Tuesday, 20 August 2013

No Ventilation: An Interview with Jamie Sims

The Oldhammer Community is an eclectic bunch of characters. As a growing movement, new members crop up almost daily, from all walks of life and nationalities. This is one of the community's great strengths. Occasionally, you meet someone who has an interesting tale to tell and it's a real joy letting them tell it.

One of these people is Jamie Sims.

Initially, we came in contact through his incredible scenery. Jamie wanted to showcase his remarkable work at the Foundry during the Oldhammer weekend. Sadly, a range of factors made this ultimately impossible but I felt his work needed to be seen by enthusiasts of fantasy modelling and gaming, as they were some of the very best I had ever had the pleasure to see. Additionally, Jamie pointed out that he work for Asgard Miniatures in the early days and was witness to a great number of things that will be of considerable interest to the readers of this blog.

RoC80s: Everyone seems to have a different story about how they connected with fantasy gaming. So what's yours?

JS: OK, this is a long story. I got into Dungeons and Dragons very early in its development, in about 1978 to '79. Because of this, I found out about Asgard miniatures who, at the time, were in Commerce Square in the Lace Market, Nottingham. This was in 1981. I got offered a job packing before moving on to casting miniatures. This was at the time when Citadel hadn't even merged with GW. A young John Blanche used to come into our shop to buy our minis, go away and paint them and then come back to sell them back to us for display. It was also the time when an even younger Jes Goodwin came to Asgard to try and start his career off as a sculptor. I can proudly say I saw the first mini he ever made. The boss took it, snapped off two limbs saying; 'this wont cast , and neither will this'. Then handed it back to and understandably crestfallen Jes. It's a credit to the man that he didn't give up right then and there, I've always thought. I've been into the hobby ever since. I've had illustrations in White Dwarf, and in a couple of rulebooks. Additionally, I have made terrain for Realms of Chaos and worked on the 'Eavy Metal team. I've also worked for Target Games, Fantasy Flight, Testors, Paiso + others, and various Computer Games companies. And on a few TV and Movie projects and all this experience has informed how I make terrain and other modelling projects.

Some of Jamie's work. Such a precise level of detail and believability. Playing on models like this is more akin to working with film sets is it not?
With a multi-level approach often evident in his work, a clever GM could concoct a plethora of interesting little narratives and special rules out of his work. 
The skill makes you look at your fragile attempts at scenery and weep bitter tears of envy, doesn't it?
Loads to be inspired by here/ Note the little details of the windows and, presumably, a drain opening.
RoC80s: What got you started building scenery?

JS: At school we did a thing called the English Speaking Board examination (I know its like something from a Victorian novel, but then I am ancient!) and we had to produce a demonstration, which could be anything at all, and speak about it. I had been for some time making Airfix model planes and building little dioramas for them, using chicken wire and papier mache. This was my first foray into modelling scenery, around 1978. Skip forward a few years to when I discovered Asgard Miniatures, and gamers were all playing Bryan Ansell's western gunfight rules. They had a church with a roof that came off, and all detailed inside and many other buildings. I was hooked instantly! I proceeded to make many big clumsy versions myself from ply wood, coated with emulsion and sand in my mother's garage. The next time was when the GW Design Studio was in Enfield Chambers in the centre of Nottingham City. John Blanche asked me to make some chaos terrain for the upcoming RoC publication. Some years later I started playing 40k with Andy Chambers who I had known from the Asgard days. This is when I actually started making terrain in earnest. In fact some of the pieces I made, being two tier, were what prompted Andy to write the first City Fight expansion rules. A picture of one of my pieces is on the back cover I believe. Anyway the real break through came much later. I was staying with George RR Martin, (Game of Thrones author), at his house in New Mexico. I was making him some scenery pieces to photograph his minis against. I was using my staple polystyrene shaped and coated in sand and paint when his wife Parris, handed me some foam board and said; 'have you tried this?' After that things went stellar. Its such a fantastic medium!

A chaos tree anyone?
RoC80s: Can you tell us how long it takes to complete a project or how much a piece may cost?

JS: The pieces take different amounts of time according to how large they are, if they have interiors or water sections etc. So it’s difficult to say. The Pyramid took about a month, but that’s full time. Also, I like to keep improving things. Generally they’re produced for games. So getting them to a functional state is the first concern. Then later they develop and finesse. For example, I’m midway through re-roofing a lot of the buildings now, with a much better tile effect.

RoC80s: Are the models we can see professional commissions or personal projects?

