sabato 14 ottobre 2017

Citadel Slann and their successors


When you reach the venerable age of 38 and you're still into miniatures, most people will tend to consider you a child who never grew up, but that's not entirely true. Children are children, all right, they are in love with the hobby, but something inside of you is different, and that's the part that proves that you are not child, but in fact an old man. A grumbly old man.

All of us, even those who have the bravery to admit that AoS is actually cool, have succumbed at least once (or more) to the urge to grumble. Italians have a nice word for it: brontolone. Bronto- come from the Greek and means "thunder" (as in brontosaurus, yes) and fittingly calls to mind the image of a distant storm on the horizon, lightning flashing, thunder quietly rolling - all of the evening. There might be even some raindrops on your car, just to make it dirty, but no big actual storm. Just this constant and useless rolling thunder. The French have another word: grognard. That's the word I'm gonna use to tag all posts whose content could be summarized into "back in my time, things were different". Young people rant, we do not: we grumble. Face it, it's in our nature.

This was a very long preamble to introduce the subject of Slann miniatures. We all know who the Slann are (or were, back in my time before the retcon). But where do their concept come from, originally?

I believe the first sketch ever of the Slann might be this piece by John Blanche, titled "Troglodytes", which I found on Ratspike. In spite of the name, these are clearly Slann: the shape of the head, the armour, even the pyramid in the background.

A more mature sketch is the following, also by Blanche. Here the Slann have already developed their name and are drawn in more confident strokes.

After this, GW's staff set themselves to work. Tony Ackland drew Slann for the 2nd Edition of WFB (1983), and also in the later articles Kremlo the Slann (1983) and the Magnificent Sven (1984):

Moreover at the same time, in 1983-1984 - difficult to tell if illustrators influenced sculptors, or it was the other way around - the Perry twins sculpted the first, glorious C32 figures.

These were quite succesful and, in 1986, Citadel issued a new series of Slann, sculpted by Trish Morrison. And these were beautiful, too: it was difficult to spot the difference with the Perry pieces.

Then, for no apparent reason, something terrible happened. The 1987 new Slann relase, designed together by Trish and Aly Morrison, came out, and they looked nothing like the originals:

The new Slann looked more like clumsy toads trying to stand on two feet (with little success). Heads became wide and flat, eyes bulged out and torsos almost disappeared. This was the end of classic Slann: the whole "amphibian master-race from Space" concept was forgotten and, in 1997 they were retconned in favour of the Old Ones and the Lizardmen.

What was left to us, with the name Slann, was this. A bloated, big-headed toad:

And that's the end, as far as GW is concerned. But a lot of people still loved the Slann and independent manufacturers tried to support them with new figures. For some reason, though, most of them were more frogmen than actual Slann as we knew them.

I believe Mirliton's Kermitians were the first. I have a lot of respect for Mirliton, and that's why I will not comment on these figures.

Then it was probably Ral Partha who issued their Bullfrogs. They had way more character than Mirliton's Kermitians, but still looked like anthropomorphic frogs.

Reaper Frogmen are suspiciously similar to the previous, with a bit detail, but with the same inherent flaws.

Otherworld Boglings are less frogs, and more TMNT from the movie (the ugly ones).

Mantic's Frogmen are just more of the same. Good figures, mind me, but nowhere close to the original Slann. These are frogmen, period.

Katsina were the first to give up the "frog on two legs" idea and get closer to the original, with exotic weapons and feathered helms. These are nice, but still only a first step towards the original Perry. To put it clearly: put them on a table next to each other, and you will spot the difference from three metres distance.

And just when everything seemed lost, lo! Tim Prow comes out with the Eru-Kin. And let me say: these are the nicest Slann-like miniatures made after 1986.

Diehard brings out all the old colour (light armour of plates + leather strips, round shields, feathered helms, weird weapons and a meso-American feel) and adds some more in the same tune: this is how you do good Oldhammer in the 2010s. Sure, you say, there is significant difference in the heads:

On one side, a big, tall, bloated head. On the other a more lizard-like, long and flat one. Sure, copyright is still a thing and GW isn't kind to those challenging them. You can't call them Slann. You can't do them exactly the same as John Blanche first drew them. Still, these to me look more "right" than the 1987 Citadel toad-people.

In a perfect world, we would have a second set of heads to replace the lizard-like ones, but in the meantime I must say I am very happy about these. Will probably try to fix them with some greenstuff: I'll let you know how it goes. But even without any fix, this is a huge step in bringing Oldhammer back. Well done, Tim Prow!

5 commenti:

  1. Nice review of the Slann and frog-folk on the market. Part of me wishes I had gone for that Die-hard kickstarter. I think many frog-folk miniatures are attempting to serve as bullywugs, rather than Slann. Some, like the Otherworld ones, definitely are. Bullywugs predate Slann. The Mirliton figures you show are actually Grenadier sculpts from the mid-80s. The original illustration for Bullywugs don't look like straight frog-folk either, but that's another discussion. Only the last two contenders are actually positioning themselves as Slann alternatives, IMO.

    1. Good point! I never heard about the Bullywugs before, even though I've played my fair share of D&D and AD&D. My bad :( but it's good to learn something new.
      Yes, I should have mentioned that Mirliton actually bought off Grenadier and bears no responsibility for the sculpt quality.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Just stumbled on this blog - great stuff!

    I think the earliest depiction of the Slann is actually this John Blanche concept sketch - reproduced in Heroes for Wargames:

    Do you know the date of the troglodytes illustration? I think that may actually have been depicting (loosely) the troglodyte range sculpted by Trish Morrison; her troglodytes have a lot of aesthetic similarities to her first range of Slann:

    Also, I may be misreading the post, but those two Slann illustrations aren't by Tony Ackland: the first one is by Paul Bonner, I think, and the second one's by John Blanche.

    I completely agree with you on the high quality of the first two Slann ranges and the disappointment of the third. It's a real shame, as the Morrisons did such wonderful stuff elsewhere. I think Trish Morrison's beastmen are the best Citadel/GW ever did (give or take the Perry broo, which are a bit different), and Aly Morrison's hobgoblins and half-orcs are just sublime - some of the best miniatures ever, I reckon.

    1. I love it when people correct me, even if I feel a bit ashamed of my mistakes. Great feedback!

      I never saw the beautiful sketch from Heroes for Wargames. Isn't this a 1986 publication? Or does it collect earlier material?
      The Troglodytes illustration isn't dated on Ratspike, and my dating is solely based on the sketchiness of it.
      It could be well representing Troglodytes, as the title suggest, after all. Why then were they so similar to Slann? What was the fluff behind it?

      For what concerns the pictures, how do you spot Bonner and Blanche on those? I was almost sure it was Ackland, but found no signature so mine was just a guess. They DO look like they were made by a different hand, now that you mention.

      Thank you so much for your insight, it's a pleasure to find somebody knowledgeable on this topic!

  3. Most of the stuff in Heroes for Wargames predates the book by some time. For example, a lot of the miniatures had already featured in White Dwarf or various Citadel publications.

    There isn't much troglodyte fluff, apart from the fact that they're associated with the lizardmen. Lizardmen and troglodytes come into the Slann army list in Warhammer Armies (1988).

    On the illustrations: Paul Bonner signed the other slann drawings in that series (probably this one too, but it's not in this reproduction). You can see the signatures in Warhammer 3rd edition.

    The other one is definitely John Blanche - he did all the main Kremlo illustrations. If you compare this one with his Sorcery! illustrations, you can see lots of similarities. Tony Ackland's stuff is much looser and more sketch-like.

    Glad to be of help!