mercoledì 6 giugno 2018

Fantasy Visuals: Jeff Easley

Jeff Easley belongs to the TSR group of artists who worked on D&D products in the 80s and 90s. His work is as famous as Larry Elmore’s, and has come to be associated to the “classic D&D” style.

Easley was born in 1954 in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Since childhood he was fond of drawing, especially monsters, a passion that he carried on all his life. His favourite artists was Frank Frazetta, who had a great influence on his style. In 1977 he graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts at Murray University in Kentucky. It was probably in these university years that young Jeff met with Larry Elmore, 6 years older and also graduated in art in Kentucky (in a different university, though): the two were just acquaintances at first.

Moving to Massachussets with his wife, also an artist, Easley started working in the comics (Marvel, Warren) and advertisement industry, the first being his passion and the second the way to pay the bills. Everything changed when Elmore was hired by TSR and moved to Lake Geneva. Easley immediately asked his friend if the company was looking for other fantasy artists, and it was: in March 1982, four months after Elmore was hired, Easley also started working in the company.

Easley’s work went directly into the Red Box manual of D&D, and here are some excerpts from that milestone. I’m sure most of you have seen them:

Jeff continued to work on all D&D and AD&D products in the years to come, focusing mostly on Monster Manuals, his delight. His favourite and most successful pieces were all about dragons and undead.

His work is also notable on the Dragonlance series, where he painted many covers and calendar pieces.

Not to mention the saga of Drizzt the Dark Elf.

After TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast (1997) he continued painting cards for Magic: The Gathering.

He left WotC in 2003, after 21 years working for the company, and started freelancing.

Easley’s favourite technique is oil, much like Elmore. While obviously following the standard elements of D&D art, his style owes much to Frazetta, with great attention to movement and muscles, and limited palettes that work on the contrast between light and dark. Backgrounds are minimal and light is used to focus on the main scene occurring, very often a scene of action.

Easley was a master of dynamic scenes and his work has fittingly become iconic of a period of Fantasy art. He was one of the great American Fantasy artists of the 80s and 90s. Below are some of my favourite pieces by him.

domenica 27 maggio 2018

Boromir - Mithril M128 (1989)

Today's figure is one of the classics of Mithril, released in 1989 as M128 and then again as MC13 Mithril Classics in 1997. Like Elrond and the Elvenking, it belongs to the Golden Age of Mithril, when sculpts were simple but elegant, cheap and easily available. It's beautifully sculpted, and it was easy and fun to paint. 

 Boromir is represented rather faithfully, according to the description we have of him at the Council of Elrond.
"[...] seated a little apart was a tall man with a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance.
 "He was cloaked and booted as if for a journey on horseback; and indeed though his garments were rich, and his cloak was lined with fur, they were stained with long travel. He had a collar of silver in which a single white stone was set; his locks were shorn about his shoulders. On a baldric he wore a great horn tipped with silver that now was laid upon his knees. [...]"
FotR, The Council of Elrond
"[...] Boromir had a long sword, in fashion like Andúril but of less lineage and he bore also a shield and his war-horn."
FotR, The Ring goes South
Other authors have followed this description to depict the Man of Gondor. Others didn't. At all. Let's have a look at a few of them.

Ralph Bakshi's animated movie, 1978. Yep, that's him.

Sergey Yuhimov, one of my favourites Tolkien illustrators
Ted Nasmith
Catherine Karina Chmiel drew and painted Boromir many times. She did a wonderful job every time.
Sean Bean in Peter Jackson's FotR (2001)
Donato Giancola kills it, though. It's just perfect.
Quite inspiring, isn't it? But there's a single piece that inspired Chris Tubb on this sculpt, and that is Angus McBride's portait of the Fellowship, used by I.C.E. as the cover art for MERP in 1986. Boromir is second from the right.

It's only a model.
But what of Boromir himself? The character from the book, I mean. He is one of the few "grey" characters of LotR: like Saruman, he starts off among the champions of the Free Peoples but, along the way, he is corrupted - by the power promised by the Ring, by the burden of fighting an apparently losing war against Shadow. He tries to wrest the Ring from Frodo, and his actions ultimately split the Company.
But unlike Saruman, Boromir finds redemption. Understanding his mistakes, he valiantly gives his life defending the Hobbits against Orcs, slaying twenty of them single-handedly before being brought down by archers.

