Monday, 10 September 2018

Need a hobby? Try DISCO CHAOS MAGIC!!!

"Fireball! Fireball!"

I love painting random single fantasy minis as a break from the units I paint for my armies. As a result I have a growing collection of Age of Sigmar, Warhammer and even Lord of the Rings randoms. I prepped this guy as part of my aborted Oldhammer-Mordheim warband so he was towards the front of the 'fun queue'. Don't ask what's at the back.

He's one of the Citadel Chaos Sorcerers, probably sculpted by Jes Goodwin. He goes by the moniker of Jezekal Iron Face in the 1991 'Red Catalogue'. I can't help thinking his surname is a bit disappointing after a forename like that. And he's clearly miming to some 70s disco tune. I wish he wouldn't because his disco gloves being in front of his face make him a pain to photograph.

I initially thought about adding sigils or a pattern to his robe. But I was pleased with the highlights on the tiny tears in his dress, so decided to leave it be. These little moth holes are somewhat of a trademark of Jes' sculpts of the era. They add a nice bit of interest to what could be a large, flat area I think.

I'm talking to Operation Asgard at the moment to see if we can get a low-model count fantasy game arranged. It might have some interesting background. And that background might be a bit bonkers.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

I apologise unreservedly

...for getting bored, changing my mind and pressing 'pause' on my Oldhammer Mordheim project. Sometimes these things have to be done. In this case it's because I have a good reason.

I have a better idea.

Occasionally you hear a throw-away comment and it sparks something profound. And, like Don John's canker in a hedge, it festers. This happened to me a few weeks ago and its not just taken root, its entirely displaced my initial plans. So here it is...

Ostermark. Twenty years after the comet struck Mordheim. The city is a no-go zone. The State officials know it's bad. Damn, even the Emperor knows its a catastrophe. Warpstone contaminating the area for miles around, fuelling mutation and inciting corruption. Dust-borne residue is killing peasants and livestock. On the fringes of the infected area Imperial scholars gather. The best minds, you would think? Alas no - they are mad, bad and dangerous to know. They scheme and plot. How can they study the carrion-city? These days, none who enter return sane. Their records show this was not always the case. In the short years following the impact, mercenaries could seemingly get in and out, smuggling warpstone as if it were gold. So they scheme and plot ad nausium. This takes time. Time. If they could send men back in time. So they enlist Chronomancers. And convicts (expendable, you see). And thus were born the Creepers. Forgotten and despised, they risk their bodies and souls to travel back and gather samples from the city just after the impact. Samples that will help the Emperor, they are told. Samples that are vital, they are told. Samples. Bring us samples. We need warpstone...

I want my warband to be a dystopian hybrid of the Strugatsky brothers and Marker - a fusion of Roadside Picnic/Stalker and La Jetée/Twelve Monkeys. Desperate men dragged through time into a mind-bending 'zone'. The temporal distortion of looking back 20 years to the edition of Mordheim released in 1999 will be articulated through these miniatures. I want them to appear strange, fusing the Franco-Russian influences of the two key works with the likes of Patrick Tatopoulos' Silent Hill costumes, Ian Miller and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's first film The Bunker of the Last Gunshots. More post-apocalyptic and out-of-time rather than slavish to the look of the world of 20 years ago.

Here is some of the visual material I've been mining:

I hope you'll forgive me this abrupt change of direction, but it seems like too good an idea to pass up. And good ideas need to be respected, else they will fester. As the Stalker says in Tarkovsky's film:

The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Adeptus Titanicus buildings

What could be cooler than giant robots smashing each other's faces in? What's that you say? Them doing this in the midst of a city? And perhaps the loser would even crash into a building, demolishing it as it stumbled to its knees?

To facilitate your desire for unnecessarily cinematic destruction, GW has some excellent plastic buildings to accompany their new Adeptus Titanicus game. These little devils are fully modular and infinitely configurable. I went to town on mine and, as you may be able to spot, even converted a couple with some 40k parts. I also injected a bit of variety into their colourways by using different sprays. These were applied from a zenithal angle to get a bit of shading in, which was further enhanced by careful application of Citadel Shades and Washes. I added flock to give the impression that the city is abandoned and overgrown. Clearly the news of the forthcoming titan-brawl scared the residents off some years ago.

