Tuesday 13 August 2013

Master Crafted: An Interview with Guy Carpenter

Yesterday, I published a series of photographs belonging to Guy Carpenter and they have been very well received by you, the readers. As promised, today's post will be an interview with the photographer himself. As you've already got to know Guy a little, I don't really think he needs a long rambling introduction. The quality of his models speaks for itself. But he has quite a tale to tell, so I'll hand over to him and we can delve back into the darkness of the later 1980s. When men were men, and they wore quite worryingly bright shorts!

RoC80s: 'How you got started?' has become the traditional opening question for these interviews. What is the story behind your involvement in fantasy and science-fiction gaming?

GC: I grew up playing chess. We also had a “Battle of Waterloo” set at home but I rarely had anyone to play against except at school. My wargaming introduction was a sea battle game called “Trafalgar”, which was produced in 1978 along with miniature plastic frigates & ships of the line. I ended up getting another set so we could fight larger battles. My first GW game was “Battlecars” for the ZX Spectrum in 1983, I loved the idea of weaponising vehicles and then gaming with them as a re-enactment of “Mad Max 2”.  I have to say that it was not that great as a computer game with its top-down view, 4-bit graphics and rubber keyboard controls. Strategy computer gaming really became exciting when “Carrier Command” & “Sid Meir's Civilisation” appeared for the Commodore Amiga,with its keyboard & mouse controls, which was cutting edge gaming tech in 1987!
Ah, the days of the C64 and the ZX Speccy! 
During this time I was working at Beatties model shop in Kingston, I was asked to train-up a new assistant, Simon Tift, who had recently finished college and needed a job. He came from Nottingham and knew the local game store manager who was working at the Eastwood sales dept. At the time, Beatties sold White Dwarf and had a spinner display for the miniatures, so Simon was a good choice and was familiar with what we were selling, though our wages at the time were so bad we ended sharing a two room bedsit that hosted many a night of painting and gaming sessions. We stocked the Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game , Chainsaw Warrior and Rogue Trooper but it was the release of Rogue Trader that really wet our brushes! Simon and I attended the release at the Royal Horticultural Halls Games Day in 1987.  Our copies of Rogue Trader were signed by the artists and designers of the studio, I even managed to get Ian Livingstone to sign it! The RTB01 boxed set of Space marines was purchased and was a winner from the start with it’s missile launcher, but the metal minis that followed lead to a race of collecting everything released and having 50% staff discount at Beatties we actually doubled the shop order to compensate for our own collections! Needless to say that with our own painted figs on display and thorough product knowledge we sold a large amount of stock much to the surprise of the local independent games shop and our shop manager. 

These two models were some of the first that Guy ever painted.
Being in constant communication with Eastwood, Simon was offered an assistant manager position at the soon to be opened “Plaza” store in Oxford Street, London due to the level of the sales we had done, so we both left Beatties; Simon went to Plaza and I went to RACAL to work on MOD projects. Six months later, I was offered a Saturday job by Simon as they were short on staff, my enthusiastic customer chat and successful sales landed me a position as a manager of the next new store in Brighton.I then received a letter from the studio offering me a position as a studio figure painter on the back my Golden Demon  entries.... one of those life-choice moments the Red Pill or the Blue Pill? Studio or Retail? As a newly enlisted full time employee I trekked up to Eastwood to learn all aspects of the company and prepare the stock for the new shop. My first day was spent in the sales office, I was given a list of trade accounts to work my way through, when I’d finished the list I found I’d set a record for the most amount sold in one day. Next door to the sales office was the factory and mail-order, I had never before seen how the minis were made but now had the chance to cast some myself. The process was simple to do but hard to master wearing the heavy duty gloves and apron to protect you against splashing molten lead, it was hot and heavy work. The danger of factory work was highlighted when a few months earlier the factory was evacuated due to the Casting areas extraction unit was mistakenly turned from “Suck” to “Blow” and flooded the building with toxic production fumes! Adjacent to the factory was a porta-cabin, it was here that the new plastic kits were being developed. Adeptus Titanicus introduced “Epic” scale to 40k, the project in hand was test moulding a marine in plastic rather than in metal, and the test result was impressive and faster, I was allowed to cast/inject a few for myself with a unique choice of white, yellow & clear plastic.

