Thursday, 20 January 2011
Let us consider the Great Spined Dragon...
The Great Spined Dragon; now that thing is a beast, an utter beast. The Spined Dragon is a miniature from the dim and distant past of Citadel Miniatures and has a fond place in the hearts of us old-school mini geeks. I'm not totally sure of it's release date but it appears to have surfaced around 1985. This was a period where Citadel were releasing many metal dragon figures in various sizes. At the large end was the utterly impractical Imperial Dragon (affectionately known as the Chicken Dragon as it was roughly the size of a real chicken). The Imperial was a massively multi-part metal figure that was beyond most modellers and I suspect drove the casters mental producing. It wasn't on sale for long. Citadel then produced a lot of other classic dragons and, at the large but still vaguely practical, end was the Great Spined Dragon. Cast in metal but this time in just six pieces. It also had one of the quirks of large Citadel dragons of the period. The wings were cast skeletal with no membranes. The idea was that you could add your own with paper (templates included) or putty or tissue or whatever. An awkward process which meant that it was kind of rare to see a finished, painted one that looked as good as it should.
Like many mini geeks, I love the Spined Dragon. It's beautifully sculpted but ugly as sin. This isn't a romantic ideal of a dragon, it's a gribbly and dangerous nightmare guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of unwary adventurers. I never owned the Spined Dragon. It was one of those figures that passed me by. As many of us do, I considered the Spined Dragon to be the best dragon miniature ever but you know how it is, rose-tinted glasses and all that. My good friend Neil had three of them but they were buried somewhere in his collection. This blog post is mostly due to his having recently dug them up and his turning up at my place today with two of them still in kit form. Twas quite the thrill to finally take a close look at the beast itself. And it did't disappoint. The general design and the textures were beautifully rendered but the thing that truly struck me was how much it gave the illusion of skin moving over muscle over bone. The figure just felt real and like it could exist. This instills a deep respect for the sculpture as I'm not a naturalistic sculptor myself.
The Spined Dragon was sculpted by a legend of the early years of Citadel: Nick Bibby. Mr Bibby sculpted many, many crazy creatures for them including Mordax and Kegox, two other amazing Dragons that I was fortunate enough to own at various times (though currently I have neither in my collection. Mr Bibby left the miniatures industry behind in the eighties for pastures anew. I have always heard that this was due to his developing a sever allergy to the epoxy putties used in sculpture. Not sure of the actual story there but he's gone on to be an amazing sculptor of life sized bronzes of animals that continue to show off that uncanny knack he has for believable anatomy.
And, so we come to the point of this article. Yes, I wanted to talk about one of my miniature loves but I also wanted to raise a curious point. The Great Spined Dragon was sculpted more than a quarter of a century ago and is arguably the greatest dragon miniature ever sculpted. The minis industry has moved on in staggering leaps and bounds over the years. It astounds me that that a model as old as this could still be argued to be the best ever in a straight contest. There are other arguable champions of the category. Heresy Miniatures new Dragon is a classic example. An amazing and monumental piece of work (www.heresyminiatures.com to check it out. Go buy it, it's awesome) but I can't honestly say it beats the Spined hands down. In my opinion it's the best contender but I'm constantly surprised that we've managed to go twenty five years and through a huge step up in quality in this industry without multiple examples of dragons that are clearly better.
Well, to finish I'll leave you with probably my favourite paintjob on The Great Spined Dragon. This one won a gold at the Golden Demon Awards in 1988 and was painted by David Chauvel. Beautiful.