My family ended up moving in to the crazy ass haunted house two doors down. At least that’s what my siblings say. I was the kid in way too much black reading about ghosts and monsters, thus it was pretty much a given I never saw anything. The only chills I got were in the basement and the only reason the basement creeped me out was because it was straight from Silence of the Lambs. I mean dirt floors and tiny rooms and bare light bulbs, it was like something from an Eli Roth movie! You’d have to have the cojones of a stone cold action hero to not scamper out of there like a rabbit when your mother sends you down to get a new jar of jam from the back root cellar.
We lived in the town of Cambridge in a little part known as Preston (or as I fondly refer to it the part ripped straight from Tim Burton’s Leave It To Beaver fever dream). As per ritual we introduced ourselves when they moved in and a friendship that shaped me to this day was born. Bob was a sculptor of miniatures for role playing games at the local games miniature company RAFM.
A quick friendship grew up between Bob, Sue and myself. I would go over for hours and just hang out at their house and talk about movies, books, music (they were old school CFNY fans so I would talk about the music I was discovering on the station which I had only recently found and they just nodded sagely with Bob telling me about how he went to their old studio in Brampton near where he was going to school and that just sounded like the most rock star thing ever to a 17 year old kid). You have to understand how awesome they both were in my mind, Sue was an academic and as a nerd I was in awe of her working at a university. Bob was an artist and as a geek I was enthralled with his working in an industry I loved so much. They read Lovecraft and Rice, they had a living room that was designed to look like 221b Baker Street full of books and knick knacks and a human skull! They introduced me to the works of Miyazaki and the adventures of Lupin The Third and treated me like a friend, not a kid, but a friend humouring my long visits and rambling.
Of course, I met them towards the end of my high school career so only had a couple of years as their neighbour before moving away and going to university from which I never returned home. There were a couple of visits over the years and my mom would mention bumping in to Sue in the grocery store a couple of times and how Sue had asked after me but as with all things we drifted apart and eventually lost contact. But like so many the wonderful world of the internet and much later Facebook turned this around letting me recently reconnect with both Sue and Bob.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Bob in his home in Kelowna, where he works, over Skype regarding his ongoing career in the gaming industry, the history and future of gaming, and how technology is effecting the industry as well as his current company Pulp Figures:
The After Action Report: You’ve been in the game industry as long as I’ve known you…
Bob: If you can call being out here being in the game industry, I’m kind of isolated. <laughs>
The After Action Report: What drew you to working in gaming, what drew you to the industry?
Bob: I fell in to it really, I was always in to building models, sculpt, making little things out of plasticine and that sort of stuff, my brother gave me a copy of Dungeons & Dragons I think maybe in 1980 for Christmas, somewhere in that zone and my first impulse was trying to make figures so we could you know, use stuff on the table, as well as just playing with the books and so I started with 48 scale plastic things I started to modify and try to make skeletons and traps and all that kind of stuff.
I was well in to that when somebody, a friend Gord Story actually, discovered RAFM was located in Galt next door to where we lived. And so I was in high school and immediately realized I didn't need to make plastic conversions to play Dungeons & Dragons I could go buy figures from these guys but I kept doing modelling as well and building siege equipment and that sort of stuff. It all just came together, eventually I took in some of my siege equipment to show the guys at RAFM and they said “so do you want a job?” That was still in high school, it just kind of happened. It wasn't a big master plan, I was actually not sure rather than trying to get in to art school what I was planning on doing.
TAAR: You've worked with some pretty big names like RAFM, Ral Partha and some other big figures in the industry over your career what stands out? What moments really stand out in your experiences for you?
B: Let’s see, I had a lot of really amazing experiences that being in the business has afforded me. It’s just <Pause> I suppose I could go through the name dropping and the number of people I've met. <Laughs> I met Gary Gygax many times, to actually have Gary Gygax know who I was…
B: It was a big thrill for me, one of the first things I did for RAFM was the Reptiliad range, and again that was just me kind of “I want to make some lizard men” and away I went. RAFM sort of <Pause> agreed to produce them… was happy to produce them and it kind of took off in the business, more than the level of sculpting deserved. <Laughs> It was just, there was such a hunger in the business at that time, you could get away with just about anything. Gygax knew of the Reptiliads and that project so I got to meet him and he know who I was and I found that to be a pretty big moment “oh yeah, I know you.” <Laughs>
TAAR: <Laughs> Wow, that’s awesome!
