sabato 14 ottobre 2017

Citadel Slann and their successors


When you reach the venerable age of 38 and you're still into miniatures, most people will tend to consider you a child who never grew up, but that's not entirely true. Children are children, all right, they are in love with the hobby, but something inside of you is different, and that's the part that proves that you are not child, but in fact an old man. A grumbly old man.

All of us, even those who have the bravery to admit that AoS is actually cool, have succumbed at least once (or more) to the urge to grumble. Italians have a nice word for it: brontolone. Bronto- come from the Greek and means "thunder" (as in brontosaurus, yes) and fittingly calls to mind the image of a distant storm on the horizon, lightning flashing, thunder quietly rolling - all of the evening. There might be even some raindrops on your car, just to make it dirty, but no big actual storm. Just this constant and useless rolling thunder. The French have another word: grognard. That's the word I'm gonna use to tag all posts whose content could be summarized into "back in my time, things were different". Young people rant, we do not: we grumble. Face it, it's in our nature.

This was a very long preamble to introduce the subject of Slann miniatures. We all know who the Slann are (or were, back in my time before the retcon). But where do their concept come from, originally?

I believe the first sketch ever of the Slann might be this piece by John Blanche, titled "Troglodytes", which I found on Ratspike. In spite of the name, these are clearly Slann: the shape of the head, the armour, even the pyramid in the background.

A more mature sketch is the following, also by Blanche. Here the Slann have already developed their name and are drawn in more confident strokes.

After this, GW's staff set themselves to work. Tony Ackland drew Slann for the 2nd Edition of WFB (1983), and also in the later articles Kremlo the Slann (1983) and the Magnificent Sven (1984):

Moreover at the same time, in 1983-1984 - difficult to tell if illustrators influenced sculptors, or it was the other way around - the Perry twins sculpted the first, glorious C32 figures.

These were quite succesful and, in 1986, Citadel issued a new series of Slann, sculpted by Trish Morrison. And these were beautiful, too: it was difficult to spot the difference with the Perry pieces.

Then, for no apparent reason, something terrible happened. The 1987 new Slann relase, designed together by Trish and Aly Morrison, came out, and they looked nothing like the originals:

The new Slann looked more like clumsy toads trying to stand on two feet (with little success). Heads became wide and flat, eyes bulged out and torsos almost disappeared. This was the end of classic Slann: the whole "amphibian master-race from Space" concept was forgotten and, in 1997 they were retconned in favour of the Old Ones and the Lizardmen.

What was left to us, with the name Slann, was this. A bloated, big-headed toad:

And that's the end, as far as GW is concerned. But a lot of people still loved the Slann and independent manufacturers tried to support them with new figures. For some reason, though, most of them were more frogmen than actual Slann as we knew them.

I believe Mirliton's Kermitians were the first. I have a lot of respect for Mirliton, and that's why I will not comment on these figures.

Then it was probably Ral Partha who issued their Bullfrogs. They had way more character than Mirliton's Kermitians, but still looked like anthropomorphic frogs.

Reaper Frogmen are suspiciously similar to the previous, with a bit detail, but with the same inherent flaws.

Otherworld Boglings are less frogs, and more TMNT from the movie (the ugly ones).

Mantic's Frogmen are just more of the same. Good figures, mind me, but nowhere close to the original Slann. These are frogmen, period.

Katsina were the first to give up the "frog on two legs" idea and get closer to the original, with exotic weapons and feathered helms. These are nice, but still only a first step towards the original Perry. To put it clearly: put them on a table next to each other, and you will spot the difference from three metres distance.

And just when everything seemed lost, lo! Tim Prow comes out with the Eru-Kin. And let me say: these are the nicest Slann-like miniatures made after 1986.

Diehard brings out all the old colour (light armour of plates + leather strips, round shields, feathered helms, weird weapons and a meso-American feel) and adds some more in the same tune: this is how you do good Oldhammer in the 2010s. Sure, you say, there is significant difference in the heads:

On one side, a big, tall, bloated head. On the other a more lizard-like, long and flat one. Sure, copyright is still a thing and GW isn't kind to those challenging them. You can't call them Slann. You can't do them exactly the same as John Blanche first drew them. Still, these to me look more "right" than the 1987 Citadel toad-people.

In a perfect world, we would have a second set of heads to replace the lizard-like ones, but in the meantime I must say I am very happy about these. Will probably try to fix them with some greenstuff: I'll let you know how it goes. But even without any fix, this is a huge step in bringing Oldhammer back. Well done, Tim Prow!

giovedì 7 settembre 2017

Fantasy Visuals: Roger Dean

While fantasy artists on the western shore of the Atlantic focused on portraying faithfully the bodies of heroes and villains, something different was happening on the other side of the Ocean and namely in England.

This country already had a rich tradition of fantasy illustration dating from the end of the 19th century, with Arthur Rackham and other artists giving form to fairy tales and, somehow, inherited a very different approach to fantasy art, one that was more related to the general feeling and atmosphere offered by an illustration rather than the story it told. Roger Dean was one of the earliest fantasy artists in UK, and he started to become famous more or less at the time of Frazetta in the US.

