Wow, Bill Amend really nerded one out of the park today.
The Foxtrot cartoonist regularly “rides nerdy,” with rampant references to D&D, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek-v.-Star Wars, and even calculus humor. Seriously, calculus humor — look it up. There are plenty of examples out there, yet Amend is probably the closest you’ll get to enjoying a math-based joke.
But today he dropped the atomic nerd bomb with a reference unrecognizable to all but a slim subset of geekdom. Fortunately, I speak Geek.
I sure wasn’t expecting a line like, “Where’d all my Warhammer miniatures go?” from my Sunday funnies. That’s “Warhammer 40K,” a tabletop wargame that requires scads, if not gobs of lead miniatures, preferably hand-painted. And sure enough, young Jason Fox is worried that his mother’s carelessness will scracth up the precious painting of his Orks and Space Marines.
I totally get it, J. Like you, I see each fallen flake of paint as a gaping wound on my little pewter buddies.
I wish more nerds knew what I was talking about. First of all, there’s the gaming aspect: Miniatures games are strategy contests like Risk on a protein shake diet, or Chess with, you know, something interesting to look at. Miniatures wage war on grids of every description. Warhammer, for instance, is set in a sci-fi/fantasy storyline where, obviously, Orks and Space Marines duke it out for supremacy. I’ve never played that one, but I am quite fond of HeroClix and Star Wars Miniatures. They’re fun alternatives to Risk or other overdone board games.
But almost better than the joy of playing these games is the painting itself. It’s small work, all deft movements and held breaths and itty bitty strokes with single hairs of a paintbrush. I rhapsodize about the benefits of miniature painting often, and when people give me the watch-out-he’s-got-swine-flu look, I compare it to fishermen tying flies — as in, hand-tying little tufts of feather and thread around hooks to resemble, uh, something a fish would want to bite. This is an almost holy sacrament of fisherfolk, and it seems everyone understands that metaphor, and the attraction of doing small work, something totally out of proportion to the rest of the day.
And so it is with me. When I get a chance (and I sooo rarely get the chance these days) I love sitting down with an unpainted lead sculpture no bigger than a knuckle and turning it into something colorful and awesome. The pieces may be useful for a specific encounter in some D&D session, or a game I’m always meaning to try, but more often then not, I just want to see what comes out from under the brush. And while it’s fun just being a casual hobbyist, I love admiring what’s possible when you really put your mind to it. I’m glad Bill Amend understands.