Yet, most people remember Boromir as a dick, the asshole of the Company: since his introduction in Rivendell, he has a haughty demeanor and challenges everyone else's words. While the main characters support each other, Boromir always takes the side of contradiction and especially casts doubts on everything Aragorn says. He complains a lot about Gondor bearing the burden of keeping the Shadow in check and getting little credit and no help from others, who benefit from its defence. He is clearly not a team player.
"By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West. But if the passages of the River should be won, what then?"
`I was not sent to beg any boon, but to seek only the meaning of a riddle,' answered Boromir proudly. `Yet we are hard pressed, and the Sword of Elendil would be a help beyond our hope-if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past.' He looked again at Aragorn, and doubt was in his eyes.
Boromir looked at them doubtfully, but he bowed his head. `So be it,' he said. `Then in Gondor we must trust to such weapons as we have. And at the least, while the Wise ones guard this Ring, we will fight on. Mayhap the Sword-that-was-Broken may still stem the tide – if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but the sinews of the Kings of Men.'
`Who can tell?' said Aragorn. `But we will put it to the test one day.'
`May the day not be too long delayed,' said Boromir. 'For though I do not ask for aid, we need it. It would comfort us to know that others fought also with all the means that they have.'
I mean, if you are half aware of the troubles Gandalf and Aragorn have gone through to fight the Shadow in the North and the Wilderland, how can you not want to punch Boromir in the face?
For the rest of the journey to Lorien, Boromir makes himself useful but has no kind words for anyone. Mostly he offers suggestions on how to proceed, and he is often loth to follow Gandalf's directions, not mention Aragorn's. He would like to go to Rohan and he's most vocal against going through Moria, even more than Legolas. There's really a lot of complaining, muttering, moaning and bickering from him.
"At that moment from far off the wind bore to their listening ears the howling of wolves. Bill the pony started in fear, and Sam sprang to his side and whispered softly to him.
'Do not let him run away! ' said Boromir. 'It seems that we shall need him still, if the wolves do not find us. How I hate this foul pool! ' He stooped and picking up a large stone he cast it far into the dark water.
The stone vanished with a soft slap; but at the same instant there was a swish and a bubble. Great rippling rings formed on the surface out beyond where the stone had fallen, and they moved slowly towards the foot of the cliff.
FotR, A Journey in the Dark
Well done, pal.

Boromir's complaining goes on all the time; before, during and after the Fellowship reaches Lórien. He is most suspicious of Elves, even more than Gimli. Then, while on the banks of Anduin, Boromir becomes Frodo's stalker. He follows him, clumsily attempts to look friendly and presses him, trying badly to manipulate him until, unsuccessful, he freaks out and prompts Frodo's flight. The Man of Gondor then goes into confusion: he does not warn others, but wanders alone for half an hour, maybe an hour, and when his companions find him, he can't really help them in locating Frodo.

At this point the Orcs come and Boromir dies. His moment of redemption comes at the very end, but it's too little, too late.
A mile, maybe, from Parth Galen in a little glade not far from the lake he found Boromir. He was sitting with his back to a great tree, as if he was resting. But Aragorn saw that he was pierced with many black-feathered arrows; his sword was still in his hand, but it was broken near the hilt; his horn cloven in two was at his side. Many Orcs lay slain, piled all about him and at his feet.
Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. 'I tried to take the Ring from Frodo ' he said. 'I am sorry. I have paid.' His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. 'They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.' He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again.
'Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.'
'No!' said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. 'You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!'
Boromir smiled.
'Which way did they go? Was Frodo there?' said Aragorn.
But Boromir did not speak again.

Even later, when Frodo meets Faramir in Ithilien, the memory of Boromir lives on as the favourite son of the other dick of the story, his father Denethor. He may be dead, but more reasons to hate him continue to pop up. And yet he lives among heroes, everyone just having good words about him, especially his brother Faramir.

