Thursday, April 29, 2021

Death Star Chic: The Imperial Navy in 28mm

The first rule of good fiction is to make the audience identify with the villain. When it comes to Star Wars, George Lucas couldn't allow us identify with the morality or outlook of the Imperials -- they are, after all, genocidal space Nazis. So he cunningly got us to sympathize with the Imperials on another level: aesthetically. 

Every girl crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man. At least this girl is. And I'm especially fond of the sailors... that is to say, the uniformed members of the Imperial Navy. Sure you have your glistening Stormtroopers, and we all owe Her Maj Darth Vader a debt of gratitude for marrying cybernetics with high-camp drag (that wide belt! that cape!). But I'd trade them all away in a heartbeat for the choke-collars, double-breasted woolens and saucy kepi caps of the Imperial Officer corps. 

The strong sense of fashion filters down from the officers to the Imperial Navy's rank-and-file, who look just stunning in their flared helmets and high "fuck-me" boots. So let's commence a brief tour of Death Star chic, using some re-painted Wizard of the Coast plastics:

First up are some standard issue Imperial Navy Troopers. I've always thought that such troopers are sadly under-represented in Star Wars wargaming. The elite nature of the Stormtroopers is lost if they appear willy-nilly in every battle. Note the hesitant aiming, clenched fist and chin-straps. Doesn't it all just cry out, "I'm a big boy now!"

Next comes the Death Star Troopers. These are the elite that Grand Moff Tarkin hand-picked to man his planet-destroying battle station. I wonder if he was the one who chose the butch black uniform:

Lapdogs are strictly forbidden aboard the capital ships of the Imperial Navy, so the officer class occupy themselves by coddling the MSE-6 Mouse Droids:

Here is a RA-7 Protocol Droid, also known as the Death Star Droid. I said a few weeks ago that the twins Aleksin and Pavol are the first openly gay figures in the Star Wars canon. That may be true, but protocol droids have long been recognized as LGBTQ+ icons. Writing in Mel Magazine, Jospeh Longo described C-3PO as "science fiction's first great queer character" and "a wiry, aging twink droid in love with an old queen, R2-D2." 

The Death Star droid certainly fits that pattern. With his dignified mince and belly-exposing crop-top, this darling is practically begging for a night at the Rail.

And finally, I present Grand Moff Tarkin, who is absolutely rocking the angry daddy vibe. Princess Leia probably said it best: "Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash."

"...The Empire Strikes Back is heavily indebted to girls, to gays, to drag, to dance, to European traditions of camp and opera and being too much, with its excesses manifesting in spectacular effects, in the availability of male bodies for desire and consumption..." 
Rebecca Harrison, "Queer Empire", LA Review of Books, May 21, 2020

Stay safe, my friends!


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Miniatures for the Mos Eisley Cantina


Garindan and Mos Eisley Cantina miniatures

Luke Skywalker's entry into the cantina on Mos Eisley is the defining moment of the first Star Wars movie. The scene introduced a universe without definitions. It promised us that everything to come was an open-ended journey, in which every face in every crowd has a history if only you're lucky enough to hear what it is, or imaginative enough to invent it on your own. As the writer Patrick Cavanaugh said, "Even though we knew nothing of these ancillary characters, their appearances conjured all sorts of backstories in our minds, allowing us to flesh out countless adventures within this world in just a matter of moments."

So iconic was the Cantina scene that it created its own trope. Almost every other movie in the Star Wars franchise (and many other sci-fi films) has a scene echoing Mos Eisley. Although it's tempting to dismiss this as crass imitation, I see it in terms of epic poetry. An epic is defined by certain conventions: for example, there must be a scene in which the heroes partake in a counsel of war, and there must be a long, boring recitation of the order of battle (like Homer's "catalogue of ships" or Tolkien's description of the knights entering Minas Tirith). The cantina helped define the sci-fi genre by creating a new (and deeply satisfying) convention: the bar full of aliens.

Haven't we met before?

