Friday, 30 July 2010

Lord of the Rings Miniatures from the Third Citadel Compendium (1985)

ME 55  Mouth of Sauron painted by Phil Lewis.

At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse it was; for it was huge and hideous, and its face was a frightful mask, more like a skull than a living head, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame. The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: 'I am the Mouth of Sauron.' But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Númenóreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron's domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any orc.
J.R.R. Tolkien - The Return of the King

Despite the liberties taken with the design of this model - the text states he was a "living man" not a wraith, and certainly not "Skeletor in quasi-oriental armour heavily decorated with eyes" - I really like this figure. As an undead general or a Necromantic undead warrior-priest, can't really get much better than this skull bearing armoured freak. Phil Lewis' paint job doesn't draw attention to the overly ornate nature of the armour - which is a kind of plate-mail, where every plate is embossed with the evil Eye of Sauron but does highlight the large chest-place eye device, giving him a somewhat iconic supervillain feel.

The scroll has sculpted writing, and this is one criticsm that the whole range falls down on, from the horse on the mounted Rohirrims banner, to Pippins tabard with the White Tree of Minas Tirith, all these decorative elements are sculpted on, giving them a bulky appearance and in my opinion are more difficult to paint than free-handing the devices on. Nontheless, the scroll is great, with loads of crinkly edges, and just seals him as a messenger, or a magic user.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Lord of the Rings Miniatures from White Dwarf 73 (January 1986)

ME-32  Noldor - Deep Elf, painted by Pete Prow, evidently as one of Finarfin's kindred as the Noldor were generally dark haired.

I'm not overly impressed with any of the elf designs in the 80's citadel Lord of the Rings line, and I generally like Elves. There is some Errol Flynn in Robin Hood or Richard Taylor in Ivanhoe vibe about the costume, but the whole thing just comes off as kind of bland.

Having said that, the big feather is odd, Tom Meier was championing the look back in the early 80's and still does it today with his fantastically sculpted Thunderbolt Mountain miniatures range, but it's not true to the source material. Eagles were the servants of Manwë and the Noldor were favoured by Aulë the Smith. Which begs the question - why is that pole-arm so poorly sculpted? These guys were master craftsmen, ornate arms, armour and detail would have made sense - so what do we get? big feather head-dresses.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Giant Shadows: John Blanche in Moria

'Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! 
Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. 
Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled.
But now we spoke of it again with longing, and yet with dread'
JRR. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Click to enlarge. The graphic composition, the clashing of white space, stippling and contrast between the fine linework and heavy black creates an almost dizzying, slightly disorientated sense of... weirdness, that makes these illustrations looks as dynamic and innovative today as they did way back in 1983 (White Dwarf #38). Perhaps even more so, when we consider that this is a depiction of the Khazad-dûm, the Mines of Moria. Now that the naturalistic visions of Alan Lee, via Peter Jackson have stamped their tone seemingly indelibly on the works of the Professor, the frenzied, dynamic ink of John Blanche seems even more astounding.

Whilst there are no ear-rings, shoulder-spikes or bondage-armour, the spikey ornate gothic sword handle, the punk hair-do on the twisted fairytale grimace of the fiery Balrog (?) and the eastern styling on the armour of the skinny alien lizard men and sinister brooding goblin. we can see many of the trademark stylings that John Blanche will continue carve-out through his carrer.

Blanches illustrations for Steve Jacksons Sorcery series are easily the pinnacle of his black and white work, although his drawings for the Citadel Compedium  and 1st/2ndWarhammer have their own highpoints. The Sorcery Spell-book is a wondrous compilation of amusing and black and white fantastical drawings, with all the elements: oriental exoticism rubbing shoulders with creatures straight out of a grubby medieval fairy-story, with the familiar thin-line and heavy black contrasts,  entertaining details that Blanche excels in (the postage-stamp portraits in the illustration above are of Fighting Fantasy creators Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson).