B: Also got to meet Dave Arneson and talk to him here and there a little bit. The RAFM guys, one of the big things about the RAFM crowd is they were all sort of an age when they were just in to military war gaming basically and so was Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and a lot of other people who would become the founding people in the industry. They were just the guys the RAFM guys would know at the small conventions down in the States.
So, they knew the TSR people when their only project was Chainmail. It was their first pre-Dungeons & Dragons war gaming rules, fantasy war gaming. So they knew personally these guys, and they were able to introduce me to many of them on a friendship level as opposed to a professional level. They were, you know Paul Sharp one of the founders of RAFM was a friend of Greg Stafford who founded Chaosium, they used to be drinking buddies. Colin (Colin Mc of RAFM) told me a story once of the first show they were at when Gygax showed up with this new rules system he was creating called Dungeons & Dragons and he wanted everyone to try that out and play it. <Pause> Yeah, they took it all pretty much for granted because it was just their crowd of friends. They knew, I guess if you go back to all the significant companies in the business in the 1980s, the RAFM guys knew just about everybody because they were one of the companies. Not a big one, but one of them. You think of Call of Cthulhu was Greg Stafford’s company; Runequest was Greg Stafford as well. They knew the people who started FASA, I’m pretty sure Jack was friends with Jordan Weisman the Wizkids founder but yeah, they were just there at the inception.
Back to your question I guess <laughs> highlights, meeting Gary was good, pretty big. I got to meet quite a few writers through the Call of Cthulhu range; I got to have beers with Brian Lumley and went out to dinner with Robert Bloch and Gahan Wilson. You know, which was pretty neat, I got to talk to Robert Bloch pretty much six months before he died there a bouts, L. Sprague de Camp got to meet him, go out to dinner with him and his wife also, real corner stones of the science fiction literature of the 50s and 60s.
TAAR: They were there through the Amazing Tales and the pulp era.
B: Yeah, they started out in the pulps, well Bloch and de Camp and Fritz Liber who I met just before he died as well. These guys got their start in the pulps and were there right in to the modern era. When I say that I guess I mean the 80s and 90s. <Laughs> That was kind of good, we got to meet…
B: Yeah, we’ll get back to you Darth.
TAAR: Watch out for any, you know, pits you may come across.
B: Play with your light sabre over there for a little while and we’ll be done in a minute. <Laughs>
I met Anthony Daniels at one of the shows too, same show, that was pretty cool. That’s the highlight; I’ll tell you the whole story on that one. There was a really neat club in Milwaukee at Gencon called The Safe house and that’s where everybody tried to get to. It was sort of a cold war spy themed place with secret passages and, you know, hidden torture chambers, ejection seats, and all sorts of crazy stuff. It was a cool bar. So we get in and I was just showing my cousin Paul this neat place and we were having burgers up in a funny little area of the bar because it’s all divided up, it’s a warren of little alcoves and booths and stuff like that.
Paul went off to the bathroom and I sat there and was eating my hamburger and I hear this familiar voice a few minutes later, well it’s Paul who came over and said “Bob I’d like you to meet Anthony Daniels” so we had Anthony Daniels at our table and I was talking to him for I think a minute until I really started cluing in who’s voice I was listening to and who I was talking to. Paul had found him looking for the bathroom, at The Safe house when you go to the men’s room and open the door it’s a brick wall.
B: So you gotta know the secret to where the real bathroom is, so he rescued Anthony Daniels and showed him where the real bathroom was.
TAAR: <Laughs> If anything earns sitting down and having a chat it’s saving someone from peeing their pants! <Laughs>
B: Yeah, we just talked to Anthony Daniels for a while, he told us how all the props from the Star Wars movies got thrown out at the end of shooting. He remembers seeing a dumpster full of junk that would be worth a fortune.
TAAR: If someone was lucky enough to have dumpster dived that one they could have made a fortune.
B: Yeah, exactly. So that was definitely a highlight.
