Sunday 6 January 2013

An Interview with Tony Ackland: The Grand Master of Chaos

A few posts back, I discussed the impending anniversary of Slaves to Darkness and stated that I felt is was time to start exploring the history of the book, researching its conception, production and eventual release. In doing so, I felt that it was important to try gather the recollections of some of the individuals who worked on the book and their memories of their time working at Citadel during Bryan Ansell's iconic tenure. 

One such individual is the prolific Tony Ackland, one of the major contributors to Citadel and Warhammer in the early years. Even if you don't know his name, chances are if your into retro GW, you'll love a piece or two of this work. Over the years he worked on practically everything from Laserburn and Spacefarers, through to Call of Cthulu, WFRP, Warhammer, Rogue Trader among others, before moving on to Flame Publications, Harlequin and Black Tree Design. Truth is, if you love chaos daemons, then you owe a debt to Tony, he designed them!

  • Fantastic Landscapes indeed- you may well recall this drawing from the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition Rulebook. 
    Thanks to the wonders of modern social media, I managed to contact the great man himself and ask him a series of questions about his time at GW. Generously, Tony has provided us with high quality scans of some of his work from the period, including much material from the Realms of Chaos books, some of it unpublished and seen here for the first time - I think!

    Below is the interview with Tony and a wide selection of his work. We discuss his early days at Citadel, later Games Workshop, his influences, the design process at the time and his work on Realm of Chaos.
    RoC80s: You began you time with GW in 1981. How did the relationship begin? Headhunted? Random accident?

    TA: It goes back to when Bryan Ansell formed Asgard miniatures with a couple of partners back in the late seventies. I had started sculpting miniatures principally to fill in the gaps of commercially available miniatures for myself and friends. I met Bryan at a show and began sculpting the odd miniature and providing the occasional promotional illustrations for Asgard.
    Bryan sold his share of Asgard to his partners and joined Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson in the forming of Citadel. The arrangement I had with Asgard effectively continued with Citadel. After disagreements with Ian and Steve, Bryan sold his share and thus began what he refers to has his year out. After failing fortunes with Citadel, Ian and Steve asked Bryan to manage Citadel for them. It was then that Bryan asked me if I would work for the company full time.
    The Homecoming - another evocative illustration from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 
    RoC80s: What was the design philosophy during this early period, did you have creative freedom or was your work dictated by tight design briefs?
    TA: There was no formal design philosophy in the early days. The “studio” was more like a group of friends than a structured workplace. Besides illustration, I was doing a lot of concept work for the figures and putting together adverts. At that time we were the “poor cousin” of the main GW in London.

    RoC80 s: You also worked on the design and development of the fan-favourites, the zoats and fimir. Perhaps you can help with a long standing mystery among collectors? This model has long be debated, and is known in collecting circles as the 'Baby Zoat' due to its small size... What was the purpose behind the design? And what was the polearm for?

    TA: Bryan wanted a race similar in character to Adzel from Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League stories.  But he wanted them to have a less reptilian look and so the Zoats were born.  I can't say I ever saw this figure.  Its general appearance is more like Adzel himself than that of a Zoat.  It may well have been a whim of one of the figure designers that got produced.  This sometime happened and the resulting figures would be placed in what appeared to be the most appropriate range.  Not the sort of thing that would be permitted today.
         Graeme Davis had been tasked with creating a new race.  So between us we came up with the Fimir He working on the text and me on the visuals.  The starting point was a book cover that Graene found featuring a Fomorian as depicted by Alan Lee.  I mutated the image and Graeme shortened the name and changed the vowels.  Not the most original thing either of us did.

