Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bob Olley's Black Orcs: the best of Iron Claw Miniatures

It has taken me 3 years and much treasure to collect all 12 of the original IC601 Black Orcs sculpted by Bob Olley and released by Iron Claw in 1988. Immediately upon receiving the last orc in the mail, I set to work painting them. From priming to final varnish, it took me one month. I was anxious to add some muscle to the anemic ranks of my small orc army, Krapfang's Backwood Bandits. But more than that, I was looking forward to creating a colour scheme that would do these very odd miniatures justice.

Black Orcs by Iron Claw Miniatures, IC601 (sculpted by Bob Olley, 1988)

As I discussed last week, the virtue and vice of all Olley miniatures from the mid-1980's is that his sculptures rarely blend with other Warhammer miniatures. His figures are squat, swollen and big-headed. But they are also textured, bizarre and arresting. For my purposes, I relished the clash of styles. Black Orcs are supposed to be a separate race from their green-skinned cousins, so the strange, hairy physiognomy of Olley's figures would underline this biological fact. Indeed, I wanted my Black Orcs to stand out like super-beings from the rest of my army.

I tried to make my painting as strange as the miniatures themselves. The organizing idea of my paint job was a juxtaposition between the dark skin and dirty furs on one hand -- and on the other hand, a tight pattern of ultraviolet colours for armour, shields and accents. The skin tone is Vallejo's "USA Olive Drab" with small additions of orange for lips, pink for pimples and pale green for other highlights. I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to keep the skin tones mellow. Meanwhile, the blues and purples were meant to give these villains the illusion of phosphorescence, like a glowing fungus in a cave.

Painting a Bob Olley miniature is a constant process of discovery, as you notice new flourishes and artistry, especially around the face. I had a blast with their flabby lips, exposed gums, overbites, underbites and boils. At times, I felt like these models were painting themselves, since the highly textured surface would take highlights with very little effort -- I just had to let the brush find its own way across the surface of the skin and fur. From soup to nuts, they were a pleasure to paint. Thanks, Mr. Olley!

UPDATE March 2015: For another take on painting Bob Olley's Black orcs, check out Goblin Lee's superb, Tolkien-inspired set.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bob Olley and Iron Claw: the Weird Turn Pro

Bob Olley was the most artistic miniature sculptor during Citadel's golden age of the mid-1980's. I wouldn't say he was the best sculptor; that is a matter of taste. Nor was he the most popular (I've seen his sculptures described as "chubby" and "fungoid"). And he certainly wasn't the most prolific - he only created a handful of ranges, including Norse Dwarves, Skeletons, Space Pirates, and (my favourite) Black Orcs.

Black Orc by Iron Claw Miniatures, IC601 (sculpted by Bob Olley, 1988)

So why is Olley the most artistic? Oscar Wilde said "art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known". If you take this as a rough definition of art, then Olley was a true artist. Most Citadel minis reflect the world of Warhammer. Bob Olley's miniatures reveal something about Bob Olley. Something weird. He combined an idiosyncratic sculpting style with a fevered vision of the fantastic. The resulting body of work is totally different from that of his peers.Whether you like them or not, you know a Bob Olley sculpture the moment you see it.

Olley didn't work in the studio with the other Citadel sculptors, which may have insulated him from their influence. In any case, I think Olley's individual style is the reason why, starting in 1987, Olley's miniatures were produced by Citadel but released under Olley's own label, Iron Claw. His strangely proportioned and hyper-textured models didn't fit in with any other range. And indeed, I think this limited his popularity: Olley's miniatures stuck out from other Citadel miniatures like visitors from another dimension.

But popularity isn't everything. What I prize in a miniature is a sense of personality, combined with true imagination. Olley has both qualities by the spoonful. Heads and hands are the most expressive element to any miniature, and one of Olley's hallmarks is over-sizing these features. His huge faces attract the viewer's eye, and give him a broad canvass to turn each miniature into a character (often, a very funny character). 

The other hallmark of Iron Claw miniatures is a deeply carved texture. This gives the minis a layered effect, with shaggy furs, warty skin and thick beards piled on top of each other. In this sense, Olley was a master at translating the defining artwork of John Blanche and Gary Chalk into lead.

In my view, Olley's artistic flare is emphasized by the fact that he didn't actually need to sculpt that way. He's perfectly capable of making miniatures that look like everyone else's miniatures when he wants to. There are dozens examples of "normal" looking miniatures in his body of work, although I own only one of them: the Demonic Lasher from Reaper Miniatures (2003). 

This miniature is another example of Olley capturing the essence of a great fantasy illustrator -- in this case, the sketch of the demon prince Demogorgon from first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (1977). It's a pretty odd concept for a miniature, but Olley's sculpt is no weirder than the original picture by David Sutherland III (aka DCS). All of which is to say, I love this mini, but it doesn't have the eccentric carving style of a true Olley.

