Friday, 24 January 2014

Steampunk Cheescake!

The Legatus is not really surprised to discover that there is a whole genre of Victorian steampunk cheesecake.  Certainly some of the wargames figures out there fall into this category and I am currently working on one now, although as she is one of the most challenging figures I have ever attempted to paint I'm not going to do any work in progress shots in case, as is quite likely, she turns out to be a total disaster!

Our first picture is by Taiwan-born American comic-book artist Ben Dunne who has actually written a book on how to draw steampunk; and their are quite a few books on this subject.   The young lady's weapons have a seventeenth century look to them.  She illustrates many of the conventions of the genre:  brass back pack, goggles, straps, random clock faces/pressure gauges and an inability to keep her upper thigh covered. Her blouse is more early Edwardian and, in common with a lot of these pictures, she sports anachronistic suspenders (garter belt for our American friends) for her stockings. Dunne was influenced by Manga early on while living in Taiwan as can be seen from her face.

A sword-armed lady this one, channeling Catherine Zeta-Jones, in Zorro perhaps.  Hopeless underwear here: Victorian ladies would have worn knee length drawers, no suspenders and bras hadn't been invented yet.  Probably a scientist could work out exactly how many sword strokes it would have needed to render her into this state.

This is a better effort, although it is let down by the suspenders and the sheer stockings.  The wings are intriguing.

Pistol connected to backpack. Check.  Goggles check!  Random dials attached to stockings. Check.  At least this girl doesn't have suspenders but the required tightness of her garter, in order to support all those brass dials, would surely cut off the blood to her legs.  The gloves are a nice touch but the effort of lugging all that equipment around has given her rather fearsome shoulder muscles.

Our next steampunk heroine, who looks like she may, in fact be the one above her as well, is certainly generating a lot of steam from her enormous, but rather nineteen thirties, backpack. She is encased in a frankly very un-Victorian catsuit affair. Her shoes are wrong so we can’t give this effort a high mark. Where are her goggles? Where are her dials?

More steam in this one and at least she has boots and goggles. Her trousers, vest and screwdriver all put her rather later than the nineteenth century, however.  Still she would make a good engineer (no doubt the Professor's wayward niece) in the engine room of a steam powered tunnelling machine or some prototype land dreadnought.

A trio of ladies, now, and not a backpack in sight but a very assertively displayed frontpack instead. Goggles straps (one of which appears to be dragging the centre lady’s petticoat rapidly southwards) and big brass-bound pistols are in evidence. There is not much point in having a corset that is so abbreviated that it doesn’t cover the waist, however.   The lady on the right has a nicely sportif hat; ideal for riding or a spot of archery, perhaps.

This picture of two exhausted looking maids (why are they so tired, we ask?) was the first steampunk cheesecake picture we found. What is that, exactly, gazing at them through the window? Perhaps it is a Victorian gentleman paid to play phonograph cylinders looking for a young lady to moles...,er, impress? A reasonable attempt at the stockings but those knickers are hopeless. The bra, of course, didn’t really catch on until the period of the Great War with the first short, boned camisole appearing in about 1900. It certainly didn’t look anything like this frothy, abbreviated little number.

The final one, I have to say, is my favourite. Not only does the lady look feistily independent but her clothes are much better; with lace cuffs, ankle boots and striped stockings, which were very popular at the end of the nineteenth century. She has a nice hat too. Too many of these ladies are out and about without hats which is certainly not the thing!  The brass encased fingers add the requisite steampunk element as does her fearsome looking pistol

So, I hope to get on with my own steampunk heroine this weekend.  

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Allan Quatermain

I've just completed my third West Wind Empire of the Dead figure: Allan Quatermain.  Although he was easy to paint I'm not quite so enamoured of him as a figure compared with Irene Adler and Captain Nemo.  The main issue I have with him is the way his hat sits rather uncomfortably perched on top of his head.  His gun looks a bit short too for the sort of elephant gun I would imagine him carrying. 

His clothes look like they are, in part, based on Sean Connery's portrayal from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

For the Legatus, Allan Quatermain will always be Stewart Granger, as seen in King Solomon's Mines (1950).  Unusually for the time, actually shot in Africa (the prospect of having to live in a tent was what caused original choice for the role Errol Flynn to pass on the part) the film is unusual in that it doesn't have an accompanying musical score.