    The original Fimir concept sketch. This is a full colour scan which reveals some of Tony's technique.
    Concept sketch of the Jabberwock miniature.
    RoC80s: How did the creative progress develop/change during the later part of the 1980s and what influence did Ansell's purchase of the company have on your work?
    TA: By the end of  '83 Citadel was the most financially successful part of GW, this combined with Steve and Ian's success with the Fighting Fantasy books (Fighting Fantasy made them both millionaires)led to the plan for Bryan to buy them out being born. So you can imagine it was rather a slow process. Likewise the changes at GW were gradual. The upside was that with one or two notable exceptions more time could be devoted to projects, the downside was the growth of decision by committee. This became more prevalent as Bryan had less of an hands on role in the studio. One of the reasons I joined the Flame Publications crew (all 3 of us) was to escape that development.

    Illustration from the Doomstones Campaign, from Tony's days at Flame Publications

    Original artwork for The Enemy Within pre generated characters.
    RoC80s: There is a strong 'swords and sorcery' vibe running through much of your work. Outside the design concepts stemming from GW, what were (or indeed, are) your major influences for fantasy art?
    TA: From an early age I had always liked fantasy, science fiction whether it was books, films or comics. I suppose one of the first influences was the old Eagle comic. But soon after I was reading the sf pulps like Astounding Science Fiction, Future, Original SF, and Galaxy. These featured the works of illustrators such as Virgil Finlay, Frank Kelly Freas, and Wally Wood all who had an influence. There were also the movie posters of Reynold Brown that had an impact although I did not know he was the artist who created them at that time. Then there were the stories of HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashston Smith, and Robert E Howard. Later on the Warren magazines like Creepy, and Eerie became more easily available in the UK. These featured artwork by some of the old EC artists like Al Williamson, Frazetta, and again Wally Wood. They also introduced Spanish artists like Esteban Maroto and Jose Ortiz. Then in the mid seventies along came Heavy Metal with a stunning variety of art styles. It was also a great period for paperback covers and album sleeves. It all comes down to absorbing the imagery you are subjected to, but developing your own personal style.

    Medusa - this drawing really makes me think of Frazetta, a big influence over Tony's work. Illustration from Slaves to Darkness.
    A sanity blasting landscape of undulating horror... Illustration from Realm of Chaos
    RoC80s: What were the inspirations behind your Cold One riders and weird armour styles for the early Dark Elves?
    TA: That's pushing my memory. I think the starting point stemmed from what was the then accepted vision of High Elves as epitomised by Tom Meier's Ral Partha figures. The trick was to twist that look from the “good guy” image to that of the “bad guy”. So a lot sharp edges were given to parts of the armour and the decoration was designed to give them a sort of stereotype SS feel. You have to remember that Citadel was originally set up to produce Ral Partha miniatures under licence in the UK. Additional figures were to be designed in a form compatible with them. This altered when Ian Livingstone discovered the Perry twins and the Citadel range took on a look of it's own. The Partha figures were heavily influenced by the fantasy artwork of the time, these in turn were a big influence on the fantasy miniatures industry. However the twins whose, love was and still is historical work, were a bit quirky with their fantasy work. One of the reasons I was employed there was to give their work some direction.

    "When I was a lad beastmen were beastmen..."

  • Tzeentch Horror concept artwork. Sculptor Kevin Adams added his customary 'mischeviously  evil' faces to these during the sculpting process - I have always found that this addition made these particular daemons even more sinister. 

    RoC80s: Nearly 25 years on, what do you think the appeal is of the Realms of Chaos books? Do you just feel it is just nostalgia that maintains their consistently high prices on the collector's market?
    TA: RoC was quite unique when it was first unleashed on the world. It was the first GW product to have so much time and money allotted to the artwork. It seems to have been a quite influential work but it has never received any credit for such, from the mainstream historians of the genre. GW themselves are to some degree responsible as they have distanced themselves from it as they sought a younger audience. I suppose these factors help to provide the cult status it now enjoys .
    A tide of chaos spawn oozes across the landscape in this Realm of Chaos illustration
    Daemonette and chaos hounds. Illustration from Realm of Chaos.
    RoC80s: How were the four chaos powers (with their associated artwork and miniature ranges) designed, from initial concepts to final products?

