Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Are you American? Then I think you're creepy and kooky.

Lately I've been delving into representations of the gothic in American culture. For us Brits, gothic America is a slightly uncanny place - many of the cultural mainstays are alien and don't resonate in quite the same way. A good example of this is the classic American haunted house - a tall, faded, wooden clapboard structure. We have very few examples of clapboard constructions in the UK so these buildings immediately strike us as 'alien' and 'other'. There is no sense of familiarity about them. Good examples of such houses in pop culture are the Bates house in Psycho, and the Addams Family mansion. It's the latter I want to delve into, particularly because of the franchise's pedigree.

Created by cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938, the fictional family continued to appear in printed cartoons until 1988. They have been the stars of numerous TV shows, cartoons, movies and video games, as well as featuring in other universes like Scooby-Doo. Throughout, their residence has been described as a 'mansion' and its depiction has stayed pretty consistent.

The mansion in a panel by creator Charles Addams 

Another Addams panel, giving a view down from the central tower. This scene with the boiling oil is recreated in the opening of the 1992 movie.

The facade of the mansion from the 60s TV show

The box cover of the 60s plastic model kit by Aurora, later re-issued by Polar Lights

The house in the 1992-3 (I think) cartoon

The set at Toluca Lake for the 1991 and 1993 movie adaptions

The mansion in a SNES video game
(I'm not sure which of the four games this is, all were released by Ocean between 1992 and 1995)

This is an unofficial and speculative plan of the mansion from addamsfamily.com. The site says:
The Addams Family Home Floor Plan was drawn by Mark Bennett.  Mark Bennett has been drawing floor plans of TV homes and offices for years.  The floor plan appeared in the LA Times Magazine on September 10, 1995.
Timber became increasingly uncommon as a construction material in Britain as the centuries passed. We destroyed many of the forests which covered our island. Land was converted to agriculture or the wood used for buildings, industry and the fabrication of ships to fight the French and Spanish. Brick and stone have been common for several hundred years. These materials also have the benefit of being less combustible, as fire was a constant threat in dense, cramped cities like London. America has had no shortage of wood (especially split oak, pine and spruce which are ideal for construction), nor space on which to build and so wood has persisted in vernacular architecture. The clapboard style has come to resonate as historic and is therefore a common signifier of a 'haunted' house. Indeed, the faded grey of the Addams' mansion is a natural consequence of the tannin being washed out of the clapboards as the years pass.

The Addams mansion is in the Empire style - neoclassical inspired by French architecture under Napoleon. This aesthetic was popular in America from about 1810. Charles Addams had probably seen the SK Pierce mansion in Gardner, Massachusetts. This is one of America's most famous 'haunted' houses. Built in about 1880 it later fell into disrepair and was the site of various alleged murders, deaths and suicides.

The SK Pierce Mansion. Its bay windows and central tower make it a likely source for the Addams' residence.

In 2013 Tim Burton was attached to an animated reboot of The Addams Family, but, to date, this hasn't come to fruition. It would be fascinating to see how me might have re imagined the franchise and its mansion, especially given how he overhauled Batman in the 1989 movie. Alas I can't find any concept art for this aborted version.

I'll leave you with this great bit of fan art of the mansion by IrenHorrors:


Monday, 13 February 2017

Land of Hope and Glory? Not in Wisconsin...

Dangerous Minds has just posted an excellent piece on the infamous Black River Falls in Wisconsin. The bleak history of this mining town was profiled in a 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip and then, later in 1999, an excellent documentary of the same name. Being an avid film buff at university at the time of release, I remember the piece as being quite a landmark. It's shot almost entirely in gorgeous black and white and features a haunting soundtrack.

Someone has uploaded the whole thing to YouTube and I've embedded it below. I'm not sure how long it'll be around so I'd recommend watching it sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Heavens above! An interview with Makoto Kobayashi

I've mentioned mecha designer Makoto Kobayashi before on this blog but haven't written about him in great detail. His work is utterly stunning and up there with the great Kow Yokoyama. Indeed, there's a lot of commonality between their styles. They both represent the best of that 80s niche vogue for organic mecha and tech design.

I've only just found that Forbes published an excellent interview with Kobayashi last year. It's a wonderful read. Amusingly, it reveals that some of his most iconic work was done under pressure when commercial plans went wrong and he was asked to provide solutions.

Kobayashi is perhaps best known for his anime Dragon's Heaven. With its unique design and live-action title sequence it's remembered fondly. He has also been featured in numerous editions of high-end Japanese modelling magazines, including Hyperweapon. In the interview he describes how many of his models were kitbashes he made when asked to pitch to large anime studios. Alas, these magazines are almost impossible to find in hard copy in the West, and one has to make do with the odd scan that pops up online.

I'll leave you with a small selection of his work.








Friday, 10 February 2017

Blood Angel Scout squad

Due to life being a little busy it's taken me rather a while to complete these guys. They are the second iteration of Space Marine Scouts and are some of my favourite ever miniatures. They come from that wonderful period when Games Workshop was pushing into really weird, baroque territory. These guys are a bonkers-crazy mash-up of Landschneckt sleeves, Adam Ant makeup and mohawk hair cuts.


