|A 2001 Retrospective||by Doug Chaltry|
|3 February 2002||email: doug(at)ontheway.us|
|Well, it certainly has
been an interesting year. We live in a world of constant
change, and those who cannot or will not accept the
changes will eventually go the way of the Dodo bird.
While I would like to wax poetic about the political and
social upheavals which we have experienced this past
year, I am neither a poet nor a sociologist, so I will
leave such rambles to those more eloquent than I.
At the end of 1999, I posted an article on how I perceived the state of the hobby at that time, summarizing the advances in small scale armor modeling for the year. I had hoped to make such an analysis an annual event, but for some reason skipped it for 2000. So I will now try again.
There appears to be a blossoming of small scale AFV modeling around the world, but I wonder how much of it is truly an increase in modeling interest, versus simply a change in our perception due to increased exposure and communications on the internet. It is entirely possible that the actual number of small scale AFV modelers is remaining relatively constant, but we're just now becoming more "aware" of each other. But nobody can doubt the extreme beneficial effect that the internet has had on our hobby. Numerous websites have appeared over the past couple of years, dedicated to certain aspects of small scale AFV modeling. Some are very specialized, such as Peter Kempf's Landships, dedicated solely to small scale World War I AFV's; some sites are middle of the road, such as my own site, focusing on only 1/72nd scale AFV's; and others are very broad in their scope, like Pat Storto's 1/72nd and 1/76th AFV Museum and Sandman's and Overlord's Small Scale AFV Pages. Because of the unique aspects of all of these sites (and so many others), they are very complimentary to one another, and each new small scale AFV site is warmly received by the small scale community. Further assisting in the dissemination of small scale AFV knowledge are the discussion groups which have also materialized over the years. My two favorite groups are MiniatureZone and WW II Military Miniatures.
Commercial sources of small scale AFV's have also expanded due to the increasing popularity of on-line commerce. Numerous mail order hobby shops have appeared (and disappeared) over the years, including several specializing in small scale AFV's. Can a shop remain in business catering only to small scale afficionados? That remains to be seen. I think the oldest on-line, small scale shop still in business is David Kuligowski's Mighty Military Miniatures which, surprisingly, is located here in the US. It seems that many US-based shops struggle to keep their doors open, probably because of the high distributor and importer fees, which drive many US modelers to purchase from overseas. The new kits coming out of eastern Europe in particular seem to have their retail prices doubled (or even tripled) when they enter the US market. Luckily, David's shop has prices comparable to the best overseas shops.
Finally we have the manufacturers themselves establishing a presence on the web. I think it has become a necessity for any manufacturer of scale models to make their company available to the modeler through an interactive website, where we can browse catalogs, read about upcoming release plans, and most importantly, correspond with customer service representatives. Some companies intuitively grasp this concept, whereas others are still doing their business in the 20th Century. Companies like ACE, PST, and even a large firm like Revell AG. are known to be very responsive to customer inquiries, whereas other large companies like Hasegawa and Italeri have a lot to learn about customer service.
Are they (the manufacturers) listening to us consumers? I can see arguments for both yes and no, but in the final analysis, I think that they are listening. When I first started the Want List on this website, there were far fewer item listed in blue (i.e., available in resin), and I have also removed at least a dozen kits from the lists entirely, once they were released in plastic. And several more of the top items on the lists are scheduled to be released in the near future. But not shown on the Want List are the other "wants and desires" of small scale builders, such as aftermarket items. Thanks primarily to eastern European companies, we now have a very wide selection of resin and metal aftermarket accessories and conversions, and we're even beginning to see more and more decal releases. ARMO has blessed us with replacement gun barrels for a wide selection of kits; PART and ExtraTech are keeping us happy with many new etched brass sets; ExtraTech has entered the market with AFV engine and interior sets; and many resin firms are producing not only complete kits, but also lower-cost conversions for existing plastic kits. In this respect, we small scale AFV builders have never had it so good.
