Justin, our newest writer is all over the board when it comes to modeling and with it he brings a fresh approach to the hobby that is sorely missing with a humorous but also informative perspective. Read on to see what he is all about...
I, me, Justin Skrakowski, live in Manhattan (i.e. NOT Brooklyn!, and not, like Old Brooklyn, where there is the NYC chapter of the IPMS, and lots of local guys building models and such, I mean NEW Brooklyn, which is just plain annoying…) NY, with my fiancée Cori Marquis, and our dog Audra, the Countess of Sheep. I am a “reformed” rock & roll journalist and a current host of Night of the Dead Living Radio. I also have a book out entitled Strongman, which is a collection of non-fiction stories of me being young, and VERY dumb, and VERY full of… well, you know…
How & when did you first get into the hobby?
I bought my first models when I was in the 7th and 8th grades. Things they sold at Michael’s; I think they were all Monogram 1/48 (I didn’t even know what scale meant, let alone how it worked at the time… ) WWII U.S. bombers, and a couple of Testor’s “Weird-Ohs.” (they were Testor’s at the time I was buying them)
I grew up in Dallas, Tx, but as far as modeling went I was very much in a vacuum. I mean, I opened a few of those kits and worked on them the best I could with as much knowledge of building anything as maybe putting together some of my own G.I. Joe vehicles when I was a very wee one, but other than that (and I say this as a pathetic, but matter-of-fact thing), but model-building was anathema to anyone I mentioned it to! People my age were playing video games (this was the mid-90s), and dare I mentioned to anyone whom I was going to be spending the next 5-6 years with in public schools that I was learning how to build scale models, well… let’s just say that I would have lost my virginity even later than I did.
But even with my interest in models, I felt like the learning curve was insurmountable, and so there sat my few models, all either still mostly “sprued,” or in the case of the “Weird-Ohs” they lie built with one sloppy coat of paint (no primer), and stored so that they still fit in those flat little boxes but hopefully not getting too destroyed in the ensuing years of being looked at defeatedly, and then moved somewhere else in the closet to make room for whatever my growing interests became in my mid-highschool years (bongs perhaps?)?
Anyway, about two years ago, my sister had purchased me a Polar Lights or Aurora Wolfman model she had found at the second-hand store as a birthday gift. I don’t think she purchased it with the intention of getting me back into modeling, but more just as something to add to my overflowing “curio” shelves, knowing my love of the early Universal Monsters.
But there I was one day, looking for a space on my shelves to put my new Wolfman, when the yellowed cellophane shrink-wrap around the box began to flake off into my hands. What the Hell, right? I’ll just see about gluing this thing together or something? Let’s see what YouTube has to say about models and how to build them? Well lo-and-behold the treasure-chest of “How-to” modeling videos that existed (one of the first of which was the Michigan Toy Soldier channel which I found thoroughly helpful and enjoyable). I finally felt like A) I could learn how to remove those damn seam lines and joins! and B) I wasn’t the only person in the world who still wanted to make these things! Of course I had most of the “necessary” (necessary mind you, not optimal) tools to put this thing together, and about eight hours later I had a Wolfman (minus half a face due to very rough sandpaper), and my hands all superglued into various Hindu-deity-looking holy hand gestures, but there he was! My FIRST model! Now off to the hardware store to buy like $50 worth of spray paint on the fiancées credit card, and we’re gonna have ourselves a real-deal model!
It was a glorious day and I’ve been hooked ever since!
What aspects of the hobby appeal to you the most? What are your main interests in modeling?
I think the thing that first attracted me of course was the history aspect of it—okay, well, thinking about it a little more deeply, it sort of goes like this—and let me try to say this in the ways that will be least shocking/offensive. So, first of all, I’m Jewish, and if you ever meet a Jewish person who tells you that they are not incredibly fascinated by WWII, well, I think they might not be being honest with themselves. And as a young Jewish man I have a sort of—maybe it’s like a “naughty” kid type of interest/fascination with Swastikas and Nazism, or maybe it’s more of a re-appropriation-type of thing with the symbolism and look of the whole Nazi-machine, but I feel like, as a person who had family that died in Auschwitz (yes, actually), that of anybody, that I have the right to be as fascinated as I want with everything and anything Nazi. Maybe it’s like African-Americans “taking back” the “n-word” (though I don’t claim to know what that sort of horribleness is in any other form than taking things that were once used against you and making them your own so that they don’t hold any power over you anymore).
But then, there’s just plain building. Like, Oops, I missed the model and hacked my thumb open with a hobby-knife—SO WHAT, I’m building something. Not that there’s not creativity in modeling, because there certainly is, especially evidenced by this so-called “New School” of guys, especially these dudes out of Spain and stuff who are just doing things with models that I think nobody really thought of as possible or maybe welcome in the realm of model-building, but where I am, which is such a novice position, there is such a great feeling of being able to see something on the box-art and then be able to replicate that myself that is just so satisfying. I think in a few more years once I get really good at knocking out the things I see on the boxes I’ll try my hands at more scratch-building, and taking things to places that at this point I can’t even conceive of, but for now I just want to be good at building things. And it does carry over to so much more in your life if you let it.
I love to get my hands on any books about modeling.
I am mostly into the basic modeling food groups, that being 1/35 Armor and 1/48 Aircraft. I do also love Maschinen Krieger and the Moebius/Polar Lights/Aurora monster kits as well
What do you hope to achvive with your articles here?
I am forever and always on the search for the perfect putty (is there one? I believe there is… somewhere
What are some of your favorite web sites?
Do you post on about your hobbies on Facebook or any other social media outlets
I always post my WIPs on Twitter @JustinBelmondo and on Instagram which I think my name is also JustinBelmondo, however that works Instagram-wise…
Any advice for someone new to these hobbies?
The internet is your friend! Man, everything that seemed flat-out impossible about learning the hobby by yourself 15-20 years ago, is now one of the greatest things there is about the hobby! Now it can totally be your own thing, in your own home, and just your own way to either unwind, or create, or build, or whatever it means to you.
Also, re-read and re-watch all of your favorite YouTubes or books or blogs about building models. Along with all of the research you do initially, favorite these things or bookmark them or whatever, but the more you watch and read the things that were helpful once, I guarantee they will continue to be helpful the more time you give them. And just be insatiable about it.
Also also also, do not limit yourself to just learning about your specific favorite model. If you are into building 1/35 Armor, the best thing you can do is to read about aircraft, ships, and even look at people who are into fantasy/miniature building, and even look at dollhouses. All of it is helpful.