Demogorgon, Prince of Demons

Next week, I'll feature a full set of Bob Olley's true originals: the Black Orcs he produced for Iron Claw in 1988.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oldhammer Battle Report: Orcs vs. Skaven

Despite collecting miniatures, painting miniatures, and writing about miniatures all the time, I haven't actually gotten a chance to play 3rd edition Warhammer for over 15 years. So I was delighted when my fellow Oldhammer fanatic, 24_Cigarettes, asked out of the blue if I wanted to meet up in Toronto and throw a game together. His beautifully painted and based Skaven Army, Clan Scourge, showed up at my house yesterday with half-a-case of beer and a bottle of whisky, and we set to work.

The home team was represented by my 1000 point Orc army, Krapfang's Backwood Bandits. For those of you out there who are curious about how to throw together a deadly orc force, I encourage you to skip over the following army list, which betrays my utter lack of experience at actually trying to beat anyone in a game. My orcs eschew everything that would actually help them win: magic ("no sissy stuff"), goblin fanatics ("dey harsh da mellow") and war machines ("wot, are yoo lot stunties?"). I just wanted a big army that got the maximum amount of my lead on the table.

Gritstool's Nasty Gits get ready for the coming battle with the rat-men

Krapfang's Backwood Bandits

Krapfang's Tin Kan Kommandoes
14 Orc Bigguns (+1 elites) with light armour, shields, spears + standard bearer and musician
(168 pts)

Lead by Krapfang Toothshyte, Lvl. 15 Orc hero with light armour and shield
(91 pts)

Gritstool's Nasty Gits
9 Orc Boyz with light armour, shields, spears + standard bearer and musician
(104.5 pts)

Lead by Captain Gritstool the Uncongenial, Lvl. 5 Orc hero with light armour and shield
(36 pts)

Harboth's Black Mountain Boyz
10 Orc Arrer Boyz with bows, shields + standard bearer and musician
(102 pts)

Vape Softbladder's Gobbo Greatmob
19 Gobbos with javelins, shields + standard bearer and musician
(73.5 pts)

Lead by Prince Vape Softbladder, Lvl. 15 Goblin with shield
(41 pts)

Smarmy's Swift Backtrakkers
10 Goblin Stikkas with short bows
(35 pts.)

Warspoor's Wulfboyz
8 Gobbo Wulfboyz with spears + standard bearer and musician
(100 pts)

Rotwang Bawbag the Giant
(250 pts)

Total = 1001 points

The orcs deploy in a long line while the Skaven player positions his Clanrats in a tight formation. The Giant anchors the orc middle. This was a mistake.

On the other hand, Clan Scourge was a model of elegant design. It was certainly not the work of rules-lawyer or a win-at-all-costs competitor, Rather, 24_Cigarettes' Skaven army was simple, balanced and very ratty. The centerpiece of his force was two huge units of Clanrats, each bolstered with a Clan Skyre Warpfire Thrower (to punish the orcs for keeping their distance) and a Clan Pestilens Plague Censor Bearer (to punish the orcs for getting too close).  

"Arl need 'nuther cider fore I bash dem ratters."

The battle started off with my Giant Rotwang failing his drunkenness roll and showing up for the battle snozzled. Instead of charging into the ratters like a good boy, he sort of staggered toward stage left, giving the Skaven Warpsquealer time to cast Cause Panic upon him. Under the influence of this spell, Rotwang caught a terrifying glimpse of sobriety and booked it off the battlefield. The rest of my army marched doggedly up the centre and into a hurricane of Skaven flame, fumes and Jezzail shot. Only a feeble green rump emerged from this onslaught, and it was no match for the massive phalanxes of unhurt Clanrats. A daring flank attack by Warspoor's Gobbo Wulfboyz offered a glimmer of redemption, but it was only a glimmer: the tide of rats swamped the orcs and drove them from the field. 

The orcs attempt to flank the skaven, but are decimated on the right by the fiery weapons of Clan Skyre and menaced on the left by the rat ogres of Clan Moulder.

"Oi boss! Why are doz big 'airy finks coming dis way?"

From the safety of the far left flank, the small unit of goblin archers watches the rest of the army getting eaten. In their extreme terror, they have a vision of a cider.

Besides being beaten like a gong, I had a great afternoon. Seeing two carefully painted armies on a table is among the most satisfying feelings I know (leaving unnamed a few other satisfying feelings). To make matters even better, 24_Cigarettes is a mensch, and I can now look forward to many future afternoons of drinking and fighting. I just need to work on army design, and keeping my Giant (if not myself) on the wagon.

UPDATE: Check out my opponent's write-up of the same battle (including his Skaven army list) here: Full Ashtray Gaming