Burned out from staring at a computer screen all day, Chicago Sun-Times pop-music critic Jim DeRogatis retreated to his childhood hobby of building military models about seven years ago. “It’s nice to have something that’s not music-related whatsoever,” says DeRogatis, who also cohosts WBEZ’s Sound Opinions program. “Although, even when I’m painting 54-millimeter-tall soldiers, I’m still listening to the fucking Chris Brown album I have to review.”
DeRogatis started building model tanks and airplanes as a kid in the ’70s. “But you get distracted in college by sex, drugs and rock & roll,” he says. “Although in my case, it was only the latter I actually achieved.”
Now that he’s reconnected with the hobby, the critic spends a good chunk of his free time modifying the little plastic soldiers he buys at hobby stores, painstakingly painting them and arranging them on displays or in dioramas. He seems to have a knack for it, too: He recently won a gold medal at a Military Miniature Society of Illinois expo for his scene of British troops storming a walled city during the Napoleonic wars. “I’m fascinated by that era because the uniforms are incredible,” he says.
Last year, DeRogatis published a book about his idol, Chicago modeler Sheperd Paine, titled Sheperd Paine: The Life and Work of a Master Modeler and Military Historian (Schiffer Books, 2008). “Shep’s a legend,” he says. “You’re a pretty good artist when Andrew Wyeth is buying your stuff.”
Though he became fascinated with military miniatures as a child, his teenage daughter has yet to come into the fold. “To her, painting little toy soldiers is as uncool as waxing rhapsodic about Nirvana,” he says. “We all have geeky fascinations. The coolest thing in the world is to embrace the geek.”