MEDIEVAL LITE

Comments for The End of the Year As We Know It

 

Medieval Lite

 

12/16/12- Now that the end of the world has been cancelled, a lot of folks are probably grumbling, "Sheesh! You mean I got rid of all my porn for nothing??? Dammit!!! I guess I shouldn't have spent all my money on that month-long binge. So what the hell am I gonna do now?" Yeah, it sucks. My suggestion is not to believe anything those lying Mayan SOBs say from now on. Me? I didn't go on a month-long binge like I should have. Instead, I interpreted "the end of the world as we know it" to mean the end of the Age of Facebook: With the toasting of our satellites and power grid, we'd be yanked back in time to the medieval world. Yeah, picking medieval was a bit arbitrary, but since the Texas Renaissance Fair was on the horizon, I assumed that those folks knew something that I didn't. After all, what do I know? That's what I get for listening to old REM songs.

So yeah, medieval... because a bascinet is much snazzier than a tin-foil hat. That's yet another cool nostalgic thread that stretches back to my childhood-- what baby-boomer boy didn't think that knights, army soldiers and dinosaurs were the bee's knees? I've done a number of 1:6 scale doll projects to satisfy that yearning for the good old days, but that's just been a practical and cheap alternative to the gratification of exploring the full-sized stuff. You can fit a bunch of 1:6 armor projects into the space that a 1:1 suit of armor occupies, and the cost is relatively low. Tapping out 1:6 metal armour is waaaay easier (physically) than pounding it out in 1:1 scale, and only takes but a fraction of the cost in tools, materials, and workspace.

Although I'd love to make 1:1 armour, I don't have the tools or workspace. I've also noticed that it's very physically demanding and hard to endure long-term: Many modern armour-makers started out with enthusiasm, taking commissions for custom projects, but later realizing how brutal and scarring the physical demands over time can be. Consequently, many old-timers have scaled back their operations or dropped out entirely. Unlike superstar football players, these guys don't earn millions in exchange for the sacrifice of their well-being. They do it because they love to do it, and it's a huge investment of lifeforce. From that perspective, armour doesn't cost nearly as much as it should cost, but the marketplace dictates otherwise. Many more people watch football and drink beer than dress up in medieval armour.

Texas Renaissance Festival 2012

There are a number of other ways that folks satisfy their interest in medieval stuff besides making it. Some are involved in the competitive sport fighting focus of the Society for Creative Anachronism, whereas some are involved in the more historically-centered focus of medieval reenactment societies. Some are most interested in the hardware, like sword collecting and swordsmanship. Some enjoy the light-hearted medieval-esque costume focus of Renaissance Fairs.

MTexas Renaissance Festival 2012

I'd characterize my interest as the latter. Frankly, I'm too old and not built to be a fighter... besides, I've never had any desire to bash anyone or anything, or be bashed (probably a more likely outcome). While I do find the historical aspect fascinating and worthy of study, I've never been a stickler for historical accuracy: I really like the fantasy depiction of armour in the movie "Excalibur". In fact, I wish I could rewrite history to erase the silly-looking skin-tight brightly-colored hose and cod pieces. Aesthetically, it doesn't appeal to me at all, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing that stuff, no matter how historically correct it was. That's just a personal bias. There's plenty of other really cool-looking medieval stuff that I wish I could wear to work. Modern fashions for men are soooo boring.

Texas Renaissance Festival 2012

My main interest in things medieval is the metal stuff: It just looks awesome, and in my opinion, is far cooler than anything from WWII (sorry!). Maybe even cooler than futuristic armour, since it's so basically functional and not as contrived... well, they're both pretty close in the coolness factor in my book.

Texas Renaissance Festival 2012 Wearability is an obvious feature and appeal of 1:1 scale armour, but that's not as simple as it might sound. Like regular clothes, fitting is important, but far more so for plate armour. Even stuff that's in the general ballpark, if not properly fitted, can make the armour nearly impossibly uncomfortable to wear for an extended period of time. That means most cheaply made-in-India/mass-market/one-size-fits-all stuff probably won't work for a day at the office. The custom armour route is quite expensive and there's an almost certain long wait between the time you order and when it's delivered. Depending on your stage of life and the elasticity of your waistline, there's a chance that your measurements when you order and when the armour is delivered won't match. Even if they do, what about in five or ten years? Is well-fitting armour worth the sacrifice of beer and Tex-Mex food? I think not. Unlike a pair of jeans, you can't take it to a tailor for a quick alteration. That's just a reality-check consideration, since buying plate armour is a fairly substantial committment. Still, there are plenty of people who do buy fitted armour and I haven't read many tales of woe, so maybe my concerns are unwarranted?

