domenica 18 febbraio 2018

MS611 Lord of the Rings 'Sangarunya - Black Numenorean' (2014)

Sangarunya, Black Númenorean officer of the Black Dragon Army. One of the greatest villains of southern Middle-earth, the greatest servant of the Shadow in the South. Nobody except the Ringwraiths themselves is more powerful among the minions of the Dark Lord. 
He’s young, ambitious, wicked, skilled and very, very cool. It’s one of the best evil characters created by ICE in its time. Here’s what the description has to say:
Sangarunya was born of Númenórean stock in Umbar, but his family did not reside long there. During the persecution of the priests of the Dark Worship, Ranculir, the High Priest and Sangarunya's father, was slain. Sazariel, his mother, fled the Haven of the Corsairs with her small son for Ny Chennacatt. She raised him to be loyal to her dead husband's Lord and Master, Sauron of Mordor. 

Within the Storm King's court, as a young man of good lineage and maturing prowess at arms, Sangarunya readily attracted the Ulair's attention. The Nazgûl developed plans for his subject, involving the military objectives of the southwest. Almost before he was truly at home within the ranks of the army as a mere captain, Sangarunya was appointed to post of Warlord. His subsequent victories fully justified the unprecedented promotion. Traveling lightly, Sangarunya wears the magic mail and the dragon-emblazoned, red surcoat characteristic of the mighty of Akhôrahil's forces. 

His red, leather faced shield bears the same symbol, he wields a Haradrian scimitar as weapon and his silver-gold helmet is of the karma design. He is an implacable foe and a brilliant strategist. 
When I ordered this miniature, the hype was very high. I loved Sangarunya since I purchased my first ICE product, Warlords of the Desert, with its masterful cover by Angus McBride depicting him alone, lost in a desert storm, confronting a sand drake.

Sangarunya also appeared on the cover of Far Harad - the Scorched Land, attacking a hero from horseback.

And then, when I finally got the M661, came the disappointment. Truth is, I hate this figure: this is the biggest let down I had from Mithril - a sculpt that promised to be great, and revealed itself to be just lousy. I didn’t enjoy painting it, and I’m glad it’s done. Why, you ask? Well, it’s just full of terrible details.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the helm, the Númenorean karma, is asymmetrical: the left side has details and cheek protection, the left side is plain. How can a mistake like this go unnoticed in a company like Mithril is beyond me. Seriously, it’s cringy. But it’s not just this.

Look at the overall equipment: Sangarunya is supposed to be a general of an army used to fight in hot, generally desertic weather. Under the helm, he wears a scarf covering his face, probably for the sand. His body and arms are covered in plate armour, with chainmail underneath: that’s fine, he’s going to war. Then, why the hell he has zero protection on the legs and hands? There are basically two ways to wear plate: either as a breastplate and helm, covering the vital parts and leaving the limbs free, or as full plate, covering the whole body. A plate armour covering head, body, groin and arms and no legs or hands is more cumbersome than the first option and offers less protection than the second one. Why then? I have no idea.

But we’re not finished: the shield’s a beauty too. What’s wrong with it? To start, it’s two dimensional: one side is sculpted, the other is a flat surface. Was it too hard to sculpt a wood effect? A handle? Oh, the handle. See, when you grab a shield, usually there are two handles, one for the forearm and one for the hand, so that the shield can be properly held up against an enemy, perpendicular to the forearm. Sangarunya holds his shield parallel to the forearm, and apparently attached to his armour, like some sort of buckler. It’s just silly.

One of the reasons I like Mithril (I still do) is that the general quality of figures is very high. they are beautiful, they are realistic and they are respectful of logic and literary sources. This, alas, is not. And it’s such a pity because Sangarunya is such an interesting character. Better luck next time.

sabato 17 febbraio 2018

The Red Knight - Citadel Chaos Warrior (1989)


Evil Warriors are an archetype of Fantasy. Like Dragons, or Dwarves, or Magicians, or Barbarians. Every single setting will have a Evil Warriors clad in fancy armour with dreadful helms covering their faces: call them Ringwraiths, or Drakkarim, they are all the same. Darth Vader is one of them, as is Verminaard, as is the Death Dealer from Frazetta. His many brothers decorate the covers of every album from Manowar.

