[40K] Been Painting: Middlehammer Chaos Space Marine squad

I aten’t dead.

I’ve felt like it, particularly during mid-October when literary festival week caught me by the cobblers and dragged me round the back for a good seeing-to, but I have neither died nor abandoned the hobby. Even if I did have to cash out of Resurrection 2, to my chagrin and also that of my Wild Riders, who were quite looking forward to the outing.

After several fallow months I finally mustered the gusto to paint some moon men and, well, here are the results.

Four years to prime. Four months between batches. Four days to finish. They’re going to be Fourth Claw, and that’s an end on it. They are the 2002-ish plastic Chaos Space Marines I retrieved from Jess’ stash and rehabilitated with bits from all over the 40K range. While I have a lot to say in favour of solid single piece miniatures these days, I do appreciate the sheer range of interchangeable parts offered during this range. Their poses are not as infinite as all that – there’s not a great range of things you can do with them before they start looking a bit gormless, and we’ve all seen miniatures assembled with more enthusiasm than anatomical know-how in our time – but the variety of components I was able to use on these with minimal fine motor control involved makes those poses pop. Perhaps a close up or two to illustrate the point.

The relatively plain front and centre plasma gunner has parts from, let’s see now: Khorne Berserker legs, Iron Hands and Mark III arms, Mark III plasma gun, Possessed shoulderpads, Forge World head and vanilla Chaos Space Marine backpack. Not sure about the chest plate, it’s quite possibly off the Vehicle sprue. Not an outlandishly posed or painted figure but has a lot going on, in a quiet sort of way.

The Aspiring Champions, of course, are a bit more extravagant.

I personally subscribe to a “they may not believe in Chaos, but Chaos believes in them” approach to the Night Lords, which permits me to use some of the more grobbly nobbly daemon bits off the sprues and not feel like I’ve somehow betrayed my Legion. I try to walk back the more extreme “full Chaos” units like Possessed, blending in some more mundane bits to ground them a little more.

This squad, I think, have been around the block a few times. Marooned, perhaps, in some backwater warzone or derelict spaceship; the survivors have been reduced to augmetics to replace missing limbs, endured mutation over amputation, and generally done the best they can with a bad lot. They are probably travelling companions to Hexander, my Sorcerer from the aesthetically compatible 2008 plastic kit; I like to associate kits in my mind like this as it groups together models that don’t quite match up in scale or style and makes something productive out of the visual discord.

With these done I am free to assemble a few more at the front end of the queue. A reasonable person might start putting together plastic infantry from the contemporary range, which were purchased earlier this year. A person like me, with a birthday on the horizon, might instead acquire some new Raptors to round out their squads with the appropriate members of the Ablative Brotherhood (the previous owner of my squads went large on special weapons, apparently deciding that the Codex was for suckers). In any case, the Possessed are also primed and have been waiting longest, so it’s them next.

When, I cannot say. This will definitely be the last army I paint – with both arthritis and tendonitis working against me, I am simply no longer capable of painting in volume or at speed. Five models in two leisurely days is an accomplishment in the circumstances, but to someone who normally sits down after breakfast, paints till teatime, and gets the project done come what may, it’s a bit of a comedown. I am no longer the man who can crank out twenty Skeletons in a day and I just have to accept that.

All the more reason to take my time with these and make sure they look as good as I can manage. They don’t quite meet the heights of my best Warmachine-era paint jobs, but they are head and shoulders above the quick and dirty Wood Elves and experimental, “maybe not like this” Orks I did earlier this year, and that’ll do.

[Been Painting] Night Lords Kill Team (1/2)

Because the weekend before a WFB tournament is the BEST moment to get the 40K brain worms.

It started innocently enough. Wrapping up my entry to the Old World Army Challenge got me thinking about Orks. That got me writing a retrospective on my previous attempts at an Ork army. That got me thinking about all the Ork conversions for which I’ve had ideas for years and years, and maybe doing a little army to host them all…

… except, of course, that it’s Orks, and all the cool tank conversions and economical “stick the spare arms on Kromlech bodies” scams in the world can’t disguise that it’s mobs of thirty walking wound counters who think vets and bovva boots are enough to keep their entrails from becoming extrails when boltguns are on the line. (And anyway, the Ork Boyz whose spare arms would have been the keystone of my Kromlech-based economy drive are about to be booted from the range anyway.)

