Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wheel of Time Action Figures Part 1: Rand Al'Thor

Ok, so way back in 1998 I did something REAL geeky. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it isn't, but before I tell you what it is I did (and if your deductive reasoning skills have recently been featured on failblog and you haven't figured it out yet), I just want to put this whole situation in perspective a little bit... because it was sort of a perfect storm of circumstances that lead to me having the time and the inspiration to do this.

OK, so as some of you know, back in the 9-8 I was entangled firmly in the rut that was my horrendous dead end relationship (with a whole two years to go!). My daily routine at that time consisted of taking the A train to NYU, getting class over with, and rushing back home as soon as humanly possible to enjoy the few hours of girlfriendless peace and quiet I had before she would get home from school or work and find some way to completely wreck my day ("completely wrecking my day" consisted of anything from asking me to do something I likely didn't want to do, to speaking to me, to just being within my general vicinity for several consecutive seconds... do you get the point yet? I didn't like her). Now, given that the majority of my life was a confusing, unhappy quagmire I needed to have several avenues of escapism just to maintain the state of casual, loosely-defined sanity that I usually exist in. Among those were obsessively watching pro wrestling, making weekly trips to the comic book store and Toys R Us, a new found fascination with hip-hop, and of course, reading nerdy fantasy novels.

Now, on the advice of my friend Danny I started reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series sometime in late '97 and it absolutely captured me. Prior to Jordan, the only fantasy I had really read were myriad Dungeons and Dragons novels (my favorites being everything by R.A. Salvatore and Weiss & Hickman's Dragonlance stuff) and of course, the Lord of the Rings. To me, then and now, Jordan was on a whole different level. Wheel of Time absolutely blew away anything I had read before and I quickly became completely obsessed. Train rides to and from school were now accompanied (and thus made infinitely more pleasant ) by a Wheel of Time novel... along with, somewhat incongruously, Raekwon's "Only Built for Cuban Linx", Wu-Tang's "Wu-Tang Forever", Juvenile's "400 Degreez", "The Rza as Bobby Digital in Full Stereo", Method Man & Redman's "Blackout", and several other hip-hop albums that heavy rotation on my disc-man (remember those?).

So anyway, on one of the aforementioned weekly Toys R Us excursions that I was taking half because I was collecting toys, and half because I wanted to avoid my girlfriend, I noticed something. Now, any toy collector who is in Toys R Us a lot will tell you, when you go regularly you start to see the same crap over and over again, as toys that don't sell well will tend to sit on the shelves for quite some time before getting marked down. Back in 1998, one of those aforementioned pegwarmers was the Ian Nottingham figure from the very short-lived Witchblade series.


Now I was seeing this thing week after week and I would have the same thought over and over, "his coat looks like Rand's coats". "Rand" being Rand Al'Thor, the main character in the Wheel of Time books (well, one of them anyway). Somehow, that simple thought planted the seed that would eventually become "hmm, I should make my own Wheel of Time figures". So that's exactly what I did (hence the "I did something real geeky in '98" at the begining of this post).  

For those who haven't read the books (and oh my, you should), you have to understand something, Jordan is a descriptive writer. A very descriptive writer, so I couldn't just half ass this. If I was going to make a Rand Al'Thor figure, goddamit it had to look like Rand Al'Thor. Enough so that anyone who has read the books would look at my toy and think "hey that's Rand". I don't think I'm being immodest when I say I achieved that result.  I still don't quite know how I did it either. I kind of chalk it up to a combination of Jordan's work being very inspiring and the amount of pure angst I had bottled up at the time just aching for any method of release. The results, I think, speak for themselves and personally I feel my Wheel of Time figures are the best thing I've ever done creatively. So far I've got 10 figures which are technically "finished" (although all of them could use minor to major tweaks of one sort or another). Those are Rand Al'Thor, Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Elayne Trakand, Nynaeve Al'Meara, Thom Merrilin, Ishamael, 2 Trollocs and a Myrdraal. Beyond that, I have figures of Moiraine, Loial, Egwene, Lanfear, Lan, Padan Fain, another "battle damaged" Rand and more Trollocs all in various stages of "unfinished".

Anyway, I think I've yammered on enough about the back story of this whole project, I should probably get to the reason you're likely reading this in the first place at some point, and that would be the figures. Well, one of them anyway, I'd kinda like to take my time with this so I can explain how each one was made and give little details and stuff. So with that in mind, I'll be putting up the pics over the next few days, two or three figures at a time. If this thing proves popular enough, or if there's any demand whatsoever, I'll even post the unfinished figures eventually. But for now, you'll have to just settle for my first, and favorite, custom made Wheel of Time action figure, Rand Al'Thor.

In the books, Rand is described as having greyish-blue eyes and reddish hair. He is tall and muscular and, as of Book 6 (when the figure was made) he had acquired a regal bearing and could be intense and intimidating at times. Luckily for me, aside from having a coat like Rand's, the figure I used had a sculpt that could match those features and qualities with just a little bit of work.