Here are my renditions of some of the more famous faces in Chalmun's Cantina, all of which are repainted versions of plastic WOTC miniatures...

First comes Ponda Baba, the club bore whose arm gets cut off. I will always have a soft-spot for this Aqualish alien, because one of the first Kenner Star Wars figures I owned as a child was "Walrus Man."

Ponda Baba 28mm painted miniature

Dr. Cornelius Evazan is Ponda Baba's companion. Evazan appeared in both A New Hope and in Rogue One after taking time off from his regular gig in the belltower of Notre Dame.

Dr. Evazan 28mm painted miniature

BoShek is the smuggler who introduced Obiwan to Chewbacca when the old Jedi was looking for a ride off of Tatooine. That black flight suit looks quite natty, if you ask me.

BoShek 28mm painted miniature

Takeel (also known as Snaggletooth) is a Snivvian mercenary and drug addict. He's another inmate of the Cantina who owes his fame less to the movie and more to his afterlife as a Kenner action figure. I hope you appreciate the disco-vibe of his leisure suit.

Snaggletooth Takeel 28mm painted miniature

Can you imagine going through life with a name like "Muftak the Talz"?

I can't.

Muftak the Talz 28mm painted miniature

And finally, we have my favourite: Garindan. He's the one who spotted the fugitive droids Threepio and Artoo outside the Cantina. He may be an Imperial spy and general cheese-eating tattletale, but he looks so good.

Garindan 28mm painted miniature

I hope no one is ratting on your droids, my friends. Be well!

Mos Eisley Miniatures 28mm

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Miniatures for Star Wars: Lando

The comic Star Wars: Lando is the greatest Star Wars movie that's never been made. It's a perfect script for a tight, 90-minute adventure film: To clear an old debt, Lando assembles a crew for one last heist. It all goes according to plan until they realize they've accidentally stolen the luxury yacht of the Emperor himself.

I've always been a little cagey about the comics, cartoons and novels set in the Star Wars universe. All this peripheral literature has a way of providing too many answers.

When I was a child, the magic of Star Wars was that every re-watching left me asking new questions. My friends and I ruminated endlessly on matters great and small, from how Palpatine became Emperor to what lay under Boba Fett's mask. (Among the other sins of the prequel trilogy was that it systematically went about answering all these questions.) I think one of the reasons I love Lando so much is that it throws new light on a much-loved character, but it never stoops to be an origin story.

The small but vivid cast of characters in Lando is another reason I love the comic. And so I set out to find appropriate miniatures for each of them. The seed of the collection comes from Imperial Assault. However, Imperial Assault's coverage is patchy so I had to fill the gaps with repaints and homebrews made from the old WOTC Star Wars miniatures. 

Without futher ado, I give you...

Lando Calrissian (miniature from FFG's Imperial Assault range):

Lando Calrissian painted miniature FFG

Lobot (miniature from WOTC's Star Wars Imperial Entanglements range):

Lobot painted 28mm miniature - Star Wars

Chanath Cha, bounty hunter and erstwhile lover of Lobot. (Let that one sink in.)

(Her miniature started life as some generic WOTC miniature that I butchered with greenstuff. Fortunately, a fresh paint job hides many sins):

Chanath Cha painted 28mm miniature - Star Wars

Sava Korin Pers, the unscrupulous ugnaught scholar (another WOTC miniature modified with a dollop of greenstuff):

Sava Korin Pers painted 28mm miniature - Star Wars

And last but not least, we have the genetically identical alien clone warriors Pavol and Aleksin. As far as I can tell, they are the first openly queer characters in Star Wars. They are also fantastic creations: deadly brothers/lovers who look like panthers and only speak to each other. I had to homebrew their miniatures from WOTC Sith Warriors who died horrible deaths under my X-Acto Knife.

