Friday, 28 December 2018

Festive Beastmen

I was inspired by the recent release of the Beasts of Chaos Battletome and painted up a trio of minis too add to my Krawl project collection. Here they are in all their cloven-hoofed glory:

The chap above needs no introduction as he's a fairly common classic Oldhammer sculpt from the late 80s. Giving him a red face and green fur lends him a slight Masters of the Universe vibe which I love. I painted his shield separately and stippled the red onto it using sponges to give it some interesting texture. The hue of his face actually blends up into his horns, which is a nod to the incredible work of Don Hans whose minis I find a constant source of inspiration.

The next little guy is a diminutive Ungor - these lighter troops are used as skirmishers in Beastmen armies. I love the medieval vibe of the Ungor designs. They look like they have stepped out of a Bruegel painting. I ramped up his daemonic footsoldier vibe by painting his flesh red and I was pretty pleased how it turned out. I sprayed him black then zenith sprayed him white, before spraying him red all over. This helps to make the red a bit brighter and forces the shading a little.

The black/green flesh on this guy was a response to the Ungor above - if the Ungor was red, it seemed appropriate to make their larger cousins darker and more ominous. On this guy I really tried to go for a more zenithial style of highlighting (which I'll talk more about in a future post) and it worked OK. I actually developed my technique after I finished him, but he is an early success I feel. I kept the wood of his shield rather neutral deliberately so as not to detract from the brighter hues elsewhere. The lightest feature is his horns, which helps to draw the viewer's eye up to his head.

One last thing to say is that I'm developing a palette for my Krawl miniatures. I mentioned this a while back, but it's inspired by the Bitmap Brothers video games of old, Cadaver in particular. The green-shaded-grey acts as a 'signature colour' and the other tones are varied but with commonality between them (the reds are broadly the same, for example).

Next up, a Lord of the Rings Ranger!

Monday, 10 December 2018

Naughty Chaos Spawn

I love the Spawn kits with all their wibbly options. I intend to add a trio of these degenerates to my Night Lords army. I got them all to a certain stage of prep, then rushed ahead and completed this guy.


After his black undercoat I hit him with Mephiston Red spray from one side. This did much of the complex blending for me, and I highlighted him up from there. I added a tiny bit of armour plating to each's shoulder. This allowed me to apply the distinctive Night Lords metallic blue which defines the collection. The red Blood For The Blood God really added a bit of 'pop' at the last stage as it vibrates against the blue.

You can take Spawn as part of the Chaos Cultist Necromunda gang (the rules for which were printed in White Dwarf a while back). So he's double the fun (which is totally an expression which needs to be used in conjunction with Spawn).

ΔVE ÐØMINVS NΘЖ

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Krawl - dungeoncrawling in the Age of Sigmar

Dungeons? In Age of Sigmar? This must be...

I've been really enjoying building up a collection of Citadel fantasy 'randoms' (for want of a better term). Odds and sods from the history of Games Workshop, from classic Oldhammer lead minis to some of the beautiful plastics now available. I just choose what I like. And it turns out what I like are little 'grunts' - just rank and file guys. Few are heroes, most are just characterful fellows representing the archetypes of their race or faction. Some are converted, many are not.

But I wanted a structure to what was clearly becoming serious collection. And I love branding. And the dungeoncrawl genre. And card floorplans. So when you mix it all together you get this:

The thing I like about the dungeoncrawl genre is that it doesn't rely on multiples of miniatures. Finding a grot, a tzaangor and an ogor in a room in a dungeon is just fine, thank you (though goodness knows what they were doing there before you kicked down the door...). Games Workshop has explored the genre a little with their Warhammer Quest series of games and in doing so produced some excellent floorplans. While I own and treasure the Silver Tower set, sadly I don't own the Hammerhal ones. As long-time readers will know, I also have an extensive archive of Oldhammer floorplans dating from the late 80s.