Richards Carlson, Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger in King Solomon's Mines

The Legatus listens to a lot of soundtrack music, which is particularly good for painting too, but, really, the notion of music playing in the background of a film is quite odd if you think about it.   A hangover from the days of silent film it is strange that so much effort goes into making what appears on screen as realistic as possible and then accompanies it by the completely unrealistic practice of having music underlining the action.  In a way, it is just as unrealistic as the much derided idea that in Bollywood films everyone suddenly breaks into a song and dance routine, even in an otherwise serious drama.  But, of course, King Solomon's Mines, an otherwise excellent film, seems to have something lacking about it because of the absence of music.   I painted Quatermain to the sound of the scores from Mountains of the Moon by Michael Small and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Trevor Jones (his music is better than the film itself).

Next up are The Servants of Ra figures for In Her Majesty's Name.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Irene Adler my first figure of 2014

The light has been just awful lately, as we suffer almost constant inundation, so although I finished this Empire of the Dead Irene Adler figure a few days ago it has been too dark to photograph her.  This is my second EotD figure and she was, like Captain Nemo, lovely to paint.

I might try to finish my IHMN policemen next but they will need good light to work on, given the need for some quite subtle shading.  I bought the Brick Lane Collective for IHMN too from North Star.  Given North Star's leisurely service they won't be with me for several weeks, I suspect, in contrast to some figures I ordered from Australia (more about which shortly) recently which arrived in about five days.

Rachel McAdams

Irene Adler, an American opera singer, appeared in the 1891 Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia.  As a woman who gets the better of Homes, despite appearing in just the one story, she has engendered a fascination greater than her actual profile in the original stories.

Robert Downey, Jr and  Rachel McAdams

Recent versions of Sherlock Holmes have included a representation of Irene Adler.  Rachel McAdams turn in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows (2011) was feisty and coquettish.  She also displayed some fetching Victorian underwear.

Natalie Dormer

Both the current modern day adaptions of the Holmes stories, Sherlock and Elementary have also featured Irene Adler.  In the US made, Elementary she was played by Natalie Dormer and the supposed death of Adler was the reason that Holmes took up drugs.

Lara Pulver (dressed, unusually)

In the episode of Sherlock, A Scandal in Belgravia, the plot is very much an update of the original story although Adler is English and played by Lara Pulver in a notorious performance that enabled the episode to become the BBC's most watched programme on iPlayer.

Gayle Hunnicutt

My favourite Irene Adler, however, is the gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt in the 1984 version of The Scandal in Bohemia which was the first episode of the definitive Jeremy Brett Granada series.

Gayle Hunnicutt and Jeremy Brett

A glimmer of hope for Ripper Street

Several newspapers reported yesterday that the BBC was looking for a partner to fund a third series and is in talks with LoveFilm.

Let's hope this is true and that the resultant budget cuts won't ruin it  It remains a continued inspiration for my slow but sure progress on my various steampunk figures.  I based and undercoated another few figures today. Hopefully I can do a bit at the weekend but it's looking like I will not have much time again. 

Finding Nemo

 Lots of teeth!

When I got my big box of West Wind's Empire of the Dead Requiem figures I couldn't for the life of me remember which figures I had ordered.  I then had to go on several trips so just based up all the individual figures and decided to work out who was who afterwards.  

One figure which was quite easy to identify was Nemo, especially if you have seen The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. I decided to start work on him as the first of my Empire of the Dead figures and I finished him today.  As ever, I am finding it easier to concentrate on character figures at present rather than trying to paint units of anything but this does mean my slow painting speed has now become glacial.  This is my first completed figure in five weeks. 

This is the first West Wind figure I have ever painted and I found the level of detail excellent with hardly any mould lines and no flash.  I'm looking forward to doing some more.  They have now issued an entire Captain Nemo and crew set with Nemo dressed more in the manner of the Disney film of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Looks like I will have to get that too.  Then, of course, I will need a Nautilus!