Pavol painted 28mm miniature - Star Wars

Aleksin painted 28mm miniature - Star Wars

Thanks for stopping by!
I hope you are all doing okay... or at least better than Pavol and Aleksin.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Animated Zen Koans

I've had a lot of time off since Christmas but my miniature painting mojo has vanished. I think it's a combination of Covid fatigue, winter blahs and insurrection-induced anxiety. I might also be tired after finishing a series of painting projects (like the 40K mercs). But I still needed an outlet for my creative urges, so I turned to a enterprise I've been flirting with for a long time: taking some of the ancient stories about Zen Buddhism and animating them into one-minute movies using cartoon bunnies and computer-generated voices.

I guess there's a time in every man's life when he says to himself, "I want to take some of the ancient stories about Zen Buddhism and animate them into one-minute movies using cartoon bunnies and computer-generated voices." And for me, that time is now.

The source material comes from The Blue Cliff Record, which is a 1000-year-old collection of dialogues spoken by Zen Masters from Tang Dynasty China. These dialogues are often called cases or koans. A "koan" is a Japanese transliteration of the Chinese word gōngàn, which meant "a decision of a judge." In each of these stories, a Zen Master pronounces a judgment about the nature of enlightenment. But in trying to describe the highest truths of Zen, these monks often relied on non-sequiturs, one-liners and radical understatement.

In order to animate this deadpan absurdity, I needed equally deadpan characters -- hence the robotic voices and big-headed puppies. Above is my rendition of the first case from The Blue Cliff Record, where the mythic founder of Zen has an awkward conversation with the Emperor. The next one I did was the 28th Case, where two Zen Masters talk about the importance of not talking about anything important:

Finally, I illustrated one of my favourite stories, the 74th Case, where a series of Zen Masters give unhelpful advice about gratitude, happiness and generosity.

I don't know if anyone will enjoy watching the movies half as much as I enjoyed making them. But I wanted to share them in case they might be some help in dispelling your own winter blahs.

Take care, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Merry Mercmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone! Reconnecting with the miniature painting community in the last few weeks has been medicine for me. So thanks for all the greetings and encouragements. I truly enjoy each comment all of you leave behind when you come to visit. I hope you are all staying safe and finding ways to make the most out of this wounded holiday season.

I want to end 2020 on a high note, so here's one of my favourite Citadel miniatures of all time: the Warhammer 40K mercenary "Old World Jack." His grim expression of dread and his lively sense of movement make a compelling contrast. Plus his armour is an early ancestor of the beaky space marine armour that discloses how influential 2000 AD was on Citadel's visual style: those boots and knee-pads are right out of Judge Dredd:

Next is "Catachan Luke." He's named after the jungle planet Catachan, which is mentioned in the Rogue Trader rulebook as the deadliest of hostile "death worlds". But if Catachan is a mythic version of Vietnam, Luke is clearly patterned off a US infantryman, complete with an M16:

I don't know about you, but if I was going to spend my hard-earned money on a heavily armed mercenary, I would not hire a man who goes by the name "Spaced-Dout Sam." Jesus, Sam -- pull yourself together.

And finally we have "Mad Morris." Like many of the RT7 mercenaries, this model lived a double life as an Imperial Guardsman. But that, of course, is quite appropriate, since it is easy to imagine many of the more sociopathic Guardsmen deserting the service, repainting their equipment, and taking up life as a gun-for-hire:

Thanks for coming with me on this tour of the Rogue Trader mercenaries. In case you missed the earlier episodes, here are the first, second and third posts I wrote about the RT7 range of miniatures.

* * * * * 

I will leave you with one final piece of great personal news. Mrs. Oldhammer-in-Toronto and I adopted a retired racing greyhound. We had been thinking of getting a pooch for many months. She wanted a medium-sized dog and I wanted a small dog, so we compromised and got an extremely large dog. Seriously - he is so big, when he lays down (which is most of time time) he looks like there's a dead deer lying around my house. "Utopia" came to us from the racetrack on Wheeling Island, West Virginia, via the extremely caring and professional foster care at Gillian's Greyhound Adoption

I can assure my reading public that his is a very good boy.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Mo' Mercenaries for Warhammer 40K

Any student of history knows that mercenaries were an indispensable part of life in the ancient world. We see them in every force from Carthage's elite infantry to William the Conqueror's Flemish allies. Speaking of the Flemish... There's a marvelous legend that when Duke Baldwin of Flanders asked what compensation he could expect for helping William's invasion of England, William handed him a blank sheet of parchment. This seems to be the first example of payment by a blank cheque.