    TA: The core idea came from Bryan's fascination with the chaos gods featured in Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion books. Bryan came up with the names and attributes and got John Blanche to provide some rough sketches of each of the four gods. From then on it was up to me to develop those ideas. There was at one point a fifth god Malal (unseen) created by John Wagner and Alan Grant (the Judge Dredd writers) and drawn by Brett Ewins for a strip in the Compendium or Journal (I can't recall which). 

    Unpublished concept of Malal daemon
    TA: This god (Malal) was prevented from being used in RoC because Wagner and Grant had ensured that they had the copyright. This was not realised until after I had created the visuals for the God and it's associated beasts. In the case of the beasts I would create finished visuals and we would get around to discuss which to use or not. The mutations of the warriors was left up to me.

    Khornate daemon engine, one of the last pieces of artwork Tony produced for GW in 1991.
Unpublished Warhammer battle scene illustration 

Unpublished Realm of Chaos illustration 
Unpublished Realm of Chaos illustration
Unpublished Realm of Chaos illustration
Unpublished concept are from The Lost and the Damned - presumably a scaling study between the Lord of Change, a Flamer and a Horror. Fascinating...

Unpublished Realm of Chaos sketch
RoC80s: The image above is an intriguing one. It reminds me of the interior illustration used in Slaves to Darkness to overview Slaanesh and Khorne. Here we see Nurgle daemons in ranks similarly to the well known illustration (shown below for comparison). Interestingly, the Beast of Nurgle here resembles the unreleased version (which was not big enough, see it here) rather than the more well known miniature. The absence of this type of drawings was one of the biggest surprises for me when I first read The Lost and the Damned. Presumably, there was also once a Tzeentch version. I asked Tony for more detail.

TA: Originally there was only going to be one book.  So the initial compositions for the various daemon header sections were designed to be compatible.  The plan had been that vast majority of the artistic work would be up to Ian Miller and myself with occasional artwork from various freelancers.   What then happened was that too much text was generated (a ratio of text to illustration had been established at the beginning of the project) for one volume.  So it was decided to make it a two volume project.  After the completion of Slaves to Darkness it was necessary to return to other projects that had been put on the back burner.  So effectively the Lost and the Damned was a less focused project.  In the intervening time Ian became involved in other things and the studio grew and more artists were employed, the result being that the initial vision was somewhat diluted.
The famous depiction of the two opposing forces from Slaves to Darkness. 
RoC80s: After Realms you moved to Flame Publications and became involved in lots of RPG products, particularly the much loved Marienburg series and Confrontation- the game that would one day become Necromunda. How different was the original concept to the one we eventually saw?

TA: It was a big morph. Some of the background was published in WD. There was about six months of artwork genearated by me that never saw the light of day. It was considered to be more suitable for an older audience than the one they were aiming toward, and that being an RPG it wouldn't generate enough figure sales. The material that appeared in Dwarf was edited down from the original by Flame Publishing (which at that time consisted of Mike Brunton, Graeme Davis, and yours truly). Flame was created to produce RPG stuff for GW mainly for Warhammer Roleplay. It contributed all the Marienburg material for Dwarf. For various reasons (none of them illegal) GW promoted the illusion that Flame was a separate company. A couple of creature that were intended for Confrontations. One with very alien overtones.

Confrontation alien, previously unpublished.

Confrontation alien, previously unpublished.
  • RoC80s: How involved were you in the Marienburg project? Did you just provide the art or did you have a larger role in generating the background?

  • TA: The original idea for Marienburg came from Richard Halliwell. The scenarios that appeared in WD were edited by Mike from material supplied by various freelance writers and Graeme. There were a couple of times I remember Mike and myself arguing with Graeme over the look of a character. But other than that it was three friends contributing what each od us did best. There was one scenario I ended up stopping publication of. It was based on the characters from the Maltese Falcon. A major difference was that Gutman (The character played by Sydney Greenstreet in the most famous film adaption) ran a brothel in addition to his other nefarious activities. Given that WD was increasingly being aimed at a younger market it hardly seemed appropriate subject matter. Because the text and illustrations had been completed the idea was to use the scenario in a compendium type publication has Flames readership was somewhat older. In the event it never saw the light of day.