So, AoS_Krawl is about...
  1. Collecting whatever random individual minis you like;
  2. Slapping down some 2D floorplans (be they Oldhammer, modern or homemade), and;
  3. Letting your hero(es) krawl, level up, equip loot... and krawl some more...
How am I going to achieve the last of these aims? Krawl isn't wedded to any particular system. In the same way as its genetic material is a hybrid of old and new, I suspect any rules I employ will be a fusion. Heck, I might even be tempted to dig out my old Combat Cards and work with them (which, incidentally, have been rebooted for 40K). Let me get back to you on this.

Here are some alternate modes to try:
  • Roguelike: While traditional RPG dungeoncrawling was about a party of cooperating holier-than-thau-goodie-two-shoes, there emerged in video games the 'roguelike' where a lone hero would chop his way through a dungeon. Perfect if your single, unhinged Vampire Blood Knight wants to go on a murderhobo killing spree.
  • Splatterpunk: Inspired by 1980s horror genre of the same name, this is all about grotesque, excess gore. In my head this looks like the Splatterhouse video games. Why not create alternate duplicates of tiles swamped in body parts and blood to mark the progress of your 'heroes'? 
  • Ironic Hipster Indie Adventure: WHY DO YOU HAVE TO KEEP KILLING EVERYONE? Stop being a murderfiend and talk to the denizens of your dungeon. To avoid this getting twee, go and play Sword and Sworcery [sic] to see how a good script can turn a simple set of encounters into a beautiful and hilarious fantasy tale. Then kill things.
  • Crawl: No, this is not unimaginatively titled, but the name of a great multiplayer cross-genre video game. From Wikepedia: 
    The main player advances through randomly generated dungeons as a human hero while up to three other spirit players control the dungeon's enemies and traps to kill the main player. The spirit player who kills the human hero swaps roles to become the next main player.

    This game is hilariously fun and frenetic and is begging for a tabletop conversion. I think I've just done it right here. You can have it for free.
  • Nidhogg 2: Based on the game of the same name, with an awesome soundtrack. Kinda hard to explain, but two opponents face off in the centre of a long corridor of rooms and go at one another as they try to reach the opposite end. When one dies, the survivor can pick up the abandoned weapon, but, either way, the victim immediately respawns between their enemy and the end with a shiny new weapon. Rinse and repeat going back and forth until one combatant gets to the opposite end. Cue much gaffawing.
Fancy some music to accompany your delvings? Check out Heimat der Katastrophe, pioneers of 'dungeon-drone'.
Great dungeoncrawl movies to check out are:
Big Trouble in Little China
Labyrinth
Indiana Jones
Goonies
At the Earth's Core
Lord of the Rings (the 1978 version, obviously)

The Mummy (1999)
Trapdoor (the 80s kids claymation series, which is surprisingly good and hilarious to boot)
I was going to recommend 80s classic Knightmare, them I re-watched bits on YouTube and remembered it was bobbins.

Wow. That's a lot. Please have a go at Krawl yourself as a framework to justify collecting and painting all those fantasy randoms you love. Let me know in the comments how you get on.

Friday, 9 November 2018

(More) Chaos Cultists

I finished a trio of Cultists for my Night Lords. These chaps join the quintet I completed a few months back. I'm kinda regretting the blue shaded black. It looks lovely but it's proving quite laborious to roll out over so many minis. Lesson learned about considering workload if I intend to paint a whole army.

I think I have another three to go before I'll call it done. This forthcoming batch include the leader, who I'm rather looking forward to lavishing a bit more attention on.

Of note is the photography. I'm pleased with the result but I need to refine the process a bit as the minis are currently proving quite laborious to clip out. The gloss black bases and gloss surface look really nice and lend even these fairly basic paint jobs a touch of class.

ΔVE ÐØMINVS NΘЖ


Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Remember these guys? Me neither, apparently.

Turns out I'd criminally forgotten to post my squad of Warlocks. I must have finished them a couple of years ago and they've had a few outings on the tabletop.


I'm quite disappointed by my choice of colours for them. I feel I applied the principle that they sport the colourway of the Craftworld too rigidly (in this case, a very early Rogue Trader-era scheme). This has left them rather dull I feel. When these sculpts first appeared, the Studio Eldar army was a gloriously multi-coloured affair. Not only did each of the Aspects having its own colourway, each individual Warlock sported different livery. This gave them a sense of being special as befits their background. If I do a second unit I'll go down that road I think.

