Sunday 31 May 2009

How to Draw and Fight Zombies by Ben Dunn

I recently bought this book "How to Draw and Fight Zombies" by Ben Dunn mainly because of the subject but also because I am trained as a graphic designer. The title intrigued me. Not only is this book going to tell me how to draw zombies, it is also going to tell me how to fight the critters. Hell, what's not to like? Bring it on, I said!
This is a softback book measuring 215mm by 277mm and is 128 pages long. It is split into six chapters - Introduction, Know Your Zombies, Know Your Comrades, Know Your Weapons, Know Your Vehicles and Final Notes.
Introduction. This covers tools of the trade - pencils, erasers, pens, brushes, markers, nibs, ink, rulers, templates, curves and compasses. Next are two pages showing the Basic Body and the Basic Bones. In other words, the correct proportions of a human body (male & female) and the skeletal structure showing all the bones. Get these right and you're well on your way to success. The final part of the introduction is a brief tutorial on using layers in a program like Photoshop. This is something I've never done but I'd like to try out sometime.
Know Your Zombies. Aka "What's eating you?" Here we come to the meat of the book. The author shows examples of some of the most common (and a few uncommon) types of zombies you might encounter as well as discussing their strengths and weaknesses and talking about illustration techniques. What I particularly like about this book is that a variety of artists have been chosen to illustrate it so you are not lumbered with just the one style of artwork. For example, some people love Manga style artwork, others loathe it. If you do like Manga then you're covered. If not, don't worry, there is sure to be someone else's style whom you admire. Each type of zombie featured in the book is shown in a variety of stages from a very rough pencilled outline to the finished product. The inbetween stages are not too big a jump that leave you asking "how did he get from there to here?" The 10 zombies shown are the zombi, the comet zombie (male & female), the supernatural zombie, the revenant zombie, the apocalypse zombie, the possessed zombie, the parasite zombie, the experimental zombie and the chibi zombie.
Know Your Comrades. This chapter, the longest in the book, shows a mix of character types and occupations of typical survivors found in a zombie apocalypse setting. Again, a variety of artists have been chosen to illustrate the examples and each example is shown in at least four different stages of development. The 16 characters chosen are the benevolent scientist, the mad scientist, the lab technician, the reporter, the special agent, the SWAT trooper, the nurse, the soldier, the couple, the burnout, the jerk, the coward, the everyman, the damsel and the sportsman.
Know Your Weapons. This begins the section of the book with the sub-heading "The Comprehensive Guide to Zombie Vulnerabilities." (It isn't! It is far from comprehensive!) This short chapter shows how to draw the following weapons - the assault rifle (AK47 shown), the shotgun (12 gauge Mossberg 500 shown), the flamethrower, the revolver (.357 Ruger SP101 shown), the automatic pistol (.45 Colt Model 1911 shown), explosive devices, the chainsaw, the torch (that's a flaming torch not a battery operated device) the sword and a page showing three improvised weapons - the hammer, the baseball bat and the axe. As I said, a short chapter, but if you know how to draw one automatic pistol, for example, then you ought to be able to draw any automatic pistol. The technique for drawing weapons is what really counts here.
Know Your Vehicles. This chapter is even shorter than the last one and features just 3 vehicles, namely the four wheeler (a 1978 Ford Bronco with a 351 V8 engine), the eighteen wheeler (a 1970's Freightliner truck) and a helicopter (a Bell Huey 212). As usual, each illustration is shown in various stages of development from rough outline to finished product.
Final Notes. This has the subheading "Helter Shelter" and it shows 6 possible locations that may be used as a place of refuge (two abandoned houses and a remote island) or avoided like the plague (a city centre, a shipwreck and a prison island) when Z-Day arrives. These six illustrations are all the finished article and do not show the differing stages of development.
The artists featured in the book are Fred Perry, Rod Espinosa, David Hutchison, Kelsey Shannon and Joseph Wight. Their styles vary quite a bit, which is definitely a good thing. The writing, by Ben Dunn, is in an easy to follow, laid back style. There is a lot of good advice in the book and it made me want to get back to drawing again. Sadly, with so many figures to paint, buildings and scenery to make and loads of other distractions I don't know when I'll find the time, which is a shame, as I used to enjoy drawing. Not many people may know that I once illustrated a book of short stories about vampires. It was called "Darkling, I Listen" by Valentina Nightingale but I doubt very much if it is still in print. As for "How to Draw and Fight Zombies" this is a wonderful book. The "how to fight zombies" part is of debatable quality but the "how to draw" part is first class. My only criticism of the book is that it left me wanting more, especially on the chapter "Know Your Zombies." I could have happily waded through 128 pages of zombie illustrations. The artwork throughout is in black and white, which works well for most of the illustrations. It is published by Antarctic Press and retail cost is $19.99 but you can buy it for a lot less than that from somewhere like I got my copy from Red Hot Comics for just £12.50.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Studio Miniatures Zombies 02 - Mob 2

