I just found this lurking in an old portfolio. No idea what it was for – but I remember it being a freelance job for GW in full colour (as I’m sure those more observant among you have noticed…), before I moved to Nottingham and a life in black and white. A couple of Slann up against it and some northern types unashamedly stolen from Akseli Gallen-Kallela (I was learning…) and a Johnny Winter album cover. Good grief.
– Paul Bonner, comment on Facebook
It’s a great image, and a distinctive one. It’s one of a very small number of colour paintings Bonner did for GW and one of an equally small number of illustrations of Lustria. It got me thinking about a host of subjects.
The picture depicts a battle between apparently three groups. The first group comprises three unarmoured humanoids with long blond hair. They are somewhat mysterious. Whiskey Priest thinks they might be elves, and he might be right. However, I think the evidence strongly points to their being human. First of all, Bonner describes them as “northern types”, which I take to mean Norse. Second, they are short and their faces are broad. They are unlike other elf depictions in Warhammer. Finally, they are based on images of humans in the paintings ‘The Defence of the Sampo’ and ‘Kullervo’s Curse’ by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
‘The Defence of the Sampo’, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
‘Kullervo’s Curse’, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
The second group of combatants are three heavily armoured figures in horned helmets. Their appearance is more conventionally Norse, and they are also described by Bonner as “northern types”. The source image is again human: the guitarist Johnny Winter. I have not been able to identify the exact album cover Bonner followed, but there is in my eyes a clear resemblance between Winter and the impaled figure.
The remaining figures in Bonner’s painting are evidently two slann. Yet there is something unusual about the slann. They seem to differ from other depictions in Warhammer (including Bonner’s own). They are grey skinned, rather than the normal blue or green. They lack warpaint, tattoos, animal skins, feathers or other exotic accoutrements. Their armour and style of dress look like they would be more at home in the Old World than the Lustrian jungles. There is even a cartoonish quality to them, with their bulbous eyes and exaggerated features. They almost remind me of Baron Greenback.
A distant slanncestor?
The features of Bonner’s slann were so different from my expectations that I went back to the source material to see if it shed light on the matter. I was somewhat surprised by what I found.
The first appearance of the slann was in the first Citadel Compendium.
They stand about two metres tall and are green, blue, grey or sometimes yellow in colour.
Each of the many tribes of the Slann were distinguished by unique markings along their spines.
– The first Citadel Compendium
Here slann are quite clearly described as often being grey, in line with Bonner’s painting. There is also no mention of warpaint.
The Compendium article was accompanied by two illustrations of slann by, I believe, John Blanche and Tony Ackland. Blanche’s image is in my view the iconic image of the slann, depicting them as spindly alien creatures with oversized heads. Ackland’s slann, though, are different. They have more human proportions and larger, more bulbous eyes. They have something of the cartoonish look of Bonner’s slann.
Bonner’s slann start to seem less anomalous, and the overall depiction of slann less consistent, than I had thought. But the plot thickened when I looked at WFB2.
Their bodies are thin with long limbs and webbed hands and feet. Their heads are large and frog-like with protruding eyes. Skin colours vary from green, blue and sometimes yellow. In some areas they are mottled or carry black or dark red ‘tiger-stripes’. Slann tribesmen, especially the warriors or braves, often wear war-paint as well as ritual or tribal tatoos [sic]. Paint colours follow traditional patterns which vary from tribe to tribe. Light blues, reds and white are the most common pigments.
– Warhammer Fantasy Battle, second edition, ‘Battle Bestiary’
Now grey slann are out. In fact, their colouring has become altogether more exotic, with patterns and for the first time warpaint.
The illustration that accompanies the text in WFB2 is Blanche’s earlier drawing from the Compendium. WFB2 also contained cardboard slann counters for the scenario ‘The Magnificent Sven’. They are consistent with the Blanche drawing.
So in WFB2 there was a change in the portrayal of slann. But there was no further alteration of any significance in WFB3.
Their bodies are thin, their limbs long and their hands and feet large and webbed. Their heads are flat and broad, with eyes that rise prominently like those of frogs or toads. Skin colouring varies from green to blue, and some Slann are yellow.
Some of the more primitive Slann tribes are only nominally part of the [Slann] Empire, and often have a distinctively patterned skin: striped, spotted or mottled.
All Slann wear warpaint, and many of the warrior clans are tattooed, patterns being traditional and associated with a particular group of warriors or tribal division. The most common pigments are light blue, red and white.
– Warhammer Fantasy Battle, third edition
Interestingly Bonner provided illustrations of the slann in WFB3. In this case the appearance of the slann conforms to their portrayal in the text and other illustrations.
Why then do the slann in Bonner’s colour illustration look so different? Possibly the colour image predates the black-and-white one above, and he had not yet understood the style of the slann. Perhaps I am just overstating the differences.
There is one more twist. John Blanche provided another colour illustration of the slann in Warhammer Armies.
Is that a grey slann in the middle of the picture (carrying an orange shield)? I am no longer sure I know what colour slann are supposed be!
It is not clear what product Bonner’s picture was intended for. He states the picture dates from his period freelancing for GW before he joined the Design Studio. I believe his first illustrations for GW were those in WFB3, which was published in November 1987, so infer that his freelancing work started in 1987. I do not know exactly when he started working at the Design Studio itself, but he has said he left in the “early” 1990s after three years of work. That suggests he joined the Studio between 1987 and 1990. Therefore the picture probably dates to 1987-1990.
This means the picture could have been intended for one of a number of projects. One possibility is WFB3 itself, alongside Bonner’s black-and-white drawing of slann. Yet WFB3 relied almost entirely on catalogue art for its colour images. The illustration might also have been intended for the slann article in WD96 (December 1987), which was published one month after WFB3, again with black-and-white art by Bonner. Another possibility is Warhammer Armies. This supplement included both slann and Norse contingents, was partially illustrated by Bonner and contained colour art.
The most intriguing possibility is that the art was intended for Richard Halliwell’s long-promised Lustria supplement. There was discussion of publishing the Lustria supplement in 1988-1989, when Bonner may still have been freelancing, and some artwork was apparently commissioned for this (as Pariah pointed out to me).
1st Ed Flame Publications were working on a Lustrian supplement but GW pulled the plug. I don’t recall seeing anything since. I was lucky enough to be involved as a freelance illustrator and still have the briefing documents and development work that I was sent to help produce the artwork.
– Stephen Hardy, comment on Facebook
This all raises the possibility that the Lustria supplement got closer to publication than I had previously assumed. It would be fascinating to know more about Stephen Hardy’s involvement, and maybe even see the materials he has retained.
Title art by Paul Bonner. Internal art by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, John Blanche, Tony Ackland and Paul Bonner. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.