Sunday, March 30, 2008

“Monster” by Naoki Urasawa

Occasionally, Junior League Member Rover Dill (aka my son, Jeremy) will be posting some reviews of his favorite manga, anime, and comics. He is solely responsible for them. I hope you enjoy them. Some, such as Last Exile, have been a great VSF/Aeronef influence for our games. --Bob Waller

One hardboiled thriller comin’ right up! Naoki Urasawa is a renowned manga artist best known for his stunning ways of intricate storytelling combined with heart pounding suspense, and Monster is no exception. This is one graphic novel (manga) series that you will defiantly want to check out.

“Brilliant doctor Kenzo Tenma risks his reputation and promising career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy. Unbeknownst to him, this child is destined for a terrible fate. Conspiracies, serial murders, and a scathing depiction of the underbelly of hospital politics are all masterfully woven together in this compelling manga thriller.” -Monster volume 1 description

The manga itself is set in Germany, where young Dr. Tenma is making a very promising career for himself as a neurosurgeon at Eisler Memorial Hospital in Dusseldorf. Soon enough though, Tenma notices that the hospital’s director Dr. Heinemann, is using him to heal only important patients in order to boost the hospitals reputation. Tenma receives a call one night from the hospital, who has taken a boy (Johan) in after being shot in the head during a murder at his house, leaving his sister in shock, and his parents dead. Tenma is forced to make a decision on weather or not he should save the boy in surgery, or the mayor who comes close to the same time. He disobeys the director’s orders of saving the mayor and saves the young boys life instead. Tenma soon goes on a downward spiral due to his disobedience with the director. He also loses his fiancée who is the directors daughter. In all of this though, he makes his way to the top of the ladder due to a series of unnerving events at Eisler.

Dr. Tenma’s life once again takes a dramatic turn for the worse nine years after his encounter with the young boy he had saved. Dr. Tenma soon realizes that the boy he had once saved has turned into a true monster, one who not only has criminal power, but political power as well. Dr. Tenma then sets off on a heart pounding journey around all of Germany in his search for the young man, constantly hoping to kill the monster he has created while unraveling the dark mystery that is Johan Leibert.

Monster is definitely one of the best reads, not only in manga, but in the whole comic community, that I have ever come across. The journey Dr. Tenma takes leaves the reader on the edge of his seat in a way that only Urasawa can do. The series delves into the mind of a criminal, explores the black and white of the human condition, and displays one of the most masterful stories around. Filled with murder, suspense, intrigue, action, and plenty of deep character development, Monster does not disappoint as it’s a fresh break, and a rare gem among manga, and graphic novels. Highly recommended.

Note: Monster is 18 volumes large in total, and as of now 13 have been released here by Viz Media. The volumes are priced at $9.99 each and can be found at most bookstores, but they can be hard to find at times. Monster is also rated T+, and is recommended for audiences of 16 years of age and older. It contains realistic, and graphic violence, and adult themes.

Viz Media:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Real Inspiration For Your Western Towns

Having played many Western games over the years, I always have been surprised how many fellows buy some buildings, paint them, and place them onto the table in a line with Main Street running up the middle. Nothing wrong with this. Most Western towns started like this. I like these two websites because they give me some ideas other than the Shootout Down Main Street game. They also help me select buildings to model, paint schemes, and signs. As time goes on, I'll be adding additional websites that will help you improve your town modeling and gaming.

Ghost Town Gallery
Ghost Town Gallery has many ideas for town layouts, buildings, and more. Daniel Ter-Nedden and Carola Schibli, who live in Switzerland, have visited over 180 ghost towns and have taken over 1,700 photos of them. The website is categorized by state and town name, plus they now have a virtual mapping feature, making browsing even easier. Some photos show the entire town, while others show individual buildings. This is the next best thing to actually visiting the ghost towns yourself.

CL Western Studio & Backlot
What better inspiration for cinematic Western games than a real movie studio backlot? According to their website, "the CL Western Studio & Backlot is located only 35 minutes west of Calgary in scenic Alberta, Canada. The location is within the union crew zone and about an hour from the Calgary International Airport." More importantly, their website features a town map and detailed photos of every building in it. For gamers, this means no more guessing what types of buildings to buy and what colors to paint them. This town is the real deal, as far as movies go.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Arnica Real Estate Freestanding Shack

In December, I purchased kit number 1-05-K Freestanding Shed from Arnica Real Estate. The kit is made out of white resin and sells for $6. It is a great value with many gaming uses, such as Western, Gothic horror, American Civil War, American Revolution, and Pirates. The kit comes in five large pieces plus a door. I washed the pieces in warm, soapy water, scrubbing with a toothbrush. I then throughly dried them with a hair dryer. When dry, I glued the pieces with two-part epoxy.