Don't forget; home is where the heart is. Even if your heart is buried in a ruin under the giant metal carcass of a Warlord titan.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The road to Oldhammer Mordheim

2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Mordheim, released two decades ago amid the pre-millennial angst that gripped the public in the final throws of the last century. Real world fears of the Millennium Bug and general apocalypse were aped (and mocked) by GW in what was their most dystopian vision of the Old World. Until the End Times. When things got really bad.

The awesome Echoes of Imperium invited me to join a Mordheim game planned for next year. The effort is a celebration of the visual tour-de-force that is Mordheim. The core book is undoubtedly one of the strongest, purist and most consistent of GW's products in terms of illustration and design. It is a living testament to the effect that John Blanche had (and still has) on the company. And is darkly-hilarious to boot. As a homage to this mighty tome we have opted to confine ourselves to the material contained in the core book. Mordheim as a system went to some weird and wonderful places in its later life, but we want to channel the burned-out medieval dystopia that was at the blackened heart of the setting.

In the chats that followed the initiation of this project some of us mused about our love for older miniatures. I reaslised then that this would be a great chance to resurrect some old lead. Always a fan of getting stuck in early I wanted to lock down which way I was going to jump. In the end I opted for the undead. I wanted to make use of as many miniatures as I could from my (depressingly large) lead pile. Hence some of these proxy for other units in the rules. Mortarion, for example, will get the rules for an Ogre hired sword. The only new acquisitions were an old Fiend Factory Medusa (who will act as a Dreg) kindly donated by Operation Asgard. Oh, and the vampire himself, who I found on ebay. I didn't really have a good, old vampire in my collection and felt I really needed one to do the warband justice.

The 'football hooligan' Ghosts forced me to break my basing strategy. They are prone to capsizing, so as individuals needed much larger bases. The 40mm rounds also feature the 'lug hole' system which gives a much stronger joint between base and drunken Ghost.

I am really looking forward to coming up with some background for this ungodly cabal and seeing the personalities emerge. I have a clear idea of their paint scheme, but that's for another post. There is also the possibility of bespoke cards too.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I'll leave you with some pages from the book that started it all.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Adeptus Titanicus Knights

Imperial Knights are pretty special to me. In my time in the Studio system at GW I have been lucky to work on the line drawings, iconography and decals for the Knights from when the range was being rebooted. It's like they are a part of me, and a tiny bit of me is in their genetic code.

You can imagine my excitement when I given some early versions of the Knights from the forthcoming Adeptus Titanicus game. I decided to make them House Hawkshroud so they tie them to my existing collection of Heresy-era Imperial Fists. So I set-to these guys with gusto. In retrospect, perhaps a little too much gusto. You see, what I failed to do was read my old painting recipe, so they are a markedly different shade of yellow to my older miniatures. Which I am a bit annoyed by. OK, a lot annoyed by. But lesson learned. And they still look cool.

In fact, they look really cool. These little blighters are incredibly faithful facsimiles of their larger cousins. The designers in Specialist Games have done a wonderful job of balancing the details with the challenges of scaling. So if you like Knights, you're going to love them.

At the time the Adeptus Titanicus decal sheet hadn't been made, so I cobbled together various tiny and suitably heraldic decals, particularly from places like the Black Templars Forge World sheet. Plus I used some of the smaller Hawkshroud icons to denote their allegiance. The addition of such decals really helps to scale the knights which is evident in the plan photo below.

For more details about the awesomeness that is Adeptus Titanicus, check out this month's White Dwarf magazine and the GW Community website.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Shadespire Stormtonnians

I felt a little bad that I got Garrek's Reavers on the table quicker than the Stormcast, but I knew from day one I wanted to convert Steelheart's Champions. His triad were always earmarked to join my Stormtonnians and their indoctrination would involve some conversion work.

You can see the fruits of this labour below. These guys required some consideration and got slightly more than my usual head and weapon swaps. The solutions were fairly simple, and helped by the fortuitous way in which Liberator shields can hide all manner of sins. I also opted to join the new weapons at the wrist. I felt the fine joints on my previous conversions were structurally weak and occasionally their axis was off. But now I had to contend with the awkward way the Stormcast vambraces wrap over the wrists and the result that the arms are a fraction too long. Ah well. The new blades are Space Marine power swords rather than the previous Empire swords. Turns out not many Marines hold their swords in their right hands, so my choice was slightly limited.

