Thursday, 30 December 2010

A history... filling some of the gaps.

For any new readers, I thoroughly suggest you read yesterday's rambling post first. The below will make better sense in context...

Well, yesterday I went with a spectacularly incomplete history of the minis industry, rather skewed towards the areas relevant to the sci-fi/fantasy collecting crowd; the area I'm most familiar with. Probably best I don't try to astound you with my knowledge of the lineage of historical wargames as the only thing that would astound you is my astounding lack of knowledge on the subject.

So, what of today's post? Well, I have said that there were a lot of significant events in the history of minis that I had glossed over... or just plain ignored in the service of brevity. So, here's a list of a few significant events/products/whatever that also shaped the mini world of today.

In no particular order.

The deaths of Grenadier and Ral Partha - While both of these ranges are partially available to this day, these were the juggernauts of the minis world alongside Citadel Miniatures. It was Citadel that ended up tapping into the mindset of the larger buying public and, once Warhammer had thundered into view and settled into it's 3rd edition, Partha and Grenadier would be playing catchup.

The Big Box Wargame - Again, it's Citadel at the forefront. They released many of these (Blood Bowl, Dark Future, Adeptus Titanicus etc...) but the bomb drop was the 4th edition of Warhammer. A box full of the core rules and two armies of quality plastic figures? This was the shape of things to come.

The last days of Ilyad and the coming of Hell Dorado - Ilyad always felt like a bit of a cut-price Rackham to me. Some nice stuff but it just wasn't as startling. Then came the Vorag Barbarians. Mr Jacques Alexandre Gillois produced some sculptures that were a slap in the face to the industry. Sophisticated, dynamic and solid in their fundamentals. The other sculptors at Ilyad were up to the challenge and at the end, Ilyad were a true force of creative quality. Then it all crashed and burned of course but the creatives of Ilyad quickly reassembled as Asmodee Editions and produced the range Hell Dorado, which kept the same sense of quality and dymanics, wrapping it up in an original, horror fantasy environment. Well, Asmodee crashed and burned too but both they and Ilyad before shone ever so bright in their time.

The works of John Blanche and Mike McVey in the early days of Citadel Miniatures - I often think we have John to thank for much of what we know as the modern minis world. This was a little before my time but I know he was one of the pioneers of the 28mm fantasy area and of pushing mini painting beyond just 'decoration' and, for my money, it was Mike McVey who popularised the wider style of painting that we've come to know over the years. Easy to call it the 'Eavy Metal' style but I think most of the current styles of painting owe somewhat a debt to Mikes work in the mid-eighties.

Coolminiornot - The minis world on the internet was rather interesting in the late nineties. People were finding fellow hobbyists all over the world and in great numbers for the frst time and there were many communities springing up (I was very much part of the mini-painter YAHOO group back then). Then came Coolmini. A rather rocky start as a controversial hotornot style site for minis soon solidified into a great place for a minis community. A place to show miniatures, get feedback and generally mess about amongst the community. There are other sites of course but Coolmini, particularly at that time, was just what the hobbyists ordered.

The return of Tom Meier - Tom was one of the pioneering sculptors in our field (legend has it that a slight misunderstanding led him to discover greenstuff as a sculpting medium though I don't know if that maybe an urban legend of sorts). Tom was a technician of sculpting and after being one of the grand masters of the 'golden age' of miniatures he kind of went low-profile. To my knowledge doing a lot of toy work. He produced works in true 25mm for his company, Thunderbolt Mountain but the minis world were looking at different styles now. In the early 21st century he returned talking about going to 28mm and producing some Wood Elves with proper proportions and highly detailed. And the sculptures he unleashed were like nothing really seen before. They had the sheen of reality and the level of detail was eyewateringly high but still perfectly crisp. It was Tom's new style (more of an adaptation of his old one to fit a modern mini industry) that made the sculptors sit up and take notice.

Well, those are just a few of the many world-shattering events to shape the minis industry of today. Maybe you'd like to comment with others? I'm sure that list is far from exhaustive but I can't sit here writing all evening... I have a prior engagement (though nothing fun I'm afraid).

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Miniatures have come a long, long way. Obviously they have been around for hundreds of years (even thousands depending on how you define toy soldiers) but I mainly hover around what we term as the modern miniatures hobby. I'll term it as 25-35mm miniature figures, usually produced in metal, plastic or resin, and sold unpainted for us hobbyists. And I'm more of a fantasy/sf guy than historicals. Realistically we're looking at this kind of thing getting it's foothold in the seventies. That's really not that long ago and, despite advances in casting and sculptors finding better ways to work (mostly because they slowed down and took their time I feel) I don't really see that it moved forward until we were into the nineties. Certainly there was the coming of plastic at Citadel, but that took a long time to start producing genuinely great figures to rival metal.

Minis were still mostly in the 'toy soldier' vein though the advent of character figures started to leak through. Suddenly figures were being sold individually and were charging the same for that one figure as for a pack of regular figures. The first time I really remember this happening was when Citadel released Commissar Yarrick and Ghazghkull Thraka for Warhammer 40,000.

These figures were the starting point of sculptors being able to push themselves harder and further. I'm sure they weren't the first to do this but this was high-profile and saying 'these figures are worth more money'. And soon the world changed. There were probably lots of things going on in baby steps but towards the end of the nineties something was going on in France that took what Citadel had done and asked where we could go from here. The character figures Citadel were producing were a step up from their regular pieces but they were still in the mould of their regular troops in their execution (chunky and a bit flat). Rackham changed that.

