Saturday 28 February 2015

Red Box Games: Chosen of Hel

Red Box Games Barbarian Hordes Kickstarter is up and running, and once again the gnomes of Zhu were tasked with preparing some imagery to punctuate the piece....

Thematic header, for the Kickstarter. Twin axes engraved with Bindrunes Thurisaz + Tyr, not as an invocation or dedication to the god, but the the warrior-pride that he is known for, and Thurisaz - Thorn, often associated with giants and destructive power of nature.   Isa (ice) and Haglaz (hail), the frozen earth, like winter storms, immense, unstoppable deathly things to those that live in the hard northlands. Blind Raven - carrion of the battlefield, who cares not whose flesh he devours, Blind Skull - the fallen and forgotten, and the Seeing Helmet.

The long braid and  that evil is a gender equality employer and is indiscriminate in the collecting of skulls. Formal arrangement like a military display. The sword-runes read Ragnarök - it is the very death of the gods that the Helsvakt seek. The Othala rune on the male skull, inhereted wealth - the death of kings, and the Fehu rune on the female skull, cattle - the death of wealth. They may be interpreted as Odin and Frigg, or the self-image of the Helsvakt, as those who already count themselves among the dead, and so are fearless in battle.

The Helsvakt in Tre's mythology are bloodthirsty maniacs enslaved to the sorcerer-goddess Hel.   Chains are a long established theme central to the imagery of the Helsvakt, signifies only their bondage, but.  The thorn is a new, a kind of medieval barbed-wire, it's a reference to a nature vs. man-made. The one eyed skull is, of course, Odin, and the sword is engraved with the runes ALU (in Anglo-Saxon, rather than the Elder) a historical charm with uncertain meaning - it has been found on axe handles and arrow-heads but not swords to my knowledge. Theory has it that ALU means 'ale' or 'courage', or literally 'Dutch Courage' and perhaps the mythic relationship between the 'drunken' state and berserker.

I wanted a move away from the expressionist gore imagery of the last Helsvakt-led campaign,  towards something colder, starker, possibly more evil and sinister, heavier and blacker. Equally stone-carving and woodblock relief print they visually drawing on ancient Greek Red Figure pottery - after all, Barbarian comes from barbaros - the ancient Greek word for an uncivilised person, these are images not made by the Helsvakt in celebration of their Goddess, their victories, or their madness, but by the civilised men that fear them and tell legends of Ragnarök.

But nobody's really turns up to a RBG Kickstarter for my graphics (although there have been a few requests for t-shirts, which we have done in the past but it does depend on the funding going above and beyond the core product). Nope... what they're after is more epic Red Box Games miniatures...

Jötunn WIP

Helsmaiden WIP

I was going to go on at length about diversity of representation of body types in fantasy, feminism, ethics in games journalism and all that, because when there are creators out there like Tre making kick-ass evil female warriors which are 100% matched up with their male contemporaries and this is totally ignored by all the . Not that Tre' has a feminist agenda, totally unlikely to give a crap about that - it's all about being true to the character and concept. As it should be, and the only to axe be ground here, is about to cleave the skulls of its foes.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Footprints Magazine #22

Sporting a brand new "Footprint" nameplate and strapline "Ideas & Adventures for Advanced Fantasy Games" created by the Gnomish Art Slaves of Zhu, Footprints Magazine #22 is out now!

Footprints 22 | Masthead by Zhu
The Grove of Ghost-lights by Markus Holzum

The nameplate design  is based around is a subtle visual pun with the lettering almost looking like a monster, perhaps a dragon, a demonic goat, or a basilisk or some such beast of our imagination standing on the line ...leaving footprints... which also references physical printing, the line being the substrate and the being the blocks. Subtleties aside, the aim was to create something clean and contemporary, whilst embracing the legacy of TSR era D&D, both attitudes which the magazine personifies, and it succeeds in that.

The lettering is based on ITC Honda Designed by Ronne Bonder, Tom Carnase and Bob Newman and published in 1970. It's the same typeface used by TSR for their Dragon magazine from 1979 to 1992, and was chosen to continue that tradition. Similarly the word "Magazine" and the strapline was set in Century Gothic for it's long association with TSR publications, and specifically its use on Dungeon magazine. and creating a modern / archaic. light / heavy contrast with the Blackletter Honda.