Blanche's work, for me, epitomises the 80s dungeon-punk aesthetic - it is sketchy, graphic, teeming with incidental scribbley detail and great swathes of black ink, whilst managing to conjure a world both exotic and familiar, always tinged with hysteria and brooding menace.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Fighting Fantasy Collector Checklist & Guide

I've been wanting to fill the gaps in my Fighting Fantasy collection for quite some time, and having 'caught-up' a little on the changes to the FF world in the last 20 years - they're no longer published by Puffin, several have been reprinted with new covers, and there are now well over 60 original titles, I was faced with a bit of a challenge - how to identify the original versions of the later books and which.

Fortunately Jamie Fry (over at has jumped to the rescue and produced a comprehensive guide to collecting Fighting Fantasy. It certainly is comprehensive, covering all the publishers, from Puffin to Wizard, giving a clear guide to what books were originally published by whom. The format of the PDF is a series of tables with check-list and price indicators - which from my limited eBay watching experience do seem reasonable.

Perhaps the holy grail of FF collecting is the Allansia source-book for Advanced Fighting Fantasy which regularly goes for £25+ on eBay, and it's estimate is about right. The list covers all of this, along with the FF jigsaw puzzles, citadel miniatures and much more. It doesn't go to the detail of tracking down every advert ever published but does include both the Castles of Lost Souls (illustrated by Gary Ward who did Caverns of the Snow Witch) and Dark Usurper adventures published in White Dwarf magazine.

One nice touch is the inclusion of some photos of Jamies FF collection, including rows upon rows of green-spines (drool!) and some fine looking examples of the early coloured spines. It's a shame that not every item is illustrated but the guide is very useful nonetheless.

For myself I'd like to see a little more granularity, whilst the average "Warlock of Firetop Mountain - wrap-around cover" might be worth a quid - what about a genuine first edition / first impression, or was there only one impression of the wrap-around? A little more in the fine detail would have been nice.

These minor quibbles aside, this is an indispensable guide to one of the most (inconsistently) creative and popular series to have arisen from the British gaming phenomenon of the 80s.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Fellowship of the Ring Box Set Advert White Dwarf #72 December 1985

Fellowship of the Ring Box Set Advert

A classic John Blanche illustration of the Fellowship, on the edge of Hollin country, taking their first glimpse of the Misty Mountains.
The swift-flowing clouds lifted and melted away, and the sun came out, pale and bright. There came a cold clear dawn at the end of a long stumbling night-march. The travellers reached a low ridge crowned with ancient holly-trees whose grey-green trunks seemed to have been built out of the very stone of the hills. Their dark leaves shone and their berries glowed red in the light of the rising sun. 
J.R.R. Tolkien - Fellowship of the Rings

Credit goes to Blanche sticking to the text and incorporating many of these details into the environment, and restraining his dungeon-punk aesthetic a little. Most of the characters are costumed in a reasonable mix of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood and Hildebrandt-esque travelling clothes.

Incidentally the Hildebrandt brothers were portraying Gimi with a red beard way back in the 1970s.  The Fellowship image is one of the earlier pictures by Blanche portraying a Dwarf as being a red-head, the other appears the same year (1985) on the cover for the The Dwarf Lords of Legend box set, where Kimril Giantslayer has the trademark orange Mohawk of the Troll/Giant/Dragon-slayer Berserker class (this artwork was also reused for the Autumn 1985 Citadel Journal cover) . Whereas the 1984 Dwarf berserker "Juggo Joriksonn" drawn by Blanche for 2nd Edition of Warhammer  has very attractive bright blue hair. Whether the orange hair idea stemmed from the Tolkien influenced sources or not,  the red headed dwarf meme continues in GW products right up to today.

Games Workshop also got more mileage out of Blanches Fellowship image as the cover of Warlock  - The Fighting Fantasy Magazine #7 (Dec / Jan 1985)

This issue of Warlock includes an article "Fantasy in Miniature" written by non other than Rick Priestly which highlights Citadels Lord of the Rings range, accompanied by a small black and white photograph of a ME54 Easterling and the 3 ME Corsairs of Umbar. I'll be revisiting this article (and scouring my collection of Warlock Magazines for LoTR miniatures photos) in the not too distant future!

...and a slighlty belated addition - used as an illustration for an article on Middle Earth Role-Playing by Grahame Staplehurst in White Dwarf 79 (July, 1986):