JS: All of these were produced for personal gaming. However I’m a maker by profession. I produce stage props, sculpture, models, illustrations, simple animations, diagrams, paintings, graphic line work etc. I have at present got two commissions for historically correct models of existing churches on my table. And yes, I take commissions, really for anything.

RoC80s: So do you have a favourite terrain piece?

JS: Ha! Favourite…. Mmm that’s tricky. They all hold different memories. I have difficulty with favourites. I mean if I named one, it might hurt the feelings of the other models…

RoC80s: So if I wanted to commission you to produce scenery, how would I go about it and how much would it cost?

JS: Contact me at my email address: j.sims2@btinternet.com. The price of a commission is completely dependent on the complexity of the piece or pieces the client is after... I would typically sit down and discuss with a client what they wanted and what budget they had, to arrive at a price that suited us both.

The Temple. One of Jamie's largest commissions. 
The Temple. It has a fully detailed interior, complete with skeletons!
Let this image give you some idea of the SCALE of Jamie's work!
RoC80s: You worked for Asgard Miniatures back in the early 1980s. What can you recall about the company?

Asgard in the early '80’s was Myself (the caster) Paul Sulley (the manager), Garry-Slim- Parsons (the mould maker) and Nick Bibby (the sculptor, par excellence) who worked from his flat. The rest of us were in a two room property in the Lace Market. This was the early '80’s and the Lace Market was very run down. These days, people would have snapped those properties up and renovated them as they were period pieces, stunning really. But back then, no one wanted them. So the rents were very cheap but we had NO amenities. No running water, no washing facilities. Not even a toilet! It was a different world. We all happily ate our lunches in a room with a lead melting pot. No ventilation. Absolutely no health and safety. It hadn’t been invented then!! We did a lot of mail order, to the States as well, and we used to import the first and subsequent Ral Partha miniatures. They were just incredible models. And what we didn’t know then, was that Tom Meier made those early sculpts aged just 16 ! Now that’s talent. The way it was run was that Paul made all the decisions, mostly without consulting his partners (Nick and Slim). The biggest example of this was the turning down of an offer of a merger with Citadel. That turned out to be the death knell of the company in my opinion. Asgard had the sculptors and a lot of really good ideas first. And what sculptors too! Nick Bibby and Jes Goodwin for goodness sake! The best in the business by a long, long way, this side of the pond at least. But Citadel had the manufacturing setup. And of course the later merger with GW. Yes that was, I believe, what they call a 'fatal' business decision. Asgard had had almost like a cult following then. There was a core of people that basically spent all their free time there. Amongst them some pretty big talents and names to be; John Blanche, Andy Chambers, Jes Goodwin, Nick Bibby, Tim Pollard, Slim, Asgard Chris, Andy Minor, Pank, Che and myself. It was a whirlwind time for me, being so young. And my life was undergoing huge changes. Although not the career move of the century at £30 a week I'm really glad I was there right at the start of the scene/hobby or whatever you want to call it. Back then it was really underground. No one in the mainstream knew what Dungeons and Dragons was. And it felt great to be a part of this fantastical other world, away from the dull reality of the time.

RoC80s: I don't really have a clue how miniatures were cast back then. Could you explain the process?

JS: Well I didn’t cast for Citadel, only Asgard. There was a melting pot, large ingots of lead, which everyone helped carry in from the lorry when it was delivered. A table covered in tiny fragments of vulcanizing rubber, lots of rubber moulds, lead bits all over, sprue, flashing and other casting detritus. Chip wrappers, coke cans, sandwich wrappers, cigarettes, butts and ash. And your trusty ladle. I'd switch the melting pot on, and once heated, take an ingot of lead, place it long ways up in the bowl, support it until it started to soften and melt, then lower it further in. If you just left it, it would drop suddenly and splash. If you daydreamed whilst supporting it, the same thing. At the time I was 16 and living in the flat below Nick Bibby in Carrington. I was paid the princely sum of £30 a week. One morning there was no food. Except a bottle of vodka. Being 16 I thought I’d try and make it through work on just that. I nodded off while melting two bars in at once. I got sent home that day. It was an early lesson in life. Anyway, the process was that you opened the centrifugal casting machine lid, put in a mould, closed the lid, started the machine, took a scoop of molten lead with your trusty ladle, and poured it in (in as even a flow as possible) into the mould through a hole in the centre of the lid. If you poured too fast it would clog, too slow and it didn’t fill the mould.Then you put your ladle down, stopped the machine, opened it, took out the mould and placed it on the table. Your work flow would be to pour, turn and empty the previous mould, turn back, stop the machine and take out the full mould, replace it with an empty. And start again. This was done in the the back room. I was the only caster, Slim was opposite me making moulds (with a very high degree of skill I might add) . And Paul would biuble in and out from the front room (shop with no counter) doing important stuff no one understood.

