As those of you who read my Blog regularly (shame on those of you who don't) you'll know I picked up this delectable miniature figure, of a slightly less than refined Victorian Steampunk strumpet / vixen at the recent UK Games Expo 2012, held here in my native Birmingham. Paul's stand was actually one of the few highlights for me at the show. I'm always on the look out for exciting new miniature companies who are devoted to producing nothing but great miniatures to paint, and wandering by the Ax Faction stall I spied two extremely well sculpted miniatures. I don't know how well Paul did that weekend, but I was alarmed his stand wasn't swamped when I saw the quality of his wares. What was wrong with you all? True there were only two miniatures on display, the attire challenged Gilded Saint Dragon Hunter and the Victorian Darling Kraken Hunter, whom I ultimately plumped for of the two. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my sex symbols to actually leave some things to the imagination! On getting home I instantly went into research mode, who were Ax Faction and what were they up to? Well on their website I found a nice bit of fluff / back story justification for the production of these miniatures. It's all to do with some family journal / book or other, the Nilrem family and some secret Government agency called ASLAP, it's not too long and it's actually quite nice that a company would actually bother to produce any sort of justification for their miniatures. Any way time to get on with the review.
The version of the product I got was actually provided supplied in a zip lock bag, as opposed to a box or the normal blister pack you'd get with their standard releases I'm reliably informed, and a piece of card stapled to the front. This was because the Victorian Darling Kraken Hunter was actually released at the UK Games Expo and Paul had only got his supplies of the miniature a day or two before the show... so we'll let him off on that one as the packaging for the Gilded Saint was more than adequate to ensure the miniatures they provide will arrive intact and unscathed at their intended destination. Moving on to the components themselves the miniature is cast out of a resin, much the same as you'd expect to find from other small boutique producers such as Kingdom Death, Studio McVey and BaneLegions, yes I know, that's some illustrious company to be putting Ax Faction amongst, but hey, if the cap fits! The miniature has your standard 32mm round lip plastic base, the sort you'll find supplied with your HoMachine or Mofaux miniatures. There is a base insert that sits on top of the plastic base, and provides a nice scene and context for the miniature, there are two mechanical kraken tentacles that attach to the base and provide further animation to it. The next major component is the main body of the Victorian Darling herself, followed by the trailing bustle that attaches to the back of the main body, and hides her modesty, not to mention her perfectly formed peach like buttocks! More on that later. There are five further components including a top hat, complete with steampunk goggles, a pistol in a holster, her two arms wrapped around a rather large looking harpoon, and a teeny tiny lantern that literally hooks onto the end of the aforementioned harpoon. All these components are extremely delicate and I'd advise extreme caution when removing them from their spru's, and when cleaning them. All in all their are eleven components. Here have a look for yourself.
|The components you get with the Victorian Darling Kraken Hunter.|
Character 8.5 out of 10
So onto the character of the piece. At the top of the review you'll see the piece of card that came with the miniature, displaying the concept sketch produced by Paul Billinghurst of Ax Faction. I've also plonked a much better version of the artwork to the left of this very text, go on click on it and enlarge it and take a good look at the work that has gone into the concept behind the Victorian Darling. Firstly I'd like to say its a pretty clear, clean and visually strong concept. Secondly I think it is also pretty clear the influences that have been drawn upon by Paul. There's a clear nod and a wink to the craze that is known as steampunk, and there's clearly a bit of Jules Verne going on with the Kraken. There's also the rather obvious influence of 20th Century pin-up, and even a hint of cheesecake I'd guess. There's nothing wrong with any of that in my opinion, and personally I think the design is strong and consistent, with a fair degree of character imbued into the piece. Sure there's the obvious sexualisation of the female form, what with the crotch shot and all, but she still appears kick ass and strong so I think it stays on the right side of the line for me. However, this is just the concept sketch, how close did the sculptor Benoit Cauchies get to capturing the form in 3D?