ITC Honda | ITC 1970
The strapline "Ideas & Adventures for Advanced Fantasy Games" sums up the magazines gaming focus - it is 99% table-ready gaming material and inspiration (fiction and art), rather than positioning itself as a general gaming or fantasy magazine with reviews. It also evokes the idea of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - the focus of the magazine - without specifically stating so by using the key word "Advanced" and the contains the all important ampersand - the typographic shibboleth of gamng geekdom.
The layout design has been handled by Michael Haskell and Jeff Johnson, and they've done a great job on the typography and re-purposing public domain images to illustrate the mag. There are lots of nice touches - the title of "Pulling Strings" reminiscent of the creative lettering that Polly Wilson used to do for the Fiend Factory monsters in White Dwarf back in the day.

But what of the content? Well it is filled with magical items, traps, giant spiders and more - but don't take my word for it - go download! Download Footprints Magazine 22

Friday 13 February 2015

Destroy: Power Armour T-shirts

Perfect for the moshpit, demolishing a shed, taking up the patio, playing a wargame with your mates, gang-fighting in a turf war, growing your beard, hunting around vinyl record shops on around the East Village, planning interplanetary conquest or drinking a craft ale.

The new destroy t-shirt on Zhu Shop US - exclusive, but what is it all about?

Destroy: A History of a Time to Come

destroy [zhu] 2015

Blackletter. In the middle ages before printing was invented, everyone used to copy out books by hand. But of course, not everyone could read - only those with an education, and they tended to be members of the Church. Blackletter as a form developed out of the scriptorial tradition, the rigours of writing with quill on parchment - it is essentially a sequence of rhythmical down strokes and flicks.


Once printing and mass production of the book arose, Blackletter, as the dominant form of writing, became codified as typefaces of the kind used by William Caxton (1476) and Johannes Gutenburg (1439) for the first European printed books, and the letterforms continued to dominate the written word for a few hundred years.

fractur fette

Around the 15th-16th century, Blackletter became hugely unfashionable in parts of Europe, including England, mostly due to The Renaissance and the love of all things Roman - so their letterforms began to dominate. In England, the older, more worn out, cheaper typefaces used by low cost publishers for books of less value and a cultural split between the high, learned, refined, cultured, civilised, of the Roman Antiqua and the low, debased, popular, parochial Blackletter formed...

The country-mans lamentation for the death of his cow English 15th C. Blackletter |via

However Blackletter continued to be used in Germany for serious as well as popular works, and remained for quite a long time, often being used alongside the now more familiar Roman-derived Antiqua (as the Broadsheet ballad above illustrates.

In a time when people actually cared about typography as a cultural activity more than just snarking at Comic Sans MS a wide-ranging cultural debate about Antiqua vs. Blackletter held in central Europe. During the 1940s Blackletter forms were greatly used by the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei for propaganda purposes (and I think therefore feels 'Germanic' or 'Gothic' to the Europeans who went full-bore Antiqua) but subsequently denounced by Adolf Hitler for being too German. Yes. Really.

New York Times | Blackletter since 1851
The Times of London, however, converted to Antiqua thanks to Stanley Morrison in 1931s

And I think from NYT through to NY Gangster Rap - a kind of regionalism. So that brings us nearly up to date, Blackletter type can still be seen on pub signs, cider bottles, tobacco tins, rock and rap album covers, gang tattoos, beirgartens, mexican stakehouses, newspapers, RPG products and the sides of Proto Space Marine helmets busy carpet bombing the planetary surface of Lave...

Dave Andrews | Rogue Trader | 1987 | reason for the holes.
Nobody expects the Space Inquisition! Well, apart from people who frequent this blog, who frankly just scrolled past the fascinating and illuminting history of typography looking for the 1980s gaming reference whilst humming Wild Boys by Duran Duran to themselves (go on, admit it). It's one of my all time favourite images from Warhammer 40k. As far as I know, no miniature was ever produced that looks like this guy. No rules for carpet bombing battlecraft ever written. It's like an entire gaming universe compressed into a tiny atom, awaiting the next big bang, an unexplored parallel dimension, radically different to the one we know yet somehow familiar.