I consider Rackham to have been the biggest upheaval in the minis industry since Citadel juggernauted things in the early eighties. Although Rackham produced a game, their figures didn't pay much attention to the practicalities of it. Rackham had top notch concept artists churning out exact artwork for the sculptors to reproduce with very little in the way of compromises. The figures were multipart, often frangile and a whole lot more flamboyant than their predecessors. They also presented things in a different way with regards to their painters but that is a tale for a different day. Now, I was never a huge fan of Rackham, for reasons I also wont get into today, but the effect they had on the industry was far reaching. People lapped this stuff up and the word spread that Citadel weren't the best minis anymore. Rackham produced a massive range of these crazy figures. I still prefered Citadel style but this 'revolution' did make them sit up and take notice. Anyone who disagrees should probably take a look at Citadel's Archaon figure, and then compare it to the previous version. Citadel figures became more detailed, more multipart and much more in-your-face. So, Rackham were being crazy and Citadel were showing that they weren't going to lie down and take it. And something else was stirring in the ethereal realm of the internet as it gained in popularity and surged toward becoming the indispensable part of our lives that it is now. It became obvious to some of us that the internet offered a way to run a miniatures company in a 'back bedroom' capacity. Thus came the age of the miniature boutique.

I chose a picture of a figure from Freebooter Miniatures for this section as Werner Klocke was one of the first sculptors to strike out on his own in a successful fashion (and is going strong today). Many of us sculptors, myself included, decided to cut out the middle men and just sell our sculpts direct. Wasn't too hard; we just needed a website, sculpts and someone to cast our figures. So, the minis world started getting some very diverse figures and our industry got that little bit more arty. This said, with the ease of setting up such a venture we do now have a situation where there are a million mini companies out there. Very easy to get lost in the shuffle.

The boutique revolution is mostly over the last 8-10 years and we haven't really had a major change in that time. Not that nothing has happened of course. The most significant progress has been in the quality of sculpture as the sculptors constantly find new limits as to what is possible at the scale. There are some remarkable pieces out there. You have guys like Jacques Alexandre Gillois putting out heartstopping works of sculpture. Really breathtaking to look at as a sculptor myself.

And here we are, just shy of 2011. And I should probably get to the long overdue point. This has been a brief (okay, sort of brief) history of our industry and there's a spectacular amount left out as I don't want to write a novel, just a blog post. And the point is this: it looks as though miniatures have finally reached their adulthood and matured into a well rounded industry/hobby. It looks that way but I feel that is entirely wrong. I look at the minis world and I don't see an adult, I see an adolescent. He, or indeed she, is growing up but not there yet. After seeing the amazing sculpts of today and the 600 hour paintjobs I hear the same question over and over: where can we go from here. Surely the sculpture is about as good as it can get and what more can a painter achieve than they have done in 600 hour? We aren't toy soldiers anymore and we are so much more sophisticated. Everything is a roof and defending that we are cool now. That sounds like a teenager to me.

I have my own feelings as to where we go next. If you think we've reached the ceiling then I don't think you are thinking wide enough. I think something very special is around the corner and wait with baited breath for it. In future posts I'll probably talk a little about what I feel is up and coming. I read a lot of forums and I see evidence of it all over. But this blog post is turning into a leviathan and I really should put it to bed.

I think that I should soon write a more practical blog post. Maybe talk a little about one of my more unusual sculpting techniques...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Why Spyglass Asylum?

A small number of you are probably wondering why my blog is named after my old company instead of my current one. Well, it comes down to a simple thing. I always liked the sound of the name Spyglass Asylum way back in the days when I ran the company and never used it for anything. So, in the whole five minutes I spent deciding on a name for the blog (that's me attempting, once again, not to procrastinate) I wanted to go the asylum route. And as much as I like the Eolith name, I just didn't think Eolith Asylum sounded as cool...

And who the hell am I?

They call me Mungo the Shrugger!

Sorry, that was a very obscure geek reference but I couldn't resist. I'll get onto more constructive info.

I suppose it's best to say a little about myself as I'm not going to assume that everyone who reads this will know who the hell I am, though I'm guessing it will probably start that way as I'm going to have to point people in the direction of this blog.

Well, my name is Steve Buddle and I've been a miniatures enthusiast, in one way or another, for something like 23 years. This means I've seen quite a lot of changes over the years and you can bet that future posts will get onto that subject. Back in '98 I decided to make miniatures my way of making money in the world, starting out as a freelance painter and later learning to sculpt miniatures. Yes, the money is better. I started out working as a trainee miniature sculptor at Wargames Foundry, sharing an office for a while with the legendary Goblinmaster, Kev Adams and getting much sculpting advice from Bryan Ansell and the other sculpting staff of the time, including the Perry Twins and Mark Copplestone. When I moved on from Foundry, I found myself freelancing for companies such as Games Workshop, Dark Age Games and sculpting Fairies for Kenzer. In 2003 I went my own way and setup my own company, Spyglass Miniatures, producing mostly 28mm figures. I'll not go into that much now but I ran it for several years then rebranded and moved over to producing 54mm figures under the name Eolith Miniatures.

Right at the moment I'm making exciting plans for the future as part of my 'seriously, 2011 is going to suck less' approach to my life. But those plans are tales for another day. Suffice to say, as a great bearded man once said, 'the board is set and the pieces are moving'.

Welcome to the Asylum

Hello everyone and welcome to my latest land-grab on the web. I have decided that for 2011 that I will have a place to talk about my feelings regarding the miniatures industry and all the varying subjects that orbit around it.

This is where I'll put forth my opinions on what is happening out there. Not sure quite what shape that'll take just yet but my thinking at the moment is that I'd like to talk about the wider business of miniatures rather than just reviewing the latest Space Marine release. Years ago, I used to like to post big, expansive questions on mini forums and see what people thought. I can see myself doing much the same here.

Oh, and the 2011 thing. I'm trying to cut down on my procrastination so have jumped in a few days early...