Gremlins in the Garage!

Invasion of the Sci-Fi Modelers
by Dan Perez
I have to say that I've come to feel pampered being in the Houston chapter of International Plastic Modeler's Society (IPMS). Not because I've won awards, although that's pretty cool. No, it has more to do with attitude. And balance. Houston IPMS is, quite simply, a great place for a sci fi figure modeler like me. And it feels luxurious because I think this can be said of very few IPMS chapters, at least here in Texas (but I strongly suspect this is the case across the country).

I started thinking about this after a couple of recent out-of-town shows. Let me illustrate with an example. Say you're a tank modeler. A dyed-in the-wool-treadhead. You've spent great numbers of hours assembling a Sturmpanzer, painting it, weathering it, perhaps even superdetailing the interior with after-market and scratchbuilt parts. You've even labored to mount it on a base that Shep Paine would approve of. Then that out of town show draws near. You pile into the car with some other treadheads and their little armored jewels, as well, savoring that peculiar excitement that only a road trip to an out-of-town show can provide. The game is afoot!

Then, to your disappointment, you arrive and see that the out-of town chapter has precisely TWO tank categories in their contest: Armor 1:48 scale and larger, and Armor, smaller than 1:48 scale. Worse yet, there are dozens and dozens of armored vehicles already entered in your size division. You and your friends glumly enter your tanks, knowing that the competition for the three prizes is going to be extremely fierce, especially seeing as you're not just competing with other tanks, but other armored vehicles like APCs and tank carriers, as well. You look at those long tables full of armor, you think of the two categories, and you're certain that the IPMS chapter will, at the very least, split the category. But no. You're stuck, and at the end, a lot of armor modelers (yourself included) go home discouraged, feeling a bit discriminated against.

This scenario will never happen with armor, or planes or cars, of course. Each of those genres have plenty of categories to compete in. But it's precisely what happens with sci-fi figure models. This is one of the fastest growing genres in modeling, moving out of the garage and into the realm of big-name model companies like Revell. It's also a genre that, because its subject matter is drawn from movies, television and comics, intrinsically appeals to children (witness the affordable Toy Biz line of styrene superhero kits or the Geometric line of Star Trek characters).

But as far as most IPMS chapters are concerned, these kits are lumped in with historical figures, with that dreaded duo of categories: Figures, 54mm and larger and Figures, smaller than 54mm. In a word, ugh! At one recent show, much like our imaginary tank modeler above, I looked at tables stuffed with thirty to forty figure kits, wondering if the judges would have the foresight and compassion to split the category. Of course, they didn't. They did split an aircraft category, however, and the planes already had several categories! Thirty to forty kits (most sci fi figure kits are above 54mm in size) vying for a lousy three awards. The word injustice comes quickly to mind.

Any chapter that has room for a dozen or so categories each for armor, planes and cars can work in, at the very least, two or three more categories for sci fi modelers. And separate sci fi categories actually takes some of the competition pressure off of historical figure modelers, who usually get lumped in with the sci fi stuff.

I think a lot of IPMS chapters need to remember that the "M" in IPMS stands for "Modeler" and not "Military." Room needs to be made for all kinds of models and modelers, so as not to discourage people and drive them away from the hobby. And I submit that there's no surer way to discourage people than to discriminate against their chosen area of interest at yearly shows.

IPMS Houston is different, of course. Here, we recently expanded the categories in our yearly show to accomodate sci fi, fantasy and horror modelers. We always provide extra trophies in case of splits, and usually expect two or three split categories each year. Last year, even before we had expanded the sci fi categories, we allowed a split in the figures to account for the large number of entries we got. The club has been open to the changes, and has the full support of the officers.

My purpose in writing this article is not to toot IPMS Houston's horn (although as co-vice president, that's kind of my job), but to simply illustrate that it's an example of a club that is adapting to changes in the hobby, and gaining more members (and member goodwill) as a result. IPMS San Antonio is another exemplary chapter, with a great yearly show and great sci fi categories. In fact, we here in Houston used their sci fi categories as a guide for instituting ours.

If you're a sci fi figure modeler, and you're feeling the sting of discrimination in your local chapter, get involved. Run for an officership. Encourage other figure modelers to join. Write a figure kit column for the newsletter. I did all these things, and we made changes in the club that are of benefit to sci fi modelers. It can be done, and you'll feel great for being a part of it. You may run into more resistance than I did (IPMS Houston has current and past officers who are sci fi fans, which was helpful), but it can be done. And it'll make your yearly show that much more attractive to out-of-town sci fi modelers. I can assure you, I need only look on a show flier and see the deadly duo of categories to decide I'll pass on that show. Remind the powers-that-be that sci fi modelers have money (and usually a fair amount--these kits tend to be expensive) that's just as green as the cash of airplane, car and armor modelers. And that's money the chapter is turning away by not being receptive to a rapidly growing corps of model enthusiasts. Well, that's about it. I hope this article gets up on the web site, and gets circulated to other chapter newsletters so changes can be made. Now I need to get back to work on a vampire kit I'm painting!


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