The most dynamic conversion is Angharad, whose active hand now bears her shield. You get a sense that she's going to smash her opponent with it, having jabbed with her blade. Obryn remains implacable, advancing with his sword in a casual grip. Severin is majestical and clearly about to demand a shrubbery as payment from someone.

I am really looking forward to painting these guys, if only because they have more cloth on them. Severin's tabard is going to be a great chance to run heraldry over fabric in a way I've not been able to do with the older Stormcast kits. Indeed, I'm eyeing chaps like the new Evocators, as their long robes will provide even more exciting canvasses in this respect.

If I get round to it I'd like to make some custom cards to replace the default Shadespire ones for the Champions. I'd denote characters by their heraldry, rather than by their portraits. This will be a good way to delve into the Stormtonnian lore a bit more.

Thursday, 28 June 2018


As a result of my colleagues extolling its virtues (thanks guys!) I just watched the 1998 Blade. It's a rollocking ride full of occasionally-dodgey CGI, but solid fun nonetheless.

Wesley Snipes as Blade. If he forgets his sword he'll dice his enemies with his unbelievably sharp cheekbones.

Blade, an early and progressive example of a black superhero, is counterpointed in the film by the evil vampire Mercury, who dresses almost entirely in white. I was struck by this, not least of which because the vampire-in-white is an unusual, but not entirely uncommon trope. Its this trope I want to unpack and explore.

Vampires wearing black is mostly due to modern post-Great Schism Europeans from the 17th century onwards coding black as representing the macabre, death and the devil. Romantics like Percy Shelley and Lord Byron embraced it as the garb of melancholy. It is from this inheritance that Dracula, the primogenitor of the modern vampire, is rooted. When the vampire gets his first real scene in the novel he is described as:
"...a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere."

Dracula in black from the rare 1901 edition. Socks and shoes optional.

There is a slight wrinkle to this. Dracula was of course a product of the Victorian era when black was very much in. This was thanks to advances in dye technology and the populace aping the queen's garb. Victoria wore black for nigh on 40 years in a mark of respect for her late husband. Stoker's vampire was, therefore, not entirely unfashionable.

Queen Victoria, looking cheery.

In the early to mid 20th century subsequently vampires are represented as being archaic (and so Victorian) and hence they wear black to indicate this and the evil they embody. Count Orlock in the 1922 Nosferatu (Dracula in all but name, for copyright reasons) wears entirely black. Bella Lugosi's Dracula is mostly black (with flashes of white and red) and Christopher Lee's costume in the Hammer films is much the same. It's only later in the 20th century that vampires' wardrobes seem to enlarge a bit with the films like Interview with a Vampire, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

But vampires in white emerge early on and here we get to the meat of this post. They are a mix of codings and tropes initially conceived to convey a specific meaning, but later white is sometimes simply a way to identify one individual in a crowd.

Early on in the novel Dracula, mention is made of a 'white lady' who may or may not be the ghost of a woman holed-up in the walls of Whitby Abbey. Mina mentions that "there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows". The white lady is a staple of Western folklore - a common ghost as women tended to die earlier in childbirth. They are also unhappy souls, as women might often suffer being jilted, losing children and suffer in miserable marriages. Thus they would become  vengeful ghosts. Since the Classical era it was commonly held suffering was a reason for a spirit to remain in limbo. There are also links to the Keres of ancient Greece - were female death-spirits who controlled the fate of souls. She is white because this is the colour of innocence in the West, the colour of the shrouds sometimes used to wrap corpses, the colour of bones and the colour of mist, often associated with ghosts and the spirit. It is this inheritance that Stoker weaves into his novel in the form of the vampire brides.

Clearly an engraving wouldn't convince anyone ghosts were real, but this photograph is cast-iron proof of the existence of white ladies. 

The brides appear in Stoker's novel although their relationship to Dracula is not clearly explained. They are referred to as 'sisters', though this may be evocative more than anything. Indeed, Stoker later describes them as 'weird sisters' in a reference to the witches in Macbeth. The colour of their garb is not described in the novel, but in their first screen appearance in the 1931 Lugosi Dracula (they don't feature in Nosferatu) they embody the white lady folklore. They are an uncomfortable mix of innocent, ghost and succubi - frightening and erotic.

