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).


  1. Jacques Alexandre Gillois & Tom Meier - two of my all time favorite sculptors - not a darned thing in common between their styles, but some of the most highly detailed and delicate figures I've ever laid a brush to. I've often wondered, and maybe you know - but what happens to all of the molds & greens of the long out of print sculpts? Destroyed, stored in a musty basement, held in a selfish private collector's library? It is a tragedy that so many beautiful figures will never be cast again.

  2. Many answers to that question. Sometimes greens are destroyed or damaged in casting. Usually when directly cast into vulcaniseable rubber. This is happening less and less these days as more figures are cold cast in resin for mastering or even for resin production so the sculpture will survive perfectly intact (usually). The fate of said figures varies. Some sculptors will keep the originals, some are kept by companies. Typically the really important pieces aren't so much the sculptures but the master castings as they can be used over and over to make new production moulds. In the case of Rackham, people might ask where the sculpts are but the true goldmine would be the master cast sets.

  3. I wonder why the fate of the Rackham master casts is such a mystery. *Someone* must know their true fate. Even if one individual has hid them away, other individuals would almost definitely be "in the know". It's hard to imagine that that entire group of folks would feel an obligation to be tightlipped about it. IIRC, the official line from Rackham is that the moulds are destroyed (an utter and momentous crime in the history of the industry, in my book). But I never came across a confirmation of that statement from an independent party. I'd sure like to know the full story.

  4. I've no idea about the mysteries of Rackham's master figures but, it seems to me, that it'd be utter lunacy to destroy the master sets even if the moulds were destroyed (and that could well have happened so they don't have to find somewhere to store them. I'm certain that somewhere out there are either the moulds, master sets, or even just resin casts of the sculpts. I'm sure Rackham could be re-released if needed. But I'm not sure that it will. Defunct lines get resurrected all the time but they never seem to succeed in the way they once did.