One week ago on October 21, 2010, Hobby Hovel reached its one-year mark. The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is one that gets thrown around frequently, but when I look back upon the past year I’ve spent blogging about figures, toys and plamo, it feels anything but short – indeed, it feels as if I’ve been doing this forever. Maybe this is because Hobby Hovel has become the punctuation of my life’s story. Instead whizzing by the weeks and months like a free-falling rock, the blog has given me the occasion to pause and invest myself into this project week after week. In a way, blogging has validated my own existence. As frivolous as ranting about Japanese collectables may seem from a stranger’s perspective, it is nevertheless an activity in which I construct meaning for myself.

Since the activity of growing and maintaining Hobby Hovel has become such a pivotal part of my life, it only makes sense to reflect on the past year when the occasion arises. So without further ado, strap yourselves in for some dense bricks of text coming your way!

How It Began

The blog itself may have begun a year ago, but the real roots of my figure-blogging hobby trace back to the 22nd of January, 2009 when my father surprised me by asking for one of my “little things” (literal Chinese translation) for a photography experiment with his recently-purchased macro lens. As my folks have generally steered clear of my personal interests, his request startled me, yet it was far from unwelcome – after all, I’ll all up for non-negative attention for my hobby from others. I distinctly remember scrambling to pick an appropriate subject. I preferred fix-pose figures over plamo and action figures because there’s no risk of it being broken, yet I wasn’t quite ready to my folks to discover the morally questionable amount of details put into the undergarments of some figures (or worse yet, the cast-off feature). After a couple of minutes, I decided to bring Alvis downstairs and looked on nervously as she was placed in a butchered cardboard box with paper towels stretched over the cut-out windows on its sides.

When I saw the photos on the computer screen, I was ecstatic. To my photography virgin self, those first few simple shots were nothing short of divine. I never knew Alvis could look so good when properly lit and displayed in a better context than my ugly wooden bookshelves. Sure, I’ve seen fancy figure photos before, but I never thought polished shots would be so close within my reach. Immediately I ran upstairs to fetch another, and another, and another, until the evening grew late. But come the next day and the day after that, I kept on bringing more and more stuff down until my entire collection was accounted for. I threw the photos on my recently-created Flickr account, as I was dying to share them with my dear friend Alicia (who would later on volunteer to give Hobby Hovel theme you see now).

After I got over the initial wave of excitement, I began to write blurbs in the description fields of the photos, some of which were moderately long. I kept on doing this as my collection and photostream continued to grow. At the same time, I also began to receive comments from other Flickr users, which led to my first step into the plamo/figure community. At first I was content with just throwing my photos into the various photo groups on Flickr, but as time rolled onward, it was clear that lust to share was no longer satiated by such limited means. Finally, on the 21st of October that year, Hobby Hovel tore itself free from the womb of imagination and reared its ugly head on the world wide web. Looking back, I really wish I had chosen WordPress instead of Blogger, but hey, what can you do?

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

When I started my blogging venture, I held the naïve belief that I would not be affected by the want to page views. Rather, I thought I would be content with the mere joy of writing and photography, along with the knowledge that when someone types something like “HGUC Acguy” into Google, there would be a detailed review outlining everything you’d want to know about it in the search results. Of course, it didn’t take long for this mentality to crumble like a biscuit in a bowl of hot soup. There was an undeniable joy in receiving comments, no matter how short and inconsequential they may be. I looked to other similar blogs and envied their big comment tallies, as well as the praise and conversations those comments contained.

I wanted more readers, and I wanted them bad. I looked for guides to improve search engine results, bought my domain name, struggled to replace Blogger’s shitty default comment system, and began to try to push myself into the spotlight. I submitted my blog to RSS aggregators, posted abridged reviews on figure.fm, made a Twitter account, searched and subscribed to other blogs, and contrived myself to make comments for the sole sake of putting my name and URL out there. Around this time I also began to stat whore via Google Analytics and Feedburner, eagerly anticipating the spike that came after every week’s post. As my attachment to the blog grew with every review I wrote, so did my fanatical devotion to numbers.

Eventually, the mad chase of numbers caught up with me. Though I do not have the moral character that would compel me against lying and using others to my own interests, I am a very bad actor by nature. This means that when I am not interested in someone else’s works and contents, it takes tremendous effort on my part to churn out a constructive comment. Pretty soon, I found myself spending entire mornings grinding through my RSS feed, forcing myself to make comments on posts that really didn’t speak to me. Blogging had become a job to me – a job that I had very little fun with.

Naturally, I began to question my own reasons for blogging after I hit this impasse. While I often have to force myself into taking photos and writing reviews, I believe I still find these activities fun, especially for the immense sense of gratification I get after I hit the “post” button. I enjoy some of the interesting people I’ve come across as a figure blogger (a couple of whom I’ve met in person). While the ties between fellow bloggers or Twitter users are by no means close, I still consider them as friends – after all, it’d be very hard to come across such colourful characters in person. I want to meet more people like them, but it was increasingly apparent that my practice of “blog diplomacy” was unsustainable.

And hence I stopped. I deleted the figure.fm posts and did some serious spring cleaning on my RSS feed. Under the belief of “if you build it, they will come”, I took the passive approach and reclaimed the enjoyment in this pastime.  Today, Hobby Hovel gets an average of 3000 visitors per month with around 60 subscribers to the RSS feed. It’s not a number I could boast about, nor do numbers mean much when compared to actual response in the form of comments and tweets, but it is nevertheless a marker of what I’ve managed to accomplish in the past year, which I cannot help but to feel proud of.