Actually I want to make any future units of Aspect Warriors a bit brighter and more varied. I've gone down the 'grey' route too much for the Dire Avengers I feel, but the Scorpions and Spiders are a bit brighter and that's something I want to pursue.

Craftworld overly-Greyjoy.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Nobody expects...

...a T'au Stealth Suit!

No, me neither. This guy was very much an experiment in both colourway and painting technique. I wanted to see if I could knock something out quickly and I'm fairly pleased with the result. Clearly the spatter was a a big part of this, done with Citadel Shades and a tooth brush. The colours are based on a submarine interior. Clearly this chap has had some contact with humankind as he's sporting an Arabic numeral. This gives him a 'Maschinen Krieger' feel.

Not sure if I'd do more T'au, but I'm thinking of varying my Blood Angels a bit by adding some Angels Encarmine Death Company, who invert the scheme to be red crosses over a white base.

Ah, hobby dreams...


Thursday, 1 November 2018

The crazy world of Giger knock-offs

Let’s face it, even if you don’t like or appreciate his work, Giger had an immeasurable effect on many different creative forms. His uncanny, gothic, necrophiliac finger prints can be felt to this day in films, comics, sci-fi and horror art. His most famous creation, the ‘big guy’ from Ridley Scott’s Alien, has entered the cannon of horror archetypes, alongside Karloff’s Frankenstein and Lugosi’s Dracula. The alien has even solidified into stone, and graces this cathedral as a gargoyle.

Sometimes these derivative works are quite good. Most of the time, not so much. But there is a breed of lurid, psychedelic, technicolour Giger-inspired design that emerged in 90s video games which is close to my heart. What follows is a whistle stop tour of some of the greats. I going to forgo individual commentaries and just discuss what they have in common.

Clumsy handling of the bio-mechanical aesthetic is one shared attribute. But I love the way Giger’s subtle, transparent necrotic flesh is reinterpreted (badly) as lumpy airbrush forms. His fine arterial-like pipework becomes chubby vacuum hoses that cling awkwardly to surfaces. His voluptuous, almost-human mouths with ever-so-slightly enlarged canine teeth become goofy maws filled with fangs that would make a deep sea fish jealous. But the 90s was an era of hope after the po-faced nuclear despair and depression that dogged the 80s. And the decade’s optimism can be detected in video games, which, with the dawn of the 16-bit era, now had enough pixels and colours to actually represent what customers saw on the box art. Thus, titles like Alien Storm brought you face to face with knock-off Giger baddies to blast away.

Kudos needs to go to blogger Why I'm Not An Artist, who had the exact same idea for this post two years ago. And Bloody Disgusting. But by the time I found their pieces I'd written this, so I figured I'd publish and be damned anyway.


Alien Storm - teaching kids how to win friends and influence people


Xenophobe, a bit earlier than the era I'm concerned with, but the artwork is so 'great' I couldn't resist including it.


R-Type didn't even have the decency to even try with their advertising - the artist just drew an alien and figured that was fine.

Shadow of the Beast creators Psygnosis enlisted Roger Dean to create their box art and gave us some Giger homages in a couple of their levels.

Turrican's boss looks familiar, in a clumsy way. Kind of like a puppy. With too many teeth.

Z-Out didn't want to be left behind so channelled some Giger love. Consonant-[shortword] was clearly a popular name choice thanks to R-Type.

Contra III also got in on the biomechanics action.

Devil Crash even managed to get some Giger into a pinball game.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Nikon EM

As a symptom of my obsession with the 1970s I'm starting to collect Nikon cameras from that period. I think I'm going to end up like Dennis Hopper from Apocalypse Now.


Or as Raoul Duke's ill-fated photographer Lacerda from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


Both of whom carry Nikons.

Anyway, I bought a 1970s Nikon EM. Here's the little fellow:

History, or 'her'story

Nikon dominated the pro camera market in the late 20th century thanks to their rugged builds and comprehensive mostly-backwards-compatible lens system. Alas it's only in the 21st century that poor Nikon has rather lost the lead. Canon took over as the pro's favourite thanks to superior autofocus and lens quality.