They were actually really tricky to paint for two reasons. These old casts lack some detail along the axis where the two halves of the mould meet. I found myself having to paint in the detail around the bits of armour that cross this axis. I'm so used to the amazing detailing on GW's current plastics that I'm not very practised at this. Second, the wide variety of colours means you can't 'spray and pray' as I've done with most of my other Marines. I opted to zenith spray these guys white over a black base, and then block in the other colours. I didn't do too well with the recess washes so spent a lot of time tidying things up. I got so fed up of this I baulked at painting the slashes on the sleeves black, which in hind sight, I'm disappointed about.

I took inspiration for the colour placement from Fangorn's amazing Advanced Space Crusade cover and some reference shots of the original plastic minis in Bryan Ansell's collection. I thought about adding more contrast to things like the knees, but ended up keeping them mono. I also changed the red shoes and knives because they seem too toy-like.



Photo borrowed from Eldritch Epistles

I've got one of the Made to Order Assassin casts on the go at the moment. The guy's a dream to paint and I'll soon have some polymorphine-fuelled help for the Scouts.


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Trainers on film: Highlander

I re watched the original Highlander recently and was reminded that it's both beautiful and cheesy in equal measure. Had the execs spent as much time and money on the script as they did on the production design it would be a masterpiece. Nonetheless it was a sleeper hit whose appeal grew with the home video market of the late 80s.

One of the things I enjoy about 80s movies is the costumes. Partly because my memories of the decade are hazy and movies tend to fill in the blanks, but also I love retro-clones and am always mining for material. Hence I was interested in Russell Nash's trainers, which are featured rather heavily and stand out a mile.



Just to get as much product placement as you can into a shot, you see him crush a Coke can with his lovely sneakers.

After a bit of googling I think Diadora Borg Elites are a good contender for the shoes. The distinctive forward-facing Y-band is a giveaway. Subsequently I found this post on Reddit which seems to agree.


From the website END.:

The signature silhouette of coveted Swedish tennis pro, Bjorn Borg, the Diadora Borg Elite was an instant cult-classic upon its launch back in 1978. Renowned for being as popular on-court as it was off throughout the 1980’s...
This website also has a detailed entry. It seems there was a 'gold' variant of the shoe made from kangaroo leather (and possibly this is the one in the shots on white above), but the movie stills imply that actor Christoper Lambert wore a grey-stripe version.

There's no real reference to the grey-stripe Borg Elites being massively expensive. So what does that say about Lambert's character Nash? That he's fashionable, but deliberately un-ostentatious to keep his profile low. Perhaps with kangaroo skin shoes the Kurgan would have sniffed him out quicker?

On a side note, The Prop Gallery has an entry for Lambert's trench coat, which it lists as custom made. While Nash might have opted for this more subtle form of bespoke tailoring, there may have been a practical reason to avoid an off-the-shelf garment. The coat needed to give the actor great freedom of movement and look good under wind turbines, and no commercial jacket was found to do this.

There can be only one.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Gangs of Commorragh

Games Workshop has just released the excellent Gangs of Commorragh game and I was lucky enough to be on the playtest team when it was in development. Check out a post about the gang I created on the Warhammer Community website.

Here are some more photos of the minis.





These are the handy reference cards that I refer to in the post.



Below are some shots of the gang in action on the playtest mat I made depicting the noxious, smog-filled skies over Commorragh.




Gangs of Commorragh is an awesome game and a great addition to the lore of the Dark Eldar race. You'll find yourself banking at breakneck speed around spires, trying to hang on your target's tail while desperately avoiding being a quarry yourself. Between games you'll be tooling up your gang members in an attempt to squeeze every last bit of ounce of killing power during their next clandestine run. I can highly recommend the life of a gang leader in the Dark City!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Reigns review

Reigns is a casual app game which has been getting great reviews. You play a medieval king who must rule his subjects wisely and avoid the many pitfalls that will beset you. Its mechanic is simple - it's a choose-your-own-adventure with a Tinder-style swipe-left or swipe-right system for making decisions. You have four resources to manage - the Church (bless em'), the people (damn 'em!), your army (yessah!) and your treasury (ker-ching!). When any of these drops to zero, you loose.

What caught my attention about it was its unique art style. It uses super-lo-fi vexels for pretty much everything including the beautiful little portraits of all the protagonists. It's amazing to see how much character can be imbued with so little detail. Each person's appearance is accompanied by a short sound effect (a kind of mumbling pseudo-voice) which further gives them life.

The game isn't easy. You're going to die. A lot. But one of the game's strengths is its entertaining failures. Your death is unfailingly amusing and you're going to end up chuckling to yourself on the bus as your corpse is thrown to the dogs by angry mobs because you let the plague take root in your capital city. You idiot. Indeed, there is a quirky sense of humour that pervades the whole game. The writing reminds me a bit of the excellent Sword & Sworcery - you'll constantly be thinking "Whaaaaat?" to yourself.

It's a great little game and may even teach you something about the complexities of ruling a nation.