Ashlotte and Weekly Highlights

When it comes to meeting new people as a blogger, I am a one hell of a lucky bastard for having met Ashlotte. I couldn’t believe my luck when he accepted my offer of being a co-author at Hobby Hovel back when we were mere new acquaintances on MFC. I’ll take this opportunity to say this: Ash, I am forever grateful to you for giving Hobby Hovel your work and talent. Even if we do have different ways of doing things, I enjoy your photography and reviews immensely (I only wish there was more of it =P). And of course, Weekly Highlights would not have been possible without your idea and your continued support – thank you!

Weekly Highlights is a pretty time-consuming activity for me. Between my ADD, the limited amount of exchanges Ash and I are capable of making over Google Documents each week, and the time required for me to edit, format, and hyperlink everything, the rants are often rushed, and sometimes I’m not perfectly satisfied with what is posted at the end of the day. I’ve considered dropping the segment completely on at least 2 occasions, but I could never bring myself to do it. Not only is it a good way to keep the blog active, it’s also a great way (at least for me) to make some conversation with the readers. There have been some fun and bizarre times on the comment fields, and I’d rather not give that up. Of course, nothing in life is certain except taxes and death, but for what it’s worth, I’ll do my best to keep it going through the school year.

Goals for the future

So, now that I’ve glossed over the past, what’s in store for Hobby Hovel’s future? More of the same, I’d reckon, though at a lower frequency than before, since I don’t order enough to keep up with a weekly schedule. I’ll probably have one or two reviews every month, and when combined with Ashlotte’s reviews and our rants, I think this place will remain to be sufficiently lively in the immediate future. But beside the issue of frequency, there are a couple of changes I’d like to see from myself.

Better content

I’ve been told I am a funny guy by some people in person, but unfortunately, I don’t it’s the kind of “funny” that transitions well into writing. I wish I could make other people crack up with words alone, but I don’t think it happens all that often for me. Maybe that’s partly due to the subject matter I deal with, since it’s probably easier to make fun jabs at ridiculous ero-figures than blocky mecha. Still, at the end of the day that’s just an excuse, and I will continue to try to make the content not only informative, but also entertaining.

On the other end of the spectrum is photography, which I can’t do much about, in all honesty. I stopped studying visual arts in the 10th grade and have yet to meet some sort of artistic muse since then. The photography gear that I use is not my own, I do not like going outside with my figures, I am often working under time constraints, and I am pretty much creatively bankrupt when it comes to anything visual. Some people have complimented my photos in the past, but as I’m sure all my fellow figure bloggers can attest to, making a semi-decent shot of figures and models really isn’t all that hard, even if you don’t have the greatest camera in the world. One thing I will avoid in the future is downright lazy and rushed photography. An example of this would be the MG Master Gundam review, in which I couldn’t find a single shot that I am pleased with. Not only did I half-ass the shots, but I also made no effort to edit them beyond the basic adjustments. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and no amount of textual description can compensate for a set of shoddy photos.

Meet more people

I may have said that I’ve put an end to my policy of vigorous self-promotion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want more readers. Waking up to see comment notifications in my email inbox is tied with having delicious bacon for breakfast as far as pleasant morning activities go, and having mini-conversations on Twitter is always a welcome diversion for me. However, while Google searches, Flickr links and aggregator hits do rake in some reader who may then become known to me via comments or Twitter, it would be foolhardy to ignore the social network aspect of blogging. Yet that’s almost exactly what I’ve been doing recently, as I’ve stopped exploring the figure/plamo blogophere beyond the blogs I currently follow and the sites of my readers. I don’t think this is such a great policy, and I plan to dive into the community once again, albeit with some moderation in mind this time around.

Here’s a question to all of you fellow bloggers out there: what are some of the key methods to get better exposure (besides having compelling content, of course)? I hope I’m not missing any glaringly obvious measures. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanksgiving

Of course, no anniversary post would be appropriate without a list of thanks. If I could leap through my computer screen to where you all are, I would give every one of you a firm handshake and/or a big hug, but as such technology is merely the fluff of my imagination, I hope you’ll suffice with the limitations of words alone.

Thank you to our “regulars” (Aka, Tier, Sloth, Ningyo, LEon, HamsterCorp, Rico-sama, and anyone else whom I may have missed). I believe every blogger is a comment whore at heart, and reading your responses and feedback is probably the most rewarding thing about this entire experience. Here’s hoping that Hobby Hovel will remain worthy of your notice in the days to come!

Thank you to @animefigures for tweeting my Flickr photos and virtually all of our posts to your 4,000+ followers – Hobby Hovel wouldn’t be the same today without your support and exposure.

Thank you to John and Molly for lending your plastic treasures and words to Hobby Hovel – I owe no less than five reviews to your generosity (that’s 15% of the total! Crazy, I know)!

Thank you to my folks for tolerating my hobby. Without you there would be no photography and hence no Hobby Hovel (nor internet, food, roof over my head, and innumerable other things, for that matter). Fringe Japanese interests aren’t exactly all that pleasant, especially to a family with roots in northern China. I am indeed fortunate to be born into this family.

Thank you to Alicia for not only hooking me up with the visual theme, but also for all the encouragement you’ve given me, all the shoop that was whooped, all the technical difficulties you’ve solved for me, and for being an awesome friend in general – God knows I’d be absolutely fucked if you were gone.

And finally, thank you to Ashlotte. After all these months of working together, I consider you a true friend, despite the distance that separates us and the differences between our respective backgrounds. Sure, you are still mysterious and unknown to me in many respects, but I hope I’ll get to learn more about you and that our partnership will continue to yield much enjoyment in the future!

-Chag