Thus frustrated, I loaded up Dawn Of War II: Retribution in an attempt to excise the Orkoid impulse from my brain. Which reminded me how great Chaos Rising had been. Which reminded me that I had a whole Chaos Space Marine army hanging around, stalled out for the best part of four years, three squads and a Sorcerer primed and ready to paint.

Then things started to escalate. In chatterings with Mr. Ængle and Mr. Steven it became clear that actual games of third and second edition 40K could be in the offing. A look at the available fixed-pose modern plastic Chaos Space Marines suggested that judicious eBaying would build me a bigger pool of bodies. Enough for a ten man squad, a five man squad and a four man retinue, as well as a Chaos Lieutenant if I repurposed Obsidian Mallet McBovril or whatever his name is from Black Crusade. And there’s a version of the infamous 3.5 edition Codex on Battlescribe.

And, er, now I have a 1000 point Chaos Space Marine army in various stages of done. The above are the first “new” models to be completed. The full story of their acquisition isn’t really germane here, but you can find out more there. I’m doing a “five in, five out” thing where I have to get the primed models done before I can build any new ones, and likewise have to paint up my Sorcerer before I start on my Lieutenant.

For the sake of reference, I’m going to document the method I use on my Night Lords here as well as adding it to the army summary:

  • primer: grey gesso
  • trim and cloth and skin: wash: thinned down Dark Flesh (Vallejo)
  • trim: drybrush: Solid Gold (P3)
  • guns and pipes and worky bits: drybrush: Cold Steel (P3)
  • trim: wash: Seraphim Sepia (Citadel)
  • guns and pipes and worky bits: wash: Nuln Oil (Citadel)
  • plate: tWo ThIn cOAtS: Stormy Blue (Vallejo)
  • cloth: highlight: Sanguine Base (P3)
  • skin: thin coat: Ryn Flesh (P3)
  • bone / plasma / spooky Chaos bits: thin coat: White Scar (Citadel)
  • skin and plate and bone: wash: Drakenhof Nightshade (Citadel)
  • spooky Chaos bits: wash: Nighthaunt Gloom (Citadel)
  • bone: second thin coat: White Scar (Citadel)
  • flesh: second thin coat: Ryn Flesh (P3)
  • base: Astrogranite Debris (Citadel)
  • base: Drakenhof Nightshade (Citadel)
  • base: Valhallan Blizzard (Citadel)

I find the gesso primer much easier to work with than any amount of spray paint, because I can’t aim for shite and also live in a tiny house with no real outside space. A nice mid grey with plenty of tooth is dark enough for the metallics to settle well on, but doesn’t render the other colours too drab.

I generally use Vallejo paints for anything that needs a thin coat or a bit of finesse, P3 when I want a nice strong colour for little effort, and Citadel for anything technical (they still make the best washes and effects on the market, for my money). I would use Citadel Shining Gold for the trim, but after 25 years my pot is almost out and I’m saving it for Vampire Counts where I want to colour match.

They will get transfers eventually, but I’m not prepared to mess around with those in hot weather when my skin is greasy and my temper short. Transfers are not something I’ve historically messed with and I only have so many on this single Horus Heresy sheet what I own – I’m not taking risks with them.

All of this is about as much effort as I’m prepared to make on a miniature. I can do five of these in two days and I tend to get the shakes somewhere in the middle of the plate stage. I am, however, quite pleased with the results. These models don’t all have as much obnoxious trim as the later Chaos range (probably because a lot of the bits are from Iron Hands or Heresy era kits) and have come out looking a little plainer, but I think that works for a team of operatives who’ve been out fighting the Long War forever and a day – hence designating them a go-to Kill Team who may eventually be rotated out of the lines as new models join the army.

I’m also working on the Eye of the Warmaster, my Sorcerer, although I’m not entirely pleased with him yet. That black undercoat has really done the drabs on him and I suspect I’ll need to give the gold a nice strong highlight to put some pop back into him. I may also flip the base colours around so there’s something nice and pale directly under his feet: at the moment he’s one big dark-n-boring blob. The final option is giving up on the “token member of the Black Legion” conceit I originally had in mind, and just painting him up as a goddamn Night Lord. Or Thousand Son. He does look quite… Tzeentchy.

I’m open to suggestions, if you have any.