Here we have one of the original test Epic space marines next to a FW tank for scale. I loved Space Marine when it was released and played my copy to death. 
Among Guy's collection are some lovely in house specials for staff, like this mug produced for the release of Waaaagh the Orks.
After a week in Eastwood, I finally got to work at the studio in “Upper Pavement”. Phil Lewis taught me miniature photography and set me up with Mike McVey for a spot of painting, I managed to eventually finish the first metal epic Shadowsword for WD, not one of my best paint jobs but with a little tuition I blagged it and picked up a few pointers for improvement along the way.

RoC80s: So you were heavily involved in the Retail side of GW but had quite a close acquaintance with the Design Studio? Could you explain the kind of projects you became involved in?

GC: I won my first Golden Demon award in 1988, it was a small hall, lots of old school gamers/painters; a geekfest really! In 1989, I didn't enter, although my Landraider conversion would have been a real winner had I been able to. Tony Cottrell and myself hosted a 40k plastic conversion table at Derby, I do have some rather embarrassing photos of mullets that Tony and myself sported. My Contributions to publications were graphic design, photography and or figures/models for; White Dwarf issues 106 and 120, Fantasy Miniatures 1,2 & 4,40k(3rd edition) & associated codexes, Battle Fleet Gothic, Mordheim, Vampire Counts, Forgeworld, Imperial Armour Aeronautica Imperialis, 40k wiki and in Games Workshop Brighton, the first trial of gaming nights in store (This first games night we held in Brighton (c1989) was the start of a trial that is still used in all GW shops today!) Fifteen would-be gamers turned up, old and young alike and everyone wanted to play, most only had a few figures,we had stats but no official army lists and a very small wall paper pasting table as our gaming area. Not wanting to disappoint anyone I suggested that the battlefield was beneath our feet, we cleared part of the shop floor and deployed everyone’s troops equally on either side, organised mayhem ensued as the now battle-frenzied would-be Generals advanced to the centre of the shop!(Looking back I would say this was a very early “Apocalypse” battle). Two hours later after many a die roll and chart referencing, the battle was finally over, the buzz of that first evening was infectious and as a result the shop grew a very dedicated painter/player base, although after the first games evening we did scale down the size of the battles once everyone got the basics of the game from that first night. We had our figure cabinet in the shop window, it was great way of attracting passing shoppers in Brighton’s Lanes, having a Golden Demon entry in the shop just created even further interest, it also sold lots of Rhino kits, but it was the admiration and emulation that inspired many to ask..
“I’ve painted this, what do you think?”

One of Guy's old school Golden Demon entries.

Book, poster and, of course, a trophy from the 1988 Golden Demon awards.
I could see that there was room for improvement and asked if I could re-paint his mini as I would do, the lad agreed and so I started demonstrating the art of dry-brushing, highlighting and inking. It was that kind of “Eureka” moment, but not really knowing what would follow until the lad in question returned the following week with some great looking figures, he was so proud and elated of his achievement that he went on to teach other kids in the shop. The painting demos were an instant success and were duly rolled out across the rest of retail. It was one thing to look at WD with all of its guides and pictures, but watching it in action gave so much confidence to new painters (thanks to the tips I picked up at the studio, cheers lads). I first met John Stallard (recently promoted to the head of retail) at GW Plaza(1988), a thoroughly pleasant chap who radiated a hobby enthusiasm with a sincere boyish charm (just like the rest of us!), seeing how well with what I had done with my first managerial position in Brighton asked “ Looks great, any problems?” Brighton being a very small shop had NO space for display as we were still stocking TSR’s D&D, boxes and shrink wrapped additions were tatty, leftovers from the Sheffield store, I replied..

