Sunday, 26 April 2015

Book Review: Masters in Miniature - Alan & Michael Perry


I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect twin brothers Alan and Michael Perry may just be the most prolific of miniature figure sculptors known to history. 

Starting with Games Worskshop as freelancers in their teens, before going full-time (for the same employer), they have also produced loads of ranges for Wargames Foundry, the historical gaming cousins to the predominantly fantasy and sci-fi Games Workshop lines.

They've also worked on the Peter Jackson Lord of The Rings figures (there was a Citadel LOTR range years back, but that was - I think? - the work of other hands), and more recently have been making larger figures, including a stunning array of 54mm sculpts for a WWI Museum diorama in New Zealand, funded by Jackson. Whether these will be made commercially available I don't know, although I'm sure the demand will be there.

Anyway, to matters in hand: Masters In Miniature is a landscape-format book of roughly A4 dimensions running to about 160 pages. An hardback, printed in sumptuous colour (by Atlantic Publishers, who publish Miniature Wargames magazine), it is basically a de-luxe coffee-table picture book, illustrated with an enormous number of - nearly 400 - excellent photos, taken by the Perrys themselves. One staggering thing to bear in mind is that all the figures in these pages are from their own range, Perry Miniatures. These are produced in their spare time... when not at the day job sculpting for Games Workshop!

Medieval period action. Beautifully colourful!

The book was published in April 2014, just in time to be sold at Salute, the big London wargames hobby show run by the South London Warlords club. I bought my copy at this years Salute (2015), on its first anniversary, from the Atlantic publishers stand. This fact gives me the chance to air my first gripe about a book I'm otherwise filled with praise for: at the show I paid £25 for it, which seems reasonable (RRP is £29.95). Online at the Perry's own website, and on Amazon, copies are selling for around £40 a pop. That seems too much to me! [1]

Anyway, that aside, let's get onto to the reasons for buying it, i.e. the all important content. Well, there's a short foreward by Rick Priestley [http://rickpriestley.com], fellow Games Workshop employee (and creator of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000), a very brief introduction by the Perrys themselves, numerous chapters which I'll detail in a minute and, finally, a six-page feature called 'The Perry Twins', by Henry Hyde (editor and publisher of Miniature Wargames, as well as this book itself).

A nice AWI spread.

The central attraction of the book however, is the rich collection of myriad marvellous battle scenarios and the like, arranged and photographed on superb terrain by Alan and Michael themselves. These are arranged in chronological order of the periods which each respective range of figures portrays, covering about a millennia of historical warfare, as follows:

The First Crusade (1096-1099)
Agincourt to Orleans (1415-1429)
The Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) & European Armies (1450-1500)
Samurai Armies (1550-1615) & Choson Korean Army (1592-1598)
The English Civil Wars (1642-1651) and the Border Reivers of the 1580s
The American War of Independence (1775-1783)
Napoleonic Armies (1809-1814) & Napoleonic Armies (1815)
The First Carlist War (1833-1840)
The American Civil War (1861-1865)
The Mahdist Uprising in the Sudan (1881-1885)
World War II (1939-1945)

According to info on the Perry's website this represents 6 months of work in terms of photography alone, and years in terms of the painting of the figures. They modestly refrain from anything further, but clearly the superb quality of the figures themselves is the result of decades, or more precisely two lifetimes worth of artistic skill, that's been constantly honed and developed in very productive careers.

ACW action, including some colourful NY Zouaves.

Each section has a brief intro from one of the twins, which says a little about the period and how it came into being as a figure range from Perry Miniatures. It's surprising how much info the tiny little introductory sections pack in, some of it about the era, and some about the Perrys work in relation to it. They give generous credit to their numerous painter chums, and the makers of the scenery (some of which they make themselves). The pictures are, for the most part, wonderful. There are a few instances of visible 'Photoshopping', such as the hail of arrows in the Agincourt pictures, and some retouching of scenery and backdrops. Where I could spot this it was a minor irritant to me, as I think the figures and terrain as they are look sufficiently fabulous. 

