Sunday, November 5, 2017

Of Monsters and Men

Lately I've been indulging in touching up my podcast listening posts. Due to natural attrition and the capricious whims of fate, some once-beloved podcasts fell off the perch over the past year, and I've discovered new podcasts to fill their place as time goes on. One I'll cover here today, and it's a fun podcast because first of all, it does what it says on the tin, and second of all, it doesn't appear to threaten to outstay its welcome - both good things in my book!

And so to the book itself, the podcast, for the book itself of the 1977 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, and the podcast Monster Man, one man (and occasionally also his wife) rambling through the tome, cover to cover, so far in alphabetical order. At ten to twelve minutes an episode it's a fun whistle through the fabled, the revered, the weird and the gonzo of Old School D&D's classic bestiary.

Um, that's about it. It's pretty much what I'd want from a shortform podcast like this - descriptions of a monster, taking in historical, cutural and biological angles, plus reference to the artwork in the MM (which even casual browsers will know to be varying in styles and quality.) Host James Holloway comes to his subject fresh, with a classical perspective, but not so scholarly to be exclusive or inaccessible. I'm checkcing it out on a regular basis, and will be listening with keen ears on some upcoming entries!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Jack

Another Halloween has passed, and much like wearing an onion on one's belt, the Simian family seems to have adopted a fashion for our times - the carving of the crown.

The Crown! Most granity of pumpkin squashes. Leathery outside, amber within, and resolutely squat and green as a bad moon rising. This year's face came courtesy of Jet Jr who, instead of picking from a lineup of facial features, drew his own version, which I then transferred onto Happy Jack below and got to work. Pumpkin came courtesy of the in-laws' crop, which aren't great eating this year, but weren't too hard to carve out.

Plus, Mrs Simian approves of the smiling friendly face of Spring's waning, moreso than last year's wicked maw.

Poor Jack had a lonely vigil in the end, with only family visiting and none of those pesky kids (apparently Ngaio was the place to be this year), but he was still admired and even earned a photobomb from the neighbour's cat. If he's anything like his predecessor he'll hang around 'til Guy Fawkes Night and then take his leave for a new face next year.

The Artist
See You Next Year!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

May to September

The last three months have been a bit of a blur. And Gorillaz, some TV and film, modelling and RPGs. And podcasting, of course. And work. Lots and lots of work. Some of this will be covered over the next month as I undertake yet another wave of blog in-fill, So watch this space...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lead Time Lords: 'It's the End, but...'

It's been some time since I last opened my box of Dr Who minis, some of which have been fully painted, some not, and some of which need a touch up - either through chips and flaking after poor storage, or simply because they just don't look too good. Here are the guys to date:

There are some omissions, of course. A second Fourth, Third and First Doctor two of which are still in their black undercoats; and these guys need to be completed.

Here are Crooked Dice's likenesses for John Hurt's War Doctor and Paul McGann's Eighth from Night of the Doctor - and more on these in their own time; both are, literally broad brushstrokes, and Hurt's Time Lord needs a new base, because... damn.

Winter should be the season for painting, of course, but this has been an unusual year in other things needing to be done around the home and after work hours, so Spring, maybe Summer, might be the more likely time. Particularly once the daylight hours draw longer.

There's an inescapable sense of finality to this project now, particularly as avenues for 28mm (or thereabouts) figures dry up. Black Tree's sales get smaller and more deperate looking, Crooked Dice have cowed away, seemingly as a result of a C&D from the Powers What Be, and similarly Hasslefree and Heresy's lookalikes are harder to find. In their place are Warlord's new range - taller, more recent in focus, mainly, their Capaldi regal of hair but specced and guitared up like a walking Mid-Life Crisis. So this may be it: best not rush things!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bat bricks

Junior and I made a Batcave.  He dictated, and I sourced the bricks and made sure things stayed together and worked.  Come with us for a tour!

The Batcave took six to eight weeks to build, as it filled a number of evenings and wet weekend days, with constant revision, experimentation and checking with the Foreman on whether this was what he had in mind (he slept, mainly.)  We were never going to be able to afford a modern - or even retro set, so we made our own, a combination of what we'd seen in other sets, and what we wanted to have in our own (the toilet was an early addition.)  It took ages, and drove me a little crazy sometimes, but having tried and failed on at least three occasions before, I persevered for the last big push. The breakthrough? When I realised that unlike all the other AMAZING Batcaves across the internet, ours didn't need to be all-black or all-grey,and could use the same '66 Batman hypercolour approach if we wanted. From then on, I realised we could colour code the set for different activity zones, and we were off!

The Batcave is now in repose, back in bits and pieces in the usual Lego boxes. More recently, Jet Jr has expressed his desire for a Lego TARDIS. Hmm... I wonder...

Every Batcave needs a power source, so here's Two Face next to the 66-inspired Atomic Pile

Bat-Toilet! No other Lego Batcave set has one. I checked.

The core of our Batcave is Junior's old Lego Juniors Batcave. One day: batpoles.

In the meantime, Wayne Manor's outside walls make for good climbing practice, old chum!

A Mighty Micros Batcopter pimped out '66-style, with turbos and wings. The helipad rotates, of course!

Batsuits, Batwings and Batarangs in '89 colour scheme. The rungs lead to the helipad

The garage. We made our own '66 Batmobile out of an old Lego Jr Spider-Man car. Take that, Marvel!

Alfred uses his Butler's entrance to the Bat Computer Lab to inform Master Wayne he has a visitor in the kitchen.

The Joker - that Nefarious Knave of Notoriety is loose in the Bat Laboratory!

