The Villains are Launching!
Well, that took a bit longer than expected…
We set out to make the bible of Vintage Star Wars collecting, and anyone who follows us on the Variant Villains Facebook page knows it’s been a REALLY bumpy ride getting us to this point. We’ve managed to bring in the content from not just SWSpaceClub, but also the best of the content from the Facebook groups as well as the best of the knowledge from the old RebelScum forums. Variant Villains is a beautiful site with content which exceeds the expectations of what we thought was possible by launch. This article covers our aspirations of the site, our values, the state of the hobby in 2021 and what we have planned for the future.
Wolff and I have been dreaming about updating his previous site SWSpaceClub since 2019. In April, during the first wave of the pandemic, Holger joined the team to help us old luddites make a site with the web tech available in 2020. Unlike the 2010 based site, this new version had to work not just on PCs, but shrink and grow for tablets and mobile phones. I scratched together some designs for the new site and Holger made the templates happen in WordPress. Wolff and I honestly had no idea what to do with this and after 6 months passed with just Holger tinkering, I rolled up my sleeves and learned how to use WordPress. Eventually the page numbers began to grow. In the meantime, Wolff was photographing his accessory collection and with the help of a small team of top collector friends, the new accessory research began to take shape in earnest.
As you will soon see, at launch the site is far from complete. Much of the content is migrated from content already published on the Variant Villains FB group, or Stef and Wolff’s old work from TIG and the RS forums. There’s a mountain of new information however under Accessories – and this will grow, so keep checking back or follow us on social media for updates. It’s impossible for me to imagine the 1000’s of hours that’s already been put in, but in truth, the hobby will be debating, adding and revising this published work till the end of time.
We’re a not-for-profit operation and the key content on Variant Villains will remain free for the hobby to access. We have your back, and if you benefit from the site in any way, we’ll occasionally have donation drives on our social media to raise funds for improving the site, latest repro accumulation and keeping our operational costs to a minimum. It’s the most beneficial way to express thanks for the 1000’s of hours we’ve personally invested into the research and publication presented here. We know who has contributed in the past and the VV team would especially like to express our deepest thanks. The work is a labour of love which will happen regardless, but in order to publish, keep the site running and cover software subscriptions, these donations do go a long way to help.
The construction costs so far have been borne by Wolff and myself, however recently we’ve already had two fundraising campaigns – to fund a large repro purchase and to recover years of research data from a failed hard drive of Wolff’s (sadly without success). The other way you can help is by sending your repro accessories and figures to one of our addresses in the UK, US and Germany. It will go onto the site and be a useful reference to the wider VSW hobby.
Our values. Variant Villains is neutral ground. There’s plenty of opportunity for petty disagreements on and between the FB groups, but this is a knowledge-only arena intended to be a community reference and for non-commercial purposes. Reproduction is, of course, frowned upon and bleaching plastic damages the polymer structure irreparably and also highly discouraged. Customizing figures should only be done when you have a full understanding of what you’re working with. Some very rare and expensive variants are hiding in plain sight and it would be a shame to lose them forever because of a lack of knowledge. We’re guilty of giving the graders a hard time over the years. I personally wish this work was done or at least supported by commercial companies that operate FOR profit in the VSW market. In the very least the work that’s presented here will hopefully minimize the mistakes of the past. We all make mistakes and there will definitely be mistakes to be addressed with our site too.
So other than some pretty graphics, what’s the purpose of the new Villains site? As the hobby matured, the focus on knowledge and research of the vintage Star Wars line has also grown heavily over the past 10+ years. By studying the figure and accessory sculpts in more detail, our understanding has grown of how Kenner oversaw the Asian based factories, how they operated and interacted with each other, patterns emerging with distribution channels and then following the breadcrumbs to now better understand the production diversification to the international lines as the tooling was used around the world. With this knowledge and enough scrutiny and MOC evidence, we can now start to reunite our figures and accessories back together correctly. This has happened for years with certain characters and licenses, but to be able to eventually have this information available for every character – COOs and paint apps – paired with factory correct accessories and possibly even cardbacks is an aspiration for many variant collectors.
It’s a sad situation, but we also now need to focus far more heavily on reproduction items, as those producers are more determined than before to undermine the vintage hobby by closely matching the original sculpts with their fakes. Where it was once possible to identify a reproduction figure or accessory with a normal photo, the more recent versions (2017 onwards) require much closer scrutiny. It’s highly irresponsible of these repro producers to do this, but they just don’t care. I’ve heard some discussions recently about trying to work together with them to find a better way and I wish this was possible. They don’t have to deal with the confusion they cause in the vintage collectors markets, that’s left to sites like VV, the already hard-working FB admin, and more knowledgeable collectors to sort out. It’s clearly profitable, the line of new fakes they’re making is endless and they’re laughing all the way to the bank while we’re left to pick up the pieces in our damaged hobby.
This is a much larger undertaking than I ever expected. We’ve had contributions from some of the smartest and most experienced variant collectors from around the world. Personally I wish we had more engagement with the pre-production and first generation collectors, as I feel the sculpts, paperwork and QC samples would unlock the puzzles about certain factories and tooling. There’s still many questions out there, but each corner of the hobby seems to stay in their comfort zone, so little room for other perspectives and ideas. Something to address if they’re reading and wish to reach out. We will all benefit! I should also double my efforts in this regard.
So we’ve finally launched, but what’s next for the site? For now there’s still a lot of fine tuning. The site needs much more work, but we all do this in our very limited spare time. There’s a whole section on VSW Bootlegs which is a work-in-progress. Plenty of accessory pages that need content and the figure guides which will give us all years of work into the future. We will focus on Accessories to start with, as this is currently essential to better inform the hobby with the waves of new repro mentioned above.
The COO pages are also being refined and of course ROTJ COOs as they’re currently presented are very basic placeholders. Eventually, I’d like to add a login function where we can provide early content access to subscribers/contributors and users the chance to host a user-specific database for your collection. One step at a time…
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Do something positive for the hobby. Discover a new variation. Help a new collector along. Don’t treat the hobby as a cash cow. Be good to one another. Lastly… have fun!