If not always completely reliable, ancient mercenaries were at least esteemed as necessary professionals. But after the modern nation state began to emerge out of the mercenary-infested wreckage of the Thirty Years War, renting soldiers fell out of fashion. In the late 20th century, mercenaries attracted a downright dishonorable reputation because of their role in vile bush wars and civil conflicts. If anything, the corporatization of mercenary work in the modern Middle East has only sunk their standing further.

The Rogue Trader minis that I've been profiling in my last couple posts reflect the idea of mercenaries that was current in the 1980's: these are decommissioned army men looking for a buck or poorly-organized irregulars. More like the Crippled Eagles of Rhodesia than Blackwater's shiny private army in Iraq.

Well, let's have at 'em. First up is "World Burner." I have always been a little entranced by this figure. He's armed only with an auto-pistol and a gas mask -- and yet his faceless glare (and sinister name) make him seem like a terrifying opponent:

Next is "Break Out Con." I feel like if I were an escaped convict, I wouldn't advertise that fact by making it a nickname. But then, of course, I don't have a fully loaded bolter. When you've got a bolter, they call you anything you want.

Here is "Hacker Harris." He and Break Out Con are a classic example of the Citadel Design Studio's modular technique, where the same basic sculpt is reconfigured to create two or more miniatures. First and foremost, this was a way of producing more miniatures in a shorter period of time, and it helps explain the Studio's ability to crank out so many different miniatures in such a short period of time (that and the drugs). But the modular technique has other benefits. It implants a pleasing sense of pattern in Citadel's miniature ranges.

And finally, here's "Fast-Star John"...

Fast-Star John appears to be a modular variation of World Burner. Both seem to be wearing a modified (and dyed) set of traditional Imperial Guard flak armour. Hence the sense that these fellows are decommissioned veterans or perhaps deserts. He also seems to be carrying an M16. Just the thing you want for your Bush War... in space.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

More Rogue Trader Era Mercenaries

Citadel's RT7 line of Mercenaries from 1987 represent a long-dead vision of Warhammer 40K. With their medley of attire, weaponry and species, they hearken to 40K as a messy skirmish game that prioritized narratives and role-playing. Like other early lines that died out (the Space Pirates or the Adventurers), the mercs have no place in the tidy world of race-based factions and army lists that became the norm as 40K pivoted towards competitive tournament play.  

As I painted the mercenaries, I kept thinking of how they may not fit into 40K as a game, but they do match 40K as portrayed in fiction, especially the excellent novels of Dan Abnett. Even Abnett's frequent references to "bodygloves" (i.e. protective wet-suits worn under coats or heavier armour) seem to be prefigured in mercenaries like "Plunderino Pete" and "Sarge Rockhard."

And speaking of Sarge, here he is:

The next fella I painted was the somewhat unimaginatively named "Shorty". I believe this abhuman ratling is the first and last Warhammer 40K miniature to be sculpted with a smile:

Here is "No-Face Fargo." I spent 10 minutes staring into space trying to think of something witty to say about a miniature named "No-Face Fargo," but I drew a blank.

Finally, here is "Abaddon." Well, at least here is the first miniature to be called "Abaddon." Later, this name would be reallocated to Abaddon the Despoiler, "the greatest Champion of Chaos Undivided in the galaxy" and the "scourge of the Black Crusade that divided the Imperium and ushered in the eternal night." But in 1987, Abaddon was just a guy who decided to show up for garrison duty wearing a bright green envirosuit:

I hope you are all safe and healthy. Thanks for looking and I'll be back soon!