Warhammer, as usual, made use of the archetype declining it into the general setting as the Chaos Warrior, surely one of the most enticing elements of the setting, something which would survive into the 40K offshoot as the Chaos Space Marine.

Today we look at one of many, dated 1989, displayed in the 1991 Red Catalogue as "Axe - 073103/42". The figure is "designed by the Citadel Design Team with Jes Goodwin".

The figure, acquired from eBay, had seen better days and many details were damaged by stripping. I decided to paint it with the colours of Khorne, and give the armour a dull red hue, like that of blood, contrasting with the metal of weapons and the Chaos star.

You can see the painting here, but I can't possibly show you how fun it was to paint this miniature. It really is, and there's a lot of potential for variations and personal touches. I decided to keep it simple, though, and not even find a shield for him (not yet).

The Red Knight roams the wild areas of the Border Prices, with his following of warriors. They are happy to fight for whoever pays them, but lacking commissions they eagerly attack caravans and villages. It is said that the Red Knight never removed his helm, because his face is that of bloodlust and would kill anybody who see him. It is also said that his company of soldiers changed many times: his followers don't last long, and in many a battle he was the only survivor, and yet the winner. The Red Knight is wanted in many princedoms for mass murders and the Inquisition is also looking for him. Yet, his fame is such that no law enforcer still found the guts to go after him, and if he did he certainly didn't come back to tell about it.

domenica 11 febbraio 2018

Rombustus Sellsword - Citadel F2 Fighter (1985)

This figure of a fighter is marked with the year 1985 but the first picture of it I found is in the Citadel Journal of 1987 where it is included in the F2 Fighters range as Rombustus Sellword. The range is "designed by Aly Morrison, Trish Morrison, Alan & Michael Perry". Which one is the author of this specific sculpt is difficult to say - to me it looks more Morrisonian than Perryish, but I couldn't say which sibling fathered (or mothered) Rombustus.

Our hero boldly strides forward, in a powerful but relaxed way, looking slightly to his left. He carries his shield (currently on the do list) in the left hand, completely lowered, and his bastard sword is levered on his right shoulder, to carry its weight more easily. Rombustus wears high boots and clothes with fashionable slashes on the knees and the whole left arm; his head is adorned with a plumed hat. Plate armour protects his body, waits and right arm up to the hand and is partially covered by an overcoat.

Clearly fond of his image, Rombustus deserved a bright paint-job. I went for a yellow and red scheme on the dress, complemented by green on the overcoat. The rest was left in natural colours, with dark brown leather and metal armour.

I'm overall happy with the result, although painting the slashes on the cloth was really difficult and it didn't turn out as bright and clear as I hoped. I'm currently using this miniature to represent the Protagonist in our latest WFRP game, but it will soon be replaced and Rombustus will make a great mercenary official, guard captain or élite bodyguard.

giovedì 25 gennaio 2018

Two Citadel Orcs

Lately I've been working on too many models at the same time and I don't have something new to show, so here's something old that I never put in the blog: two Orcs from Kevin Adams.

The Archer comes from the Orc Archers range released in 1988, and it's No. 2 on the page. I like this old school feel of an Orc with a sneaky smug, ready to shoot an arrow at an unaware enemy. He has a quiver, a chain mail that looks scavenged, and under it some animal fur (which I painted white because my Orc has been stealing sheep from Humiez). He is bare-footed and wears a hood, something adding a lot of character to an otherwise armoured Orc.

The other one looks less kunning but more brutal. Released in 1987 among the Orc Warriors (ORC1), he has his tongue pushed out in a bellow of rage and wields a crude polearm. He should have a buckler, too, but I haven't bothered yet to find one. He wears scavenged mail armour and sheepskins. He has a bow and quiver slung over his shoulders and big armoured boots. He also wears an eyepatch and a pointed helmet with fur lining, which makes him the leader.

