off the lower leg. I was very happy with the final build in the end but oh man did it take some time.
Were these figures designed for play or display?
BV: This particular set is graded for 5+ so they are intended for both play and display. The set has been a big success with the collector community but I hope there is a dad out there somewhere that purchased this set and built the headquarters with his son or daughter. My son is only one so he’s gotta wait a few more years.
The package seems to evoke a vintage vibe in every way, right down to the aged appearance of the cardboard. Was there ever any thought given to making it look “brand new”?
BV: It was discussed but the samples we had – Derryl’s and our archive sample – both had a certain charm with that aged cardboard look and we thought that would be fun to capture. Once the decision was made to go retro with the figures and cardboard the package followed suit. Shawn Kenney really nailed the packaging in every way and I can’t commend him enough. It really turned out perfect. The vintage nature of the packaging is everything I hoped for. The part of it I liked best was the off white feel of the box which makes it look just like the original.
THE WHOLE SET
If you could say one thing about this restoration project to someone who is on the fence about buying one, what would it be?
BV: Get off the fence and make it part of your collection! If you’ve gotten to the end of this interview then now you know…and knowing is half the battle!