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A few years ago I realised realism just didn't work for me.   I've seen pictures of model railway scenery that was so incredibly realistic that it was literally indistinguishable from photographs of the real thing. I've seen fantastically realistic military models and wargames where each stand was a miniature diorama.  I admire the skill involved, but really it does nothing for me: there's no buzz of excitement, no recognition of that moment when my imagination button has been pushed. Do you remember those photo stories in Jackie magazine back in the 70's? I know I wasn't the target audience, but I thought that from an aesthetic point of view they were horrible, just flat and boring, and somehow much less evocative than drawn strips.  Gradually, although I've carried on buying military histories and books about uniforms (curse you, Helion Books!), I've stopped looking at the wargame mags and started looking at pictures of vintage toy soldiers.  For some reason, to me they seem more evocative of their period than most modern miniatures.  For the ancient and mediaeval periods (and definitely for fantasy) it's different but that's another story, for later perhaps. At the same time I realised I didn't want to recreate old wargames, although I can see the appeal.  Years ago I took part in a re- enactment of an H.G. Wells "Little Wars"  game with some friends from the Class Wargames group and Mike Owen of Artizan Miniatures. We had old Britains toy soldiers, matchstick-firing guns and wooden brick buildings and a big, dusty parquet floor.  It was fun, but I wasn't converted. And the toy soldiers were too big! Eventually I realised I was suffering from something I've come to call 'pseudo- nostalgia'.  I could see in my mind's eye something that might have existed, but never had.  So began a strange quest: since the toy soldiers I wanted didn't exist, I would have to make them myself. At an impressionable age, when my tastes were still forming, Airfix 1/72nd figures appeared and from those first boxes of pink and red plastic guardsmen I was hooked.  I loved them and always called them "little soldiers" as though it was a technical term.  I converted them using razor blades, hot pins and Plasticene (though I never found any of the mysterious banana oil that the Airfix Magazine wrote about).  I loved them then, but I'm not remotely nostalgic about them now. And then something happened in about 1965, when I was 10, that planted the seeds of my current pseudo-nostalgia.  My Mom and Dad were asked to look after a toy shop in Wednesbury in the West Midlands for a week.  The shop belonged to a couple called Elsie and George, who we (that's me, my brother and my sister) called Auntie and Uncle, in the way people did then. The shop was probably packed with all kinds of stuff - cuddly toys, puppets, footballs, hula hoops and mouth organs - but I can only remember a few, and those I remember with crystal clarity.  It's only recently by Googling that I've been able to identify them.  In the front of the shop there was a Louis Marx castle with gold and silver knights that I really coveted, and a display of Marx Disneykins.  The stockroom, though, was even more of a wonderland.  There were Britains' soldiers and guns, and Dinky vehicles, but best of all were some narrow, flattish boxes full of small painted figures.  For years I remembered the name of the range because of its strangeness, Swedish African Engineers.  Even then I knew there wasn't much connection between Sweden and Africa, but I suppose a lot of things seem inexplicable to 10-year olds.  Later the name got mixed up in my head with my first military uniform book, Preben Kannik's 'Military Uniforms in Colour', probably because of the vague Scandinavian connection. Strangely I was too shy to ask for one of the boxes, and it just became another memory, jogged slightly when I saw SAE figures mentioned in Donald Featherstone's 'War Games'. So time went on. Eventually I ended up sculpting wargame figures in various scales for various companies , including my own, until I started feeling pseudo-nostalgic.  I realised that the answer was to make some neo-retro toy soldiers so I started to work out a recipe. First the basics: they had to be around 30mm tall, be easy-to-paint, have integral bases big enough to stop them falling over and be soldiers from imaginary countries from the 1920's and 30's.  To get the flavour right I wanted quite a lot of Tintin. a good measure of interwar Hausser -Elastolin and a pinch of Swedish African Engineers.  That last ingredient rather cuts across the others; there's a skilful realism to Holger Ericksson's sculpting that's a  move away from the stiffness of traditional toy soldiers, but still has style and panache. There's still a bit of a problem though: how do you let people know that the simple style and the limited poses of these figures are part of a deliberate design, rather than just poor sculpting?  It's simple - no buttons and no fingers.  Surely nobody could think I just forgot them or couldn't sculpt them if I wanted? So that's where I am now. The first range of my Little Soldiers is about to be released, but the quest hasn't ended.  When you aim for verisimilitude the target, however hard it is to hit, is clear. When you're making a neo-retro range everything is a personal aesthetic choice. How do you paint them? What kind of terrain do you use? What should the buildings look like? And how shiny should they be? 
North Star Magazine home page Mark Copplestone's Little Soldiers. Mark's Neo-Retro Little Soldiers


Mark Copplestone's Little Soldiers. Mark Copplestone's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark Copplestone's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers. Copplestone Castings Mark's Little Soldiers.