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 ( 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.


  1. "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."

    Man! My sentiments exactly! It's that whole 'they aren't real so it doesn't matter' conspiracy, I tells ya.

  2. The spined dragon was an awesome mini. I agree that it is one of the best, if not the best, example of a dragon miniature. I think that maybe the reason that the spined dragon sculpt has remained a fantastic looking dragon to this day is it oozes so much character, looks menacing and appears quite realistic. Also the cost and time involved with producing a dragon for the market is off putting to many manufactures - shame really as if would be good to see more dragon sculpts. Andy from Heresy minis has done a fantastic job on his sculpt - just wish I could afford one!

  3. Havent been in the hobby anywhere near long enough to have seen it until now, but it is very nice. i do like the ugliness of it. I do have to agree that it does look alot better than most dragons I have seen, the Heresy Dragon being a possible exception to that. Anyway great post, thanks for introducing me to neat old school stuff that I would have never seen otherwise.

  4. I remember spending a lot of time pouring over pictures of the Great Spined Dragon and wishing I had one. Still haven't seen one in the flesh, but it still stands out as an amazing sculpt. Time to trawl EBay.

  5. It was a great dragon. I think the main reason I never bought one was having to add my own wings. I wasn't up to it at the time and would be scared to try it, even now. I guess it had to be a great sculpt as the sculptor shares my surname (no relation, as far as I know)! ;o)

    I agree that great dragons are thin on the ground. The Heresy dragon is brilliant and I retain a great fondness for the Rackham dragon and Titan Dragon. I liked the different head shape and the scale detail, even if I couldn't understand why the small one had 2 legs and the titan has 4!

  6. I totally agree that this is one of the best dragon sculpts around. If I were after a dragon today, I would forgo those offered by mini companies and pick up one of the McFarlane toys, which are amazing sculpts, pre-painted and MUCH cheaper. Check them out!

  7. This is indeed an amazing dragon which I am lucky to currently own via a trade a number of years ago. In my opinion, it is all about a unique approach and look/feel on this beastie that makes him so dang cool. He is so original and has a great flow to him. One day I will need to tackle those wings and put him together and paint him up or have him painted up for my personal collection.

    You are indeed correct that Mr. Bibby developed an allergic reaction to certain sculpting mediums. He moved on though (according to Tom Meier who kept in touch with him for many years) due to making tons more money sculpting in the bronzes.

    Great article Steve.


  8. Well, this is a blast from the past! I came across your blog, whilst looking for something else entirely, and was stunned by the comments. Not a blogger, never posted before, so this is a first. I thought old "Spiny" was well and truly consigned to history. I think I sculpted him in 1982, or 1983 but couldn't swear to it. It was certainly before my allergy to epoxy caused me to switch to Fimo [Kegox, Mordax, etc]- Spiny was sculpted in 'Green Stuff'. He was my rebellion against all those dragons with silly flappy little wings and no musculature to use them. I wanted to sculpt a believable dragon, as anatomically correct as possible with proper wings and the musculature to use them - something that looked like it really existed, Structural anatomy has always been an interest of mine - how can you sculpt a subject without understanding the underlying skeleton and musculature? It gives the surface texture it's form. At the time, he wasn't hugely popular - a lot of people simply didn't get it. So I'm chuffed that somebody likes him now!
    I did a painted diorama with a tweaked Spiny back then - how I would have sculpted him, if casting wasn't an issue. It won the professional class at the first ever Golden Demon awards. I still have it in a box somewhere. If anyone is interested, I'll dig it out and take a picture.
    One day I will do another "Real" dragon, but in bronze.
    Well, More power to your collective elbows, and thanks for all the kind words!
    Best wishes,
    Nick Bibby

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on 'Spiny'. Rest assured that it's not just myself and a few others who are big fans of the Great Spined. The fantasy minis industry has changed greatly since you moved on and this kind of attention to detail is much more appreciated these days. I would say that your dragon is quite widely considered at least among the best dragon miniatures ever produced.

    I've seen your wildlife sculpture and can see you've become even more impressive in your sculpture over the years. It would be indeed a special thing to see you take a crack at another dragon someday...

    Thanks again for taking the time to offer your perspective.

  10. You're very welcome mate! Thought it was the least I could do, since you were all saying such nice things.

    All the best,


  11. oh wow! Nick!

    seriously, I bought the Great Spined in the 80's and been in love with it forever. you have no idea what it means to me the history of the beast. it has been my fav model of all time. thank you so very very much from the deepest of my heart, I am in tears out of joy and sentiment.Alco (collector from The Netherlands)

  12. Great to your comments regarding this Nic and would love to see a picture of your diorama.

    I think I may have one of the very last Spined Dragon ever produced by Games Workshop - they offered a service in the late 90's/early 00's where they said they could reproduce any model if they still had the mould. I rang up to check if they still had the mould for the Spined Dragon and was pleased to discover they did - I think I paid around £35 for it. Not long after it arrived, I decided to get another but was told that the service had been pulled.

    I still haven't been brave enough to build and paint it though so its still in its box.

  13. Its been interesting to read this page. I came across a box the other day that for the last twenty odd years has contained my G. S. Dragon. From time to time I would take it out and put it back again, knowing I didn't have the talent to do the lovely thing justice. Life has moved on now, but it brings back fond memories of mooching around the shop on New Oxford Street. Another life. Had no idea it had such a history. Have since googled Nick's current work-also stunning. The dilemma, to sell or not to sell, or leave it in its box. .....opinions on this?

    1. craig lancaster marr16 September 2015 at 18:48

      Spiny is indeed a great, classic model. I think it is far superior to the chicken dragon and really looks malevolent.I remember seeing a photo of one perched on a skull in an amazing diorama (it might have been in the Heroes for Wargames book by Parkinson?) I did finally manage to buy this model off ebay from a seller in Germany last year, painted to a good standard but I plan to strip and repaint it myself. On mine the wing membranes are made from putty and I am thinking of replacing them with textured paper tissue. Great that Nick replied to your posting and my respect and thanks to such talent.