Nevertheless, in light of such considerations, I'm content to briefly experience wearing affordable mail-order armour and then putting it on a mannequin who won't suffer or complain from wearing heavy, poorly-fitted armour for long periods of time. It also lets me appreciate what it looks like from the outside (difficult to do while you're wearing it). Unlike a fancy car, the interior amenities of a suit of armour aren't so great.

Doing "Medieval-Lite" has been a fun way to indulge the interest with a nice sampling of the genre, at a bearable cost, especially when done incrementally over a long period of time. I bought my hounskull bascinet over a decade ago at the Texas Renaissance festival. It's a cheap, costume-quality (18-gauge?) helmet that originally didn't have any padding and was impossible to wear. It just looked cool-- a HLO ("Helmet-Like Object"?) that my mannequin didn't mind wearing. At subsequent Renfest visits, I bought a fantasy gorget with pauldons, a sword, and from eBay, a butted-ring hauberk and coif. Naturally, I tried wearing that stuff-- briefly --and was glad that I wasn't the one wearing it 24/7. Recently, I invested in the final push-- getting the mannequin a nice pair of gauntlets, a cheap & crudely made-in-India gothic cuirass, legs, and sabatons. I had to do some similarly crude alterations to the cuirass and legs to make them (barely) wearable for me, but I was content to put it on, admire it in the mirror, stomp around the house, show it off to my wife, and put it back on the mannequin. Good 'nuff for me, and I certainly wouldn't go out in public dressed like that! Of course, once you see what else is out there, then you start thinking of upgrades. Like the 14/16 gauge sallet that I had to have that's impractically heavy for me to wear for any length of time. Good thing that they make mannequins for that.

Medieval Lite In service to my inner geekiness, I did assemble a fairly practical/wearable Renfair/Halloween medieval costume this year: An aluminum hauberk and coif, wearing the light (padded and strapped) hounskull bascinet, and a dagger (the sword was too cumbersome). While it was fun to parade around in that stuff in public, even the light medieval outfit does limit mobility and the freedom you have to do things that you can easily do in civvies....like take photos, blunder around in shops, sit down, and eat. Once the wearing season was over, the costume found a home on another mannequin where it can accumulate future plate armour parts to eventually become an unwearable costume by the time the next wearing season or the end of the world rolls around again. Now that's smart.

Naturally, the piecemeal acquisition and assemblage of medieval costuming parts expands to encompass the collecting aspect. Why stop at one sword that's too cumbersome to wear when you can have two or twenty? Or why not aspire to own a top-quality sword that handles like an authentic medieval tool-of-the-trade, in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse? Doesn't the SHTF scenario dictate the need for a wall of halberds, axes, war-hammers, maces, flails, and crossbows? Well, I'm not there yet, but I can feel being pulled in that direction. The mannequin needed a pole-axe. I needed a medieval crossbow. Fortunately, the crossbow has a functional/entertainment aspect, so I've been able to justify that purchase on aesthetic, costuming, light crafting (I needed to make bolts and a quiver), and entertainment grounds. It's fun to shoot at a poor defenseless target that doesn't have legs to escape the punishment.

Like I said, I think the stuff looks cool. Beyond that, I think there's a lingering appreciation for things from an earlier age where mere mortals could understand how stuff worked, and could improvise and fix stuff. With simple tools, materials, workspace, plenty of time to learn and gain experience, nearly anyone can make and repair armour. You can't say that about modern tech toys.

I don't have any romantic illusions about historical medieval times-- they were brutal and miserable times of incredible hardship for the vast majority, except for the most privileged of society. It's the records of achievement of the rich and powerful minority that have survived to form our prevalent romantic image of the middle ages. Not that there's anything wrong with that... but I doubt that "Black Death victim" is a popular costume at historical reenactments: Everybody wants to be the knight. Since most of us generally don't have to worry about physical fitness for our daily survival, it can be as easy as putting on an armour costume (and whining about how heavy it is)!

Anyway, here are a few links to modern medieval stuff, just in case the end of the world gets back on track. Bear in mind that the demand for medieval stuff is relatively small (in the grand scheme of things), so the selection of in-stock stuff across all the vendors tends to be awfully meager and homogenous. Fact is, there just aren't that many Mayan factories in India, and as you're probably aware, there just aren't that many Mayans left since they vanished from the face of the earth. Honest injun!

  • Kult of Athena Usually have the best prices out there. When they say it's in stock, they mean it. Quick shipping and a pleasure to deal with.
  • Therion Arms Long-timer in the field who happens to be local. Great sense of humor and he like cats. That counts for a lot!
  • DragonMark LLC Well, their website ain't much to look at but they build one helluva crossbow! They're great folks and local to the TX Renfest area; check out their booth when you go to the Renfest.

Medieval-esque Crossbow

 


 

My mannequins would give die-hard armour fans conniption fits, but it's all in the name of fun. Mannequin #1's first costume included a 44DD bra and a bunch of makeup; sadly, the bra had to go. I thought she looked better without the coif, so it went away too. It's all a matter of priorities when you're doing Medieval Lite.

Medieval Lite

Medieval Lite


And Now, For Something Completely Different: Toys? 12/30/12- The 1:6 scale doll/action-figure/figurine thing used to be the main focus of this website, but whenever I lose interest, then it isn't. It hasn't been for quite a while. These days, I don't keep close tabs on the hobby, but every once in a while I like to check in, just to see what's up and what's still around. Some of the change is sad from a long-term perspective: I'm sad to see the former Usenet newsgroup, The Sandbox, a mere shadow of its former self... but glad to see that it's still around and some of the oldtimers are still hanging on in its Google Groups home. A lot of post-Usenet message boards were migrated to Yuku when Ezboards shut down, and every so often I'd check the Men With Dolls forum; it now seems to have vanished without a trace (or resides behind the Yuku login screen). Similarly, the once-promising Triad Toys seems to have faded from the scene, never quite filling the void when Takara and their Cy Girls left the scene. Personally, it's sort of sad since I was there at the dawn of 1:6 scale fetishy lewdness, during the days of Mike Cherry-- thinking it was relatively safe customizing grounds, because no respectable company would dare to tread on such coarse and tasteless grounds. How wrong I was! In hindsight, it seems that Takara and BBI knew what they were doing-- niche markets often aren't sustainable or profitable enough to support ambitious dreams of expansion. (Hell, even I got tired of doing the babes with big 'uns schtick... which isn't to say that I don't still like 'em!) I think that toy-centric forums tend to give a distorted view of the marketplace since the "buzz" is often representative of the postings of the few most vocal members, not the number of pocketbooks. Smart companies know this and make business decisions accordingly.

On the other hand, there's been a tremendous explosion of stuff for adults-who-like-toys, which indicates that there are an awful lot of adults who must be buying this stuff, even during an economic recession. A big area of growth is the upscale resin sculpture market (a.k.a. 1:4 scale "Premium Format Figurine"), which seems to be the successor to the garage kit market, now done up for the masses in ready built and painted format. And quite expensive too-- a 3-foot sculpture of the Lord of the Rings' Sauron is currently being offered for upwards of $800. It's quite astounding-- in the 70s, non-vintage adult toy collectors were scarce and there was a undeniable stigma for an adult going into a toy store and buying toys... for themselves! The decades that followed seemed to provide justification for it as an investment activity (an adult thing to do), and that attitude in conjunction with the attraction to cool toys (especially if they're media-related), persists to this day... in spades.

The hobby is sometimes jokingly referred to as "plastic crack", which isn't too far off the mark. For many of us, toys appeal to that same thing from childhood that made us like comics, fantasy, playing, and so on. The fact that such things are being embraced by so many adults shows a subtle cultural evolution, no doubt aided by the targeting of the adult market by sci-fi and fantasy movies and video games. Most of the toy releases are physical tokens of that flood of popular cultural phenomena, which mark time in our lives perhaps as much as real news events provided milestones in the lives of previous generations. The evolution is nurtured by the widespread access to the world-wide Internet community of like-minded folk, which mitigates the stigma we might feel if done in isolation. It's a benign variation on the "mob mentality", where individuals do things in a mob that they probably wouldn't do as alone as individuals. Couple that with a rapid release cycle of novelty, a consumer-oriented culture, the justification of investment, and it's not surprising that adult toy collecting has grown so much, so rapidly in the Internet age. That's not to say that it's understood and accepted by the mainstream... it remains a nerdish interest of the minority, but that's still a lot of people and represents a lot of money changing hands.