|The completed Victorian Darling (please excuse the blu-tac).|
The answer to that question is very darn close indeed.The only thing really missing that I can see is the piece of rope that looped round the harpoon, which thank the lord it is missing, because piecing that sot of delicate detail together on a resin miniature again post casting, can be a right pain in the arse. As far as I'm concerned he's done an amazing job capturing the stance, with the slight lean and twist at the waist and hips, all designed to show her curves off very nicely, with a sexy jaunty swagger. True it's not quite as 'animated' or 'exaggerated' as it is in the concept sketch, but I prefer the subtly of the sculpts take on the stance. The harpoon, complete with gas lamp hooked on one end, slung over the shoulders is also fully intact in the finished sculpt, giving her a confident and understated aggression, as those mechanical tentacles wrap around the base in an attempt to get at her. The clothes too are all present and correct from the bolero jacket, her ever so cool looking top hat, skimpy corset, her belt... erm... sorry, I meant skirt, right down to her suspenders, stockings and boots. Thankfully Benoit ever remembered her knickers! It's all very nicely done and recaptures the original artwork nicely. There is one part of the piece though that has caused a bit of 'debate' with those I've shown her too. Here, let me explain via the power of pictures:
This is a shot of the Victorian Darling Kraken Hunter from behind, and I'm sure you'll all agree it's quite the behind. There is no doubt that an awful lot of love, care and attention was lavished on her posterior by Benoit, and I've been told that covering up such a magnificent derrière would be a crime against humanity. While I take the point of those who have expressed such concerns, I give you exhibit B:
Personally I think the piece games a hell of a lot more in terms of composition with the trailing bustle attached to her back, despite losing the awe inspiring view of her ass! I know, I know, sacrilege to be sure, but just to confirm it for you I've done two 360° sequences that I hope will prove my point. The first one up is sans that flowing Bustle:
|Front without Bustle.|
|From the left without Bustle.|
|Exhibit A again.|
|From the right without bustle.|
I think it's most noticeable from the front and the two profile shots. Without the trailing bustle I feel with the harpoon slung over her shoulders and that crooked hat, the piece becomes a little bit top heavy and thus unbalanced. It also loses much of it's sense of drama and animation, it becomes too 'static' as a display piece without it, almost wooden. Here take a look:
|From the front with Bustle.|
|From the left with Bustle.|
|Exhibit B again.|
|From the right with Bustle.|
See I feel with the Bustle the piece just gains a little bit more balance and poise in her stance. So sure, the view from behind might not be quite as racy, with the incredibly small thong wedged between her buttocks, but hey I want to protect her modesty as much as I can. So for me the bustle stays. As I've said I feel the flowing fabric, which by the way is incredibly realistic looking, adds a sense of movement to the piece and is pretty much the only item that hints at animation... unless you glue the lantern onto the harpoon at an interesting angle. So it's vitally important to the character and composition of the piece. Sorry ass fans!
|A picture of the main body component to show off her face.|
Moving on from the ass (I know how could I) I'd like to talk about the one physical feature of the Victorian Darling that is sadly slightly obscured... no not her breasts... please scrape your minds from the gutter. No I'm talking about her face, lying hidden as it does beneath the brim of that wonky looking top hat. The picture above hopefully shows you how beautifully refined the face is. Quite often I find many sculptors struggle with capturing female features correctly, but here Benoit has done a sterling job. Her face is instantly recognisable as feminine, yet it retains a very firm, stern and determined air. There is also a hint of melancholy to the features too, it honestly is one of the best female faces I've seen on a miniature for some time, and I would put it in the same bracket as the best of female work done by the likes of Kev White and Jacques-Alexandre Gillois. Again very high praise I know, but for me it's fully deserving of it. It is just such a shame the face is so hidden in the final completed miniature, but the hat and the hidden face are what gives the piece its sass and attitude.
I think the final thing I need to talk about is most definitely the scenic base that comes with the miniature. I think it's always nice when a miniature comes with a scenic base that captures the moment in time that the concept and sculpt were supposed to portray. Many of the Studio McVey pieces do this exceptionally well. Sure there's an argument that says such scenic bases detract from a painters artistic interpretations and license, I guess to an extent that is true, but if you really don't want to you don't have to use it. In the case of the Victorian Darling's scenic base though I think you'd be silly not to use it, as it's such an integral part of the overall composition. The base is clearly the deck of some boat, well how else would a Kraken Hunter track her pray? The planks that comprise the deck all have a delicate wood pattern etched onto their surface, and where the tentacles of the steampunk mechanical kraken are applying their pressure, the wood is splintering and cracking realistically. The large tentacle to the right of the piece as you look at it, frames the pose nicely, looping low over the deck like it does. Meanwhile the two smaller tentacle points to the left and front of the base contain the Victorian Darling nicely, and add a further sense of peril and danger to the piece, that gives her the chance to look all kick ass and nonchalant in the first place. In short I like the character of the piece overall and it is nicely realised.