Ripper Street cancelled

No more tarts with hearts

I was shocked to learn, from a number of other blogs, that the BBC has cancelled Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, basically because it couldn't compete with I'm a Celebrity Get me out of Here in the ratings.  Especially as I was about to start work on two of the North Star In Her Majesty's Name figures based on the actors from the show. There is an online petition you can sign but it will do no good, I'm afraid.  Not because it hasn't had enough signatures, which it hasn't, but because that is not how the BBC works.  It is a monolithic governmental organisation that is far from responsive to anything, and will, like government, never acknowledge its mistakes.  My sister worked there for a couple of years as an external consultant and said it was the worst managed organisation she had ever come across.  A friend of mine was a BBC producer (he is now a freelance) and despite being quite a lot more liberal (not to say a complete pinko) than the Legatus, said that he felt like a fascist. there.  Odd then, that something as commercial as ratings now seems to hold sway over creative instincts. 

The key issue is, of course, why the BBC feel that they have to chase ratings at all given that they do not (yet) take advertising.  Shouldn't they just be making the best programmes they can?  Of course, I suspect that Ripper Street was very expensive to make compared with bunging a lot of members of the public in a tent and getting them to bake scones.  

Lost World Monster Hunters!

I finished another two figures today to complete my initial Lost World force.  From left to right we have Zambo, Edward Malone, Professor Challenger, Professor Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.  They are a mixture of Foundry Darkest Africa and Copplestone Castings High Adventure series.   Challenger was the one I was struggling with but I found I had a spare Foundry John Hanning Speke figure which had an appropriately large beard so after a bit of surgery and the addition of a Greenstuff jacket I had something usable and a little different from the original figure.

Now I may add a defiantly non-literary woman to the plateau-ascending group as a nod to all their cinematic incarnations.  However, finding a good adventuress for 1912 will be tricky.  By 1912 corsets were still worn (they would survive until just after WW1) giving a slimline look with long straight skirts and loose blouses.  Most of the female 28mm figures are either mid-Victorian (crinolines and full skirts), late Victorian, (small bustles, fitted bodices) or nineteen twenties and thirties (mid-calf skirts or jodphurs - first worn by women following Coco Chanel in 1921).  More research needed! 

Empire of the Dead!

There is nothing like getting a nice big box of soldiers in the post (unless you are my wife who is trying to persuade me to pay for a new kitchen floor, a new bathroom and an extension and therefore hates me spending money on anything at the moment).  In addition, Charlotte's old school has written to me suggesting I donate a useful item to the school.  They have suggested a lacrosse goal set (£3000), or an infrared spectrometer (£7000) or perhaps a 2D laser cutting machine (£20,000 - no wonder 4Ground buildings are so expensive).  Good grief!

Anyway, I could, truthfully, claim that these were ordered months ago. Yes, my big box of West Wind's Empire of the Dead has arrived.  I think it is about fifty figures (or about six month's painting if I really go at it).  They are a bit slimmer than the Northstar In Her Majesty's Name figures but, critically, they are the same height and the heads appear to be a similar size.  I haven't even taken any out of the box yet as I have literally just got back from Copenhagen (I have to return next week).  They look very nice and hopefully I can get one started, at least, at the weekend.  I intend to mount them on washers rather than the slotta bases they came with (I hate slotta bases) but this will involve some tricky trimming of the metal bar at the bottom.  However, I managed this OK with a samurai figure I ordered the other week so hopefully it won't be too tricky.

I managed a bit more painting on my Lost World characters last week and hope to finish two of them this weekend.  Yes, I have now dropped from aiming at six figures a week to two.  Oh well.  

Back from the Future: Lost World monster hunters for In Her Majesty's Name...

Lord John Roxton tracks something that has escaped the plateau

I've been wondering about putting together my own company for In Her Majesty's Name but every time I think of something someone else has already done it.  Now, however, I have an idea of something that might work and which will also help start me on another project I have had percolating away for some years now.

Neovenator: the Isle of Wight's very own dinosaur

I have been planning a Lost World project for some time and have been steadily collecting model dinosaurs from a variety of sources, including Copplestone Castings, the British Museum shop and various seaside shops on the Isle of Wight which is, of course, officially Dinosaur Island this year.

Copplestone Castings figure from the Dinosaur Hunter's pack

It was just a matter of finding the right figures for the Lost World characters.  Searching through the lead pile I found figures for most of the characters I need from Foundry's Darkest Africa and Copplestone's High Adventure ranges. So here is the first from my Lost World/Monster Hunters company, Lord John Roxton, who I painted over the weekend.  I really like this figure, with his backpack and blanket roll, but the shorts are really wrong for Victorian times.

