Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
While I’ve worked with many artists, I haven’t met many of my sculpting heroes. Despite his living only one province to the left, I haven’t even encountered Bob Murch at a convention yet. He sits upon a high throne in my personal pantheon of miniature-figure sculptors. I love his style, his taste, and his unabashed love of pulp fiction tropes—especially his occasional translation of a famous screen character onto the personae of his 28mm figures.
Whether they’re for Call of Cthulhu, Gangbusters, Justice Inc., Torg, Savage Worlds, or Bob’s own Rugged Heroes or Black Sun rules, his two-fisted miniatures capture the magic of the bygone years of Republic serials and films like… well, you can see his recommendations below.
Which are some of your favorite pulp era heroes and heroines from print or screen? What makes them so iconic even in these days?
Tarzan was my first big Pulp Hero. I discovered several of the old Ballantine paperbacks in the school library around grade seven. After the first book there was no turning back for me. My family went camping lots so I took to not wearing shoes in the summer so my feet would toughen up. I seldom wore a shirt so I could lay down a Tarzan tan. I strung a rope up in the big tree in our backyard and I took to climbing it constantly. My dad remembered walking across the yard, hearing me say hello, looking up and seeing me, once more, in the top of the tree.
Then came Conan.
Why were these characters so Iconic? I’m sure Freud, or more likely Jung, would have a better answer than I do. I think these characters are representative of how we would like to imagine ourselves. Beyond escapism, they embody all manner of strong characteristics, both physically and mentally: honor, fearlessness, a sense of purpose. Classic heroes give us an ideal to strive toward.
Among the many things I love about your miniatures is that you mimic screen characters with such personality. Which famous actors haven’t you yet replicated but would love to? (And which are your favorites that you’ve already cast in lead?)
I need to do some of the early comedians. Chaplin, Stan and Ollie, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields. I can’t predict when, but I’ve been thinking about them for some time now. I love the old silent comedies as well as the early talkies.
My current favorite is my Peter Cushing inspired sculpt. There is a version of him as an evil Nazi colonel in the Black Sun range, and I just released him in his Victor Frankenstein guise.
Another great thing about the miniatures you produce is that you include the women, and with Dangerous Dames you’re moving much closer to parity with heroes and heroines. Who are the heroines of the silver screen and history that most inspire you as a pulp fiction fan?
Women are gaming more and more, and I think we owe it to them to start being more inclusive with our characters. The pulp era gave as several notable female characters, both real—Amelia Earhart, Aloha Wanderwell, Nellie Bly, Gertrude Belle—and imaginary—Catherine Hepburn in The African Queen, Pat Savage, Jirel of Joiry, plucky reporter Torchy Blane, and any early Noir character played by Lauren Bacall.
Your China Station scenarios suggest a love of the history of the clash between Western and Eastern cultures. What can gamers learn about the real-world histories of those conflicts through roleplaying and other tabletop games?
Conflict is the essence of drama, so it’s natural that some of the most dramatic periods in which to set a game would be in the colonial era. I think, however, that there is a big difference between the pop culture version of these settings and the real periods. The Pulp Era tends to be very western-centric. It’s romantic for many of us who grew up with this entertainment. A minimal amount of historical research, however, can lead one to some very different realities, and one shouldn’t confuse reality and fantasy.
You do great work with both miniatures and terrain. What does the physical medium add to the gaming experience?
It provides a focal point for the imagination, a gateway into the experience. Aside from the fun of building and painting, which can be totally satisfying in and of itself, models then give us a physical reality of a sort. Its not that different from some sort of religious icon. Think of an Egyptian statue in a temple. It gave the visitors a common focus when the priest was relating a story of the gods and heroes. Again, a gateway into the world of the imagination.
What are some of the essential films of the pulp era?
The Maltese Falcon
Island of Lost Souls
To Have and Have Not
Tarzan and the Amazons
The Lady from Shanghai
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
This Gun for Hire
How about some book recommendations?
The Mister Moto series
The Tarzan series
The Shadow series
Any Doc Savage book
The Big Sleep
The Thin Man
Any Fu Manchu book
Any Robert E. Howard modern adventure
Many of your best figures straddle the line between pulp and superhero characters. Where do you draw the line between adventure and fantasy?
I’m really not a fan of costumed superheroes. Sorry, heresy, I know, but they never did it for me. Are they science fiction? Fantasy? I can’t put my finger on it, but I prefer a hero in a pith helmet with a compass.
Your earliest fame in miniatures sculpting game from your Call of Cthulhu figures. What, in miniatures terms, are your favorite elements of the Cthulhu Mythos?
The Cthulhu Mythos is about cosmic awe. The universe is very big and very scary if you really start thinking about it. The Mythos generates for me a feeling that contains elements of both supernatural and scientific wonder and horror. A good Mythos fig, again, acts as a portal into a place of intense imagination.
Favorite elements? Why tentacles, of course.