I'm a sorry example of the affliction, having spent a shameful amount of money last year on Medicom's SAFS and other dolls. This year I haven't done much better, having by chance recently stumbled across the narrow temporal window when eagerly and long-awaited preorders have hit shelves at online retailers as unsold stock, at slightly below MSRP. If the past is any indicator, prices will rise and perhaps double or triple as this stock gets sold out. Specifically, I'm talking about Hot Toy's Iron Monger doll, which lists for $480 (and is currently on eBay for as much as $900+). For a plastic toy. Granted, it's a big and detailed plastic toy with lots of articulated parts, representing an armoured robotic suit... which is why I couldn't resist. I'm not a huge Iron Man fan (although I enjoyed the movies), but I do like armoured stuff, especially when it's got lots of working detail and looks cool. The truly shameful part is that I quickly followed that with purchases of Hot Toy's Iron Man Mark II Armor Unleashed and their War Machine Special Edition. Just making up for lost time, I 'spose. Again, I'm not an Iron Man fan but I thought they looked cool. I must say that I find "In Stock- click & buy" much less frustrating than trying to buy cool 1:1 medieval armour pieces, which are often not-in-stock or involve an indeterminate wait of months or years. I'm horribly impatient, so I don't do pre-orders. If I see it and like it and it's available and I can afford it, I'll buy it. I don't like to plan on being poor and broke.

...Which brings me to a final observation. Back in the old days, nobody did pre-orders. A company made its line of toys, they hit the shelves and got continuously restocked, and in most cases stayed there for quite a while--often, for years. Some children's toys are still like that. However, once adults began collecting toys (mainly action figures), the release cycle accelerated to provide more variety, more quickly, with a corresponding shorter "shelf life" for each release. The ensuing "you snooze, you lose" collector's mentality encouraged scalping and nourished the growth of the secondary market. It also encouraged some collectors to immerse themselves in actively and obsessively tracking releases, so as not to miss a release that would leave a hole in their collection. Back in the day, collectors and scalpers would hang out in parking lots waiting for the store doors to open on release day.

Pre-orders are a more recent refinement of this practice, facilitated by the Internet. No more waiting in parking lots: You can do it from the comforts of home, sitting at your computer, mouse cursor hovering over the pre-order button. For manufacturers, pre-orders are a godsend. Before starting production, they have a good idea of demand and can fine-tune how many units to make, so there aren't huge numbers of duds sitting on shelves at stores, unsold. This lets them focus on a production batch, ship it, and move onto the next project. Collectors love the constant "fix" of novelty, which happens to shape the typical trajectory of a toy-centric forum thread: Product announcement, heated opinions, speculation, preorder, more heated opinions and speculation, shipment, photos, videos, reviews, and afterthoughts. Some threads span years and hundreds of pages. For some folk, it's more than a hobby... it's a lifestyle.

Pre-orders often sell out within hours or minutes. The result of this is a relatively short product lifecycle, which encourages scalping and hugely inflated prices in a relatively short period of time. However, another downside is that manufacturers occasionally rush out immature products that haven't stood the test of time in the real world: Hot Toys' Alien series with deteriorating flexible castings and brittle plastic joints come to mind, as well as the more recent problem of Hot Toys' Iron Man "pink panties" (premature color fading of flexible material).

On the other hand, it's hard to argue with the predominant balance of astoundingly ambitious products and amazingly fine detail that the manufacturers are putting out nowadays. Yes, their good works do encourage us to become greedy Ferrengi, or lazy, whiney, gratification-seeking consumers instead of builders, but it pushes up the bar of achievement for those who can and do.

Me? I'm getting too old for that shit. Hey Hot Toys, you owe me a goddamned Terminator 3 TX robot, and ima gonna whine until I getz it!