1:72 Airfix Editorial Comment Kits, Reviews 'n' Builds RAF Aircraft

BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS…

Where does appropriate criticism end and ill-informed commentary, begin?

In 25 years of doing this job, both as an editor and now as a model maker who works for other editors, I have only ever been asked to paint a kit for review using a specific paint range once and that was such a disaster, I refused point-blank to ever repeat the trick.

Having just finished the latest cluster of articles for work, I have today found myself with a little free time. It’s Friday afternoon and there are only a few hours of work left from this week, so rather than begin a build, I thought I would round up some news, check out what is being discussed on the various forums and see if I could find something interesting to talk about before football and the weekend, take over my thoughts for a few days.

Those of you that have followed me over the years, will know that I’ve been doing this job for a very long time. I began work as a reviewer at the start of the Nineties, working for Military In Scale before grabbing the editor’s reins and running with that job for the next couple of decades. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of comments about the hobby; I’ve been accused of pretty much everything; I’ve been offered more advice than you could shake a stick at – and that was just at shows. And then the Internet hit, the comments increased and behind-the-hand-asides, became full-blown digital assaults as the disaffected, the confused and the downright embittered, were offered a platform from which they could throw their miniature barbs. Yes, I’ve heard it all and in the main, I tend to let it slide, but yesterday I heard a comment that I couldn’t ignore. This one, Boomtown Rats-like, hit the charts at number one. We now had the prize for the most preposterous comment I have ever read – and trust me, I have read a lot…

What, you may ask was this comment and why has it caused such angst? In order to protect the commentator and the location of his frankly spectacular viewpoint, I’m going to keep his identity to myself, though I am sure some will have seen this and know exactly who it was and where. In essence, the commentator suggested that if you used Vallejo paints to finish a model, your ability to deal with accuracy had to be questioned, because Vallejo don’t make aircraft colours. Quite. They then went on to suggest that all Airfix builds within Airfix Model World should be finished in Humbrol paints, because if not, you were “biting the hand that feeds you“.

As you can see, there is an awful lot to unpack in that one short paragraph, but it is so astonishing, I think that it is worth opening the box and taking a peep inside.

First things, first, Vallejo paints. The author talks about being ill-informed, but seems to have no idea that Vallejo has an entire range of aircraft specific paints under their ‘Model Air’ range, many of which carry either specific colour names, or alpha-numerical codes that relate to individual air arms. You can see their range here. If I was to be charitable, it may be that he is talking about brush painting acrylics, in which case that might be true, but as the model in question was airbrushed, the point still stands: Vallejo do manufacture aircraft-specific paints.

What this does, rather than casting doubt on the modeller’s knowledge and skillset, highlights the commentator’s deficit, because after decades of these paints being available, he seems not to know that they exist. 

Of course that then leads me to ask why what paints are being used, matters at all? In 25 years of doing this job, both as an editor and now as a model maker who works for other editors, I have only ever been asked to paint a kit for review using a specific paint range once and that was such a disaster, I refused point-blank to ever repeat the trick. It matters not one jot what paint you use, because and I’ll whisper this quietly, you are reviewing the kit, not the materials needed to finish it. Frankly, you could build it without ever reaching for the paint pot and it would still be a worthwhile review. But then the comment would come back “if they can’t paint a model, how can we ever take them seriously?” Chances are, even then, you’d never win.

So we have a lack of knowledge of an entire paint range and an assumption that reviewers are going to be asked to use an entirely different set of materials to finish their models, simply to serve a magazine. Unless you are working for a paint manufacturer, that hardly seems likely and in my experience, is almost unheard of. Seriously, it is.

Then we move on to the idea that anyone building Airfix kits for the Airfix magazine should only use Humbrol paints to finish the model, this case, the brand-new 1/72 De Havilland Mosquito B.XVI. A number of things. Firstly, Airfix magazine is not owned by Airfix, it’s owned by Key, who have licence to use the title. Though the relationship is such that brand-new kits are seen first in that magazine, they are also free to look at and use whatever they want within the hobby alongside those Airfix exclusives. Much like Airfix magazine of old, they are a broad church and the team at Key are wonderful at promoting the hobby in its widest sense and not just the products that fall under the Hornby Umbrella. So the idea that anyone is going to say that a particular product must used for a particular build, is nonsense.

But it’s not just that that grates, it’s the tacit idea that anyone who uses paints from manufacturers other than Humbrol when building Airfix kits for AMW, lacks sufficient knowledge to be allowed to do the job. What if they decided to use Tamiya paint? There are a few colours that are specifically ‘aircraft’ but not many – should a modeller who uses that range be dismissed as well? Of course not. That author could be the pre-eminent authority of the aircraft in question, with knowledge second to none. Is that dismissed because of a paint choice? What about glue? Perhaps they used Mr. Cement S instead of Liquid Poly – where does that leave their credibility? 

What the commentator in this instance seems to miss in his desire to hit a moving target that he simply cannot keep up with, is that within any kit review, the kit takes centre stage. When you are asked to take a look at a kit, you are often doing so within a number of quite specific criterion. You may be asked to carry out a nuts and bolts review of the kit, taking into account detail and accuracy, where the build is secondary if needed at all. You may be asked to build a kit as canvass for construction and finishing ideas, where modellers can learn from what you build, photograph and write. Or, as in this case, you may be asked to do it to show what modellers can expect from a new kit when it hits the shelves. Different stories that all feature the same, central character: the kit. At no point in the production is the director shouting from the wings what you should use to complete the job. Kit first: materials second.