Gassing Up.

'I've Got to Go to Work...'

...meanwhile, in Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon strikes up the Batsignal

basing some of the Cave on the Lego Batman '66 model, we made out own Manor floor with sliding bookcase.

Bricklite switch for the Bat Toilet!

The sloping roof is hinged for Batpole access.

One of Jr's favourite bits, the non-canonical Moosehead.

Villains' Rock! Another made-up bit on a shelf of stone.
In his study in Stately Wayne Manor Bruce Wayne looks out the window...

The full thing. Pretty moveable, in case you were wondering!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Legends of RPG Art: David C Sutherland III

Whenever the subject of old school D&D art is mentioned, certain names will inevitably pop up: such as Erol Otus, Dave Trampier, Jeff Dee, and Larry Elmore  - some of the greater and most celebrated early artists of the TSR stable. But among the greater number of artists, including those no less recognisable, but for whom the ages haven't preserved in as high regard, there are other names which are perhaps less celebrated. And today I'm thinking of the late, great Dave C Sutherland III, who died this day in 2005.

You've seen Sutherland's art if you've seen anything from the early days of RPGs, including Holmes Basic D&D and its companion 1st Edition AD&D - hell, Sutherland's art to me is 1st Edition AD&D, good and bad.

It's unfair that Sutherland's work suffers the lot it has, while those of his immediate peers have over time accrued comparatively greater glory; and yet maybe it's because Sutherlands work sits so readily alongside the likes of Dave Trampier's and Erol Otus, that comparison damns him. Sutherland's art has been called a lot of things;  naive, 'aspirational', amateurish, goofy, and just ugly. The website Something Awful in its one-time series WTFDnD? lumped his work in the Monster Manual alongside other, earlier D&D Holmes era art, "Outsider art" - a deeply unflattering term. Sutherland's art is what it is - varied and variable, but I would say that when on form he truly held his head high. Just as Trampier had the Players Manual cover with its demonic stone idol and adventurers, and Otus Deities and Demigods, Sutherland produced the Dungeon Master's Guide and, for his sins, the Monster Manual. Though the latter has aquired a sort of kitsch following with its busy, garish and literal layout, there's nothing wrong with the cover of the DMG; the efreet depicted on it looks appropriately saturnine and dramatic, and his interior full page piece 'A Paladin in Hell' is a recognisable classic. Sutherland's box art for Holmes edition Basic D&D presents a shortform imagining of a D&D game conclusion, featuring a Fighter, a Wizard, a Dragon and its hoard. Sutherland was a literalist, if nothing else.

But then DCS was a player as well, and what I like most about Sutherland's art is that it is player's art. He played the game, sculpted his figures, and he mapped his adventures. In fact, among Grognards of the early years Sutherland's creative reputation exceeds his graphic works  - not only was he a valued a cartographer for some very highly regarded modules, but he created the Wemic and was co-creator of Queen of the Demonweb Pits. He's one of a breed of early TSR employees for whom their work was also their play, one of those special few around whom the game evolved. So then Sutherland's art is a touchstone from a time when D&D had left its wargaming Chainmail incarnation behind - but in a highly organic evolution; hence his Fighters wear chivalric chain and helms, or have swords-and-sandals well-proportioned arms and kite shields; his Magic Users are bearded, pointy-hatted conjurors, and his demi-humans scatter about their feet like children.Often these chracters are caught mid-combat, or in the base of the Holmes set and AD&D rulebooks actually exploring caverns and ruins, drawn from the days when adventuring was likely fifty per cent traipsing down corridors with a ten-foot pole. I like that Sutherland's art speaks to the foundations of the game and the less sanitised, cookie cutter heroic art of the recent present. And yes, at times it resembles the distracted, slightly scribbled marginalia of a player's Character Sheet, but that's authentic, too.

Alongside the illuminated style of DAT, Sutherland's 'DCS' (the C often styled to reseble an 'I', hence DIS and DAT) work in tandem, two sides of the same coin. Sadly, Sutherland's future with TSR post-Wizards of the Coast buy-out was lessthan triumphant, and feeling rejected by the industry he'd loved, his income and health suffered, and it was only in his last year, through the attention and efforts of fandom that his work was recognised and given real value. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Little Shop... of Hours

I love a little shop!

Specifically, I love THIS little shop. J Grubb's General Store, located on the outskirts of the Gloucester village of Stockbridge; an unassuming hamlet which by quirk of the space-time continuum has hosted the odd alien incursion and dimensional breach since the 17th of October 1979.

As it happens, the Doctor likes this shop, too - or has at least enjoyed its services on at least one occasion. Over the years and since its debut in the first ever Doctor Who Weekly feature strip The Iron Legion, Grubb's Store has been an essential part of Stockbridge, whihc has now been a location in six comic stories, five Big Finish audio stories, and has been visited by no fewer than five incarnations of the Time Lord in question.

I love this shop so much I decided some time ago to make a model of it to scale with my metal figures. It's actually going to be the first model of a building I've ever made for that scale (it may be my first ever in any scale, come to that), and as usual, I'm making it with as few bought pieces as possible.

The shell is a workplace cast-off - an easy-assemble pencil holder made from sturdy card and rescued from a recycling bin during a clean-out, while its 'skin' of brick, slate and wood is also scrap card. I toyed with the idea of purchasing ready-moulded styrofoam brick walls, but wanted to see if I could make them myself. It took a while, and so far the project has been bested by the usual hurdles: bad measuring, planning on the fly, time. Here's the work so far...