The backstory here is that they were the only survivors of their warband and, after escaping the Humans of the lowlands, survived in the mountains by hunting and stealing sheep. Eventually they met a band of Goblins and submitted them to their leadership.

lunedì 22 gennaio 2018

Dostovius Hillmage, Citadel Wizard C02 (1985)

Citadel launched the C02 series, dedicated to Wizards, in 1983, and regularly expanded it. This piece is marked with the year 1985 but the first leaflet I found, in which this figure appears, is dated 1987 and here the wizard goes by the exotic name of Dostovius Hillmage. It's a very simple sculpt but I like it - it's essential. This wizard has a large beard, and long robe, a staff and a pointed finger as if casting a spell. You don't really need much else, do you?

A belt pouch for reagents, perhaps, yes. I wasn't able to find out the sculptor and I would guess one of the Morrison siblings.

I painted in a simple way as well. Didn't even attempt to do the eyes, even though they were very large. The robes are a dark blue, the hair brown wood, the belt brown leather. The twin-headed aquila belt buckle was painted a dark bronze. The skin pale, as befits one dedicated to the study of arcane arts.

sabato 6 gennaio 2018

Warhammer's Moonman

The Moonman is a recurrent figure in Warhammer art. Its inception is of course due to John Blanche who, in the mid 80s, painted the beautiful piece Mona and the Moonman.

It's difficult to tell why Blanche loved the Moonheaded man so much, but it probably has something to do with the fact that it is a common theme in grotesque art all over Europe. It's almost an archetype, and Blanche loved archetypes.

Moonheads are very common in warhammer art, from Goblin banners to the ubiquitous shield-faces separating paragraphs in the classic rulebooks of the 80s.

The first miniature that Citadel dedicated to a moon-faced character was a Champion of Tzeentch riding a Disc, in 1988.

It was probably at this moment that the Moonhead came to be associated with Tzeentch. In fact, the 2017 AoS Herald of Tzeentch on Disc also comes with a variant Moon-face.

But little Moonman, with his diminutive frame a oversized head, did not receive justice until the end of 2016, when GW released AoS Silver Tower. In the mass of miniatures composing it, most of them Tzeetch-related, we can find Pug, one of the four familiars of the Gaunt Summoner. And Pug is directly based on the Moonman by John Blanche, well over 30 years after its original painting. What a lovely homage.

Here's what the Silver Tower book has to say about him:
Pug is a surly and acquisitive little imp. Fleet of foot and light of finger, he scurries by hidden ways through the Silver Tower, snatching up whatever shiny objects catch his eye. Anything Pug desires, he sees as his, and more than one mighty warrior has been led on a deeply undignified chase when this burbling little fiend grabbed their treasures and fled.
Don't you love (or hate) him already? The sculpt replicates the original in all details but gives him a more sinister look and adds what seems to be a mock magic staff and a helm from a Stormcast Eternal, which Pug holds with visible curiosity and sense of ownership. This is probably one of my favourite figures in the Silver Tower set!

Plus, have you seen his ass? It's like a baby's! Awww!

venerdì 5 gennaio 2018

Fantasy Visuals: Larry Elmore

In the history of Fantasy Art, Larry Elmore is a giant. His work has been seminal to what Dungeons & Dragons and American Fantasy would be and are still today. He came after Frazetta and Vallejo, but somehow his influence was greater and more long-lasting, and the reason is that he was the most important illustrator at TSR, Inc., the publisher of D&D.

But let’s go by order: Elmore was born August 5th, 1948 in Louiseville, Kentucky, a city in the US Midwest. Always interested in art since childhood, he eventually graduated in Art at Western Kentucky University. More or less at the same time he married and was drafted in the army, and sent to Germany where he stayed most of his two years of service.

In 1973 Elmore was released from the military and found his first job at Fort Knox (not far from home) as an illustrator in the Training Aids Department. This job lasted three years, after which Elmore decided to become a freelancer and draw what he liked. By the end of the 1970s, he was publishing in National Lampoon and Heavy Metal Magazines.

The turning point of his career was D&D: he was introduced to the game by an ex colleague and he got in touch with the guys at TSR. Just at that time, the manager Kevin Blume decided to fire most of the artists after personal disagreements, and so the new Art Director Jim Roslof was hiring: in November 1981 Elmore moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and his first job was to take care of the graphics of the second edition of D&D. If you are old enough to have seen the Red Box, get ready to jump of the Feel Train for a nostalgia trip.

