Iron Skull 2020

This weekend, Martin and I headed down to London for the first Iron Skull show. I honestly wasn’t expecting much: it’s a first-past-the-post competition with categories clearly built on the Golden Demon model – monsters, vehicles, squads, etc., and only a single category for historical (which, to be fair, is fine for the most part – very few painters take much interest in doing whole regiments for historical, and they allowed historical vehicles to be entered alongside fantasy and sci-fi ones).

Having a strong preference for open display competitions, I’m not generally convinced that squad/regiment entries are really much more than giving a nod to the wargaming roots of most fantasy and sci-fi painters. While this isn’t a necessarily bad thing, it does seem to me that in these cases painting is being treated as kind of subordinate to a wider hobby, rather than being something that really does stand on its own merits.

So I was generally expecting some of the painfully competitive types among a horde of GW fanboys. There were, of course, a lot of GW entries – there always will be at a show catering to sci-fi and fantasy – but I didn’t see any evidence of the petty competitiveness that I’ve seen far too often at other first-past-the-post shows, which was a pleasant surprise. In fact, the whole thing was very friendly and ended up being a pretty great day out.

So, assuming it’s still on next year, I’m pretty confident Martin and I will be back.

Anyway, on with the photos, and then some more commentary:

So. something you might note is that the pictures are uniquely terrible, even for me. This is where my commentary begins:

  1. Lighting
    The cabinets were the usual type you see at GD and Salute, and like both of those venues, somehow no one has yet figured out how to properly light them. These cabinets had hard lighting, and were lit from behind. Unless your figure was in a six-inch sweet spot on the third shelf down, it’d be lucky to look even remotely accurate. I couldn’t get a single shot of David Soper’s best of show piece because it was so atrociously lit.
    I’m also informed that the style of cabinet they used can be fitted with diffuse lighting.
    I can understand that the judges want to be able to see the models, but the judges had a separate table at the back with some very good lighting, and they could do exactly as Alan Merrett for years and bring a little torch if they need to.
    Alternatively, they could do exactly what all of the other major shows I attend do: just put the models on tables or shelves.
  2. Backpacks
    For the love of god, ban backpacks at model shows. Even though this show had the figures in cabinets, minimising the risk of damage to the models, people in a cramped area turning around and smacking me with their backpack is getting tiresome. They take up too much space, force everyone else to accommodate their need for whatever the hell they’re carrying around in there (rocks? Scaffolding? Who knows), and just piss me the hell off.
    Whenever I see someone with a backpack at a model show, I assume they’re a selfish arsehole with a severe Oedipus complex. Are you a selfish arsehole with a severe Oedipus complex? No? THEN DON’T WEAR YOUR BACKPACK.
    Ban backpacks. Ban backpacks. Ban backpacks.
  3. Cabinet arrangements
    Cabinets are always hell to get to at shows, but it’s not helped when they’re arranged in an L shape. This means that instead of, say, four people looking at each cabinet, you end up with a clot in the middle where you might get 2 people looking at each of the corner cabinets. This reduces overall traffic flow and increases the temperature.
    This really also comes back to my point about using tables or shelves. There was plenty of space in the hall to allow more room to view the entries.

So, while this sounds very negative, they’re actually quite minor points (except the lighting – I’m honestly perplexed as to how anyone can run a show (especially one they clearly invested so much money in) now without understanding the importance of good lighting. The hall itself was very well lit and didn’t have competing lighting coming in large windows, so it’s really the ideal venue to get that right).

Overall, it was a very good show, so it would be remiss to not mention the positives:

    I might be slightly biased, but this is something a lot of shows don’t really take into account. Iron Skull had a small bar with some seating, so you could sit down, have a drink and talk smack about models. There weren’t many traders, so the hall was spacious. It was really pretty well laid out (except for the cabinets, obviously).
    Granted, quite a few shows have bars on site nowadays, but they’re often cramped, inconveniently located and/or horrendously expensive (I believe I paid £2.50 for a bottle of water at Euro). The bar here was pretty much exactly the right size for the show, and the seating was about right.
  2. Great trophies/badges
    The trophies and finalist pins are really nicely made. I have trophies from shows all over the place, and these are probably among the nicest ones I’ve seen. My finalist pin will look very good in the drawer, shaming the finalist pins/badges/bits of card I have from elsewhere.
  3. Little touches
    The show also had some really nice little things, like the quality of the entry card that sat under your model – they were actual card with rounded corners rather than a flimsy bit of paper or a number on a sticker stuck to your plinth. It’s not much, but I did think they were actually a nice little touch.
    The lanyard passes. Again, really basic, but much nicer than a stamp on your hand or one of those nigh-unbreakable bracelets.
  4. Location
    While the area doesn’t look like much, it was literally a few minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street, which was strangely convenient because trains weren’t running into King’s Cross. Martin and I also went off wandering to look for lunch and found an absolutely awesome tapas restaurant. We’re contemplating whether our better halves might want to come next year, if only for the lunch.

All in all, it was a great day out, and the competition was exactly the right size for the venue. I think the guys who organised it did an excellent job of gauging their needs and accommodating precisely. Sort out the lighting and ban backpacks, and bingo: you have a winner.

Oh, and Martin got some kind of trophy, I think. Just in case you hadn’t noticed him spamming it all over the Internet.

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