Thursday 24 April 2014

GOBLINMASTER!: An interview with Kevin Adams

Kev sculpted an astonishing design on this cigarette lighter. The scale of the imagination at work here is remarkable. 
Many years past, Simone de Beauvoir, the French intellectual, philosopher and existentialist stated that; "one is not born a  genius, one becomes a genius." I am sure that in her varied  writings she never, ever  imagined that such  a phrase would be  applied to the world  of toy  soldiers but then again, its  highly unlikely that  she ever heard about Kevin Adams.

For the Goblin-Master looms large over the world of fantasy art, miniatures and gaming. For it was his fevered imagination that conjurered up the wild, comical faces of the goblinoids all those years back and left a cultural legacy that resonates to this day.

It doesn't matter who you are. If you knead putty and lift the modelling tool in order to create a greenskin, you are working in Kevin's shadow.

And you will fail. 

For no-one before or since has been able to capture the cruelty, lunacy, delight and comic insanity of the goblin as well as he can. If you don't believe me... just go and look! Nearly every major manufacturer out there has employed him to create their goblinoids as no-one else can compare, and it shows. 

Unbelievable detail abounds on this model (if that is the correct noun) and depicts in a single project the genius of Kevin Adams.
For years I wondered why the Orc and Goblins range that GW put out had lost its comic dynamism and why they became simple, muscular brutes lacking any real imagination or depth. It was only when I scratched the surface and did a little research that I learnt that other sculptors had taken over the range. 

I felt sorry for them. After all, who would really want that gig? Then I went out and bought loads of Harlequin gobbos! 

So welcome dear readers to this interview with the one and only Goblinmaster. For the first time, Kev shares with us the story of his life during the Golden Age of British Fantasy and a load more besides. As many of you will be aware, he was brutally assaulted in his own home last year and his resulting injuries have seen Kevin need a series of operations to repair the damage done to him. Despite this, Kevin still gives up his free time to help contribute to running a coffee bar at his local mental health hospital. This selfless commitment is best summed up in words by Pete Brown who said; 

"Every week, sometimes twice a week, he’d walk through pouring rain or blazing sun-shine, or howling snow-storms to give a few hours of his time to those residents whose only respite from their dulling hospitalisation is a couple of hours with a coffee and a chat to someone outside their direct situation."
All that is left for me to say is a big, big, big thank you to Kevin to taking the time out to speak to us in the Oldhammer Community. 


PS: No goblins were harmed during the making of this interview.
Kev used to write articles about his painting and converting skills for White Dwarf.
See if you can spot any of the models shown here elsewhere! 
RoC80s: So what are you up to at the moment? Are you fully recovered after the attack last year?

KA: I've been working at the Wargames Foundry factory and will be for next two weeks or so as my eye is not good right now and Foundry could use me as I'm a grafter. They have limited time to move. I'm enjoying Bryan's company and having fun and look forward to Warmonger.

Last year, I was making Egyptian models and had just finished my lunch while sat in my loft when I saw what looked like my son at the top of my ladder wearing a hood, but I noticed a knife in his hand and it turned out to be an intruder.

He ran at me pointing and waving this knife in my face and was shouting angrily and demanding to know where all the weed was and I told him he had got clearly the wrong house. Two  more of them came up carrying knives and they all wore hoods and scarfs around their faces so I had them down as cowards straight away, they were all acting like they were on drugs and they smelt like they hadn’t washed for weeks.

They then demanded money and gold jewellery and wanted my mobile. I said there was no money, no gold and that I never  used a mobile so I got stabbed and then repeatedly hit in the face with something heavy. They were really agitated and getting angrier and prodding me with their knives. 
I tried to get up to show them there was nothing in the house and the biggest one panicked and told me to sit down. 

They kept making demands but I kept calm, so one of them stuck a knife in my face but I didn’t flinch and got hit again and again. I’ve never felt such hard punches and it never really registered that it was a knuckleduster and my face was all smashed in including my eye socket.  They then fled taking my I-Mac because by then I was bleeding pretty bad.

I thought they had stabbed me in the eye but luckily I was ok and rang my son. My daughter came round and couldn’t look at me and I was then taken to hospital and had to have my face rebuilt and had metal plates in my cheek and eye socket rebuilt. I still have tingling and nerve damage and my nasal passage on the right hand side has been blocked since the attack. I also had a broken jaw and smashed teeth plus my nose was broken in three places. 

My vision is OK but my eyeball is exposed so it gets very uncomfortable and I cannot work long hours. I've been told by the hospital that I need plastic surgery to rebuild my lower lid but its taking forever  to get a date as they keep putting the operation back , its been a year already! Somebody who lives nearby was their real target and they got the wrong house. I was unlucky that my door was unlocked and left open for my kids.

They haven’t been caught and the police have given up looking but CID said that they were after a house where lots of cannabis was being grown and told me thats these sort of attacks are getting more common.

Thanks to Ian, Dags, Paul Reid Wargames Foundry and many others, I managed to survive as I was  unable to work for the best part of a year. Goblinaid has been a great help to me because being self employed I would get no benefits even though I’ve paid national insurance and tax for years. I would have been in financial trouble if it wasn’t for Goblinaid coming to the rescue.

