“A kit may well be wildly inaccurate, but I can say with some conviction that though that will be important to some — quite rightly — to others it will be completely irrelevant”
Throughout my career in this industry, I’ve more often than not described myself as a kit ‘reviewer’ and the articles that I complete, ‘reviews’. Thinking about those two descriptions over the last few weeks or so, I’ve started to consider both to be rather untrue, the description ‘kit builder’ and ‘builds’, being rather closer to an accurate description.
So why is this and what has suddenly made a reappraisal of my role, worthwhile?
In short, I don’t really think that modellers in the main, give two-hoots about in-depth reviews any more. I think the vast majority of modellers want a cool kit to build and they want to be inspired by seeing great models painted to look amazing in their display case. Art has overriden accuracy in most minds and whereas in years gone by discussion often centred around accuracy of outline and detail, these days it’s more likely to concern highlighted finishes and whether or not paint chips are appropriate or not.
So where does that leave the humble review?
A review should in its broadest sense offer a modeller a number of things: an impression of what’s in the box, how the kit is moulded, features that are supplied, how the bits and pieces go together and finally, how accurate the kit is from the box. For the purists out there the final aspect is always the most important part of any review. Quite rightly, a core part of our hobby is concerned with accuracy of shape, outline, dimension and detail and that’s what they want to read within the body of any review or build feature that is published, be it online, or within the pages of a magazine. But, as important as those modellers are, it seems to me (as I have thought for some time) that the vast majority are more interested in how a kit goes together and how much fun they can have with the basic contents of the box, than they are with absolute accuracy.
Now, before anyone jumps all over me raining blows onto my head with Biblical levels of violence, let me point out at this juncture that I’m NOT saying that either approach is right or wrong and no, I’m not saying that you can’t have fun if you are interested in accuracy – far from it. Modelling is a very personal hobby and you have the right to approach it any way you want. If your thing is to create the perfect miniature, accurate in every way and only the most accurate kit will fulfil that role: great. If you want to grab a kit and just build and paint the contents with no concession to accuracy: great. This is not about splitting modellers into groups; this is just about what I see day to day, nothing more, nothing less and how that then relates to the creation of modelling features going forward.
The biggest driver to this debate has been the rise of Facebook within our community and the number of modelling pages that have popped up to serve people of all skill levels. From absolute beginners though to the very best in the world, there are hundreds of pages that allow enthusiasts to come together and share their love of modelmaking. Though many of these pages feature discussions about new kits and issues with them — good and bad — the vast majority seem to feature the work of modellers that are simply enjoying the building of a plastic model kit and they have no time and even less inclination, to discuss anything more than how to glue the parts together and paint the results.
Years ago a particularly famous modeller and shop owner, sat me down to tell me at length that 95% of all modellers that he had dealt with, never bought magazines, never visited clubs or entered competitions, and never showed off their work to others. The silent majority – as he described them – were happy just to sit at the kitchen table after a hard day’s work and build for the sake of building. The results were not as important as the journey through the project and because they only ever had themselves to please, they never needed to worry about acceptance from peers, or negativity from critics. Those modellers he told me, were the core of the hobby and without them, the industry would collapse. The other 5% were the drivers to excellence, modellers who saw the hobby as a route to the creation of stunning builds, perfect in every detail, accurate to a fault and finished to standards that improved day upon day, week upon week, year upon year. Though important, these guys may well have been looked up to for inspiration, but they were the tip of the pyramid and not the foundations on which all four walls of the industry and subsequent hobby, stood.
As time has passed by, this ratio has been proven time and time again and now in 2017, I feel that it is exactly how the hobby breaks down.
Without sounding elitist, check out any page Online and amongst the handful of excellent builds, you will find many more that fit within a much larger average category where models are nicely built and finished, but perhaps not up to the same standards seen from the hands of the world’s best. Dig deeper and you will see something else that defines this group more than any other: the number of older kits that are being built. It’s becoming something of a feature of the Online world that many modellers are choosing to build ancient kits — seemingly en masse — and not caring that there are no reviews of these sometimes forgotten tools. Other than the occasional complaint from a modeller about Airfix daring to release a 40-year-old kit in 2017 and then finding that it’s not up to the standard of a Tamiya offering, many of these modellers seem to be more than happy to convert sows’ ears into silk purses and that’s where my question about reviews of new kits comes in. Their hobby and thus by definition the bulk of modellers, is about building kits and accuracy simply does not form part of their bigger picture. That being so, is it my job to improve their skills by offering technical guidance, or is it my job to always offer information regarding negative issues, despite feeling that that information is rather redundant? Should reviews only ever deal in-depth with new tools and not with reissues where you have to view those repackaged kits through the prism of passed time?
There are of course no simple answers to this because no one group should be alienated at the expense of another. I would certainly hate modellers keen to read about new kits warts and all, feel that my work was of no interest to them and that I was skirting issues for the sake of simplicity and playing to the gallery. That being said, my feelings, unscientific though they may be, are pointing me in the direction of being slightly less concerned with absolute accuracy and more focussed on the nuts and bolts of the hobby, such as construction and painting.
But of course this has a knock-on effect in how I deal with my own builds and also how I see myself. Over the last twelve months almost every kit that I have bought has been a minimum of 30 years old. Though I’ve grabbed a couple of new releases, many of which have come from the Airfix range, the vast majority have been old tools from the likes of Monogram, Revell and Matchbox (my latest being a Monogram F-20!).
Yeah, I know, much of that has been driven by my well-publicised nostalgic leanings, but many of those decisions have, much like the modellers that populate Facebook and the like, been the result of wanting to actually build those old kits and often that has been at the expense, both monetarily and in terms of time, of newer, more accurate releases. Accuracy has it would seem become less and less important to me. All of which places me not within the upper 5%, but firmly within the 95% that see beyond the latest and greatest and into a forgotten world of dusty old boxes waiting to be opened and enjoyed.
So it’s a tough call as to which way to jump. Should we be less concerned with nuts and bolt reviews that discuss the minutiae of the kit’s accuracy and let modellers make up their own minds, or maintain the status quo? Recently I saw a Blogging friend of mine complete a new kit that I know is way overscale, but he really liked the kit and the resulting model. Nowhere could I find that he’d felt short-changed by the manufacturer’s errors, the project being every bit a success in spite of them. I liked that; it seemed as though he’d clued into the innocence of the pastime and that serious issues had been left to the day job, just as they should be. Equally though, one of my reviewers had built almost the same kit and highlighted all of the issues and I enjoyed that as well! It’s an utter minefield.
Our job is always to tell the truth about a kit, but that has to be tempered by the needs of the readers and whether they feel that issues are important. A kit may well be wildly inaccurate, but I can say with some conviction that although that will be important to some — quite rightly — to others, it will be completely irrelevant. To me, I tread the line between both camps, though as many will tell you that is often subject driven; give me an inaccurate MiG and I may turn a blind eye; give me an inaccurate Harrier and the hackles will rise with every passing minute…
Now, if you don’t mind, I need a lie down!
See you next time.