But just what is the word "destroy" written in blackletter doing decorating the side of some galactic space warriors defensive armour in the year 40,000?

Military Folk Art

One reading is that the word 'destroy' may be part of a tradition of decorative military folk art, provisionally starting around WW1 and continuing right through to today.

Nose Art, painted on military aircraft more often than not tends towards pin-up girls, Memphis Belle being among the most famous. Perhaps a slightly depersonalised recurrence of the Chivalric lady's favour, the ideals of courtly love and honour - and indeed some nose art were painted as reminders of 'girls back home' whilst simultaneously identifying an aircraft and its crew, whose flight jackets may also carry the image, the genuine intermarriage of identity, group and symbol that most branding companies can only ever pay lip service to.

Alternatively the designs appear aggressive and animalistic - the shark tooth patterned Nose Art above a prime example stemming from WW1 German fighter planes alongside kill / mission markers. Often these can appear more comical than frightening, but they could be a relic of the totem animals found in many warrior cultures,

Warhawk with Sharktooth Nose Art

Blood Angels in Corvus Armour with Sharktooth Helmet Art

Blood Angel miniatures with Sharktooth nose art | via the inimitable Jonas

While the shark-tooth pattern that we see on fighter aircraft.  We can see the warrior-animal thinking taken to its extreme in 40ks Space Wolves

 It certainly appears that military folk art is part of the visual language of Rogue Trader Space Marines - and it must be said - other forms of power armour, such as that worn by renegades and orks. The lettering in Dave Andrews original piece appears to be hand-painted, perhaps because it is hand painted, but perhaps it is also representing hand painted 'graffiti' which lends some weight to this reading.

But pure writing, as we see in Dave Andrews, rather than the primarily representational forms of Military Folk Art seems reasonably rare until the Vietnam War (1955-1975), where Helmet Graffiti became widespread:

Vietnam Helmet | via

This development during the Vietnam War intersects directly with the history of the mass produced marker pen - the "Magic Marker" first invented and sold by Sidney Rosenthal in 1955 in the US, and the modern felt-pen invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan in 1962. The medium is the message - the enabling factors of new writing technology finding expression.

The 69 and the Military Marker via

So iconic did the practice become that film maker Stanley Kubrick chose that particular language to graphically represent his film Full Metal Jacket (1987) the frisson between the signs of the poster and the film are an essay unto themselves (the nature-nurture duality of the phrase born to kill for a movie 50% about military training)...
Born to Kill | Philip Castle | via

Similar graphic territory is scouted out by Alan Moore and Brett Ewins in their 1983 Rogue Trooper strip "Pray For War" - where Rogue (who in a later incarnation dons the name and the helmet graffiti Friday ) meets a lost Souther whose helmet proclaims his self-identity Pray for War...

Pray for War | Brett Ewins (art) Alan Moore (writing) | Rogue Trooper 2000AD | 1983

This admixture of warriors name, identity and military equipment seems to go back thousands of years. Thinking Seax of Beagnoth, a 10th Century Anglo Saxon blade inscribed with a set of Futhark (the runic alphabet) and the name Beagnoth. It's unlikely that Beagnoth, like Gunnar, Helm, Bagman, Sting or Stormbringer is the name of the item itself, and historians are unlikely to ever decide whether Beagnoth is the name of the owner of the blade, or the signature, the brand-name of the manufacturer.


Destroy The Brand

So another reading of Dave Andrews 'destroy' Space Armour, may be that 'destroy' is the name of a manufacturer of space suits and powered armour. A brand, perhaps like 'No Fear',  or Destroy Skateboards, RoZ favourites Disturbia or some other biker/sports/punk/goth crossover brands, gone into the manufacture of space suits.

Significantly for my design, fashion designer John Richmond incepted his street wear brand Destroy in 1987 - he same year as Rogue Trader was published. Richmonds streetwear label fused a rock and roll biker sencibility with an activel, clean sports wear aesthetic. If Dave Andrews was making an intentional reference it would have required to have the finger on the pulse of British fashion design. Possible.