“We would be better off concentrating on our own products, we are after all a “Games Workshop”.

Over the following year TSR products were slowly phased out of stock. SPACE HULK. This was by far the easiest & simplest game to sell in store. Simple game mechanics, great miniatures (terminator metal box set as an extra sale!) and all in one box, probably the best selling game aside to Talisman that GW ever did. In store demos of a single mission virtually guaranteed a sale on a regular basis, of course backed up with paint and extras mantra instilled to us retail types. I should’ve got a freaking medal for the amount I sold! 

Gobbligook in space marine armour. A sketch from BiL Sedgwick.

RoC80s: One thing that fascinates enthusiasts of this period of British gaming, are the cancelled projects or super rare items that never really made it into the mainstream. Where you aware of anything during your time at GW that may be of interest to us?

GC: When Epic was released I did a scaled up version in plasticard of the Shadowsword in scale with Rogue Trader, which was never published, until now!

RoC80s: Modern GW suffers a great deal of bashing over its packaging and pricing. How were things done back in the 1980s?

"Games Workshop shops kept our models unpackaged as loose castings, either on or behind their counter, in sets of tiny plastic drawers. This did not encourage purchase. The GW shops sold very few toy soldiers.We supplied independent shops with those wire racks that we used to have. They had hooks that carded bags containing our models dangled down from. Later we went over to blister packs. The same blister packs that Foundry use now. The independent shops cheerfully sold plenty of our toy soldiers. In the end, a party of Citadel staff went into the Sheffield Games Workshop, took away the awful tiny plastic drawers and hung our racks of wire hooks and dangling toy soldiers up on their walls. Sheffield started selling loads more Citadel: I think the sales went up by a factor of six or seven on the next Saturday. Then the other Games Workshop shops were supplied with racks and dangling toy soldiers too.

This brought in useful amounts of cash to go towards our new projects."

Bryan Ansell quoted in 'The Mighty Avenger: An interview with Bryan Ansell

GC: This was was a very clever and profitable direction Bryan took, but it did have some drawbacks. The initial release of WH40k miniatures in blisters consisted of five minis for £2.50 (the production and distribution price equated out at 48p per blister so making a healthy mark-up of over 200% for GW! This was great value but at a cost. There were essentially two problems we had to deal with. 1) The weight of the figures regularly split open the plastic blister packs in transit. (this was later addressed by packaging heavier models in the rigid plastic slide-open boxes, the Epic scale Hellbore was one I fondly remembered), the wastage was easily 2-4 blisters per box of 10, and the shop “Bitz Box” was never short on spare parts. 2) Demand was still so high that the Eastwood factory had trouble keeping up with production. As an example, a Terminator Army was not really an army but a collection of the strongest troops available, everyone wanted to field them but they cost the same amount in sterling as any other figure. So quality of troop choice eventually dictated cost and resulted in a reduction in the weight of the contents to three figs so the blisters didn't split, increase the price so it made it more of a considered purchase (£2.99), increase the price for characters for the armies to reflect the points cost in the game. A business decision that “balked” gamers & figure collectors alike without them understanding the  reasoning behind it.

A space Slann? How much would this be worth on the collectors market?
RoC80s: What about your achievements later on in life? You were very involved in the early evolution of Forgeworld and entered the Golden Demons a number of times in the early 2000s with memorable results. Any stories to share?

