giovedì 15 marzo 2018

Fantasy Visuals: Chris Achilleos

1979 - The Sentinel

Chris Achilleos is another iconic Fantasy artist from the ‘70s/'80s. Somewhat eclectic and independent mind, it is difficult to categorize him and his production. He used a variety of techniques and worked on many different subjects. Still, he is one of the most significant painters from that period, and in this post we’re going to take a look at his works. 

Christos Achilleos was born in 1947 in east Cyprus, in a village near Famagusta. At that time the island was still united as a Crown Territory of the United Kingdom. In the last ‘50s, Christos and his three siblings lost their father, and their mother left Cyprus and emigrated to the UK, where he would remain for all his life. At the time of his arrival in England, Christos was an early teenager and soon became interested in art: in 1966, at 19, he enrolled in the Hornsey College of Arts in London. During this time he experimented with many techniques, and notably with the airbrush, which would become popular in the late ‘70s among Fantasy artists.

After college, Achilleos started looking for commissions: he accepted all kinds of jobs at the beginning, working for advertising and on adult magazines, album and book covers, games. With time, building a reputation, he was able to focus on what he liked most, namely Fantasy art.

Achilleos was fond of drawing the female body, representing it with explicit sensuality - his early style draws obviously from Frazetta and Vallejo, although some elements of monsters and backgrounds seem to connect him with Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews. Here’s a quick look at his early works. 

1974 - Transit to Scorpio
1975 - The Bull and the Spear
1975 - The burning woman
1976 - Of men and beasts
1977 - Assassins of Gor
1977 - Beastmen
1977 - Amazon with zebra cloak, used as cover in the Uriah Heep 1978 album 'Fallen Angel'
Achilleos was consecrated as a famous artist by the commission he received in 1980 from Heavy Metal magazine, to draw the poster for the movie of the same name, released the following year. Achilleos also worked as a concept artist for the movie, especially designing the character of Taarna.
1980 - Taarna, poster for the movie 'Heavy Metal'
In the years to follow, Achilleos would go on working as a concept artists for other Fantasy and historical movies, namely Willow (1988), King Arthur (2004) and the Last Legion (2007).

In the 80s Achilleos continued to work on many book covers:

1983 - Cover for 'Elric at the End of Time' by M. Moorcock
1986 - 'Dragonspell'
1987 - Cover for 'Armies of Death' by I. Livingstone
1989 - 'Enter the Hero'
And also had several collaborations with Games Workshop, and it's not difficult to spot several elements of his style that were shared by other GW artists of the time, especially John Blanche.

1984 - Illustration for the game 'Middle Earth' by Games Workshop
1984 - Cover for the game 'Talisman' by Games Workshop
1987 - Judge Anderson
1990 - Alien War, a piece for Warhammer 40.000
Besides commissions, Achilleos painted for himself, too: most of his personal production focuses on sexy female characters portrayed in Fantasy or Sci-Fi settings, which he calls Amazons. He published as many as four books collecting them: Beauty and the Beast (1978), Sirens (1986), Medusa (1988) and Amazona (2004).

1978 - The Oath, originally published as a cover in Raven magazine
1981 - Boadicea
1984 - Eagle Rider, originally cover of 'War of Powers' pt. 2 by Vardeman and Milàn
1992 - Biker Valkyrie
1992 - Maya
1998 - Brunhilde

While being an independent artist, as we said, his influence on Fantasy art, especially on British artists, is undeniable. Today Chris Achilleos lives and works in London.

giovedì 22 febbraio 2018

Sea Elves - Marauder High Elves MM81 (1989)

Once upon a time, there were the four Elven Races.
At first they were all, in a way, similar to each other, yet each followed a different path and each became unique.
The High Elves then garbed in long, flowing robes and tall helms.
The Wood Elves hid themselves in wide cloaks with hoods.
The Dark Elves covered themselves with spiky pieces of armour and cruel trophies from their ritual killings.
The Sea Elves disappeared. They were retconned with the coming of the age of Kirby.