[40K] To All The Orks Wot I Have Left Behind

Waaagh It All Began

Second edition 40K is technically where I came in.

I didn’t really play properly – I must have set up and played the Battle for Armageddon scenarios (compressed onto a barely 3′ by 2′ folding table) half a dozen times in my grandparents’ house, but other than that I think I played two chaotic games against other eleven year olds who had even less grasp of the rules than I did and hadn’t even bothered with “army lists” or “staying within one Codex”.

SOMETHING about it had me by the throat, though. I think it was the sheer density of the thing: the rich, vibrant, busy art style; the encyclopaedic Wargear and Codex Imperialis books alongside the rules; the short fiction, some of it really haunting in how it portrayed the futility of life in the forty-first millennium (‘Griznak at the Bridge’ gave an Ork a kind of self-doubting, self-aware tragedy you’d never see in today’s tie-ins, and ‘Dark Communion’ is still the essence of Chaos for me) all the damn cards and templates, some of them for strange weapons I would never see fired in anger. And dear god, some of those rules were complex, some of that art was grim!

I know there was hue and cry on the early-days domestic Internet about GW “dumbing down for the kids” with the rise of the Kirby era box sets (my first Internet fight was with one Christopher Valera over his Burger Workshop pastiche, when I was one of those very kids and defending the space opera genre with intensity only the barely pubescent can muster – I doubt he remembers, and I would prefer not to). Having looked from third edition WFB to fourth I can see where that came from, but I’m not sure how it sits with 40K. Second edition 40K was a complicated beast for an eleven year old to grasp, and artwork like the Pontifex Maximus (which still gives me the conniptions to this day!) still made it in.

I played Necromunda, though, and found the rules (especially hand to hand combat – sweet mercy, what a mess that was!) much more accessible when single models were targeting single models. I suppose that’s what I really remember second edition as, in retrospect: rules for individuals, creaking and groaning as whole squads were forced through them. It took another go around for 40K’s developers to work out how it needed to be more than Fantasy In Space: the increased complexity of movement/placement, and the varied weapon loadouts in squads, were accommodated by knocking out the modifiers and conditions that applied much more smoothly to a regiment.

But all of this is just preamble. You see: I collected Orks. They were also in the box and Adrian Wood’s piece about his own army was in my first ever White Dwarf and look, Space Marines just seemed boring. The Orks were in this for a good time, a bunch of lads doing their best in a hostile universe. They had Gretchin with silly names, they had the comedy voices, they had that cool as shit Dreadnought with the four arms. And nobody wanted all of theirs so I ended up with a lot of extra figures.

No photos of that Goff army survive. This was 1996, and nobody was about to waste physical film on taking (bad) photographs of toys.

Continue reading “[40K] To All The Orks Wot I Have Left Behind”

[Meta Gaming] Dark Communion: the Return of Termite Art

This is where it started, you know. Bill King. John Blanche. Three pages, tucked away at the back of the second edition Wargear book. Four columns and a massive illustration in which Chaos is not explained but exemplified. I want you to hold on to that idea – not explained, but exemplified. I think we fall into bad habits, as nerd-folk: habits of codifying and classifying and explicitly stating I-think-you’ll-find-that-it-said-on-page-62-of-that-novel-that… and I can’t even be assed thinking of an example, because I’m pretty sure you’ve thought of one already. What we have here is an impression of what it’s like to be a Chaos Space Marine, to be something old and spiteful and powerful and yet lost in its own body and its own memories. It doesn’t baldly tell you things; it shows them to you, obliquely and elegantly articulating by example.

I can’t articulate some things without people articulating in songs for me. People can’t articulate what Shakespeare said without quoting Shakespeare chapter and verse. Not that I’m setting myself up against Shakespeare; I’m just saying that some things can only be articulated in Art. That’s what Art is for.
— Andrew Eldritch (again)

And is what we’re doing here Art? That’s one for the ages – what is Art, and what is Worth, and does what we’re doing have the signifiers of either? I’m not at liberty to say. It sounds to me, though, like what we can do with this is have some sort of vision, or impression, or concept in mind and communicate that vision through a medium, and it just so happens that our medium happens to be little toy soldiers and funny voices. I’m suggesting that if something can be articulated in a story or in a painting or in a sculpture then it can be articulated in something that has about it elements of them all and is, more to the point, something not consumed – look, don’t touch! – but created actively by a small group of people here and now, in the moment: something tactile and tangible and yet ephemeral, something gone in the morning. Art that renders you complicit in the act of making Art.