Old Mother Crumbhorn - one of Fantasy Roleplay's most horrific characters.

That's your lot... I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane, and hopefully you have learnt something new along the way. A MASSIVE thank you to Tony for sharing with us his memories and his work.




  1. Great scoop Orlygg - especially those previously unpublished illustrations!

    A fascinating insight behind the scenes and more impetus if I needed it to track down a copy of the Realms of Chaos books myself.

  2. Fascinating images and the words, Orlygg. I vividly recall Ackland's chaotic work from my Hogshead edition of 'Something Rotten in Kislev' for WFRP, though have sadly never seen a 'Realms...' book in the flesh :(

  3. Brilliant Orlygg. Thanks for tracking Tony down and getting this wonderful interview from him.

  4. This is outstanding. Well done Orly and thank you Tony.

  5. Very well done! I had no idea what happened to Malal - interesting to find out! It obviously did get a little further, given the production of young Mr Daark and his little comic.

    Also nice to see some of the other images that never made it. What's Tony doing these days?


  6. Great stuff Orlygg, always did like Malal :D Cheers to Tony as well!

  7. Great read, thanks for getting the interview. The interview and all the unpublished illustrations makes me wonder at how much good content was left in a file cabinet, to never see the light of day. At least some of it has now seen a glimmer of light.


  8. Fantastic interview! Would love to hear more about Malal and what sort of work was planned... perhaps a second interview?

    I bet the Monster heads over at Monster Brains would love to post some of this monstrous art!

  9. Bravo! I always did think StD was a more cohesive book than TLatD, so it's nice to hear why this was. I'd love to see more of the unpublished artwork and also the WFRP Marienburg scenario based on The Maltese Falcon.

  10. That so awesome ! Seeing new things about realms of chaos 25 years later is pure gold.

    Thank you so much.

  11. Great interview, lots of insights and new material to mull over.

    Really almost too much to take in! Thanks to you both.

  12. Congratulation for your blog! (I check it everyday!)

    Thanks for this outstanding interview. I love to read real stories about so amazing projects.

    Thanks to you we have a chance to see some great unpublished designs.

  13. Impressive interview, it's good to see something new !
    The illustrations are really great.

  14. Excellent interview! Much more interesting (and illuminating) that what I've read before...

  15. Just found your blog when looking for some old Paul Bonner Orks arts. Great work mate - keep it up! Holy trinity of old good Warhammer : Bonner, Miller, Ackland!

  16. Great find and thank you for posting.


  17. Thankyou for posting this, what a read. The confrontation images were the only ones that wouldn't load tho - is there a host site I can see them at?

    1. The images came from Tony... There are a number of people who are saying they cannot see certain images. Leave it with me and I' ll have a go at editing the post and re uploading the files.

  18. Wonderful what a great read thanks to the both of you.

  19. This is fantastic - thankyou so much. I treasure my ROC books to this day. Such creaivity and inspiration in the art

  20. Great interview and images. Love this stuff.

  21. Very interesting, Tony was the joint founder of the Stoke Wargames Group over 40 years ago. Pure coincidence I was getting ready a listing for eBay today of one of those original Asgard figures "Sacrificial Tree with Victim". I bought from Tony when he was still in Stoke. I gave away some of the original Mounted & Dismounted Chaos Warriors a few years ago and sold one of his figures last week on eBay.
    John Massey, Stoke on Trent

  22. Great interview and great art. Used to game at Newark Irregulars with Tony till I further Up North

  23. Great post. One day, I'll have to get around towriting the unauthorised biography of GW...