But there have been some losses as well. Most notable to me was the withdrawal from the small scale AFV market of the former Etched Brass King: Eduard. A company spokesman told me that they do not make any profit with the small scale AFV releases, but that they will keep their eyes on the market, and perhaps release an occasional special item to test the waters. Too bad for us. Also, Revell's decision to release three former-Hasegawa kits in their own boxes was an unpleasant surprise. Hopefully it didn't turn off too many people from continuing to buy their kits.
Another let down to me personally was Italeri's decision to release some of the former ESCI kits in their own boxes. Their early announcement of pending small scale AFV releases had modelers drooling in their sleep for over a year, anxiously awaiting a newcomer to the scene. Speculation was rampant regarding the origin of the kits: "Are they ESCI?" "Are they new molds?" Italeri's total refusal to give any more information, and the mis-labeling of the Leopard kit in their announcements didn't help matters any. Now that it has been confirmed that the kits are in fact ESCI re-releases, the next question is "How did they choose which kits to release?" From what I hear, some of the announced releases will make some modelers happy, in particular the King Tiger and the Leopard 1, but others are very questionable, such as the Panzer IV. This whole episode has raised many other questions which remain unanswered: "Does Italeri now own the ESCI name?" "Do they own all the molds, or just some of them?" "What about the 'missing' ESCI molds such as the M4A3 Sherman, the Wespe, the Panzer 35, the M13 and Semovente?" If Italeri would open up some, we might get some answers. What does it serve to keep us modelers in the dark?
For other plastic kit makers, I think they're doing very well. We've seen a definite increase in both the quantity and quality of new kits over the past two years. It is now an established fact that Revell is setting the new standard for plastic kits, although I always still manage to find fault with each release :). They are coming so close to perfection, that even minor nit-picks such as closed hatches seem to aggravate me more than they actually should. But regardless, we can only hope that they continue to make profits with their small scale line, so that the new kits keep on coming. Their latest kit, the Cromwell, I would award the title Kit of the Year, since it is such a fine piece of engineering, and it fulfilled the wishes of a great many modelers.
The quality of other manufacturers is also on the rise. The latest kits from Hasegawa are excellent efforts. Let us hope that some day they will come out of the Stone Age, and actually switch over to styrene tracks. Speaking of which, some other newcomers to the small scale AFV arena also have similar deficiencies. Specifically, Skif and Roden, both of which recently came out with superb kits, but with archaic vinyl tracks. Hopefully we'll soon see after-market companies offer replacement tracks for these kits in metal, resin or brass.
For me, one of the most personally satisfying phenomena of the past two years is the increased popularity of Russian and former Soviet AFV's, which has been taken advantage of by companies such as PST and ACE. I think that 2000 was the Year of PST, and 2001 was the Year of ACE. PST started out very strong with high quality kits of WW II Soviet tanks which have been in very high demand for years. Their later releases have been slowing down some, with many esoteric variants of existing kits, and re-boxed releases of former AER kits. I'm not sure, but I guess this is being done to maximize profits to offset the costs of the many new molds for their future release plans.
Regarding ACE ... finally we are seeing the release of modern (post-WW II) Russian hardware. ARMO has been trying to keep us satisfied with releases in resin, but many modelers do not, and will not, work with resin, so the existence of these kits in plastic is a boon to the hobby. Granted, the kits are limited-run, and I've heard complaints from people who don't like such kits, but realistically, the newest ACE kits are about as good as you can get, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on laser-cut steel molds. Combine the high quality of the kits (including etched brass, decals, and good instructions), the excellent choice of subject matter, and the willingness to communicate with the customer, and I think that ACE deserves the accolade of Manufacturer of the Year.
