The X Factor



“Sex and death . . . two experiences that happen once in a life-time”

Woody Allen.

When I first contemplated writing about the adult content in garage kits, I thought about a “sex and violence and resin” theme but it seemed superfluous to go on about the dark imagery that characterises a corner of the hobby that’s never been known for political correctness. (Besides visions of mutilation, torture and horror are more mainstream these days; witness Clive Barker’s “Tortured Souls” hanging in your local toy shop as we speak in 2008 right next to the latest LOTR offerings).

So I suppose that just leaves sex then . . .

Depressingly the only tv programme I have ever seen about garage kits on British television focused on ‘girl’ kits. Managing to be both patronising and prurient at the same time, it left the impression of sad individuals, barely one step away from the grubby raincoat brigade, being knowingly exploited by cynical dealers. Given the general public’s prejudices, I suppose it was an obvious angle but how close does it come to the truth?

In my experience most figure modellers are hard-core model enthusiasts first. Many will have one or two adult kits in their collection but usually only as a change of pace from their main area of interest. Typical of this kind of hobbyist are those mature military-modeling buffs you meet at conventions, often dapper ex-military men themselves, who are fond of an occasional risqué subject like a bare breasted girl in a Hussar uniform. It’s taken in the same spirit as saucy seaside postcards and rather sweet really, unless you’re a militant feminist.

On the other hand it would be naive to deny that kit producers don’t often consciously seek to cater for the tastes of their predominantly male customers. The interesting question to my mind is how they do it and how well it succeeds. Thus I thought I’d cast an analytical (but not too judgemental) eye over the way eroticism features in garage kits.

Before I go on though, a couple of qualifications: erotic taste is obviously a highly subjective matter (and if you’re someone who finds ‘erotic’ synonymous with ‘indecent’ then now is probably a good time to stop reading).

In a world where people buy used panties from slot-machines (had to be the japanese), it’s always going to be hard to set objective standards. So rather than preface everything I say, I’ll just admit straight off that what follows is based entirely on my own taste — whose else am I going to rely on ?

As an example of this bias, I’ll start by dividing kits into four categories; according to subject matter and the market they cater for. This is mainly for convenience and obviously there are going to be over-laps; you can fill those in for yourself.

We’ll call the first of these: The Fur Bikini in honour of Raquel Welch and her touchingly impractical dress sense in One Million Years BC.

For fur you can substitute leather basques or brass breastplates but the plunging decollétage tends to be a constant. The primary genre is Sword & Sorcery but any action and adventure fantasy will do. Fur bikinis come in both butch and femme flavours; the tv series Xena Warrior Princess features both archetypes and Buffy The Vampire Slayer cunningly combines them. (It’s no surprise that both are huge hits with gay women).

The appeal of a scantily clad Amazon is textbook Freud: a display of female strength and dominance combined with a costume that hints at vulnerability. The real-life Amazons of course amputated their breasts to make them fitter for battle (not exactly a turn on) but then we’re talking about fantasy that’s pretty far removed from reality.

The counterpart is the work of fantasy artists like Frazetta, Achilleos and Vallejo. (See my piece on Fantasy Artists) Their styles are different but the women they paint all share a similar iconography.

Achilleos’ females are icily remote in their erotic posturing; Vallejo’s have the pumped up look of body-builders; Frazetta’s round bellied, elfin faced vixens come the closest to being what I would call ‘sexy’ but no kit has ever successfully captured the quality to date.

A look in my Model Vaults should tell you that I have a particular fondness for the unlikely muscle bound, sword wielding world the Fur Bikini inhabits but I’m hard pressed to explain exactly why. I don’t read that kind of fiction and I’m no particular fan of the comic book and screen versions either; but show me the same thing in resin or vinyl and susceptibility kicks in.

I can only attribute it to when I was nine years old and (for a brief while) the world’s number one Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. Maybe because of that regressive connection, I don’t find these kind of kits even vaguely titillating and my contention is that few other men do. Fur Bikinis belong to the kid’s afternoon matinee, to a more innocent world of preposterous heroes and heroines; and, unless you’re severely arrested, it’s going to be hard to get seriously steamed in such a world.

If these kind of sculptures have any erotic frisson at all, it as fantasy icons rather than real flesh and blood. Good sculptors instinctively understand that they’re most appealing when they’re least self-consciously sexy. This is kind of the opposite of The Bettie, the category we’ll look at next.

I’ve called this category The Betties after the ubiquitous Bettie Page but I could have equally as well used The Bunnies or The Boop-boop-a-doos.

No pretence here that the intention is anything other than to titillate but with a heavy helping of coyness on the side. This is the model equivalent of the old fashioned calendar girl, a slightly updated – or not – version of the pin-ups that have been around locker rooms since the thirties.

Cultural differences are quite a considerable factor in this category, reflecting ideals of female beauty. Americans seem to favour an athletic pneumatic type, the British version is homelier and the Japanese have a slightly disturbing penchant for the pre-pubescenct.

The Italians and Spanish like their women lush and full-hipped. Spanish sculptors predictably model their subjects with stronger more characterful faces.

Typical of these figures was the old Phoenix Phollie range which had the full gamut of beauties in ‘traditional’ costume: the cowgirl, the waitress, the skater etc. They were reasonably sculpted but they weren’t really that sexy. They were more like the figures painted on American bombers, icons of a nostalgic past. They sold well however and other companies tried to copy the Phoenix formula with variable success; either the sculpting was poorer or they were too pornographic for anyone but the saddest modelling geeks.

More successful are the more recent

(To be completed)