Wednesday, December 5, 2018

1973 Preview of Mythical Earth Minifigs


"Middle Earth wizard painted as Saruman in his 'coat of many colours'; a vicious-looking man-orc; a rather stocky elf; axe-wielding dwarf, and of course, a hobbit. Dwarves are sold in strips of two, the second figure armed with a spear, hobbits in strips of three armed with sword, short sword and spear." - original caption

In 1973, Miniature Figurines, perhaps better known as Minifigs, a British-based manufacturer of metal miniatures for wargames, began production on one of the first lines of fantasy miniatures. (Another very early line by Jack Scruby Miniatures is discussed in this recent article at Playing at the World.)

The line of 25 mm minis was called 'Mythical Earth' --- obviously inspired by Tolkien. The preview photo is from Airfix Magazine, August 1973, and shows some of the first figures in the line, including (from left to right) painted versions of ME4 Wizard, ME1 Man-Orc with Sword, ME2 Wood Elf with Bow, ME3 Dwarves (one of two figures) and ME6 Hobbits (one of thee). Chainmail was in existence at this time, but the publication of D&D in January 1974 was still a number of months away. 

In the Playing at the World article linked above, Jon mentions that the "Mythical Earth" was not the original name for this line, but was a rebranding to avoid suit by the Tolkien Estate. This appears to be reflected in this preview as it only uses the name "Middle Earth" and not "Mythical Earth".

It's stunning to realize that when this article was first published, in August 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, though not for long as he passed away the following month on September 2nd, 1973.

The preview was part of the "New kits and models" column in Airfix, author unlisted but probably Editor Bruce Quarrie or Editorial Director Darryl Reach:

"In their 25 mm range. Miniature Figurines  have sent us the first samples in a new series of ‘Middle Earth' figures. Wargamers who are also addicted to Professor J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings will be delighted with these figures, which currently include a wizard, man-orc, dwarf, elf and hobbit, illustrated here. Future releases will include Riders of Rohan. Dunedain, and Nazgul mounted on pterodactyl-like winged  beasts. Orcs and further examples both of the Free Peoples and Sauron's minions. Readers of Wargamers Newsletter will realise that there is considerable demand for fantasy figures of this type, and Miniature Figurines are to be congratulated on such an imaginative venture. The figures will undoubtedly be especially popular in America, where Tolkien is a great cult figure, and in this context it is worth noting that the firm are soon to be opening a factory in the States."
Thanks to Shining Knight pointing out this article in this thread on the Dragonsfoot.

A pdf of the magazine can be found over on the Internet Archive.

A gallery of the entire Mythical Earth line can be seen on the Lost Minis wiki.

The line eventually grew to 101 figures. Despite the focus on Middle Earth, it had a few oddities, such as ME51 Frog Man (perhaps Gollum? But why avoid using his name when you already using Hobbit, Huorn, Rohan, Dunland and Harad?), ME100 Centaur, and the final figure ME101 Pan.

J. Eric Holmes owned minis from this line. I previously wrote about his Green-Painted ME58 Dragon and also about a ME4 Wizard in the photo from the Tales of Peril dust jacket.

(Article originally drafted in April 2018 but just revised & posted today)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

1977 Gen Con X Souvenir Program


Gen Con X Souvenir Program, 1977. Source: Gen Con Guru

The Holmes Basic Set debuted in the summer of 1977, with TSR selling it at Origins in July, and then at Gen Con X in August. In this year Gen Con was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva for the first and only time, a site that is now the Grand Geneva Resort where Gary Con has now been held for a number of years.

I'd seen the covers of the 1977 Souvenir Program before, for example at the Gen Con Guru, but Demos Sachlas (editor of the B1 and B4 fan sourcebooks) just sent me a few photos of the interior that he took of a display copy at Gary Con last March. Page 19 is an ad for the Basic Set, which is now the earliest ad for it that I've seen:


Basic Set advertisement from the Gen Con X Souvenir Program. Source: Demos Sachlas

This advertisement is similar to the first one that ran in Dragon magazine, the next month in issue #9. Of note, these ads use a black and white excerpt of the original artwork rather than a picture of the actual box set cover.



Differences between these two ads include:
-the earlier ad is two-tone black/red, like the rest of the program, later ad is just black
-the later ad adds the subtitle "Swords & Sorcery..."
-the later ad revises "dungeon geomorphs" to "full set of dungeon geomorphs"; "polyhedra dice" to "set of five polyhedra dice"; "revised D&D booklet" to "revised D&D rules book".
-the later ad adds "*T.M. Reg. App. For", although the earlier ad includes the asterisk to which this refers, so perhaps it was removed during the program book layout
-the later ad adds the price, $9.95 plus $1.00 postage and handling
-the later ad replaces the "Other Recent Releases from TSR" and Booth information with a mail-order form

The program also includes a hand-drawn maps of the "Lake Geneva Area", which Demos suggests are by David Sutherland:



Maps of the Lake Geneva Area by David Sutherland. Source: Demos Sachlas


Of particular note is the drawing of the lake monster confronting a galley in Geneva Lake (confusingly, the town is Lake Geneva, but the lake is properly Geneva Lake):




Compare this with his lake monster from the cover the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980):

Detail from the cover of the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980). Source: TSR Archive
See this post for another Lake Monster, attacking a Rhennee barge, by Sutherland from the interior of the Folio.

Perhaps surprisingly, the advertisement for Holmes Basic is on page 19, and not on the back cover of the program, page 32, which instead advertises another new TSR game, Warlocks & Warriors, designed by Gardner Fox:

Warlocks & Warriors ad, back cover of Gen Con X Souvenir Program (1977). Source: Gen Con Guru

The illustration here is also by David Sutherland, and also appears in the Warlocks & Warriors game instructions. The wizard wears a conical "stars & moons" hat, much like the one on the cover of Basic, and the warrior has a helm with an especially realistic-looking dragon: