Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wheel of Time Action Figures Part 4: Supergirls, Ishamael & Thom

***Just a quick note, the bulk of this article was written this weekend. As some of you may know, my grandfather passed away this morning, and as you can imagine that has derailed more plans than just the ones I discuss later in the article. But as I sit here I find myself wanting something to take my mind off things for awhile, so I'm  finishing this entry. Obviously, anything beyond this is up in the air right now, but I will keep you guys posted.***

If you'd have told me I'd be staying in on a Friday and Saturday night writing toy-related geek blogs instead of out poppin bottles in the VIP with my boys and gettin' my swerve on with the hunnies, I'd have called you a liar, and a communist. Then I'd pants you, give you a wedgie, steal your lunch money, and scream NERRRD at  you Homer Simpson style. In front of the whole campus. After all, as my buddy Glenn pointed out to me last week, when you stay in on Friday night, that's letting the terrorists win. But here I am, writing away, because as it turns out, its become pretty important to me that I get the custom Wheel of Time figures blogs done and out of the way a.s.a.p., because I've made a little decision regarding the future of these figures... and that decision is, I'm doing more. Insert appropriate musical accompaniment here. I dunno, ominous drums or something...

I have to be honest, my work on these toys has been so well-received and the praise (particularly from Brandon and Harriet) so overwhelming that my ego simply demands that I do more in the hope garnering similar accolades. So with that said, yeah, I'm gonna make more figures; definitely two new Trollocs, and maybe (I stress MAYYYYYBE), a few more after that. Whether that means finishing off some of the others I've already started or going with some of the newer ideas I've had (Northlord as Lan, anyone?) I'm not sure just yet, but we'll see.  That doesn't explain why its become so urgent that I get the existing ones posted though, does it? Well that brings me to the second decision I made, and that is I'm going to do a (semi) real-time "making of" feature for the next two Trollocs, where I will basically document the whole figure creation process from begining to end. The figures I'm using are already purchased (thank you ebay!), and I've informed my boss that the practice of law will be without my services during the week between Christmas and New Years, so I've got the means, the motive and most importantly, the time. But, if this things gonna get done, its gotta get done then. So, I deprived the clubs of my presence for a weekend (so, sorry girls, I'll make it up to you soon) and got to work. Oh, also, I had the flu, but I assure you my staying in this weekend was 100% dedication to this project and 0% being too sick to move. I swear, I love you guys that much. As a bonus, this installment is a double dip, because Ishy & Thom were gonna be part 5, now you get them here instead. If you haven't seen them yet, or just want to review, here are Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 .

Next to Rand, Nynaeve might be my favorite figure overall, even though I do have tiny problems with it. Harriet actually called it beautiful when I showed it to her, so it has that going for it. Nynaeve was always one of my favorite characters, even if she does get somewhat... cunty at times. Cunty isn't really the right word, but its made me laugh since it was first uttered years ago by Paulie Walnuts, and its my blog so that's the word I'm going with. Anyway, you've read the books, you know what I mean. At this point in the figure making process I was buying two and three of every Toy Biz Hercules and Xena figure I could find (and luckily the Toys R Us shelves were rife with them at the time), because with the amount of woman characters I was planning on making, it was great to have such a plentiful source of "sword and sorcery" type female action figures out there to pick from. Even if each and every one of them is molded into some weird awkward pose (seriously, look at the Xena figures some time, not one of them is standing naturally nor in some dynamic "action" pose. Instead its like they're all molded mid step in some bizarre tribal dance).  I chose the Velasca figure for Nynaeve because she looks angry, and at that point in the story Nynaeve had only just overcome her block, so I wanted my Nynaeve figure to be able to channel (just in case I ever wanted to play some pre-Crown of Swords adventures). Of course, I also dressed her as an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah, and that only JUST happened for reals in Towers of Midnight. Oh well, my figures are timeless, son!

I'd probably be pissed off too if I had to wear skimpy leather underwear...

Anyway, obviously Nynaeve wouldn't be caught dead runnin' around all leather-clad, with what appears to be her bra peekin out on her right boobie, so I needed to do something about that. Fortunately, I had already learned from creating  the Moiraine figure (which you guys will get to see in the upcoming "aborted and attempted" figures article, later this week) that these little scarves that the Gap was selling at the time made for fantastic action figure dresses. So I bought a whole bunch of those, not knowing how many I was going to need when all was said and done with this little project. And by bought of course you know I mean "robbed handfuls of", because even with an employee discount, I wasn't gonna spend like ten, fifteen bucks on tiny squares of cloth. Or have the cute cashier girls wonder what the hell I was doing with so many ladies' accessories.  Wait, where was I? Oh right, Nynaeve's dress.

The first decision I made was that Nynaeve's dress would NOT be yellow. One of the reasons Moiraine is in the "attempted" figures pile (and one of the reasons I HATE the Elayne figure, see below) is I made it too much all one color. There's very little variety to it and it ends up looking too uniform (and in Elayne's case, I think, kind of wacky and superhero-ish). I picked the sky blue scarf for Nynaeve's dress because it was a cool color that would offset the warmer yellow for her shawl and belts. I didn't do any sewing, the dress his held together by Krazy gluing the seams. The shawl and belt are also held on with Krazy glue at key points (wrists, shoulders, etc.) so that movement at her points of articulation is still possible.

The blue scarf had these tiny floral accents stiched on, which I took and ran wild with, adding new ones with acrylic paints. You really can't tell the difference between the paint and the stitching unless you feel them with your hand, which I'm particularly proud of. Obviously the Flame symbol on the back of her shawl and the surrounding flowers are entirely hand-painted as well. The Velasca figure's hair presented some challenges. Despite the fact that the toy had those two little braids hanging down, obviously her hair style was all wrong for Nynaeve and her very distinct Two Rivers braid. I pried off the soft plastic portion, and the braids came with it. Only the front and the top of the figure's hair was actually molded onto the head. It took a lot of cutting and sanding to get her a normal looking hairline, and to get rid of that braided cord across her forehead (which coincidentally looks a lot like Lan's Hadori). There are still little tiny imperfections on her forehead and hairline which is one of the aforementioned problems I have with the final outcome of the toy. Another is the wrists. Velasca had these ridiculous bracers on and it was just too hard to get rid of them, so I just painted them silver and figured they'd pass as jewelry. I don't think Nynaeve had her "bracelet and rings" angreal yet when I made the toy, or I likely would have tried to turn one of those bracers into that. Once I figured out how much of the figures' molded hair I was keeping, the next step was to figure out Nynaeve's braid. I ended up using a length of cord that they gave us at the Gap to hang a laminate around our neck for some dumb promotion or another. You know I pilfered that shit too. Anyway, I painted it brown, "tied" it at the end with a piece of ribbon and a rhinestone, and viola, a respectable Two Rivers braid. The figure can even reach it with her right hand for simulated tugging. All in all  I'm pretty happy with the results. Oh, and lastly, the ki'sain on her forehead is a very late addition. I added it when I was getting the figures prepared to be shown to Harriet and Brandon after I was chosen to be a Tower Guard, and the Nynaeve figure's face needed to be repainted because of some chips and stuff.

el'Nynaeve ti Al'Meara Mandragoran Sedai

I have much less to say about the Elayne figure, because as I mentioned earlier, I kind of hate it. Ok, maybe hate is a strong word, but I definitely don't like it as much as the others. For one, and this might be the fruitiest thing I've ever typed, but I think her dress color is all wrong (and if you have a problem with what I just said, this might not be the blog for you... either way, Louis C.K. explained my intentions there far better than I ever could, so if  you didn't like my verbiage, click the link, laugh, come back and continue reading). Anyway, when Jordan wrote that a dress was "slashed with color" I didn't know he meant the dress was literally slashed, as in "cut", to reveal a fabric of a different color underneath. I thought it was just a way of describing what I did in the pictures below, literally slashes of color, in this case green and cream. Another problem I have with the figure is Jordan always describes Elayne as having "red-gold" hair, which I picture as strawberry blonde. Well it turns out, strawberry blonde is really friggin hard to paint, and the result on the figure is more of a blondeish-orange with hints of red layerd in, and it just didn't come out the way I envisioned it in my head.
Elayne was made from the Callisto figure from the Xena Warrior Princess line. I chose her for Elayne because she has a slightly girlish look to her but appears to have a regal bearing at the same time, depending on your angle. Step one was to hack off most of the extra stuff on the toy; the scale mail loin cloth, the the leather "armor" and shoulder pads, and the extra crap on her boots was all easily removed soft plastic. Unfortunately, like the Nynaeve figure, Elayne also has stupid looking leather bracers molded onto her forearms, which only add to my dislike of the finished toy. I just painted them green and figured they were sleeves of some kind, even though that doesn't make much sense when the rest of the figure is taken into account. I kept Callisto's hair, because it looked curly enough and I couldn't quite figure out how to mold sculpey into ringlets.

Elayne's dress is, again, a Gap scarf that was a basic plain white. I then went to town with the green and cream colored paints to create the color-slashed effect that I think looks kinda dumb now. The hems of her dress, and her belt, are also just green paint. I tried to make it look fancy by adding silver designs on her hem and belt and a gold "lion" on the belt as well. I consider this attempt to be one of my greatest failures of all time in the history of me as a person. I used the same pattern and colors for her shawl, only I added the gold border, I don't know, to make her look... queenly, I guess. The one thing I do like about this toy is the Aes Sedai flame that I painted on the back of her shawl, it came out pretty cool. Actually, I lied there are two things I liked about  this figure, the other being the use of tiny rhinestones as jewels. The bustline of Elayne's dress has them, as does the necklace I sculpted for her, which add a noble (rich, uppity) touch the toy, I think. Needless to say, if I were doing this figure again today, its design would be way different (or at least her clothes would be). For an accessory, I gave Elayne an A'dam, because story-wise at the time, she had just figured out how to make one. The A'dam is two ring shaped pieces from an accessory from the COPS toyline, joined together by piece of silvery decorative ribbon. Neither of the clasps open, making it a mediocre accessory for a mediocre toy. Next!

Nope, even a palatial background with lion statues can't make me like this toy more...

The Ishamael toy was the last figure I made before either my inspiration or my free time dried up. I told you all in the Myrddraal article, I saw the Ichabod Crane figure and immediately thought it would make a great Ishy... I don't know if it was the waistcoat, or the lace at his throat and cuffs or what, but just like when I saw the Ian Nottingham figure and thought "Rand", Ichabod immediately equaled Ishamael for me.
The Wheel of Time computer game also definitely influenced my view of what Ishamael should look like, unfortunately I couldn't find a screen shot of him to show you, but I assure you my figure looks just like it. Anyway, one of the things I did NOT like about the Crane figure was the ridiculous, "I'm Bill Clinton and I'm doing this thing with my hand  to emphasize the fact that I did not have sex with that young intern" pose that his left arm is in. My Ishamael figure would not gesticulate in such a manner. So, I got ambitious, and lopped that arm straight off. Actually, that's a lie because I lopped it off at an angle. There was a method to my madness here, because I figured that if I got the angle right, it would be a simple matter of just flipping the cut off arm and gluing it so that an elbow bent at a right angle would now be straight. There's definitely a geometric reason why that works, but 10th grade was a looooong time ago (which really hit me between the eyes this morning when it dawned on my I'm somehow gonna be thirty-two next month. WHAT?), so it escapes me. Now, my math may have been sound, but I didn't take a couple of things into account. One was the fact that the coat sleeve had all kinds of wrinkles and folds molded into it and as a result, even though the angle of the cuts lined up nice, the sleeve looked wrong. Two was that the hand was now upside down and backwards. The hand was an easy problem to solve. I just cut that fucker off and glued it back on the correct way. The arm was a little trickier, but some skillful sculpey application and some paint and I think it doesn't look half bad. Maybe a little baggy, I dunno. The flame eyes are obviously sculpey as well. I tried to have his mouth flaming as well, but no matter how I tried, it just ended up looking weird. I would have liked to keep the hair as it was, but ended up having to mold him a new 'do, because Johnny Depp's bangs dipped too close to the eye, which would have caught on fire and then what? Ishamael in a Pepsi commercial? (That's right, get as many early 80's references in as you can, you old man... Wait. Why am I typing my internal dialogue here? Sorry.) Anyway, after it was done I changed the trim oh nis coat from silver to dark red,  and  the green on his boots as well. He looks pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself.  Ishy's staff was a random Spawn accessory with a black flame molded out of sculpey to cap it off. Overall, I'd say this toy was a success.

The betrayer of hope, but never of fashion sense

I saved Thom for last because if I'm being objective, he's probably the best figure I've done so far. Seriously, like me, this thing has no flaws whatsoever. Also like me, it can play the harp just like a ringin' a bell. Ok, at least one of those statements is a lie. Seriously though, from figure to accessories, Thom came out just great. I used the Autolycus character from the Xena line for Thom because for some reason he just seemed to fit. Maybe it was the weird, dramatic way the toy's head is cocked to the side, maybe its the fact that he came with a cloak and Thom has one too I dunno precisely what it was, but when I saw him I knew, I'd found my Thom.

The body itself didn't require much alteration at all. I dressed Thom in shades of brown, but gave his boots, shoulders and sleeves a little bit of silver scrollwork to make them a little fancier. I also painted his hands and chest a more believable shade of flesh tone, since the plastic was a little too pink and shiny for my liking. Next I chopped the little bit of Autolycus' hair off and sanded the head smooth so I'd have a "clean palette" to work with, upon which I sculpted Thom's hair as you see it. I gave him a big bushy moustache, outfitted him with a few of the daggers I had lying around from other Xena figures, and that was pretty much it, a perfectly serviceable Thom Merrilin figure.

I was so not gonna be satisfied with "serviceable" on this one though, I had ideas for Thom that popped in my mind from the minute I laid eyes on that Autolycus figure, and they pretty much began and ended with turning that drab piece of crap cloak he came with into a full-fledged Gleeman's cloak, as described by Jordan, and which I don't think I've seen depicted better in ANY medium than what I did with it. This might sound like I'm bragging, but I'm not because most of the attempts I've seen by any artist to depict Thom's cloak have been so god awful that any effort on my part was guaranteed to bear fruit. Most drawings/paintings I've seen of Thom have him looking like he's wearing the friggin AIDS quilt on his back. In the Big Book of Bad Art he isn't even wearing a cloak, its a jacket made of patches instead. AIDS patches! Seriously though, Jordan repeatedly says the patches flutter. He even mentions the edges of the patches getting singed at one point. How the fuck does that happen if they're sown together like a quilt? Man this has bothered me for years and I'm finally getting to vent it and damn it feels good. Anyway, below you can see the cloak in all its glory. Almost all of the patches are hand cut and painted tiny squares of fabric. The few that aren't are hand cut squares which was colorful or flashy enough to be included in the cloak. Most are painted though, and I even hid a few "easter eggs" in there; a smiley face, my initials, etc. All of the little fabric squares are  Krazy glued in rows on the cloak that came with Autolycus, and I assure you if a breeze were to show up, they'd flutter like a proper Gleeman's cloak should. Finally, I sculpted Thom's harp out of Sculpey with white thread for strings. That thing that's vaguely reminiscent of a lion's head on the top of it came about purely by accident. I was using a sculping tool and watching TV at the same time. I didn't even realize what it looked like until I had done all the paint applications. 

And there you have it, all of my custom Wheel of Time action figures. The ones that made it to completion anyway. As I hinted (and outright told you) throughout these posts, there were close to ten figures that didn't make the final cut. Some made it to completion but I hated the final product, others never got out of what would be the "prototype" stage if I was a real toy company and these were a real toy line. But make no mistake, I had plans, or at least ideas for Loial, Birgitte, Egwene, Moiraine, Lanfear, another Rand, more Trollocs, a Draghkar, and Sammael some of which I will highlight later this week in the Part 5: What Almost Was and What May Yet Be... but til then, here's a teaser collage for you!


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  2. First thing, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather. Mine passed away earlier this year and it has been hard on my whole family....

    The figures are beautiful! That isn't exactly what I think about them, the wording not coming to mind since I'm battling a migraine and can't think properly... It has been some of the best parts of my day when Wheel of Time's Facebook page posts the link to your blogs and I get to read about the time and effort you have spent making these wonderful figures. Thank you so much for making my day better (especially since most of the time I'm at work while I'm reading them lol). I have really enjoyed your blog posts about these figures and I do believe that, if you wanted, you could totally make a killing out of selling these. I, myself (as well as my mother, who got me reading this series), would LOVE to have my own collection of Wheel of Time figures to look at and use as visual references while reading through the series for the umpteenth time lol.

    Anyway, thanks again for being awesome and for making these magnificent figures for fans like me to drool over (not to mention wish that I had a tenth of your artistic ability lol) and then for taking the extra time to share your creation process with us.

    Please have a wonderful Christmas; I know it'll be especially hard this year, but the pain fades over some time...doesn't go away completely, but it does fade as we think about how that person is in a better place... At least we have this magical world to fall into when we need it to escape from reality for a bit.

    Again, Thanks.


  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather, this must be a hard time for you and your family. I'm glad this could take your minds off things for a while, it was a very interesting and fun read.

    Thank you for doing this series, it's been really interesting, and while I disagree a little with you on some of the figures' likeness to the characters as described in the books (which is highly subjective anyway, and depending so much on the indiviual reader's imagination), I'm really impressed with how the figures turned out, and the creativity and skill involved. Well done, on all of them! I'm looking forward to the part about the figures that almost came to be, if you write it (but take your time, family matters are of course way more important).

    And also, YAY for, finally, a gleeman's cloak done right!