Destroy | 1987
It's also interesting to note that Ace from Doctor Who made her debut in 1987 and Red Dwarfs Dave Lister in early 1988. Heavily patched up leathers becoming a British sci-fi signifier for slacker / rebellious yoof. Something in the water? Can anyone hear the distant drum machine of indie-pop-industrial-lite Grebo

Destroy | 1987
Richmonds 'Destroy' label entered similar graphic territory as BOY london and continued the punk legacy of  St. Vivienne Westwood' and St. Jamie Reid. Barney Bubbles work with Hawkwind. However, unlike St. Viv, Richmond filed a Trademark on the word "destroy".

Destroy. Jamie Reid (graphics) Vivienne Westwood (shirt)

My t-shirt production company Spreadshirt do their due diligence - and so have pulled my design as it might infringe John Richmonds ownership of the mark. Anybody who knows me also knows I'm a big defender of peoples intellectual property, so while I am somewhat miffed by not beign able to release the t-shirt, I fully support the legal and economic process that allows this to happen.

Arguably the trademark is dormant - John Richmond isn't selling Destroy branded clothing, and arguably, if anyone was to do so, nobody would assume that the garment had been designed by John Richmond, it's lost currency through inactivity. However, I say "arguably" but I don't have the means or inclination to pay for a professional to make that argument on my behalf.

Richmonds solicitors have yet to respond to my request to clear the use of the word. The trademark is due for renewal in March this year, and there is a chance they will let it drop, in which case the shirt will be released in the EU. Until then, it's US only.

But hey, John, if you're reading this, drop me an email, let's rebuild Destroy. There has never been a better time for the brand to make an impact.

Supermodern destructivism

We live in the age of supermodern destruction, where "film critic" Lewis Beale talks of the spectacle of destruction as a kind of pornography, but without acknowledging Ishiro Honda's Gorija as Hiroshima and pretending that the post-WTC imagery is something new, has he even seen a single 1970s disaster movie, not even Irwin Allen's Towering Inferno ?  How did this guy even get a job writing about cinema with absolutely zero knowledge of it past the last 5 years?

That Beale chooses the sensationalist word porn over the more critically adept and meaningful spectacle seems to belies his own fetishisation of violence. Pornography involves people, the spectacle of destruction involves things, confusing things and people sociopathic tendencies and the transference of desire that's the literal meaning of a fetish. The phrase "destruction porn" reeks of the kind of vacuously desperate, foot-stamping,  attention-seeking that has become rampant in our fragmented and hypernetworked reading experiences. From tawdry clickbait headlines and a to fill the endless void of the internet with meaningless distracting "content". Instead of culturally informed critics expanding our understanding of subject matter, we get armies of jibbering self-important idiots pointing at stuff they have no critical understanding of screaming look at me! look at me! I show you thing!

Destruction as an aesthetic response is not new in the Supermodern landscape, we can talk JG Ballard, Punk, David Carson, Godzilla, Cornelia Parker, Burroughs cut-ups and countless other works that celebrate the end of things, like a gnostic release from the hell of the material world - if anything the spectacular destruction of the inanimate and symbolic apparatus of society remains one of the enduring motifs of the post-nuclear age, not a fleeing, momentary knee-jerk reaction to any particularly single social or historical event, but reveals itself to be one of the great meta-narratives of Supermodernity.

Sketch: Work In Progress | Graphite on Laserprint | [zhu] 2015

The classic, controversial  'destroy' t-shirt black and blue, limited to 66 pieces world wide, and available in the US only:
Don't forget there are also an ever decreasing number of Rogue Trader, Evil Empire and Oldhammer First Edition, Oldhammer ov Khaos shirts which are available through Zhu Shop EU

As ever, please note I only design these shirts, and am not responsible for their manufacture or delivery. Please familiarise yourself with spreadshirts generous returns policy in your area before ordering. Either I've put on weight, or Spreadshirt sizes tend to come up "small", so usually order one size up. This advice may not be appropriate if you are not an English Male with a serious biscuit habit. Please consult your fashion advisor.