But as always, there are still holes in the lists of available kits which are being filled by resin companies. Al.By continues to release a few new kits each year, but they are having problems meeting production demands for their existing kits. Let's hope they can put on more staff and increase their output to more closely match demand. Special thanks goes to Philip Van Acker at Tracks & Troops for making Al.By kits much more available to US customers than they had previously been. Other European resin producers are providing us with many long-desired models; some are rather uncommon subjects (recovery vehicles, soft skins, etc.), and others are of subjects which make you wonder why we haven't seen them in the market before now (such as armored cars, light tanks, etc.). Some of my favorite resin manufacturers are MarS, ARMO, Al.By, Fine Scale Factory, Modell Trans, ExtraTech ... well, you get the idea.
So in retrospect, I feel that we small scale AFV builders are in a pretty good state of affairs at the moment. We have new releases to look forward to almost every month, we're getting more after-market goods, greater exposure on the internet, and kit-for-kit I think that our selection of available vehicle choices likely rivals that in 1/35th scale. The manufacturers are trying to give us what we want, but they have the real-life issues of profits and costs to deal with. They release kits as soon as they can afford to, so the incessant nagging, annoying and harassment of "Why haven't you released such-and-such kit yet?" coming from some modelers, is really counter-productive. Personally, I'm very happy anytime a new kit is released, whether it's one that I want to build or not. With few exceptions, every new kit helps the hobby.
We still have a long way to go, however. Although our web presence has been expanding considerably, outside of the internet we are still an oft-ignored minority of model builders. Even though small scale participation in model shows has increased over the years, there are still obstacles which need to be overcome, such as the IPMS/USA refusal to include special trophies at their National Convention for small scale AFV's, like they provide for other modeling genres. Our representation in the printed press is also still lagging. There are several high-quality French magazines which regularly feature small scale articles, but there are many fewer articles in British armor magazines, and almost none in American periodicals. The recent article in Fine Scale Modeler which generated much debate was a good example of a controversial article. The author is an exceptional modeler, and the subject of his article was very well presented, but the impression that he gave of the "almost non-existent" field of small scale armor modeling did us little good. Such a misunderstanding can be understood coming from someone new to the scale, but for the editors of such a widely-read model magazine to let such misinformation get by is atrocious.
Part of this problem will hopefully be addressed with the upcoming periodical Minitracks. Not surprisingly, it's coming from France, and it will be completely bilingual, printed in French and English. Devoted entirely to small scale AFV's, this magazine will need our support, both in subscriptions and contributions. So let's put our money where our mouths are, and start promoting our hobby in a productive manner. Build models. Write reviews. Submit them to magazines and websites. Enter into model shows. Join model clubs. And most of all, enjoy the hobby.
I'll close this article with some reflections about the growth of my own website over the years. I started out with some problems with the servers hosting this site, but with the switch to Burlee Networks, operation of the site has been almost completely trouble-free. My next step will be to register a domain name, so be prepared for another move. (Actually, the site will stay right where it is, but the URL will change, so it's not actually a move ...) There have been several changes in the site itself: layout changes, procedural changes, email changes, etc. The growth of the site has been enormous; I think it has tripled in size since two years ago. I've experienced a couple of setbacks, specifically several problems with viruses on my home computer, and the move to a new, more powerful system, which surprisingly was fairly hassle-free. One abortive attempt to switch to Windows XP was luckily survived. My own personal life has also been in flux this past year, with employment problems, and whatnot, which has also caused some changes in the site. There have been long periods of time between updates, and most significantly, my model construction rate has dropped to almost nothing (but I actually modeled this past weekend - the ADV Leclerc is almost complete!) Thankfully the contributions to the site by readers from around the world have not only been keeping the site alive, but also making it grow considerably. The Gallery continues to increase in size at a geometric rate. I've also been receiving an occasional construction review and special article, and I would very much like to see these increase as well. My ultimate plan continues to be 'to post in-box previews of every 1/72nd scale kit available.' Hopefully I will approach that goal in the coming year. Once again, I would like to apologise for my email response time lags. Sometimes the contributions back up in my mailbox, and it takes time to catch up.
So to everyone who has contributed to the growth of this site, I pass along my warmest regards and deepest gratitude. And to all the viewers of this site around the globe, I say Happy New Year, and Happy Modeling.