Detail 8 out of 10
First things first I'd like to state that on the whole the detail on this miniature is exceptionally good. From the exquisitely sculpted face, right down to the fine looking suspenders, the vast majority of the miniature is highly and appropriately detailed. However, there was one component that sort of let the side down, and that's the lantern. I'm fully aware that I'm in my patented knit picking mode here, and that many people will raise an eyebrow at what I'm about to say. The lantern is missing detail for me. So much of the miniature is so very well realised that the fact the lantern holes, or circular lamp sections are missing the grating that is in the concept sketch is a bit disappointing. It makes the lantern look like it's basically a square with some circular discs stuck on it. Although it is a very small component it still looks oddly bland compared to the rest of it. It honestly made me wander as to whether or not the miniature was digitally sculpted, I don't know whether it is or not either way, but going on this component I might be inclined to say that it was. It's also a bugger to glue to the end of the harpoon. Yep take a look at that picture to the left, you literally have to 'hook' the lantern onto the harpoon and glue it into place. It's not totally awful, but trying to get it to stick at a pleasing angle, to mirror the motion in the rest of the piece was a bit of a faff. Plus not caking it with too much glue was also a faff. However she does look better with the lantern on the end of her harpoon.
The next piece of detail I want to show you is that base I mentioned in the character section of this review. As you can see from the picture to the right, I wasn't kidding about the detail on those planks of wood. It really is a visually pleasing component, with the deck buckling and splintering under the pressure of those crushing tentacles no doubt. You can see one of the tentacles at the top of the picture, it should give you a great idea as to how sharp and detailed the rest of the piece is, after all this is just the base. As I said to the introduction to detail part of this review, I think the clothes in particular retain some very nice detail, for instance on the corset you can see the whale bone ribbing showing through. Then there is the frilly lace on top of her stockings... not that I spent too long looking at the tops of stockings on a miniature you understand! Her hair too is finely reproduced and actually highly stylised piece of detailing, that just looks really good sticking out from beneath her hat. On the whole the detail levels on this miniature are damn fine.
Quality 8 out of 10
The quality of the casting on this miniature is mostly top notch. I'd also say those responsible for 'pulling' the pieces from the moulds must also know what they're doing. Take a look at that 'controversial' butt covering bustle I mentioned earlier. Yes, that's light you can see poking through it. Yes it really is that thin, it's probably not much thicker than an actual piece of silk. It is therefore impressive that such a thin piece can be reproduced without any bubbles or miscasts... or indeed breaking or snapping. There were however the odd issue with the miniature, although from the score you can see that these issues were not deal breaking. The first issue was the mould lines. There were a number of pieces that had fairly pronounced mould lines for such a fine resin piece. Thankfully though none of them ran through any details, and for the most part were a cinch to clean up.
|Harpoon and arm joint.|
Service 9 out of 10
As I said, this was purchased at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham from Paul in person. We had a brief chat about his new business, and what he hoped to achieve with his product. A transaction was completed and he seemed like a thoroughly nice fellow. The only reason he didn't get a 10 out of 10 is because he didn't offer me a hug, or a beer. Still he did give me my change so it wasn't all bad.
Price 8 out of 10
This miniature costs ten of the Queens finest pounds. If I'd stumbled across these miniatures online I might have been reticent to part with my cash for the piece, as I often am when confronted with new product from new companies. This hobby is such a tactile experience that quite often many of us have to physically see a miniature to trust in spending our cash on it. I just hope that I can be your eyes and fingers by proxy as it were on this one, because I doubt many places will be stocking Ax Faction miniatures anytime soon. But trust me, if this is the sort of quality they are putting out then in my humble opinion it's worth the asking price.
Overall 8 out of 10
This is the second miniature Ax Faction have released, and I personally think it is fair to say that the artistic integrity and direction of the finished miniature is arguably better than many long since established miniature firms. It's certainly not blown out of the water by the likes of Kingdom Death and Studio McVey and that's high praise enough. Obviously Ax Faction will have to keep this sort of standard up across many miniatures for their range to be truly considered the equal of such luminaries of the trade as those I've mentioned in this review, but if they do then they'll deserve their place in the pantheon of great miniatures companies for painting projects. It also needs stating here that the overall quality of the casting was pretty damn good, sure there were a few mould lines and the odd vent in awkward places, but on the whole it was a good quality cast, and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase more products from the line should anymore take my fancy. I was a bit concerned about how the piece was cut in places, but I can't really see how else it could have been done. Besides, if this is the quality Ax Faction are achieving with only their second miniature, then imagine what they'll be like once they get into the swing of things. Peace out!