And so their memory was fixed. Everybody remembered them when they were young, and they wore different kinds of clothes, not unlike those worn by Men, yet different. There wasn’t one like another, just like Humans, and perhaps this was so because of their proximity to Men, from whom they drew a vitality unusual for Elves, something certainly chaotic, but also beautiful.

If you follow this blog, you know I have a thing for Sea Elves. And, in my imagination, no better miniatures represent them than the Marauder Elves. No matter how they were originally categorized: today, to me, they are all Sea Elves, because all other Elves have developed a different identity, with time.
I remember in 1997 looking at the WFRP 1st ed., in its Italian translation - Martelli da Guerra - and seeing this excellent picture by Paul Bonner, close to the section about the elven races, and thought: surely these must be them.

This image apparently doesn't exist on the internet, so I had to take a picture of it with my mobile.
High Elf on horseback, Wood Elf with the bow, Dark Elf with two swords, black make up and a tomahawk (Wardancers were still unheard of in our gaming group). So the central one, with a hood and the badass look on his face, must be the Sea Elf. It probably was not, but who cares to be corrected after 20 years? 

Elven minstrel, from WFRP 1st ed.

Elf, from WFRP 1st ed.

Elf in a Sea Elf community in the Old World, WFRP 1st ed.
My image of Sea Elves was formed on pictures from that period, where Elves were not yet so remote as they became in later years, and were similar to Men. Just like there were Mountain Dwarfs with helms and chain mails, and Imperial Dwarfs dressed more or less like Imperial citizens, so - I reasoned - Elves living near Mannish communities must also wear clothes that go with the fashion. It made sense. It still does, since nothing on the subject has ever been published by GW after the early 90s. And so when I saw these Marauder High Elves (MM81) on eBay, I just had to have them. Look at them. Just look at them! 


Marauder High Elf MM81/2 from 1989. Sculptor not credited, possibly Aly Morrison. An apparently simple sculpt with actually a lot of detail in embroidery and studs. I love the chainmail over leather jacket, the conical helm and the handaxe, which can be a tool as well as a weapon. Sea Elves are, after all, craftsmen and merchants.

Marauder High Elf MM81/6 from 1989, again no credited sculptor: Trish Morrison? This one is less harmonious and dynamic, but again its apparent simplicity reveals, when painted, a lot of embroidery and studs, which I choose to paint in lighter greys and whites as if they were pearls. This is obviously a prominent Elf, with a short sword, pieces of plate armour and a long overcoat, which I painted in double colours - sky blue outside and emerald green inside, nicely contrasting the purple tights. I'll use it for one of the NPCs of my WFRP campaign: Magalhaes, the leader of the Sea Elf community of Dralas. An old (220+) Elf, always moderate and diplomatic, carefully supporting the Regent Gelmir without getting too committed to him. Keeping a foot in every shoe and a finger in every pie, just not deep enough to get burned. Quietly outweathering the events of history in the Old World and outliving all his enemies, just sitting on the banks of the river.


Marauder High Elf MM81/5 from 1989, no credited sculptor. This tall, thin one is a fop, with his slashed sleeves and tall boots. There are studs/pearls on his botts and on the jacket, and on his crested helm. He wields a handaxe and I'll get a buckler for the other hand. In my campaign it represents Sidonaer, a Sea Elf rogue/adventurer who meddled too much with Men and took a number of wrong turns, so that now his family shuns him and he is wanted by several criminals for alleged wrongs he once did. A few weeks ago things went wrong again when the PCs in my group attempted to steal his treasure, which he collected in an expedition to Lustria, and ended up wounding him badly and killing his partners in business. Now Sidonaer is tending an ugly cut on his head and planning his revenge on the party.

These three are but a few of the figs I managed to acquire. I'll be posting more in the weeks to come and, ideally, I'll be assembling a warband to be used in Mordheim.

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.