Warhammer 40,000 is a wargame that has been re-imagined through the mediums of books, animation, video games, and audio dramas. But all of those works come from the tabletop miniatures that play out endless iterations of epic battles. In order to play Warhammer 40K, you need to assemble a collection of plastic miniatures. A YouTuber named Maverick Nicolson is a content creator who shows off custom builds, paint jobs, and teeny tiny dioramas. But his most wholesome project is helping battered old minis find a new, freshly painted life.
Painting each individual member of your army is an important part of the hobby, and players love to create their own takes on the factions of 40K. There are plenty of canon armies and book characters to marvel over, but an important part of the hobby is the idea of “your dudes” — that’s not just any Space Marine or Ork Warboss, it’s your Space Marine.
“I started painting two years ago, because I had a debilitating back injury,” says Nicolson in a call with Polygon. “I ended up having to quit my job as a firefighter. And basically, you sit around at home. I lost all of my hobbies. I couldn’t do anything physical anymore because of my back injury. And with that, I needed to find something to occupy my time, and it was Warhammer.”
Nicolson credits Warhammer with giving him a new community, hobby, and passion. He started with painting models, and when other people started asking him about his techniques, he accommodated them with tutorial content. “I got that feeling of helping someone again, which was a really nice feeling to have,” says Nicolson. “I became obsessed with that, and the community of Warhammer is so special, I don’t think you can find anything like it anywhere else.”
Nicolson met other people in the hobby with their own struggles who used the community and game as a social outlet, a therapeutic release, and a way to express themselves. These players’ character models were their old friends, and some of them were slipping into disrepair, or badly needed a new coat of paint and a little bit of elbow grease. Nicolson started taking these beloved models with touching backstories and fixing them up for free in a cleverly named YouTube shorts series called Plastic Surgery.
Nicolson strips the paints, gently removing it with a toothbrush, and uses a toothpick to remove excess paint in the cracks. He then repaints from the ground up, applying coats of color, watered-down layers for extra texture, and expertly applied tiny decals. It’s relaxing to watch on a second monitor, and the personal stories make it quite touching.
Nicolson accepts Plastic Surgery requests via social media, but he isn’t just looking for commission work. The series focuses on characters near and dear to a player’s heart, who need a touch-up as a thank you for their long hours of service against space elves, nasty bugs, and all the horrors the far future of 40K has to offer. Nicolson also posts painting guides, tutorials, tips, and other handy content for those looking to create their own striking figures with distinctive colors and cool details.