Every so often, my blogging worlds (all this nonsense and Doctor Who fandom, in case you’re keeping score) collide. This piece is one such incident, dating back to 2011 when I was undertaking a Year of Frugal Gaming.
Who pundit and novelist Lawrence Miles, before he effectively shut down in despair at the state of the current series, pontificated about about brands, making things, and TV spinoffs. Specifically, the rather cool Deadly Art:
But Deadly 60 has its own pilot-fish programme, Deadly Art. This is the latest and most carnivorous offshoot of the Take Hart format (or Art Attack, if you’re dead common), and you can probably see how it all fits together. We get a precis of the accompaying Deadly 60, and then two artists in the studio – usually young women, y’know, like with Tony Hart – make A GIGANTIC SODDING PRAYING MANTIS WITH GLOWING EYES OUT OF SCRAP METAL. Only pausing to run off a smaller version out of the sort of thing you might find, ooh, in your bins.
I mention this less to rattle on about children’s TV and more to pad the entry while explaining the term ‘Termite Art’. Y’see, Miles goes on to make an Interesting Remark:
If the Termite Art version of television provokes the viewer into going outside and poking around to see what’s there (and I still hold that this is what most good telly does, especially children’s telly), then this is more like siege conditions. Branding always closes the gates. This is your product, you don’t need anything else.
Now, you can probably sense where I’m going with this. Back when I was a lad, there was a lot of the miniature wargaming hobby that was a bit DIY. Actually, quite a lot DIY. Sure, Citadel made trees (they weren’t very good) and produced their own paintbrushes and paints and clippers and stuff, but there was never a particular drive for everything to be Official. White Dwarf ran frequent articles on how to make modular chipboard battlefields, with terrain crafted from of bits of toilet and the ridiculous amount of white packing material that their larger kits came in, and they showed this stuff in battle reports; it was part of the Right Way to do the Hobby, and it was mostly pretty damn cheap. Names were dropped in painting articles – Humbrol, Tamiya, Airfix – and there was a culture of crossover and usage between manufacturers. Furthermore, it meant there were relations, however tenuous, between my hobby and the sort of shops my grandfather loved to visit and random bits of crud picked up from skips or beaches or the moorlands that spread out to the north of our house at the top edge of Plymouth (I’m still sulking that I didn’t bring home that sheep skull I found, but the ants hadn’t quite finished it and there was no. fucking. way. my mother would have had that in her car or the house). The hobby sent me off into the big wide world looking for stuff to do things with.
Nowadays, of course, there’s a Citadel-branded everything, and a definition of the Games Workshop Hobby that actively avoids mention of any other kind of Hobby. The terrain you see in White Dwarf these days is exclusively the stuff you can buy in kit form in your local GW. Mention of other manufacturers’ paints and tools and miniatures and goodness knows what else is strictly off-limits. Privateer Press have entrenched behind the same thing, although their terrain line was an expensive series of disasters (I quite liked the Cryx piece though, and if anyone has one that they don’t want, I’d be happy to take it off their hands). Things are a bit woolier once you move further away from the Evil Empire and the Imperial Remnant, but I still see a lot of people talking about Army Painter as though they’re the only people who make primer or big tins of dark glossy stuff to dip your figures in. When I were a lad we did that with woodstain.
This saddens me, and it does so beyond the staggering expense of the stuff (I still reel at the cost of the Realm of Battle board complete with SKULLS UNDER THE TOPSOIL, even three years on). I like to keep the gates open and to have a steady flow of people outwards as well as in. I like initiative, and re-use, and re-cycling. I like putting things to strange new purposes. I don’t like having the Official Product and being told that I don’t need anything else: especially not when it’s four times the effective price of what I’ve come up with.