As promised, here is part two of my review of the Studio Miniatures 28mm set of zombies. Zombie Mob 002 contains eight more superbly sculpted figures. These are easily the best sculpted zombies on the market. Everything about them is just perfect - the level of detail, the basic anatomy (so easy to get wrong - see Fortress Figures, ahem!), the poses and the different ways they have died - some messily, some not so obvious. John Price, in his great review of the first set (see ) mentions the story-telling aspect of these figures and it's a valid point. Each figure does have a story to tell. They are so full of character, which is darned impressive when we are dealing with the shambling undead!
Taking a closer look, I've grouped the four males of the group together above. From left to right are a bare-footed, bald-headed guy in ripped trousers and T-shirt, holding part of an arm in his right hand. He has suffered a severe head wound, which sadly isn't apparent from the angle of the photos I took. Standing next to him is a chap with an appalling stomach wound, revealing his innards. Hmm, extremely moist! Next in line, this guy does not appear too badly wounded - a few rips and tears in his clothes. Notice how all three are standing. Whilst they are all in very similar poses those poses just scream "zombie!" to you. Last in line is one of my favourite figures from this set. He has had one leg ripped off, been disembowelled and suffered bites to his arms. As I said, some of these died very messily. What makes this zombie stand out from the crowd is the inclusion of the parking meter that he is using for support. What a great prop to use and such a good idea!

Next up are the females. The aging fat lady reminds me so much of the woman the fire crew were called to look at at the start of the film Rec... and just look at all the trouble she caused! Grandma zombie, standing next to her, looks at first sight as if she's just died of old age. But look closer and you'll see her long coat hides a fatal stomach wound. In truth, she comes without any obvious wounds, but I decided to paint a bit of blood on the left side of her stomach. The third female in line looks like she died of anorexia. She is one of the skinniest figures I've ever seen. She is obviously a young woman so her emaciated figure fits perfectly with the stick-thin "perfection" demanded by so many fashion houses and modelling agencies nowadays. However, again if you look closer, you can see she has been hit in the head as a chunk of her hair is missing from the front right of her head. Finally, is the chicken mascot, the only figure out of the range that is not a one-piece casting. The left arm is a separate piece that has to be glued in place. I'm not 100% sure of the sex of this figure but that doesn't matter as it is still a great miniature. The face is hard to make out if it's male or female but the muscles on the arms and legs suggest it is more than likely male. The idea of a zombie mascot is not a new one - see my review of the Victory Force zombies. However, this mascot is much better sculpted than the Victory Force mascots. His right wing has been torn off to reveal a chewed upper arm. He also suffers from a neck wound just above his right shoulder. The sculpting of the feathers is most impressive.
Like the first set, this is available in either metal or resin. The metal set costs £15.99 for the eight figures, whilst the resin set, oddly enough, is more expensive at £24.99. Let me just remind you once again that if you buy both sets together you get a free bonus figure of George A. Romero the zombie. If you haven't already got these sets I urge you to buy them as soon as possible. These deserve to be the stars of any zombie horde. Honestly, sculpting does not get any better than this!

Saturday 23 May 2009

Fortress Figures Zombie Hunters

To complete my review of the range of 35mm scale Fortress Figures zombies I now present their zombie hunters. These come in two packs, containing two figures each - set ZZZ501 Chrissy Hotrod & Timmy and set ZZZ502 Chelsea & Scott. All are armed with melee weapons. None of them carries a firearm. An oversight? I'm not so sure. In a zombie apocalypse game set in the UK very few people would have access to firearms. Sure, we read about the prevalance of gun crime in the USA but I'm sure that the vast majority of citizens do not go around toting guns, so when the dead start rising most folk will just have to arm themselves with what they can find.
Chrissy Hotrod has armed herself with a hockey stick. A nice touch is the bite taken out of the end of the stick. Her friend, Timmy, has gone for that well-known sporting staple - the baseball bat. Cheerleader Chelsea carries a chainsaw. Where would zombie hunters be without the infamous chainsaw? Scott, who is probably dating Chelsea, is the muscular college jock and he totes a machete, probably the best weapon out of the four for killing zeds.
These are sculpted slightly better than the zombies, which isn't saying much. As a group they work well together. Scott is noticably taller than the other three, but given that he is a jock, that's not a bad thing. If you were to include them with survivors from other figure companies they will stand out due to their size. If that bothers you I'd steer clear of them. I could see this group working well in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game as well as the more obvious zombie apocalypse games.
Let me tell you about the bases of this range. All figures come with integral circular bases, 18mm in diameter. Included with each figure is a 25mm square base made of resin with a hole cut out of the top so you can fit the figure snugly in the base. I've never seen this kind of basing anywhere else before. I chose not to use the square bases for two reasons. First, I base all of my contemporary figures on circular bases, usually 25mm in diameter. Secondly, it would have made what is a tall figure to begin with even taller. I stuck all of my Fortress Figures zombies and survivors onto a thin piece of card cut to a 25mm diameter circle. I filled in the edges with Milliput sculpting putty and then based them as usual with sand and gravel. This helped knock a couple of millimetres off their height, which makes them fit in better with other smaller sized ranges. However, they still remain the tallest figures in my collection.
Both sets retail at $6.00.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Fortress Figures Zombies 02