Conan Doyle's version of the four adventurers

The Lost World project will look at the successor to the Professor Challenger expedition which, at the end of The Lost World novel, was going to include just Roxton and Malone.  I will have both Summerlee and Challenger join the expedition at the last minute.  I found figures for Malone and Summerlee quite quickly but Challenger was, er, a challenge.  I needed someone, ideally, with a very big beard! The problem is now solved and I hope to finish painting all three, plus the usually forgotten character of Zambo, in the next week.

Jill St John in The Lost World (1960)

This also gives me the opportunity to field a suitably feisty female character.  Every film or TV version has added a gratuitous female adventurer to the expedition: Paula White (Bessie Love) in the 1925 version,  Jennifer Holmes (Jill St John) in the 1960 version, Jennie Nielsen (Tamara Gorski) in the two John Rhys-Davies 1992 films, Amanda White (Jayne Heitmeyer) in the 1998 version, Marguerite Krux (Rachel Blakely - rather splendid) in the 1999 Canadian TV series and Agnes Cluny (Elaine Cassidy) in the 2001 BBC version, which is probably my favourite dramatisation even if it does, as do all the versions, play fast and loose with the plot and characters.

A rather gratuitously wet Elaine Cassidy in the BBC's The Lost World from 2001

Conan Doyle was not always very internally consistent with his characters so, while she isn't mentioned in The Lost World, in The Land of Mists (1926) Challenger has an adult daughter, Enid, who Malone takes a shine to and eventually marries.  I have a few feisty females for my Darkest Africa Zambezi project and they would work for the late nineteenth Century setting of IHMN but not so well for the just pre-WW1 setting of The Lost World.  The Copplestone Female archaeologists pack has some good young ladies but the two best ones are wearing jodhpurs, which did not become fashionable wear for women until Coco Chanel wore them in 1921.

She designed her own costumes for the series, you know

I think there is also a place for a plateau-stranded wild beauty, like the potently named (for the Legatus, anyway) Veronica, as played by the lovely Jennifer O'Dell in the Canadian TV series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1999-2002).  One of the several not Jane figures will work for her, I think.

There is also the opportunity, as hinted at in some of the later Challenger books, of including German spies out to discover the diamonds of Maple White Land.

So, that's The Lost World project nearly sorted but how do I get characters from around 1910 back to the late nineteenth century?  The answer of course is a time portal.  I did toy with the idea of some kind of stargate but have settled instead on a sparkling anomaly.  This will transfer a plague of prehistoric creatures onto the streets of London followed, fortuitously by the group of experienced dinosaur hunters who ran into a similar anomaly up on the plateau.  It is a London slightly different from the one they experienced in their younger days, however.   In Conan Doyle's books Lord Roxton was a friend of Sherlock Holmes so there is no doubt who the consulting detective would call in to deal with the flocks of feral reptiles terrorising the East End as well as some of the other monstrous creatures abroad in the fog-bound alleys of Whitechapel.  Roxton was a great anti-slaver so it would be quite possible for him to appear in the Zambezi taking on the Arab slavers, who appear to have captured some form of monstrous creature: She-who-must-be fed.

The real problem will be working out statistics for the IHMN company but the authors of the rules have supplied (I think) the means to calculate these. Also others are creating their own, rather excellent, companies which can now be found on the In Her Majesty's Name site.

So, another project!  Hooray!

Follow the yellow brick road...

White Horse, Road, London E1

Steve the Wargamer (I can't link to his blog because I am getting a malware warning) and Scott have wondered, following my previous post, whether the yellow bricks seen in the East End of London are a post-blitz phenomenon.   They are not.

St Matthew's vicarage Commercial Road, London E1 (1871)

These yellow bricks are known as London Stocks and were extensively used in the nineteenth and early twentieth century before being largely replaced by the machine-made, red Flettons.  The London Stock brick was handmade and the colour came from the clay used in their production, many of which originated in Yiewsley (incidentally, where the Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood grew up), Hillingdon, in Middlesex.  Similar bricks were also made in Kent and Essex.

Fournier Street, London E1, where two of Jack the Ripper's victims were seen before their demise.