B: I think I’m pretty proud of a lot of the Pulp stuff of the last five years, I could go back as far of Call of Cthulhu just to say the monsters from the Call of Cthulhu range I’m pretty proud of. My sculpting has come a long way since then, my human figure work is something I take a fair bit of pride in now. It’s very character oriented, I try and keep it really simple, fairly cleanly sculpted minimizing the detail on purpose to not just garnish things for no particular reason. Where the detail gets concentrated is in the character of the figure. I want it to really represent who I’m trying to sculpt or present the character of that figure whether he’s a famous pop culture figure whether he’s just some soldier I want him to tell a bit of a story. So, recently I guess, I just got a Hercule Poirot and a Margaret Rutherford style Miss Marple, I think they’re on my website. I’m pretty proud of those, some of the character work recently too I think is stuff I’m quite pleased with.
B: It was a combination of things. Originally it was a realization that the reason I was in to this genre in the first place, even if I wasn't aware of it to begin with, was that I was infatuated with the pulps. All the authors that I found really exciting growing up turned out to be pulp writers. So Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard and later Lovecraft any writer of that period were in pulps and that was the foundation of when I was growing up that was the foundation for the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. So, if you were in to Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1975, yes there were contemporary writers but much of what you were finding in the bookstores was reprinted pulps.
So Doc Savage was huge at that time, as far as in paperback, these paperbacks here <holds up a paperback from the bookshelf behind him> that’s what we had access to growing up. But this was a reprint of a story that first saw publication in 1933. Same with Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was a big Burroughs fan from middle, even elementary school I think grade 6 on. I think I discovered a copy of Tarzan, Son of Tarzan I think was in the library of William G. when I was in grade 7. That just hooked me like you wouldn't believe, so much so for the next many summers I was running around in my bathing trunks with one of my dad’s knives because I wanted to have Tarzan’s knife and was swinging on a rope in the back yard and hanging out in a tree, you know, I was living that stuff. That led to discovering Conan and which also led in to the mythos because Robert E. Howard was one of the contributors of the Cthulhu mythos early on. So I found those stories really attractive and exciting and I didn't know anything about Lovecraft.
B: Yeah, you know, you look at really technically speaking, Conan’s world or Howard’s Hyborian age is well situated within the Cthulhu mythos. The magic is that kind of magic, it’s dark Gods from eons past. They were all contributing as writers, they were contributing to this setting so they could draw from it and they were sharing it. It wasn't just Lovecraft but he was kind of the initial part of the nucleus of the snowflake thing or the snowball and that was the stuff in science fiction as well.
I’m trying to think of some of the early Science Fiction I really liked, Arthur C. Clark I don’t know if he started in the pulps but he definitely started pretty far back. It was just the source of everything and it was only when I was starting my company and I was kind of like infatuated with doing something that’s character oriented but a little different I just realized it all came out of the pulps. Everything, the whole thing I was interested in, so why not go back and directly reference them?
So, I didn't even really know that much about the pulps at that point when I started the company. I knew they existed and I knew there were lots of characters in them but I had yet to really familiarize myself with Doc Savage or The Shadow or any of those characters but it’s been part of the fun learning as I went. It continues to be a lot of the fun. I don’t know if that answered your question, but I liked it. <Laughs>
TAAR: <Laughs> We've got the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons upon us, Gencon was last weekend…
B: Yeah, with well over 100,000 attendees! Huge!
TAAR: It’s giant, maybe the biggest it’s been since the highlight of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day.
B: We thought it was big when it was 40 to 50 thousand so it’s twice that size now or more!
TAAR: How have you found the industry as a whole has changed, you know we had the boom in the 90s with Vampire The Masquerade and their World of Darkness…
TAAR: Yeah, Magic, there was a bit of a collapse for a while but the third edition with the Open Gaming License bringing back and open sourcing the Dungeons & Dragons system letting people play in the sandbox. There have been a lot of innovations and changes over the last 20… 30 years, from the inside what have you seen that’s changed for you… maybe good, maybe bad?
B: I’d say I’m not hugely familiar with the mainstream of gaming if that can be called the mainstream, which I guess it is now. I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons in decades. That’s not true, I played it a little bit with my son when he was about ten just to show him how it works and stuff to play it a little.
