Lessons From Outside
Several years ago I started reading military and aviation modeling magazines because I was (and still am) disappointed with the generic quality and content of model railroad publishing. I’m not really that interested in tanks and military aircraft but what draws me to these publications and keeps me coming back is the high quality of the work and the way it is presented.
Meng Air Modeller and its sister publication Meng AFV Modeller are two high quality publications from the UK. Printed on glossy heavyweight stock, both magazines feature excellent photography and design. The covers are bold with an elegant, simple emphasis on a single model and a minimum of text. It’s a refreshing contrast to the cluttered nature of our legacy magazines.
Since armor and aircraft modeling is centered on kits, the articles are mostly descriptions of kit builds, noting any abnormal procedures or glitches in the fit and assembly the builder encountered. The editorial covers each build from start to finish, including painting and weathering, with most steps thoroughly explained and documented. I admit that after a number of these, the format tends to become predictable: start with the cockpit tub, then assemble the fuselage, and so on. However, each build has something to teach if you’re willing to bring a student’s curiosity. Here is where I must confess something. I tend to gloss over parts of the text falsely believing that I already know this stuff because I’ve read it before. In truth, I know nothing until I’ve attempted such work. I’m only cheating myself with that attitude.
With the kit-based emphasis, you might think that scratch building is unknown in these disciplines and you would be wrong. Meng Air Modeller is currently running a multi-part series on scratch building a WWII British Stirling Heavy Bomber. With the many compound curves and complex shapes in any aircraft, this build has opened my eyes to what scratch building can be in the hands of an experienced modeler. I’ve seldom seen brass, styrene and resin combined so skillfully (photo below).
Another magazine I enjoy is Fine Woodworking from the Taunton Press. Like our craft, there are many ways to approach woodworking ranging from the casual, to the serious amateur, to the professional.
Fine Woodworking speaks to the serious amateur and professional and makes the case for serious learning without alienating the casual weekend amateur. The magazine covers a range of topics from the fundamental to very advanced, presenting the required information in a matter of fact tone. Readers aren’t subjected an ongoing editorial sales job because it isn’t needed. Given the quality of the content, the editorial staff assumes people are already motivated and committed to learning the requisite skills if they’ve subscribed to or purchased the magazine. A typical issue may cover what to look for in a basic handtool and the proper techniques to get the most from it, to how to layout and cut a three-way splined miter joint. The reader is free to take what they need according to their skill level and desire to improve.
This approach makes me wonder why so many in model railroading treat beginners like bumbling idiots who have to be led by the hand? I question why we still impose the archaic path to entry that we do when there are far more intelligent and useful alternatives?
As a writer I often underestimate the power of words and overestimate my ability to use them well. The manner in which we discuss our work can point forward and inspire or look back and maintain the status quo. With Meng Air Modeller and Meng AFV Modeller, and others, I’m encouraged that model building can indeed support a serious conversation. Our fellow modelers and builders in these disciplines encourage the pursuit of excellence rather than short change their enjoyment of the work by seeking shortcuts and cheap methods. It’s refreshing and I want the work of OST Publications to do the same.