An example of one of John Blanche's Asgard Miniatures. Isn't that the greatest painted shield you have very seen? And I believe he used oils to do these! Photographed by Steve Casey.
More of John Blanche's Asgard Stuff. You can see these models, and a huge range of other Asgard stuff by John Blanche, on Steve Casey's blog, Eldritch Epistles
RoC80s: And what about the moulds themselves? How were they constructed?

JS: In a vulcanising press. Slim hand cut them first, laid in locating pins, chalked the whole thing, then it went into the vulcanising press. (Which was in the same room as the casting machine and melting pot. His skill at cutting in the shapes and also cutting air runs to the edge of the mould from the mini... awesome.Y ou know, he was having to guage , by eye and experience and just 'cleverness'; where the lead will need help flowing to. Then lines were cut by hand to allow release. Not too thick , or thin... This was highly skilled work. You can imagine, melting rubber, lead, fag smoke, no ventillation. Really even the windows were too small and old to open.... Health and safety? ha ha ! I'm still here! No one thought about health and safety.It just wasn't on the radar. At 14 my father died and it blew the family apart, literally. So as soon as I was 16, I left school , left home and got the job at Asgard. Left to my own devices as a kid that age however i had become practically feral within a year. And a few months after that, I started to realise I needed to go back to college. I'd always only ever been interested in art. And living in the flat below Nick Bibby I was constantly in awe of his creations. He was an extremely good painter as well as sculptor. I had my sights on art college and so I bit the bullet and went back to my mother's house and signed up for College and resat my exams. A few years later I been through the uni system. and bumped into John Blanche. He asked to see my work, and started to give me commissions here and there. The odd illustration, or a few days mini painting with the then fledgling 'Eavy metal team. And one day the terrain making for Realm of Chaos. I have to say those pieces I did were right at the start of my career and although great experience... they are not my best work shall we say.

Some of Blanche's 'crab claw' conversions.
RoC80s: So what of the wild tales? Readers of this blog seem never to be sated on amusing anecdotes? All these young (ish) guys working in such conditions all day must have resulted in a prank or two?

JS: One day we were packing a big order for the States. Paul was very excited. It was a big deal. We were all helping; as then, you put the minis in a little clear bag, and stapled a label on, having already hand written the code on said label. It took a while. Anyway, Slim was eating a bacon sandwich and such was the level of frenzy to get the order packed and off however; he forgot to finish it! In fact he’d put it into one of the half full boxes and someone else had put more minis in top of it. In those days it took a up to a month to get a package like this to its destination in America.You can imagine what it was like when it got there. The recipients actually took it in very good humour, considering how much it must have smelt by then! That same order also got some surprise 'dungeon debris' packs. Being young and stupid we thought it would be very funny to scoop up dust, fag ends and bits of lead, bag and label them as Dungeon Debris, with their own code. Amazingly, the recipients got the joke! Even commenting on it in a later missive. I can’t remember which company it was but they had a sense of humour. Now comes the Blanche ‘ Full -Liche wand Phallused- cloaked and cowled barbarian’ story! When Nick made the 28mm Conan cover inspired Barbarian, it was simply ‘The best 28mm mini made, to date, in England’. John Blanche used to come in regularly, buy minis or get given them in return for painted returns. John’s stuff was just so far ahead of anyone else it was dreamy to see it. The things he’d do.. conversions before anyone was doing that. And such amazing imagination. And as for the actual painting…. John invented wash and dry brush. Say no more. His ability was, within its field; nothing short of visionary. And he loved the barbarian. We used to joke ‘John bases everything on the Barbarian!’ The amount of wonderful things he did with that one mini. Also in Asgard's ranges, was a mini of a Liche. The Dungeons and Dragons module; Tomb of Horrors demanded that all self respecting D&D mini companies had a liche. So Nick made one, clutching an extremely phallic wand. I think it was meant to be a snake's head wand, (or maybe Nick was just bored?). Well John took a barbarian, added a cloak and cowl wrapped almost all the way around the figure, but just slightly open at the front. Exposing the new, upward jutting, ‘appendage’ the lucky barbarian had gained. It was laugh out loud funny but also, so well done, it was excellent. Subtle yet shocking. And painted perfectly. Really it was another sign of the times. And a testament to how John approached things as an artist. But can you imagine it now? 