The first thing I had to do was hack off all of that excess hair and the ridiculous ornamentation on the shoulders and knees. I did this with a boxcutter that I.. "ahem" borrowed from the Gap stockroom where I worked at the time. There was nothing precision or surgical about the cuts I made, I just chopped off as much as the excess plastic as I could. While I was at it, I also cut off that ridiculous looking left hand (ooh foreshadowing in real life!) figuring I could find a better replacement somewhere. When all the hair was cut off, I really liked the intensity of the figure's stare and I was certain that he'd make a good Rand. I wasn't wrong.

Once I got rid of everything I wanted off of him, the next thing I had to do was add some stuff, namely hair, a collar and and turned-down boots. I created all of these things with Super Sculpey, which is a kind of clay that hardens when you heat it. Sculpey is great in some respects, but it doesn't take detail all that well, and I found myself absolutely hating its limitations at some points. I sculpted the hair, collar and boot tops myself and I think the hair especially came exceptionally well. If you look closely, you can see I wasn't able to mask all the "chops" I made off of the original figure, and despite how good I think the figure looks, there are some pretty weird angles in the cheeks and neck area that I was just never quite able to fix properly.

The Dragon Reborn

Next, like any good toy, Rand needed accessories. I initially attempted to make Callandor but I couldn't find a suitable sword in clear plastic. Instead I made his power-wrought sword of fire out of the Nottingham figure's katana with a little sculpey and a lot of paint.

While I was in the sculpting mood, I also made a seal to the Dark One's prison and the access ter'angreal to the male Chodan Kal out of sculpey, and the Dragon Scepter out of... what specifically I can't quite remember, but it was the spear belonging to some other toy (I THINK it was part of the trident that came with the Marvel Universe Attuma or Triton figure, but I'm not 100% sure). At some point after this I also attempted to sculpt the Crown of Swords, but it did not go well, so you won't be seeing it here.

Finally I made the Dragon Banner and a banner with the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai out of some old t-shirts, paint, ribbon and a shish kebab skewer.

Oh, and before I forget, I gave Rand a new left hand one with the palm exposed so I could paint at least one of his 4 marks, the heron brand... Not sure who the figure was that donated that hand.

So there you have it, my first endeavor into custom Wheel of Time action figures. Hope you like it as much as I do, and I hope you come back next time for Perrin and Mat!


  1. Truly geeky, but also really great. Awesome job. You used to make these customs figures really well. I look forward to seeing the rest, Monkey... you fuckin' nerd!

  2. Hey, great story on why and how u made these.
    good write up. a few small spoilers for those not read up to now, but too bad for them. great work!!! you have to make Perrin's new hammer!!!!

    This is Zeshan by the way

  3. I remember going to the mall one year in the mid 90's with you and Danny when the Wheel of Time series was first coming out. We were in one of the Green Acres book stores and Danny was praising the series, but I was too dumb to listen. I was caught in the Aliens and Predator books (which sucked by the way). I wish I could go back and read them when I was younger! So what am I trying to say? Read this series!

    Joe, you truly are a fantastic artist. The details that you have put into Rand capture him perfectly.

    I had no idea that you created so many of the characters from the Wheel of Time! I can not wait to see the other figures! Bring on Mat and Perrin!

  4. These are amazing Joey. I remember you showing me a few of them and they were all so perfect, exactly how I imagined them to be when reading the books. Please post the rest. I look forward to seeing them again, along with the others I haven't seen.

  5. Didn't you post some of these back in the day? It seems like I recall seeing these around 2K...

  6. I DID post some of them (I think just Rand, Mat, Perrin and the Trollocs at that point) back in the newsgroup days on my old homepage (either tripod or geocities, I don't remember which)... only the pics weren't the greatest, and the site wasn't up very long due to the very limited storage space they gave me. Now that teh internets are more user friendly, I can give them the attention I feel they deserve.

  7. OK, I'm officially naming you King of the Geeks and I think you are awesome. Nicely done!

  8. Thanks for this! Please post more!

  9. I fucking want these......!!!

  10. Yeah this is pretty much awesome. I wish I had the artistic talent to do something like that!

  11. That's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, go you!

  12. Wow. Back in the mid-90s I wanted to make WoT figures out of just Sculpey, but never got around to it. Yours are so much better than anything I'd have come up with.

  13. Don't knock yourself until you try. I have to be honest, I'm not used to liking my own artwork, or thinking its good in any way... but I love the way these came out. You'd be surprised what a little inspiration can bring out of you.

  14. During my trawling the internet for new Info on AMOL i stumbled across a picure of a signing where these figures appeared, excited i ran to google to find where i can buy me a set!!! man amazing job on these, you had me convinced that someone was actually producing these figures! i would totally buy the lot!