Never done the Warhammer thing even though we were there at the beginning, we were actually making some figures when Warhammer came out. I had a copy of the first rules, God knows where they are now. I don’t even know what happened to that set but Johnny Lang handed me, I remember distinctly being in the front office and Johnny handing me a copy of these rules called Warhammer saying “what do you think of those” and I was like “these little figures are kind of crappy”.
B: <Chuckles> You know, cause they were at that time. They definitely addressed that as time went on.
How has it changed? I think it’s become, it’s really exploded I guess in creativity, there’s huge amounts of variety compared to what it used to be. We used to kind of just think of a few genres and now you can almost pull something out of the air and think of something… 17th century vampires semi-fantasy semi-historical setting in 17th century Europe. Anything like that you can probably find something like that darn close and you could play if you wanted to.
I think a part of that’s been driven by the technology change, everything that’s happened with the internet and e-commerce and we’re all able to jump in to this now and take part in it in some form or another. It’s not something you need to have, you don’t have to go get a job with TSR any more if you want to get in the business. I think overall it’s pretty neat what’s happened, there’s this huge variety and you can create your own worlds and follow through and make it happen. It depends on just getting a bit of technology at your disposal and going for it.
TAAR: How have things like 3D printing and Virtual Tabletops, how have they impacted and changed the miniature side of the industry?
B: 3D Printing is a revolution, I know that, and we’re in the middle of that. A year ago, two years ago, I was getting kind of terrified of what it would mean for me personally as a business but now I’ve realized there’s going to be room for all of it.
TAAR: I mean even if it’s something like selling the thing to print it to the player digitally scanning it or something.
B: I can almost imagine, that’s almost picturing the future and right now it’s still cheaper to sculpt one of these guys <holds up a miniature> and produce it in the old style than it is to have this 3D sculpted and printed out as a master. It only takes away one component of the process and I’m pretty sure that’s going to come down in cost as time goes by. I’m considering, to get a hold of some 3D software, and work on it myself. It’ll be an interesting addition to the toolbox we have but I think we are just in the middle of it.
The possibility I’m going to still be able to sculpt my little guy out of epoxy and green stuff and whatever and scan him and make it a digital download to be printed out in a home 3D printer making it much more like your PDF set of rules I could see that happening. How we manage it from a business perspective I’m finding it’s actually kind of exciting. I don’t know if it will eliminate the stuff you go and buy in the store or not. I somehow doubt it will completely eliminate that.
B: And will it be more of a premium product eventually? I don’t know, that’s possible I suppose. One of the things I’m just starting to work with one of the old RAFM people who has a CAD system and we’re designing Diselpunk tanks using his CAD system that machines out metal basic tank structure bodies that I did the designs for. Basically what I gave him, I’ll show you one of the drawings <holds up a drawing> I guess you’re on my Facebook feed you’ve seen these.
B: I can just daw out something, just basic drawings. He’s translated it to a digital structure and is machining out the pieces right now and I’m going to go back on to them and add all the character and detail so it’s not perfect, it’s going to have metal plates that are slightly askew and lots of rivets. You know, extra gewgaws that make it well-worn, and then after a commander and that’s my first foray in to digital stuff and I’m kind of excited about it because I can’t do something like that myself perfectly. It’s too difficult to get all of the angles just right. So, I find that exciting.
TAAR: Are there any projects that you’re working on right now that you want to bring to people’s attention that you think you’d want to let people know about?
B: Do I want a plug?
TAAR: Yeah <laughs>
B: As I was telling you earlier we’re starting to collaborate, I’m getting back together with RAFM a bit and I’m getting together with… I don’t know if you’re familiar with the game Strange Aeons by Uncle Mike’s World Wide Enterprises.
B: Uncle Mike’s over here in Calgary and he works out of his home too just like me. Uncle Mike’s World Wide is involved and Howard Whitehouse’s Robert Robertson’s Pulp Action Library is also involved in doing some rule work for us and we’re going to start sending out a few small projects to begin with and see how it goes. Boxed sets, one will be this Diselpunk tank project kind of based on a sort of almost dystopian 1984 kind of motif view from the 1930s. We’re not even really worrying about an enemy, it’s just going to be almost Big Brother is asking us to double our efforts and make sure that the enemy on the southern front is pushed back enough that we have three kilometres, a new gas is developed and we’ll be testing that in the next weeks, it’ll just be a crazy 1984 type of motif.
