After missing a month due to other commitments, I’m happy to again contribute to the Sprue Cutters’ Union blog circle. This month’s topic looks at the rise of the aftermarket in the hobby and addresses a somewhat dystopian theme:
Has the Aftermarket Taken All the Hard Work Out of Modeling?
The Devil’s Advocate
This is a complicated question. On the surface, I can see how one might feel that way. With the incredible array of resin, photoetch, and white metal parts (to name a few), the need for modelers to dive into a container full of stock polystyrene bits has been reduced significantly. No longer does a modeler need to completely scratch-build the sundry details that dot a tank’s upper surface or line an aircraft wheel well: Need some oil drums or brake tubing? Somebody’s already got that covered! I can see how this shift in product availability has led to the rise in calling aftermarket modelers mere “assemblers.”
If you can’t tell from the tone of this post, however, I disagree with that sentiment, and vehemently. If anything, aftermarket parts drive the urge to model additional details from scratch. If I’ve spent $50 on a kit and another $75 on aftermarket parts, the last thing I want is for my work at building a perfect replica to be marred by some nuance that I could have taken care of with some strip styrene and a little patience.
But Enough of That
Another way to look at it (as I do often) is to consider the skill that goes into actually making those aftermarket parts work. Granted, my experience with shipbuilding speaks to this more than, say, those who primarily use (for lack of a better term) plug-and-play accessories, but consider the work and planning that one must do to bend a complicated railing in 1:700. Or what about folding the metal into an entire 1.1″ gun assembly (two of which would easily fit onto a 1:1 penny). Or a radar screen? To those that say that this constitutes some kind of “easy way out” I say how dare you? The stress and concentration required to bend a scale half-mile or more of railing precisely, paint it without watching it fly into the carpet monster, and then attach it without ruining your earlier paint jobs on both the kit and the railing adds an entirely new dimension (a not entirely pleasant dimension) to the hobby that simply never existed before the advent of these parts. The rise of the aftermarket has created an entirely new class of modeling – even IPMS contest entry forms clearly ask you to delineate between OOB kits and those that have had extra work put into them. The aftermarket makes our models better, while causing us to invest yet more time and energy than we might otherwise; the aftermarket makes us want to be better modelers. And looking at the quality of finished builds that we proudly display amongst ourselves, I can certainly say that the aftermarket is succeeding.
But what about pre-mixed weathering oils? And pre-cut canopy masks?
What about them? They exist because they fill a need. Before Mig, Flory, and the like came about all we had were artist oils, thinner, and five sets of crossed fingers. And you know, some of us still use those methods to our satisfaction…but others have found a way that is better for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve washed blood off a canopy after nicking my finger while cutting Tamiya tape. Do I do that because I enjoy it? Hardly, but it’s a workable method that I use with the full knowledge that a better way exists.
That’s what a lot of this boils down to: the modeler does (and should do) what makes the modeler happy. If I want a kit that I put no effort into and can still wind up with something presentable, I’m going to buy an overpriced die-cast aircraft that comes with a plastic stand and a littler sticker for a nameplate. But if I want to model, then who cares what products exist to make that task more enjoyable, more rewarding, or (heaven forbid) easier? Fifty years ago, this hobby looked far, far different than it does today, and I challenge you to find a knowledgeable modeler who says that those were the good ol’ days. Fifty years from now, 2015 will probably look like the modeling dark ages, where those poor souls actually had to fold their radar screens into complicated shapes by hand, and weathering pastels had to be applied in layers. And you know what? I bet those modelers are going to love the time in which they live.
Related Dispatches from The Union
International Scale Modeler (Video Entry)