In Tolkien's plan, Boromir was a tragic hero. The greatest warrior and captain of Gondor seduced by the power of the enemy, but still able to redeem himself before the end. Defeated, but with honour.

To us, it's a Sea Bean meme. Possibly befitting, not sure.

One does not simply forget about this.
Still, Chris Tubb's figure rocks.

giovedì 24 maggio 2018

Federigo Caccialpiano the Mercenary - Citadel C01 Fighter (1983)

Came up on eBay on this little pre-slotta thing. I bought it because it was cheap, even if it was really damaged by cleaning. I had no idea it was a 1983 C01 Fighter, as shown in the First Citadel Compendium.

Top row, second from right

Needing a mercenary miniature for my WFRP party, I set out to paint it, with no high hopes. But as I applied layers, I discovered a great sculpt full of little details and character. I have little clue of who might the sculptor be, but he did a great job.

For true WFRP fans, those who look with nostalgia at Tony Ackland's drawings of careers, this is real greatness. Look at the overloaded backpack, with holes and patches. The blanket tucked under it. The butterfly-shield. The wide-brimmed hat covering the eyes in a shady and threatening way. The sword in hand and the axe at the belt. The breastplate, the protections for knees and elbows, the knightly helm also leaning from the belt.

Everything here screams knight in disgrace, a fine warrior who fell on dark times, travelling away from his home to find adventure.

That's how the character of Federigo Caccialpiano was born. A grizzled mercenary with lots of experience but little wealth put apart, he met the PCs on a ship sailing from Dralas to Lévalto in the western Princedoms, and was promptly hired, showing great professionalism and skills. Little did they know that he had already been hired by their patron, to check on them. He figured that being their mercenary would make the job easy and mean extra pay.

Federigo himself hails from the city of Altoborgo, a free Comune up in the hills. He had been spymaster for the Council for several years, but had to flee the city when a riot of the alum miners deposed the Council and put a Podestà in its place, ransacking the homes of the wealthy families who used to get fat on the profits of the mines. He now works as a mercenary and spy for private clients, waiting for better times when eventually the Council gets back the city.

Federigo is cunning and experienced, professional and efficient. He is a rational and selfish person, with little empathy for others, but can be surprisingly manipulative. He is loyal because he likes to have a good reputation with his employers, but if risks become greater than opportunities, he is keen to turn on anybody as long as nobody will know about it. He looks like a nice chap to hang out, but he is in fact a very dangerous person.

lunedì 23 aprile 2018

GW Vampire Counts Skeletons / Skeleton Warriors

The set of 10 Skeletons, a classic from Games Workshop. It used to be named "Vampire Counts Skeletons" and, with the new AoS, was renamed "Skeleton Warriors" and rebased with round bases. I don't know from which year this set dates, nor who designed it, but it's a good set: plenty of options for personalization. Lots of fine details, from the quaintest ones (which I favour: coffins converted to shields, broken weapons, jawless or cracked skulls) to the silly ones (impractically big helms, shields with death symbols, oversized swords).

I quite enjoyed setting the models up and painting them. Here are a few of them:

Sigfried the Cruel was a servant of the Necromancer, his champion. When he got killed, his master brought back his remains, to wield again his weapons. The bastard scimitar could now be wielded with one hand, so the Necromancer fitted a shield with the bones of one of his enemies, also brought back and condemned to be bashed by enemies in order to protect Sigfried. The Necromancer always loved irony.

Eric Wildcharge was a reckless warrior and died the good death on the battlefield. The Necromancer brought him back. Although mindless, Eric still has a tendency to bellow challenges (even without voice) and to point his sword at the enemy champions.

Eleonora di Roccamara was the daughter of a prince and when her puny husband would not ride to war against the enemy, she would. A fearsome warrior, she still fights in undeath.

Gaston the Brave was fearless. So fearless, one day he challenged a giant. With one swoop of his mace, the giant smashed his shield and his head. But still Gaston got up, with a little help from the Necromancer.

This jolly fellowship is going to company the Necromancer is a few games of Skirmish. Will post something soon!