There is no doubt that Elmore’s contribution to the books of D&D was part of its success. A whole generation of roleplayers was imprinted with his visuals. There were warriors in exotic armour, evil magicians in flowing robes, beautiful and slender elves, stocky and big-nosed dwarfs, evil-looking monsters with pointed fangs and colossal dragons.

Especially dragons - red dragons, blue dragons, green dragons and so on. The best part about Elmore's dragons is that they all look different, and certainly this was no easy feat for the painter. To tell it all, it was probably Elmore who created the fantasy dragon as we know it: no longer the traditional snakelike beast with tiny legs from Middle Ages, nor the more lion-like cousin of Baroque art, often graced with tiny feathered wings. The new dragon had a powerful, muscular, massive body covered in scales and talons; great wings; fishlike spikes; reptilian, glowing eyes; and a mouth full of sharp fangs. Thank you, Larry Elmore.

As TSR grew, more artists were hired, whose names probably you have heard before and will be the subject of future posts: Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, Keith Parkinson, Tim Truman. Together they developed the iconic D&D style of the 80s, but somehow Elmore was always on top of them: nobody really incarnated 80s D&D like he did.

Larry Elmore liked to work mainly with oil colours. He didn’t stray from American tradition too much: he painted with real models and this can be clearly seen from any of his works. The level of detail is impressive and there is a strong realism that is only tempered by strange traits of demi-humans and the exotic clothing and armour. Where Elmore differed from his predecessors, was that he also put great attention to the setting: whereas Frazetta and Vallejo were happy with sketchy backgrounds, Elmore was painting traditional oil landscapes complete with old oaks, snowy mountains, forest canopies bathed in the light of warm sunsets, rivers meandering through vast plains, mirroring the light of the sun, and so on. Watching a painting by Elmore made people feel like they were actually there: it was Fantasy, but it was feeling real, and this is ultimately what D&D players were after. Larry Elmore was the right man and the right time.
Elmore worked at TSR between 1981 and 1987: these years were the zenith of his career and all of his most iconic works come from this period. While many have fond memories of SnarfQuest from Dragon Magazine, I think everybody who lived in the 80s and 90s and knows Fantasy remembers his contributions to the Dragonlance saga.





Elmore left TSR in 1987. Since then he worked on several projects, including Magic: the Gathering and the Sovereign Stone project in cooperation with M. Weiss and T. Hickman. He still cooperated occasionally with TSR. Still active today, he is a living legend and a regular guest at many conventions.

You can’t fail to love Larry Elmore’s work if you have been living those years. I do. And yet, there is something I must spit out, for intellectual honesty. What follows may offend you, but that’s it, this is a personal blog and not a commercial page. We don’t need to be nice, we need to be sincere. And there’s a lot I really don’t like about Elmore’s work, and here’s a list of what it is.

First: drawing from models. Everybody always looks like he’s posing, because he is. Most of group paintings look like group pictures, and they probably were in origin. 


Lack of dynamism in characters is one thing, a small one. But there is more about drawing from models: it is good when picturing real stuff, but when eventually stray from reality, everybody can immediately feel it. Vallejo suffered from this, too. Humans and elves were okay, Dwarfs not so much, but it is with Orcs and Dragons and monsters that Elmore’s painting becomes sketchy. Detail stays, it’s just realism that goes out of the window in favour of a comic book feel. It’s true, look at it. Only Frazetta escaped from this curse (because he didn’t draw from models).



But that’s overall forgiveable. What really bugs me is something else. It’s the sexy women, often half naked, almost always graced with angelic faces. They, over time, became more and more common. Elmore didn’t invent the sexualization of Fantasy, it had started long before him and was a general trend in 1980s US - just look at comics or cinema. But while this sexualisation was obvious in earlier artists, such as Vallejo and Achilleos with their oily bodies, phallic symbols and girls in pin up poses. Elmore and TSR realized the trend and followed it, but took care to tone it down for young teenagers and their moms. Also, for some reasons, half naked men became more and more rare, but not so with girls.

Eventually, this became the standard in the industry on the western side of the Atlantic and, as I said, a whole generation of fans was raised considering this normality. And that’s why John Blanche and his Amazonia Gothique are great. But that’s the subject of another post.