GC: While working for GW my hobby was work, so in the end was not really a hobby but an extension of a daily grind of a love lost, I was burnt out and left GW that at the time was coupled with the loss of my two year old daughter. The following year, from 1992 onwards, I took self imposed/unofficial sabbatical and studied for and passed a BA Hons in Graphic Design (1994-98) Upon graduation I re-joined GW to work in the studio on Mordheim & Battle fleet Gothic, banging out diagrams & photos for the publication. Andy Chambers hosted a department demo game of BFG to give us a flavour of the system, much to my surprise I won the game on the last turn by destroying Andy’s Planet killer. But GW was not the same after Bryan left, the essence of the original company had gone and was replaced by the corporate model that presides to this day, and one that I helped to promote. I once again left GW, though not through choice.  I did however forge some great friendships with some of the finest sculptors & figure painters GW had to offer that to this day I still chat and game with. Strangely enough, my love of WW2 models ignited a re-emergence and invigorated a contract with my old friend Tony Cottrell at Forge world. I took their excellent new range (c2000) of resin kits to heart and did my upmost to paint & promote the range into GW’s Golden Demon. Three Golden Demon trophies later for 40k vehicles 2000, 2001 & 2002 I hung up my air brush for any further GW/Forgeworld entries and commissions. Getting older makes you reflect on time spent, I painted a shed-load of stuff for everyone except myself. I now occasionally paint commissions for private collectors if timescale and price are agreeable. Current painting projects done or in the process include: Studio scale X-Wing (Private commission) Studio scale resin kit of the Jawas Sand crawler (personal model) Two complete painted sets of “Mighty Empires” counters. Imperial Guard Catachan Army incorporating my original old metal, new figs & flyers. Nautilus Submarine (20k leagues under the sea) Pegasus models. Kraken Sea Monster (Reaper Minis) 1/40 scale U-97 rc (work in progress) Other design & models include work for: “Empire of the Sun” (Spielberg) Airfix Hadley Page 0-400, this was shot with Christian Bale running along with the plane on fire that I built, this was a two second shot in the movie as burning plastic tends to give off toxic fumes and drips molten airplane over the bearer. Thames Television (Carlton TV) Concept design for a speedboat livery, Hard landscaping garden design Graphics for the Army & Royal Navy. I recently finished Closed Beta testing for Wargaming.org World of Warplanes. Oh, and I currently run a print production department for a large pharmaceutical company.

Guy's 'Ops Room'. You jealous?
One of Guy's later Forgework tanks.

A big thanks to Guy for doing this and sharing his memories, photographs and miniatures and models.

Go on.

Be inspired!



  1. Great interview and article.

    I remember that era at the start of Brighton Games Workshop very well when Guy was working there, and I was a regular gamer there. It was, and still is, my local GW and I recall clearly the chaotic nature of those early gaming nights, as well as fielding Slann (40K and Fantasy) there too.

    In the Brighton GW store the miniatures were in a cylindrical rotating display cabinet, which I am sure used to stick and judder as it went round! They were great to see, and I spent many hours of summer holidays painting, gaming, or hanging around there. I manged to get an Imperial Guard miniature in there at the time, and recall Guy giving me a demonstration on how to paint.

    Thank you for posting and reminding me of the time :)

    1. I'm pretty sure the local staff remembers you too, They sometimes talk of good ol'days and this kid coming with a wheelbarrow and getting all the slann models (and goblins)every single week until the range was abandonned...

      Very good read once again, all this interviews give a different angle on the hobby from back then and it's pure delight.

    2. LOL, think you might be right.

    3. Thankyou. From another kid of 1989 GW Brighton. A love of fantasy, art, history and of course miniatures (and dodgy rock music) was fostered in me by you guys that still endures today.

  2. Love reading these tales of yore - keep them coming.

  3. Great stuff. I have to admit to feeling a little bit of pride as Brighton was the first GW I ever visited, although after Guy moved on.

  4. Great interview and pics. I remember being very impressed with his stuff from WD. Thanks! /Hans

  5. I think Guy was the manager in Maidstone around 1992. I was slightly in awe of him and a great inspiration. Thank you for taking the time to share your memories.

  6. A fine article, as usual - thank you both for the time!

    I wonder, as they're loosely connected to GW, if it would be worth looking into an article covering the long-defunct Warhammer Records label + D-ROK and Bolt Thrower?

  7. that was fascinating stuff, cheers :)