B: Yeah, the enemy could be anybody. If you want to play the game you can use Germans or anything. We’re going to be sending out this semi-science fiction sort of, I guess the primary influence is going to be Miyazaki that sort of if you think of some of those anime films where were those worlds? Do we know? They aren’t this world, so when you think of Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind or Castle In The Sky where were those places? So that’s the kind of world we’re looking at, it’s just you know a place where we can do anything. We’ll see how that project goes, it’s just going to be released initially as a box of figures and if it goes well maybe we’ll do rules to go back to it. We’ll use a Kickstarter to finance the initial bump and we’re going to do a Space ship one as well, just little space ships and see how that goes. You know Space Pirates of some sort.
TAAR: Everyone loves space and everyone loves pirates, so you can’t go wrong!
B: Everybody loves Space Ships these days as well, then the next bigger project in line through… We’re going to call ourselves something like Crucible Productions or Crucible Entertainment… Crucible meaning everything is getting thrown in to the pot and melted together.
We’re gonna do a project based on the Huron/Iroquois Wars in Ontario but set in their world not the historical one. So we’re going to incorporate elements of magic and mythology and it’s going to be more or less Pre-European contact. If there are Europeans they will be up over there somewhere and there’s going to be some of these magic items that can show up once in a while that come from these strange people. But the mythology of the Iroquois and Huron cultures will be incorporated in to it. So you know, we’ll have were creatures, skin walker type creatures, some very strange monsters a giant skinless bear creature, a big floating head with claws, but we’re also going to have the warriors and sorcerers and that kind of stuff as well. We've got rules under way for that being written right now, we’re still working on research for colour to bring in to it. That also will be a set of boxed figures, maybe three sets that will go with the rules, we’ll probably be using Kickstarter to finance just the start-up of each one as we go. Partly not just because you need the money from Kickstarter to do anything but now it’s ab out 50% of the publicity of any project going on. People pay attention to what’s going on there.
TAAR: Have you found that with the game industry in general that’s been a really helpful tool?
B: It’s a huge tool, I don’t know how helpful ultimately. I think you gotta really watch yourself going in to it that your cost structure is in line with what you are offering over the Kickstarter because you could easily be offering a deal that will leave you in the hole at the end of it and your success is suddenly out of your hands. You could require 40 thousand of Kickstarter money and end up with 400 thousand dollars in Kickstarter money and now you have to struggle with those obligations. That’s been happening a lot, if you don’t get any funding then you know maybe I shouldn’t be doing this project. No one cares.
TAAR: So it’s a good way to get a test bed and gauge the interest?
B: Well yeah, if you think about the vast advantage of it compared to coming up with a project and crossing your fingers and spending 50 thousand dollars and putting it out there and having it fall flat. Whereas now you've got something that can do a quick survey and the market research is built in to Kickstarter, people put their money where their mouth is and you’ll know whether you should go ahead or not and I think that’s really huge development in the industry and the industry has been using it. Reaper miniatures has raised several million dollars on Kickstarter, they’re converting most of their ranges over to plastic using it. That’s pretty significant, Sandy Peterson came up with Cthulhu Wars and raised over a million dollars I believe just for Cthulhu figures and gaming things. Yeah, I think it’s changed the industry I’m pretty sure it’s a huge part of the industry now at least maybe not at the far end top level but definitely at the middle to low level.
I’m doing a figure, well she’s a version one of my previous characters who was called the Volcano Queen, she’s going to be the Breadfruit edition of the Volcano Queen so we’re calling her the Breadfruit Queen and it’s going to be a charity figure that’s only going to be available if they go to the Breadfruit Institute and buy a breadfruit tree. That will then be plated somewhere in the world, you know, Haiti or Ghana or you know anywhere that the Breadfruit Institute has a tree project under way and so one figure the Breadfruit Queen and she may have a little tiki/nakazuni warrior devil doll character with her and for every one sold plant a tree. There’s been some interest in her and there’s been for a good cost and plants lots of trees.