By the mid 1980's, many sci-fi and horror modelers had simply given up the hobby because there was nothing to build. It seemed the "glory days" of great monster and space models were only a distant memory. But waiting in the wings, a whole new hobby was about to emerge....
By mid-1985 I had gotten my first resin and vinyl models. There were no magazines to tell how to build them (and the instructions were, alas, in Japanese), but it wasn't too hard to figure out. The price shock of $30 per model was quickly overcome once I saw what the vinyl Ymir from a company named Billiken looked like! I was hooked!
The first American resin Garage Kits emerged from such companies as Lunar Models, Classic Plastic, AEF Designs and Randy Bowen. Golden Era Models in San Francisco released the first U.S. vinyl kit in 1989 (however, it was produced overseas; Screamin' would eventually be the first company actually manufacturing vinyl kits here), it was a licensed figure of the "Sixth Finger" character from "The Outer Limits" TV show. Around that same time, Dimensional Designs, GEOmetric, Horizon, and others arrived on the scene with better and better model kits to choose from...and the American Garage Kit hobby took off!
As the years progressed, Gordy Dutt began publishing Kitbuilders Magazine (then called Kitbuilders and Glue Sniffers) as MTC shifted its emphasis to toys. In 1994, Terry Webb cemented his partnership with artist David Fisher (who was creating a successful line of painting how-to videos) in their new venture, Amazing Figure Modeler magazine. AFM has developed a solid following for its slick, full-color content. It is published quarterly.
Parallel to the magazine and book developments, conventions with part or full emphasis on Garage Kits were beginning. In New Jersey, a convention named Horrorthon began. Although it was primarily a horror movie con, the Garage Kit contingent began to emerge there and has been a strong presence ever since. Later renamed The Chiller Theatre by owner Kevin Clement, the show continues to draw great crowds twice a year for its unique programming mix.
In Louisville, KY in 1989, a local model club was formed called The Scale Figure Modelers Society. They began the Louisville Plastic Kit & Toy Show in 1990, which quickly evolved into WonderFest. Larry Johnson and Irvin Severs planned the first show (and I helped!), and all concerned were surprised when this first little local show attracted 450 people. Who knew there were so many people building monster kits? Evolving in both size and quality with each passing year, WonderFest is now one of the premiere hobby shows in the world. Eventually, the show was spun off from the club and became its own company. Today, a staff of five people work year-round on the show.
On the West Coast, the Mad Model Party began in 1993, bringing yet another variation on the hobby show format into the mix. Now there are several other contenders in the Garage Kit convention field. Near that same time, The Modeler's Resource grew from a newsletter to a full-fledged magazine under the watchful eye of Fred DeRuvo, and the GK hobby had taken another baby step toward the mainstream. Modeler's Resource continues to grow and is now bi-monthly.
Today, while the large plastic kit producers like AMT and Revell-Monogram have had a pretty regular output of conventional s-f subjects, it's mainly the smaller companies who are more tuned-in to the market that will surprise us with something special. GEOmetric, Janus Company, and others are doing vinyl and resin justice. Playing Mantis/Polar Lights seems to have rejuvenated the traditional plastic kit. And the Japanese companies still manage to turn heads with their astounding quality and diversity of models.
Today, people reminisce about how good Aurora models used to be. And as good as they were, now I think there are hundreds of Garage Kits that are better. For a time, I could only dream of having really great models of s-f genre characters. Now I've come to take them for granted. Maybe it is a "golden age" after all.
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WonderFest USA, Inc., P.O. Box 5757, Louisville, KY 40255-0757. Revised:
January 24, 2010