Part two of my review of the Fortress Figures range of 35mm scale zombies concentrates on their resin casts. Part one covered their metal range of zeds. This is set ZZZ201 Zombie Horde 1. What you get here is a pack of 10 assorted zombies in three different poses. In the picture above, going from left to right, the first three figures show the poses they come in. All are naked from the waist up, wear either boxer shorts or ragged cut-off trousers and are bare-footed. Fer asked me if I have any duplicates in my zombie horde (which has now surpassed the 200 mark) and I replied I haven't. What I have done with the duplicates from this set is to convert them. The beauty of them being cast in resin is that they are very easy to convert. So cutting off arms to swap or reposition or making body swaps by cutting the bodies at the waist was a simple task. With the addition of some sculpting putty (use whatever you're happy with - I use either Green Stuff or Milliput) you can really come up with something original. The negro zombie is based on the third zombie in line but has had his left arm removed and his right arm repositioned. A new hairdo completed the conversion. The female zombie was my most extreme conversion. She is based on the second zombie in line and I haven't altered the pose. I did make her waist thinner and her bum bigger. I added boobies, a dress and a new hair-do. I'm quite proud of this conversion.

These five zombies are all conversions. Body and leg swaps on most of them. New hair on all of them and a few arm swaps or repositioning of arms. The zombie second from the left holds the severed arm that I cut off from the negro zombie, although it actually belongs to a totally different victim due to its colouring. The centre zombie has had the trouser leg of his left leg restored. The next zombie in line suffers a gaping stomach wound with his intestines falling out! Finally, the zombie at the far right has had training shoes and sports socks added. These were not difficult conversions to do for me but I do have some experience in sculpting. You may decide such conversion work is beyond your skill. No shame in that!
The set of 10 figures retails for $10.00, which is good value for money. But are they worth buying? Well my criticisms of the Fortress Figures metal zombies apply equally to these zeds. They do have a cartoon-like quality about their sculpting and their size will, I'm sure, put many a purchaser off. Be warned, these are some of the tallest zombies on the market.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Fortress Figures Zombies 01

I'm always learning new stuff about the art of blogging. I was looking at someone else's blog-site earlier this week and they had typed under each of their pictures "for a closer look click on the picture" When you clicked on the picture it appeared on a new page and just about filled the screen. That's cool, I thought. I wonder how he did that? I went back to my blog-site and clicked on the first picture. Lo and behold, a new screen opened and there was my photo, full screen sized. These good folks at Blogger make life so easy! The purpose of this rambling is to let viewers who were not aware of this feature that if you want a close look at my photos then just left-click on any picture and it'll open up in a new screen. Mind you, at that size, every little mistake is magnified greatly. I've included the instructions under the header of my blog-site to remind you and it saves me from typing it out after each photo.
So onto this week's review and once again I'm looking at some of my older figures from my collection of zombies. These are 35mm scale zombies from Fortress Figures, an American based company. They come in packs of two and first up we have sets ZZZ212 Susan & Chris and ZZZ214 Wannabe & Lil Sarah. I've grouped them together as a family of mum, dad, son and daughter. The figure of Chris (dad) reminds me of Marvel Comics' Simon Garth the Zombie. Sarah is very tall and slim. Wannabe (what kind of a name is that?) has the surly teenage look just about right. Lil Sarah clutches her favourite teddy bear to her chest. None of these figures appear to be badly wounded and could just as easily be painted up as ordinary civilains, especially given their poses.

The next two sets are ZZZ213 Fireman Bill & Deputy Dan and ZZZ215 Deady Page & Johny Rotten. Apart from a few holes in their clothing the cop and the fireman aren't badly wounded. However, Deady Page (clearly inspired by Betty Page) has suffered greatly. Her midriff and lower arms have been completely chewed away, leaving nothing but bone behind. The punk, Johny Rotten, is in a ridiculous pose for a zombie. Zombies do not kick - fact! At least not in any game I run. As a consequence I have painted him as one of the living. He sports no wounds whatsoever, which lends further credence to making him a live human.