The sisters from the 1931 Dracula. Hand-wringing obligatory, apparently.

From 1931 the brides become a staple of the Dracula legend and appear in almost every adaption in their wispy, busty, gossamer form. They even get their own movie in the 1960 The Brides of Dracula and in more oblique (and pornographic) form in the 1971 Twins of Evil.

Mention should be made at this point of (poor) Lucy - Mina's friend in Dracula who is the first to succumb to the vampire's curse. In the novel the early mention of the white lady ghost prefigures the death of Lucy. While in the full flush of (living) romance Lucy is described as "...looking sweetly pretty in her white lawn frock..". In later screen adaptions Lucy is represented as another white lady in death, but not in Dracula the novel. Indeed, Stoker implied Lucy is buried and later emerges wearing black (one of the newspaper reports in the novel relays a sighting of a 'Woman in Black'). The 1931 film streamlines the plot and rolls some aspects of Mina and Lucy together. It is here when Mina/Lucy is seen post-bite in white indicating her shift to becoming an analogue of the brides, cementing her entry in the ranks of the undead women.

Bella Lugosi pulling that face you make when you deadlift something far too heavy.

The 1959 Dracula with Christopher Lee follows suit, and Lucy-the-vampire wears a simple (if figure-hugging) white smock.  In a stroke of costuming genius, Eiko Ishioka put Lucy in her coffin dressed in her white wedding dress in the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula. To the vampire-in-white-trope is now added the miserable failed-bride-to-be, robbed of her wedding day and denied the only future deemed permissible to a Victorian society woman - marriage and children.

Sadie Frost as Lucy facing off against Anthony Hopkins. Who wouldn't be scared if Hannibal Lector came at you?

Coming to the post-Hammer modern era the coding of white for vampires becomes more multifarious and complex. White vampires lose their connections to the white lady folklore, sometimes for good reasons, at others seemingly for reasons of fashion.

Jim Jarmusch's 2013 Only Lovers Left Alive is a rare example of white being a well thought out choice. Eve wears white as a counterpoint to Adam, who embodies the Romantic ideal of a vampire. Tom Hiddleston is all sulks and moping emo while Tilda Swinton is far more perky and positive and her garb refers to her fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.

 Tom Hiddleston as a sleepy toddler nuzzles Tilda Swinton's hung-over mother.

Seemingly arbitrary but undeniably stylish is the aforementioned Mercury from the 1998 Blade. I'd love to have a well thought out reason why she might be in white, but I don't. Nonetheless, she embodies a degree of then-fashionable heroin-chic with her bony silhouette, dark eyes and lips which tap into the zeitgeist of the time.

Arly Jover as Mercury. What vampires look like after a heroin binge.

Next we have the The Twins from the 2003 The Matrix Reloaded. I list them here because they are a good example of the way the vampire myth has been explored in different ways in the post-Hammer era. In a series of movies where most people dress in black, it's not unreasonable that dressing a pair in white to make them stand out struck the costume department as a good idea. Along with dreadlocks and pimp jackets. There is some convoluted back story to them being older versions of the series' Agents, which will have to suffice for any reasoning. I say this in a slightly disparaging way because their appearance was greeted with some not-unreasonable hostility by those claiming The Twins were emblematic of Hollywood's negative portrayal of characters with albinism.

The Twins created by The Wachowskis, showing they might possibly know more about gender politics than racial politics.

Following from this topic I want to finish with a few nods to modern vampire-eque characters who are white, even though they don't wear white. I want to name-check Elric from the Michael Moorcock novels and Prince Nuada from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. While vampires have always been 'deathly pale' these two take this to an extreme with their head-to-toe albino appearance.

Elric of Melniboné with his 'confused' face from trying to unpick Moorcock's cosmology.

Luke Goss as Prince Nuada Silverlance. The look you get when your boy band career finishes.
To conclude this whistle-stop tour, vampires-in-white (or 'whampires') have come a long way since the white lady folklore of European history, bleeding into pop culture and bumping into political topics of intersectionality and racial identity along the way. If you have any examples please post them in the comments. I realise I shamefully haven't covered off comics or video games so examples from these categories would be ace.