When the epoxy had set the following day, I primed this building using black gesso brushed on. The gesso took to the resin well. Some small pin-head-sized spots gave the primer some difficulty, but I took care of it. Perhaps some mold release was still on the model or the small spots were not dry completely?

When the primer had dried, I began drybrushing the building. I was going for an abandoned, spooky look like shacks I used to come across as a kid hiking in the mountains where my grandparents lived. They often contained old furniture as well--very creepy!

The first paint coat was Americana Burnt Umber, followed by lighter shades of brown. I used a stiff bristle brush for this project. When I was done, I lightly drybrushed Linen to make it look like broken off wood in spots. The roof is dry brushed a few different shades of gray. I am saving the door for later. I sprayed the entire building with Testor's Dulcoat, giving it a good seal. By the way, the lighter circle on the right wall is from my flashlight I used to light the building, not paint!

You can easily build these shacks in couple hours over a few days. Clean and glue the pieces letting the dry over night, prime them the next day, letting the primer cure lest it bubbles off, and paint the third evening. Drybrushing took me about an hour.

I have another shed kit and will do some 'in process' photos to show how easy building and painting it is, and how well it will look on any game table. I'll also be posting some photos of an Arnica barn I drybrushed gray with red trim.

Links: Arnica Real Estate

Thursday, March 13, 2008

West Wind's London Detetectives: Part 2

Another figure from the four-figure pack of London Detectives from West Wind's excellent Gothic Horror: Realms of Terror, Jack the Ripper line. I painted this figure with an eye toward Western gaming than dark Victorian horror, giving him a lighter tan duster and a two-tone brown outfit. The lighter colors were difficult to paint over black, taking too many coats in my opinion, so I am going to try priming with gray gesso instead. Finally, I have not finished his base yet because everyone in my area is out of static grass, forcing me to mail-order it.

Varnishing: Because I am clumsy and knock over miniatures, I have been varnishing these figures with Ceramcoat flat varnish for extra protection and then spraying them with Testor's dulcoat to cut down on the sheen. Dulcoat never quite takes away the entire Ceramcoat sheen, but under normal lights on a game table you cannot tell the difference.

VSF Gaming: Aside from gothic horror games, the pack of London Gentlemen will be my Eastern Agents during our Western games, which are an extension of our Victorian science fiction games. As in many VSF worlds, this is a Wild West where Texas is an independent country. France has invaded, reclaiming much of what it sold to the US, while England and Prussia fight for the desert southwest. From the north, Russia invades from the Alaskan reserves. All to control not gold, but the precious fuel reserves for the new-fangled aeronef ships patrolling the skies.

West Wind's London Detectives: Part 1

I love West Wind's old horror figures and feel it's a shame that they are disappearing. In December, I bought nearly 80 of these figures from Old Glory and am glad that I did. This fellow is from the London Detectives pack and is the second miniature I've painted. I wanted to paint this fellow so he would work both in Victorian horror and Western games, picking a two-tone gray outfit with a tan-colored jacket. Again, all the paints are Ceramcoat and Americana, excpet for the flesh, which is P3. I've been phasing out the Americana paints in favor of Ceramcoat, which I prefer. I wanted him to look scared, as he tells the werewolf to halt where he is. Since his base is larger than normal due to his pose, I picked up some 1.5" wide fender washers today. Maybe I will finish him this weekend...maybe.

Preach It, Pirate Preacher!

Painted in December 2007, this was my first attempt at painting a 25mm miniature since 1985. Trust me. My efforts in 1985 were more like blobs than painted miniatures. Besides, back then I only had painted several figures for D&D games. For this free fellow from the Old Glory Army deal, I used craft paints from Ceramacoat and Americana, thinning them using water and flow enhancer. I also used a wet pallet I bought at the local craft store--wet pallets are fantastic because the paint stays moist a long time! For the flesh, I used Privateer Press's P3 paints: Ryn Flesh for highlight, Midlund Flesh for midtone, and Khardic Flesh for the base. After taking these photos, I noticed that the fellow's left pupil looks a bit odd, but when viewed from above a normal gaming angle it looks fine. The base is a mixture of two grades of sand I bought at Walmart's craft section. I dry brushed them a few different colors of brown and tans and added some larger rocks and a bit of tree bark as well. Until I painted this figure, I was petrified to paint 25mm figures. Now I am starting to enjoy it, though every figure is a learning experience.