This of course brings us back to the art of making, and to Termite Art. Now do you see why I reposted the old Frugal post? Everything I said three years ago still stands – while purporting to encourage conversions and creativity the contemporary Games Workshop (and, increasingly, other manufacturers, including those who pal up with Army Painter and Battlefoam to shill their expensive gamer-brand hardware) doesn’t encourage you to make stuff out of crap you found in your house but instead out of the official brand-name conversion kits (and don’t think getting yours from Kromlech or Chapterhouse or wherever places you beyond the reach of my grand and arrogant swinge; it does not, it simply shows that you’re a smart consumer with aesthetic taste). However, there are a couple of things doing the rounds which have extended my worldview a little.

The first is this alternate usage of ‘Termite Art’ as a term by Manny Farber, meaning not art-as-scavenging but art-as-digestion-and-excretion:

Good work usually arises where the creators seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite- tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.

The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.

We’re not operating under any pretence that what we do is High Culture or Great Art; the officer of my WoW-RP guild reacts with polite horror to the very suggestion that it has any artistic merit whatsoever. We are, I hope, acknowledging that what we do is in Farber’s sense an artistic practice. It’s not for anything other than the fun of doing it, and – if we discount the witless pursuit of Official Best Nerd status at events – we become better at it through a rather haphazard process of continually doing stuff.

The other thing that’s gnawing at my soul, post-Gamer-Gate, is the idea of the gamer as defined by what they consume. It’s about video games, of course, but I feel that much of it applies to the likes of us as well.

Gamer identity is tainted, root and branch, by its embrace of consumption as a way of life. If gamers suddenly became completely inclusive, if all of the threats and stamping of feet went away and the doors were flung open, conspicuous consumption would still be the essential core of their identity. The mythical gamer who does not exist to consume is not a gamer. A raisin is not a grape, and no amount of rehydration will turn it into one.

And let’s be honest here; primary or secondary markets, bought or traded, we’re all consumers here. The question is, are we smart consumers? Do we buy the shit that’s shovelled at us or do we say “this is shit, let’s make something better out of stuff I found in the kitchen cupboard or bought in the hardware store or have had in the loft forever”? Embracing Termite Art means, I think, that we take some degree of ownership; we don’t buy ugly models because they’re official or because they have good rules, we don’t spend a hundred and fifty quid on injection-moulded plastic when a perfectly decent 6’x4′ table with basic scenery can be hand-made for half that sum, and we don’t play Borehammer or Stallroller-type Warmachordes, obediently lining up to fit into the out-of-the-box experience that the siege mentality provides.

Embracing Termite Art means playing in a way that gnaws at the edges of the table, that spills over into other kinds of expression, that are bigger than just another pick-up game. I have so much that I want to do, so much that I want to write and draw and model and paint and play and, yes, all right, collect. Without, it must be said, automatically buying only models for parts, or even only buying things for parts. It’s still gaming as conspicuous consumption; but what’s consumed demands excretion, and that’s the principle of Termite Art. It’s not what we buy that counts, it’s what we do with it.

[Meta Gaming] Vintage Years For Grimdark

In a comment thread on the House of Paincakes, resident genius Mr. Cedric Ballbusch staked out the idea that it was a terrible, terrible mistake on the part of Games Workshop to set its space fantasy dakkafest at the end of the titular forty-first millennium. Easy enough to say with the benefit of hindsight, says I, but at the time I don’t think a) Messrs Priestly, Stillman, Halliwell et al were expecting the game to last for twenty-six years and counting, and b) they could have done things any differently.

Perhaps some context will help.

I was born in 1985; the same year that, for the first time since its launch, Doctor Who was deemed too shite for public broadcast, and the same year that The Sisters of Mercy sold out the Royal Albert Hall. It took another couple of years for the other great loves of my life to materialise – Hark was born in 1986 (obligatory mushy stuff here) and, in 1987, the aforementioned Sisters released Floodland and Games Workshop launched this funny thing called Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

While I don’t think there’s an explicit link between these latter two concepts, you have to understand that in the third term of Thatcher’s Britain, living with the rattling madwoman-in-the-attic spasms of the Cold War’s final years and under the dusty toxic shadow of Chernobyl, a definite sense of fin de siecle seems to have hung in the air, which the two products under the microscope here illustrate beautifully. While not the literal turn of a century in the same sense that the Decadence of the 1890s was, there’s a definite sense of closure, shutting down, boarding up the old shop windows and getting ready to call it a day. How else does one explain the brief fashionable flourish of gothic rock, a prevailing cultural mindset in which the Sisters can nab three Top Ten hits in a year?