The build of this kit was there to show off a very important, brand-new release. I am convinced that the editor will have handed it over and then asked the modeller to build the model to the best of their ability. They will then have been asked to take some nice photos, write some words about the build, how it goes together and how it was painted, all the while being cognisant of the fact that it is there as an exclusive look for readers to enjoy. Demands beyond that will never have come up. Why? Because the editor will know all about the work of the author, what they have built in the past and with which materials. Time sensitivity will have come into the equation, so the idea that that could be jeopardised by asking the modeller to use materials that they are not familiar with, paints that might not work as predicted, is in my experience unthinkable especially on a brand-new kit.

Comments such as this sometimes crop up and like I say, tend to be best ignored. In this case, the ideas and criticism that were implicit, or rather explicit, within it, were too great to ignore. Often though they flow from the pen, or finger taps of those that are not within the game, so they have no real idea what is involved in the creation of kit reviews and builds. Perhaps if they were, there would be some understanding of what is involved, especially when the project involves a brand-new kit that has to be finished to a very tight deadline, where nothing can be left to chance.

See you next time.

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I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!

12 comments on “BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS…

  1. baker24earthlinknet

    Well said….. The internet is a wonderful double-edged sword, isn’t it? It makes decent research so much easier and more comprehensive than most of us could do 25 years ago, but it also has “released the Kraken” of often unreasonable comment and criticism. I tend on the interwebs to stick to the advice of Thumper the rabbit, in “Bambi”…..”If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all…..” Of course, it does help to have a healthy life away from the modeling forums and Facebook…..

  2. Its amazing how the interwebs have made experts out of everyone and how much hot air gets wasted. The images, youtubes and ideas can be great. The biases for no real reason almost remind me of earth is flat types getting there 15 minutes…

  3. Bob Norgren

    Agree.

  4. Facile argument disassembled like a lego model thrown from a tower block. Bravo!

  5. Well said Spencer.

  6. Paul in Napier

    Must be a Brexit fan too!

  7. Wow Spencer, your way with words is as deft and precise as your way with bits of plastic in a box and liquids in a paint pot – well said!

  8. Don Jamieson

    Long ago in the mists of time there was only two paints, Airfix or Humbrol. A lot has changed in the 50 plus years that I have modelled. My Airfix 1/72 Lancaster that I bought from paper round money for two dollars Australian in 1969 is now, well, a lot more than that. I am used to Gunze Mr Color paints but lately partly due to the limited distributers and the pandemic, are now as rare as hens teeth. I have begun to use Vallejo model air to paint my aircraft. Initially, a bit of a disaster but trying flow improver on advice, it produced a beautiful skin tight finish. Honestly, we have never had it so good. Over the years, I have listened to “experts” who argue that “That is not the correct RLM colour” etc. and you just shake your head and walk away. Remember, it is a hobby and if you want to see it continue to flourish, in the words of Oddball from Kelly`s Heroes, “Stop spreading those negative vibes man”.

  9. Charles

    Well played Sir, knocked him for six.
    Wonder if the individual in question only uses SMS paints for RAAF, and Revell Type S cement (remember that ?) for vintage Revell kits! 😹

  10. Richard

    Many thanks and well said Spence! Had been reading a certain thread from a forum over the last few days and rarely have I been so annoyed by irrational comments. You get used to comments from certain individuals and best ignore or filter them as you say – but am i glad you didn’t on this occasion. It reinforces the importance of the need for credibility.

    The opprobrium heaped on this kit / Airfix has really surprised me. Started early on with sniping about unlikely delivery dates: they always wildly overpromise on dates and extremely unlikely before next year etc. Having arrived (as promised) a lot of fuss then about an incorrect fairing for that mark. Fair enough an error, but fixable with a modicum of effort. What then followed was a “review” of the kit’s other percieved short-comings seemingly all totally subjective or based on just looking at the parts in comparison with another kit. The kit was “too small”, poorly researched, even speculation it was actually a copy (despite being scanned and the development process being fully transparent). Most points were baseless and this comentator, to give some credit, did subsequently correct some of his initial views – although not all. But by then a bandwagon effect had started with people piling in to rubbish the product and even to denigrate the designer’s efforts to make the kit easier to build.

    You gotta wonder about the reputaional impact of all this – particularly with some saying “they’ll pass” on the basis of what they have read, to wait for a long planned kit from another manufacturer (first announced in 2017 and not even mentioned on their website!). Talk about “Biting the hand that feeds you”!

  11. Unfortunately, and at risk of setting off an Ashes-like fracas, I will observe that there is a distinct Airfix Acolytism. Even here in Australia there are those who see Airfix through rose coloured glasses and will brook no criticism of the brand. My first ever models in the mid-1960s were Airfix. The first paints I ever used were Humbrol. The glue was Humbrol. I loved Airfix model magazine. Without Airfix I may not have developed my love for this lifetime hobby. I did, however, move on from Airfix. The world of model making is varied and innovative and interesting. Airfix went from being almost the only game in town to being one of many choices we modellers enjoy these days. I still buy Airfix kits, but not Humbrol paints. I enjoy the banter and the likes and dislikes of modellers and will agree and disagree about the most appropriate paints for any given model. But to say that not using Humbrol paints on an Airfix model is biting the hand that feeds you is patently ludicrous and smacks of dogma.

  12. John Laidlaw

    Very well said.

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