Moving on, we have sets ZZZ211 Dr. Laura & Dr. Drew and ZZZ216 Skip & Matt. Yet again, the two doctors could pass for humans with a more healthy skin tone and if you filled in the few holes in their clothing. I went over the top with Dr. Drew, assuming he was killed by whoever he was operating on in his surgical theatre and thus soaked his clothing in blood. Skip makes a great zombie "dragger," having been cut in half. Matt is obviously dead. He lies spreadeagled on the ground with his decapitated head nearby. Most folks know if you remove the head you kill the zombie.

Finally, is set ZZZ217 Mailman Steve & Roadkill (great name for a zombie dog!). Teaming up a postman and a dog is such an obvious choice. Mailman Steve is another zombie with relatively few obvious wounds, although his face and pose are clearly that of a zombie.The dog is huge and I don't know enough about dogs to identify its breed.
Each set of figures retails at $6.00. I fully acknowledge that this range of figures is not going to be to everyone's taste. For a start, there is their size. At 35mm these are some of the tallest zombies around and they will tower over many smaller ranges. Secondly is the standard of their sculpting. They have an almost cartoon-like quality to them and in no way could you describe them as being realistically sculpted. The heads on some are oversized, especially on Dr. Drew and Matt. Despite that, I find them rather appealing and so I was quite happy to buy them. I'm all for a bit of variety in my zombie horde. However, they would not have been my first choice of zombie figures to buy and I doubt if they'd be many other people's first choice either. If you want to pack out your horde with tall zombies then go buy 'em, otherwise I'd advise you to steer well clear of them.

Sunday 3 May 2009

Alpha Forge Games Zombies & Survivors

It's another blast from the past as I revisit some of my older figures in my ever-expanding collection of zombie miniatures. These 28mm scale figures are from an American company called Alpha Forge Games. They are perhaps better known for their sci-fi figures and skirmish game - "Star Mogul" but they have a nice sideline in contemporary horror figures and what you see here is their complete range to date.
Shown above, from left to right, are two zombies with brain problems. The first one appears to have had his brain removed and his head sown back up. I have no idea how he he is meant to function unless someone is using a necromantic spell on him. I use him as a zombie with a very thin head and unless you point it out most people don't even notice the odd shape of his head. Next to him is my favourite zombie out of the range. He holds a severed head with the skull cut open in his right hand and the scooped out brain in his left hand. The top of his own head has been cut away to reveal his own brain. He is just so gross! The other two zombies were meant to be flying/levitating zombies, presumably as part of a demonic power they possessed. I dislike this idea and so I cut away their flying bases and remodelled their feet to ground them on terra firma. Now they look like any other bog standard zombie.

Next up are four zombies from the medical laboratories. The doctor at the left suffers from huge lumps growing out of his back and skull. Did he get too close to the victims he was experimenting on or has he tried an unknown formula on himself with unexpected results? Whatever the case, he isn't a pretty sight! The nurse carrying the shears has had her lower jaw ripped off. That ought to shut her up! The other two zombies are covered in odd shaped growths and boils, presumably the same disease that has affected the doctor.

Moving on, we come to the first of the survivors and we have quite an eclectic bunch. From left to right are a gangsta with his trusty nine mil, all bedecked with plenty of bling. Naturally, his baseball cap is on back to front. The tramp is carrying his sleeping bag over one shoulder and he waves a wooden club menacingly. Note the thermos flask sticking out of his coat pocket. The chap standing next to him is described as "man with shotgun and mullet." Not only has he got a mullet but he also has a ponytail! Someone shoot him now! Finally out of this set is the teenage mum holding a bawling kid in one hand and a baseball bat in t'other. I painted "Yummy Mummy" on her t-shirt.

The city gent tries to defend himself with his briefcase and umbrella. Hmm, wouldn't be my first choice of weapons to defend myself with! The Victoria Beckham lookalike shopaholic has found a golf club to keep those nasty zombies away from her new clothes. My favourite figure out of the survivors is Grandma MacGillycuddy armed with a chainsaw that she can barely lift. She's such a laugh and a great character! Finally is grandad, fresh from a spot of gardening with a hefty-looking spade.
These are a superb range of figures that I can highly recommend to any zombie miniatures collector. Sizewise, they will complement the likes of Hasslefree's and Studio Miniatures' zombies very well. I admire any manufacturer that tries to do something a bit different with their zombies and Alpha Forge Games certainly have succeeded in that respect. Even though I don't like the flying zombies that doesn't detract from these being finely sculpted and detailed miniatures. The survivors are a fun bunch of figures, just the kind of disparate range you'd expect to be thrown together in an emergency. All figures retail for $3.30 each except for the flying zombies who are $3.40 each. However, you can buy all 16 figures for just $42.00 in the Zombie Nightmare deal. That's what I did, saving myself $11.00. If you just want the zombies you can buy all 8 for $23.90, which is a better option than buying them all individually.