Despite their market dominance, Nikon made a bit of a miss-step in the late 70s too with the poor little EM. Nikon Corporation was revealed to be a bunch of inept patriarchs with their rather misguided attempt to market a camera to women. They believed women were too stupid to understand the complexities of manual SLR photography so they developed a cheap camera body which dispensed with... well, choice. And because women love it when you remove their ability to choose, we quickly sussed the EM was a rubbish option and sales were low. The model was discontinued after only three years.

Don't forget to practice in front of a mirror, girls! The EM manual.

The geeky bit

The EM is an aperture-priority-only camera. It has no speed dial. The internal light meter is used to tell you, you stupid woman, what shutter speed you should have selected, had you been given the choice. It does, however, give you a 'B' (bulb) option and a mechanically controlled 1/90s option if you were blonde enough to let the batteries die. For those freaks-of-nature of womankind who can comprehend such things, it also offers limited control with a -2 exposure compensation button. But careful ladies, overuse of this could be dangerous. Probably best to concentrate on kittens and children.

You can, in fact, 'fool' the camera into more subtle exposure compensation by adjusting the ISO dial on the fly. Ha ha! Take that, Nikon!

So why bother?

Good question. Well, a couple of reasons. Today these cameras are dead cheap (mine was £25 in mint condition) and it's a nice addition to my 1970s collection. With its f-mount any of Nikon's top quality lenses can be used so you'll get really nice results. Also, while the build quality was inferior in the 70s, that was the era when They Made Things Properly. In the words of Ash from Alien, the EM is actually a 'tough little son of a bitch' by today's standards. Sure, not as rugged as my FM, but sturdy nonetheless (although the rewind crank on mine seems a bit weak). It's also a bit smaller and a lot lighter than my FM. So I'm going to chuck it in my travel bag safe in the knowledge that if it gets lost/stolen/dropped (or, as a woman, I just forget it while I'm thinking about dresses) then it's no big deal.

I'll post some photos. In about a year when I've taken them, had them developed, then had the time to scan in the negs.

Yours,

A Woman.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Banzai!


I finished this guy a while ago but decided I didn't like his original base (it was red). Here he is in all his Oldhammer hex-base glory. He's a nice addition to the group of oldskool fantasy randoms I'm amassing.

I have concluded a couple of things:
  1. Yellow is my favourite colour on miniatures. It stands out so well. In China it is the colour of happiness, glory, and wisdom. In my head it's the colour of badassery and victory. Grey and yellow is awesome too. I should really paint Space Wolves.
  2. My miniatures look better on a back gloss background, rather than white. This shot just looks so flat. I'll go dark next time.

The next lot to be finished from my Box of Shame are probably some Night Lords Cultists and a naughty Chaos Spawn, so stay tuned.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Mighty Yellow Fist

Take that, you naughty Orks!

This is the Games Day special miniature from quite a few years ago - a mighty Finecast leader for my Blood Angels. He is a fairly accurate copy of the chap from the John Blanche cover of 2nd ed. 40K. He was hiding in my 'box of shame' - a collection of part-painted miniatures which have languished for one reason or another. I started this guy in early 2017, but I think house moves and whatnot got in the way. Seeing Curis' excellent miniatures collection recently inspired me to Just Do It.


John's painting either went though a revision, or a variant vignette of the figure was produced. The two images below show how the colourway changes (mainly the power fist). I chose to go more with the vignette version but modified it a bit. Sadly I got confused and messed up his personal heraldry. I accidentally inverted the black band and white stripe on his shoulder pad. Doh! Still, a filthy Ork like yourself will probably be concentrating too much on his glorious pose to worry about mismatched heraldry.




One thing I tried on this mini was to shade up to specular points on the backpack nacelles. This kinda worked OK, but in the flesh they're noticeably a bit mis-matched. Just goes to show how talented those crazy kids are in 'Eavy Metal that they ace this difficult technique every time. Below are a couple of WIPs.





Coming soon... An Oldhammer Ninja!

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

Whampires

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.