The associations between the Games Workshop of the 1980s and the seemingly-invincible Iron Lady have been well documented (here and also here). Everywhere North of Watford and west of, say, Oxfordshire, there’s a sense of hard times, watching the skies, wondering if the rising waters or the falling bombs are going to kill us first. It’s no accident that The Sisters Of Mercy emerged from Yorkshire and no accident at all that 1987 saw them metamorphose into a synth-driven brooding engine, dropping out three singles around three themes – personal revenge elevated to pompous epic, geopolitical economics reduced to a semi-plausible adventure of loss and betrayal, and a seething, sexy, fuck-it-all-let’s-have-a-dance-in-the-ruins post-industrial foot-tapper. What else are you going to do in all those empty mills? Floodland is a personal breakdown wedded to a political quagmire, the one serving as metaphor for the other; it’s unrelentingly, gloriously doom-laden and yet there’s three songs which are basically elaborate sex metaphors and one about soaring away on an amphetamine-fuelled high. Steve Sutherland said at the time:

Dying on record is a dicey business, especially when it’s world destruction that dogs your every waking minute because there’s nowhere to go artistically – the bomb doesn’t get worse, it’s just there. Facing up to that, Floodland is a triumph of sorts, neither optimistic enough to suggest there’s a Noah’s Ark nor pessimistic enough to accuse us all of navigating like a ship of fools. It simply says rust never sleeps and this is what it sounds like.

I’m of the opinion that Warhammer 40,000, with its looming fin de grande siecle feel, is tapping into that same sense that there’s nowhere left to go but that we might as well have fun while we’re waiting for the bombs to start falling. The sense that there may soon be nowhere else to go, that our leader is simply not going to go away any time soon, that everything is falling apart but we keep it together because what else is there? That’s Thatcher’s Britain writ large. That’s the vision at the heart of Floodland. That’s the essence of 40K right there.

How could they not set it when they did? The ol’ China (Mieville, of course) never spoke truer words than “when you sit down to write, society is in the chair with you”, and the society of the mid-to-late-Eighties was one in which, for a brief moment, Mr. Eldritch and his drum machine were right on the cultural button.

It couldn’t last, of course. 40K’s black humour and smirk in the face of oblivion would be exaggerated and distorted as we moved toward the actual end of the millennium and realised that the end of the world has still failed to arrive on time.

The process started, I think, in 1993. Doctor Who‘s thirtieth anniversary, ‘celebrated’ with the cack-awful ‘Dimensions In Time’, a special which – sweet, nourishing irony! – crossed-over with the very programme in favour of which Who was cancelled. (Incidentally, if you think goth music and 40K are depressing, watch EastEnders for a month. Especially at Christmas.) The Sisters released their last single, and have since lurched along on permanent strike, touring every couple of years, trotting out a few new songs every time, but refusing to release either Jack or Shit.

Meanwhile, 40K received its Tom Kirby Big Box Game treatment (although this is where I came in, so I can’t be too hard on it). The words on the front of the box? IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY WAR. ‘Grim Darkness’ has become ‘grimdark’ since then, said with a sneer, in much the same way as “I still like The Sisters Of Mercy!” has become perfect shorthand for being sad, out of touch, trapped in one’s own memories. 40K wallows in its own pomposity, cranking its own release cycle like mad, subsequent Codices acting as ever-bigger giants, turning full circle back to random tables, Vortex grenades and psychic powers on cards (y’know, those things from… 1993’s second edition); forever ramping up the thread of an apocalypse it’ll never have the balls to see through.

At the time, it made perfect sense. Now? I don’t know. All the things I love have turned into zombies. I’ve spoken of my love for ‘dead’ things before, things which aren’t going to be fucked around with in order to produce a new iteration for the sake of paying the bills, and yet I can’t quite put down Doctor Who, or The Sisters Of Mercy, or indeed 40K.

I’m still selling my Necrons, though. And I still type things in Caslon Antique.