Brickfields were opened in Hillingdon in about 1815 and in 1876 a branch of the Grand Union canal was cut from Yiewsley to West Drayton to transport the bricks into central London along the Paddington branch of the canal to Paddington Wharf.  The brickworks were churning out 5 million London Stocks a year at this time.

Anchor Brewery building (1872) Whitechapel Road, London E1

By the beginning of the twentieth century the clay deposits had become largely worked out and production dropped to 2 million bricks a year by 1930. The last brickfield closed in 1935 and now you have to pay premium prices for reclaimed London Stock bricks.

The trees mark the former course of the canal

The special branch of the Grand Union Canal, known as Otter Dock was closed and filled in.  Trees were planted where the canal had been in what is now Colham Avenue, Hillingdon.

The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, London E1

So, I want to see some yellow bricks from the likes of 4Ground for their Whitechapel to Baker Street range. Much of London was yellow!

Whitechapel Station (1884), London E1 

More for In Her Majesty's Name...including a police station

I managed about twenty minutes painting on some of my IHMN figures today which is more than I have done for about two months.  I am working on two companies: the Scotland Yard one and the Egyptian one.

I knew there was another rules supplement for IHMN due called Heroes, Villains and Fiends but now there is another one as well: as Osprey has revealed on it's 2014 preview on its website. They mistakenly call it Sleeping Dragon, Rising Surf in their website announcement.  I assume they meant Sleeping Dragon, Rising Sun and that it presages all sorts of oriental fiendishness.  Unless, of course this is the opportunity to create my Baywatch army (I have seen one on the web somewhere). "Yasmine has the special ability "distraction" which causes her opponents to freeze and be incapable of action for one move.  This increases to two moves if she is running."

In addition, North Star have announced figures for a sixth company: the Brick Lane Commune; a right bunch of anarchists and pinkos if I ever saw them.  I'm tempted to order them immediately but I think I better finish some more figures first!  Nothing particularly steampunk about these which, I suspect, could make them the range's best sellers to date.

Meanwhile, I continue to fret about scenery but have the beginnings of a layout in my mind.  Scott is making great progress on his second Victorian terrace but my modelling skills aren't up to that and so I cheated this week and ordered 4Ground's Victorian police station which arrived very quickly, I have to say.  It's a big heavy box and was absolutely stuffed with bits including, entertainingly, wooden clothes pegs and rubber bands to assist in construction.  It's what Warlord Games would call "replete" with wooden sprues.  Incidentally, the word replete is being used more and more lately.  When I was younger it had a more specific use meaning a person who was full of food but now it's used to just mean full, which although technically correct I find annoying, for some reason.

I haven't built a laser cut building kit before and am now thinking that maybe I should have started with a cart, or some such, first.  The instructions for the police station are on four A3 sides with one being a diagram of the parts and the other three being colour photographs of the assembly.  There are 146 stages in the construction!  The instructions were good but missed one or two stages, missed some of the part numbers out and even gave the wrong one once (so far) but they were pretty good on the whole.  The other problem I encountered were bits falling out of the sprues (are they called sprues if they are wood?) when they were handled which means some careful checking of loose parts against the diagram was sometimes necessary.  I also had one small part missing (or I lost it) but fortunately it was easy to replicate in using some left over wood.

Anyway, I got it out on the kitchen table this evening and started work on it. Some of it is quite fiddly as you have to hold together and place things at the same time but I was very impressed how well things went together with only one or two slight bits of trimming to get things to fit in the holes.  As the thing came together what had felt quite flimsy became increasingly robust.  

What I hadn't realised about this kit is that it includes some interior detailing.  I don't think any of the initial publicity shots showed these interior features, such as the cells and what I take to be a mortuary.  Anyway, after three and three quarter non stop hours I have got the basic structure of the ground floor done.  I would imaging that there is at least another eight hours work to go before it is finished.  It's really nice, though and my only complaint is that the outside is red bricks whereas nearly all East End Victorian London buildings have yellow bricks.  Yellow bricks in this area are much more common than red ones for buildings of this period but people think red bricks equals Victorian. Something that Ripper Street, which is filmed in Dublin, of course, perpetuates.

Here for example, is Brick Lane in the East End and most of the buildings have yellow bricks.  Never mind, I am thinking of giving the finished building a good coating of "soot" anyway.  The next part of the assembly looks like really fiddly doors.  Not looking forward to that!