In a shop display cabinet? 

You’d get lynched!!
And so ends another old school interview. I am sure that you all will agree that we need to thank Jamie for giving up his time to talk to us and share his wonderful models and memories. If you are interested in seeing more of his work, just follow the link below to his portfolio and feast your eyes on his output.
And his email address for commissions is...



  1. WOW, I just spent I don't know how many minutes in one of the most evocative stories of this blog (and it does say a lot).
    Reading about Jes' first mini being torn or about a young John Blanche coming to buy and sell his miniatures is just gold.
    Reading about their work conditions helps to rrot these stories in reality.
    There would be so much to say about all of this but it just leaves me speachless.

    Thanks a lot to both of you Jamie and Orlygg for this very precious part of the puzzle you've given us...

    1. Glad you enjoyed Jamie's story. The Jes Goodwin story is fantastic isn't it, but then even great sculptors like him have to start somewhere I suppose?

    2. Well, looking at his early Asgard models, he started at a high level, I'm about to buy myself some of his barbarians still available from alternative armies and they already bear his "touch"

    3. Have you got the links for those? Post them please if you can!

    4. You can also find quite alot of asgard minis from Viking Forge including the orc above: http://vikingforge.datasquire.net/25mm-asgard-fantasy.html


    5. Asgard Jes goodness for cheap : http://www.alternative-armies.com/BP13_Barbarian_Warpack.htm
      I'm definitely getting these.

  2. Extremely entertaining interview! That was actaually extremely evocative and inspiring. Cheers for another gem!

    1. Don't thank me, thank Jamie, it was his memory that I plundered. I have just spent the last hour looking at Asgard minis on eBay. It's a funny thing to think, but there is a high chance they were cast by Jamie himself.

  3. Someone must own that phallic barbarian!

  4. Great article, this one in particular really resonated with me. Maybe it was the Vodka for breakfast part ;).

    I think it is clear that we need to track down Phallus the Barbarian!

    1. Indeed we must! Though, I had trouble just finding Nick Bibby's barbarian itself. Anyone got an image out there?

  5. Fantastic and completely fascinating!! So great to read about Asgard. It makes those miniatures even more special and somehow even more romantic! Thanks for posting this!

    1. I suspect we will see the collecting of Asgard minis take up a step as we learn more about the company.

  6. I can only agree with our friends above. This was a really great interview. My favorite so far. Amazing how much he remembers and so many amusing stories like Jes first sculpt or the appendage of the lucky barbarian. Thx Orlygg and Jamie! /Hans

  7. Thanks hugely for the kind words and comments. It’s really rewarding to share these memories with people who are genuinely interested.
    Back then I really don’t think anyone (well probably with the exception of Brian) thought it would or could ever be as popular as it has become.
    And a big thank you to Orlygg for putting this together, and his extremely generous comments about my stuff.
    Lord knows what ever became of Phallus the barbarian. Id put my money on John still having it. And I do have to say that personally, I think the person responsible for the overwhelming success of GW has to be John Blanche. It was his vision, unbridled enthusiasm and talent that gave the product all its appeal, and lifted it head and shoulders above everything else.
    Thanks again folks, your comments mean a hell of a lot to me!

    1. Well since we have the opportunity here, let me say congrats to you for both your great work from back then until now and for making this piece of history so evocative. Slow and loud applause to you and thanks Orlygg.

    2. Thank you Jamie for sharing these great tales. Love you modelling as well! Great stuff! /Hans

    3. Ahh thanks guys, its an absolute pleasure to share it with you!

  8. Very interesting, it's always a blast to hear about the old stuff :D Thanks!

  9. Just stumble accross this blog, as well as another (http://life-in-miniature.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/asgard-for-first-time.html), which brought back so many memories of my youth in nottingham. Especially all the time I spent in tabletop games and Asgard shops, playing games, etc. I don't remember Jamie that well, but Paul, Pank, Slim, Nick and John Blanche I do. The Barbarian was exceptional and being reminded I can still see the showcase with both Nick and John's models in. Thanks for bringing back such great memories.

  10. wow Jamie's work on that scenery is amazing and so well detailed, that temple must be the proud centrepiece of the owners wargaming table, and once again great stories from the hobbies early days.