But this brings us on to another important thing about this book: these collections are described by Rick Priestley as being real wargaming armies. And no doubt they are. But they are presented and photographed here more as if they were dioramas. This is not a complaint from me, just an observation. In fact it's a strength of the book; I love it! But obviously these are not pics of an ordinary wargame in progress, where one sees bases, rule sheets, dice, gamer's arms, etc., or the backdrop of a club or a show [2]. 

What I hope to one day achieve in my own wargaming is, effectively, a movable diorama kind of look. That's the approach they've employed here, only tidied up so that any clunky features of the gaming aspect are airbrushed from view. This is kind of a double edged-sword, inasmuch as whilst it's all undoubtedly very impressive and highly inspiring, it could also leave one feeling disappointed with ones own efforts. Rick Priestley acknowledges this in his foreward, when he says 'Whilst we may not all have the same eye for detail, or the boundless creative energy, of Michael and Alan, we can all admire and be inspired in our own efforts in our own individual way.'

Gordon of Khartoum, etc. Not a period I'm
normally drawn to, but it looks good here.

All of the periods covered are, or certainly become, in the hands of the Perrys and their accomplices, highly interesting. There's the obvious danger that to you'll be seduced into raising new armies in scales and periods you weren't previously involved in. As a kid I collected Napoleonics in 15mm, and now I'm doing the same in 6mm and 10mm, and I still consider, even with the advent of plastics, which the Perrys have been intimately involved with pioneering and developing [3], 28mm Napoleonics as (currently) beyond my means. But such is the seductive beauty of their work that I'm slowly amassing a collection of their Napoleonics, despite my efforts to resist! 

There are some obscure periods or theatres covered here, from the more obviously unusual, like the Carlist Wars and the colourful Choson Koreans, to off the usual road-map moments, like the inclusion of Neapolitans vs. Austrians in the 1815 section (which one might've assumed would be purely Waterloo-focussed) or the 'Battle' of Baltimore scenario in the ACW section. And there are also all the old warhorses, like the ECW, the AWI, the Napoleonic era, the ECW, and WWII. In my musical tastes I may pride myself a little on occasionally pursuing, alongside mainstream tastes, a few more obscure avenues. But in wargaming, I must admit I'm slightly surprised to say that I'm entirely content to remain fixated by several of the most mainstream eras.

A Napoleonic spread. Still my favourite era! 

My absolute favourite remains the Napoleonic period. And it's so nice to read Alan Perry saying this: 'I had already produced a fair number of Napoleonics for Foundry over fifteen years, before we set up Perry Miniatures in 2001, which hadn't dried up my enthusiasm for the period. Twelve years on and I'm still making them!' The Napoleonic era is represented here by two sections, one covering 1809-14, the other just 1815. 

In conclusion, whilst this book is not, like most of life, entirely perfect, it is, unlike a lot of life, predominantly very wonderful indeed. As Rick Priestley says in his foreward, 'long may [they] continue to amaze and delight us all.'

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My thanks to Henry Hyde for permission to use the colour spreads shown here.

NOTES:

[1] Signed copies are available from the Perry's own website at the slightly higher price of £42.50.

[2] The backdrops used here are very effective, mostly being of the vaguely cloudy skies type. Occasionally a photographic element is included, and sometimes the Photoshop touch is detectable. Photographing beautiful games at shows is often really hampered by the fact that a beautiful view across a gorgeous terrain populated by fabulous figures terminates in a backdrop of a room full of middle aged men with beer guts.

[3] The Perrys brought out the first hard-plastic Wargames figures in 28mm, with their ACW I set.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent and informative review. I bought the book some time ago, and it is one of those books you return to time and time again.

    The pictures are gorgeous, and the text just enough to complement the pics and keep them star of the show.

    Having worked with the Perrys on their 54mm Gallipoli diorama in New Zealand recently, I'd say there is good cause for a new chapter in any future reprint!

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    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. I love dioramas, and the Chunuk Bair model looks astonishing. Is that what you were working on? I do hope one day I might get over to NZ and see it!

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  2. I have thought about getting a copy of this too at some stage but at the moment 42 quid is better spent on miniatures :) Perhaps I will wait for the second edition as well.

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    1. It seems to be sold cheaper at shows. Best price (I've seen) online is about £36, on Amazon UK. A bit odd, given RRP is approx £30!

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