Dean was born in Ashford, Kent, in 1944 but he spent his childhood travelling with his family (his father was in the Army). Only at 15 did Dean settled down again in England; he studied at the Canterbury College of Art and later at the Royal College of Art where he graduated in 1969 with a thesis on 'The psychology of the built environment'. Dean was not interested specifically in Fantasy literature, but rather in landscape and designs, and yet his work has had a huge impact on Fantasy Art.

Not only his paintings, on which we will focus on this post, but also his designs, at which it’s worth taking a quick look. Roger Dean’s first project was finished while he was still in University: in 1968 he presented his Sea Urchin chair.

Later he came out with a new idea, which was seminal for his work in design: the Retreat Pod. This is a piece of furniture that could be presented as a chair or a sofa, but it is much more: essentially, a closed space where a person can “retreat” like inside a womb, a personal space for concentration and imagination. This was groundbreaking at the time, so much that even Stanley Kubrick wanted one of those in his movie Clockwork Orange (1972).


The concept of the Retreat Pod evolved from piece of furniture to living space. With the project Home for Life, Roger Dean and his brother Martin created a concept for a new kind of housing - cheap, sustainable and beautiful. It has evolved ever since and, at the time of posting, Dean is still working on it making it larger and better.

But enough of this - what we want is pictures, illustrations, paintings. Dean worked mostly with watercolour (I know, so British!) with occasional experiments with gouache, ink and crayons. The first famous painting Dean produced was produced again in 1968, the year before he graduated - it was the cover for a Progressive Rock band, Gun.

This was the first of a long list of album covers the artist did. He worked mostly with prog bands, so much that his style became a sort of trademark for the genre, but he occasionally covered other genres, too.

Ramases - Space Hymns (1970)

Earth and Fire - Earth and Fire (1970)

Billy Cox - Nitro Function (1971)

Osibisa - Osibisa (1971)
Midnight Sun - Midnight Sun (1971)
Yes - Close to the Edge (1972)
Uriah Heep - Demons and Wizards (1972)
Uriah Heep - The Magician's Birthday (1972)

Yes - Awakenings (1972)

Yes - Escape (1973)

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973)

McKendree Spring - Spring Suite (1973)
In 1972 Dean designed the first Virgin logo, which the company used for it debut until 1977, the period when Progressive Rock was big. When Punk became the next thing and Virgin signed the Sex Pistols, the logo became the one we know today.

In 1985, Dean started his cooperation with a software house, Psygnosis, for which he designed logo and developed concepts. He designed the covers for the boxes of Obliterator (1988), Shadow of the Beast (1989) and Ork (1991).


For all his life so far, Dean painted almost only landscapes - the occasional living things or vehicles had the only purpose of providing perspective and proportions to the whole. This was the opposite approach of his American colleagues.
Light, brightness and haze play a very important role in all his work: they provide depth and give proportions to what we see, and at the same thy evoke a mood. Dean learns directly the lesson of Romantic painters, like C.D. Friedrich: sometimes a sunset, a misty veil or moonshine in the background can be the very the centrepiece of a work.

Alpha - Asia (1983)

Blue Desert (1989)

Yes - The Ladder (1989)

Asia - Aura (2000)

The Old Brige (2006)

Black Moth - Condemned to Hope (2014)
As said before, despite never actually basing his works on Fantasy sagas like Lord of the Rings or Conan the Barbarian, Roger Dean has been a huge influence on all Fantasy artists who came after him, especially British ones. But his influence has been even greater on science fiction. Look at the following couples of images and tell me if you think they are related.

Chances are you answered "yes". In 2013 Dean filed a legal case against director James Cameron about Avatar, claiming - quite reasonably, if you ask me - that most of the landscape art was a total rip-off of his work in the last 40 years. Less reasonable was the compensation he asked for - 50 million US$. The filmmakers admitted being influenced by Roger Dean, but not so much to owe him money, on which the court agreed, so that in 2014 the case was dismissed.
One thing Dean never worked on, as far as I know, is Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. But I remember all the time I was reading it, I had in mind Dean’s landscapes. This is the only way I can imagine the fantastic structures created by the planet. Pity it didn’t happen - if you ever read us, Mr. Dean, please do a watercolour of a Mimoid. Pleaaaase.

Lighthouse - One Fine Morning (1970)

Electric Sheep (2004)

Yes - Like it is (2014)
What do you think of Roger Dean’s art? As usual, to close the post, here are my favourite pieces. They all share the same visionary majesty of an architecture that blends with the surrounding nature, and at the same time dominates it. The light is used to perfection to create depth and perspective, and at the same time evoke a sense of mystery all painting share - don't you feel an urge to go forward, to explore these outworldy and beautiful landscapes? This is what Fantasy is all about to me. Roger Dean simply nails it.

Jade Sea (1976)
Troll Home (?)

Green Towers (1981)
Freija's Castle (1987)
The Ladder (1999)