At the end of the 1980s, with money finally in my pocket (from actual work), I found myself beginning to pay more and more attention to the SF models, toys, and books which had been beyond my reach before. Living in Sheffield, as I was at the time, there was only one place to which a chap might turn for such things: the Hallowed Shrine of Hedonism known as ‘The Sheffield Space Centre‘.
Though I primarily went there because it was one of the first shops in Europe to recognize the developing Japanese pop culture fandom at the end of the ’80s, I began to notice that one of the shop’s suppliers (of both imported Japanese kits as well as its own fare) was an intriguing company by the name of ‘Comet Miniatures’.
Founded in the early 1980s by Tony James, this little shop in the gentle confines of the Lavender Hill area of London quickly acquired a reputation for all manner of specialist model kits and toys, especially owing to the fact that Tony himself was (and still is) one of the most colorful and knowledgeable model entrepreneurs we have ever seen.
Now, I say this from a personal perspective, you understand – and from the sort of nostalgic ennui which follows in the wake of something important to one’s childhood failing or changing – but this shop, like the closer Space Centre, was one of those rare places at which ‘things’ are not sold.
Certainly goods are vended, people go away happy and all is well, but for places like Comet and the SSC, the ‘merch’ was, is, and likely always will be secondary to the stories and the personalities which go with them. When you bought a kit from Tony James, you were buying a narrative, and a connection to others who also were privy to the secrets of this cave of stories.
Living in Japan, I see the same thing around me all the time now, exemplified by my local shop owners who state it clearly: “we sell nothing that a person actually needs in their lives. If we are to succeed we have to provide more than just a place to buy things!”
For years, Tony James followed that same mantra, going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that his clients were given full measure, and above when seeking for toys, parts, and kits to sate their particular cravings.
This was especially evident when Tony actually began to produce his own kits, knowing full well where the larger companies failed to address particular wants – and he was able, first in resin and white metal and then in styrene, to produce a series of now-legendary kits of subjects few companies would have touched.
Always a little rough and ready, Comet kits certainly needed some TLC to get them together, but what could one expect from a small operation which was importing, exporting, retailing, AND manufacturing at the same time?
I will not address the all too common stories I hear to this day of Tony’s personality, for I was always treated civilly by him when I wandered into the shop, and will only say this: without Comet miniatures there would certainly be a damn sight fewer modelers and specialist model shops about the UK than there are now.
Sad to say that as the net age bloomed, Comet began to feel the pinch… Always at the short end of the stick, perhaps owning to his London location, Tony was forced to call an end to Comet in 2013 and the shop finally closed its doors.
Like losing part of your family… True enough. Thankfully, Tony is still with us. Amazon and other online dealers may have forced a rethink (and yes, the irony of doing a review of a Comet kit for one of the very online retailers which might be said to have contributed to this move away from Brick+Mortar is not lost on me) but the legend lives on, in Timeless Hobbies, wherein the seemingly immortal Tony goes on doing what he has always done best.
Telling tales and selling dreams…
This one is for you, Mr. James!
Dalek Saucer Commander, Invasion Earth: 2150 (slightly tweaked by Dr. Robodaz)
I almost did not do this build. I’ll never have a minty fresh Mk3 Dalek in my hands again, after all.
However, an unbuilt model is like permanently laid down wine… denied of purpose. So, off came the tape and out came the snips.
The Comet Styrene kits have always had a reputation for being a little ‘rough and ready,’ but I had forgotten quite how rough they were. Throughout the build I made some real corkers which almost cost me the model – the first of which was using my normal spray undercoat on the base of the Dalek. I am not sure what was reacting with what, or if the plastic itself was decayed owing to age, but the base actually began to rot under paint that would normally not harm styrene at all.
In the end I had to simply wait for the paint to cure and hope the surface effect would not be too noticeable after some sanding and filling.
The skirt too was something of an issue, but I only have myself to blame there. I should have left it clamped a full 24 hours before painting
I loved the bodging one has to do on Comet kits. Need a pair of rings for your Dalek? Why bother molding them? Stick in some plasticard and a photocopy and let the punter get on with it. Straight and direct… and I invariably burgered it up.
I had one job! 😀
With a lick of paint on though, the whole thing begins to look a little sharper…
Now we are getting somewhere. No mistaking that dome anywhere!
Behold! Davros’ Garden Sprinkler!
Also, note the popped skirt seam… To my everlasting shame.
Yes! Mock me, I say… Mock me as more seams burst!
I deserve it!
As you can see I have blended the Red commander scheme from the first Dalek movie with the Saucer commander from the second, because… reasons best known only to me. 😀
A treasure from a lost time, and some might say it would have been better left than built.
Still, I regret nothing.
This has been an interesting one for me to be sure. All of my reviews seem to turn into musings about models and their place in media, but this one especially, considering the fact that this is not a readily available kit anymore and is of greater weight to me as a journey through the past. Comet, the SSC, and other such places still loom large in my memory. Though I am surrounded every weekend with media outlets in Tokyo that would dwarf the largest UK outlets in a small corner of their stock space, I still cannot let the nostalgia go.
Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow, it is said.
I have come great distances and grown to undreamed of heights thanks to kits like this Dalek.
With due humilty,
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