I spent the time off redecorating the entire house so I was really busy, plus I had lots of hospital appointments and I did some gardening too as well as painting the house exterior. This is one reason I wasn’t on Goblinaid in person because my time was fully absorbed but I’m not a Facebook member and don’t have time to social network due to all the work I get.

I don’t know when my next operation will be but I will get the message out when the time arises, until then I would like to say a big thanks for all the people that helped me!

RoC80s: As a child were you always interested in fantasy art and gaming or did the interest come later on in life?

KA: I started collecting Airfix soldiers when I was about six years old and then used to build kits of tanks and paint them. I would make plasticine sandbag gun emplacements so I've always improvised and had a creative streak. I  loved painting models too and have done since I was a youngster . When I was eight I would often draw pictures of Spanish galleons in class rather than do my school work and loved pirates!

My first model was a Noddy Holder model 10 inches tall that I made in pottery lessons, its still in my parents garden and one day I will get a photo and post it online. Its quite comical. I was 15.

At that time I used to make turnip men,  miniature scarecrows three inches tall out of straw and twigs with turnip heads and would cut eyes and mouths in them and let them dry out and they would shrink and resemble old people. I would put them on peoples doorways on the estates for a laugh or hang them from trees.

I have made turnip men  miniatures for Monolithe that are based on these.

I've never really got into miniature gaming or roleplaying although I did play some modified Dungeons and Dragons in my early twenties with my old mate, Gavin Baddely and he was an entertaining dungeon master and a real miniatures fan. I never understood the rules but had some interesting characters like a witch and necromancer as well as the other characters and I would play in his imaginative campaign and had lots of fun. Miniatures were always my main hobby rather than games.

Artwork that inspired me was Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud as well as Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch,  and I loved that people of the pines poster by Rodney Matthew's and read the Corum books by Moorcock . It was the minifig and Ral Partha skeletons that inspired me back in 1981 and once I had collected all the undead models I could lay my hands on I started collecting goblins and loved the great goblins. The Night Goblins by the twins really caught my eye as they are so much like the Jawa out of Star Wars .

Back then I would spend hours painting models and would often swap weapons on duplicate models and eventually started to attempt faces. I used to paint models for Nick Lund and loved his Chronicle hobgoblins and every month I would look in White dwarf for painted models and was a big fan of John Blanche's style of painting which became an inspiration.

Around this time I entered a Citadel painting competition and was in the top ten and I received a standard  letter from Bryan Ansell  inviting me to paint him models. I took his offer up and painted him some Slaan and he was impressed so I ended up painting him models regularly and would get boxes through the post with all the new releases- many more than I thought I would be getting but Bryan was always generous,  they were really exciting times with all the new models coming out .

Citadel Goblin Chariot. Part of Kevin Adams' Collection.

The Man-Mangler! The ultimate orc war machine. An iconic model.  Part of Kevin Adams' Collection.

The Leadbelcher! Goblin Organ Gun! Another one of Kev's gorgeously decorated models. I have always loved the greenstuff plants he made. Part of Kevin Adams' Collection

Orc Siege Weapon. Part of Kevin Adams' Collection.

RoC80s: According to legend, you were taught to sculpt by Bryan Ansell himself. Is this the case and hat were your first steps into miniature sculpting?

KA: I met Chaz Elliot at a Dragonmeet back in 1983 I believe, and was stunned by his orc standard bearer which was painted in acrylics asIi was still using Humbrol enamels. We kept in touch and became friends and he visited me in Cambridge and gave me my first lessons in using putty. Soon after that I had a go at making an ogre because a larger model seemed easier and also made some very large goblins. 

I sent these to Bryan who decided to have them moulded but first I had to change them to be mould worthy and this took over a year of continually changing my models and learning about undercuts. My teacher was Alan Merrret who taught me everything I know about what will work in a mould and to this day his teachings serve me well.

Bryan taught me my earliest techniques regarding the sculpting of toy soldiers and was a great help, he also gave me the opportunity to make my first range which were lesser goblins and they were well received so I was offered a job. I worked from home in Cambridge for a year but moved to the new studio in 1986 and worked in a room with Nick Bibby, Jes Goodwin, the Morrisons and Bob Naismith and learnt a lot from watching them make models.

Later on, the Perry Twins joined us and I also met Bob Olley and Mark Copplestone .

RoC80s: Describe what the working environment in the Design Studio was like during your time there. Did it change? When was the most creative period for you?

KA: The studio environment was exciting for me because I was working with John Blanche who was like a father figure to me at the time and the whole studio was alive with exciting new ideas so it was a really creative atmosphere. I liked Enfield Chambers as it was in the middle of Nottingham and not far from the pubs and shops. I would spend a lot of time with the 'Eavy Metal lot and got on well with the artists. I used to sit with Dave Andrews and watch him build some amazing scenery and buildings.

I met some real characters too like Sid the Painter, Adrian Smith and Jamie Sims.

Sid would come into my room for a smoke and leave his fags so I would put bits of mould rubber in them or stick wire up his fags so he burnt his fingers but he got even and put Biro ink around my glasses when I was in the loo and I ended up walking around town with black rings around my eyes!

I would prank lots of people back then and have always been mischievous and you can see it coming out in the goblin faces. Chaz Elliot would chase Richard Halliwell around the studio with a Rambo knife, catch him and pin his hand to one of the desks and stab quickly between his fingers and it would make us cringe! They were heady days and I met loads of people there including Brian May, the guitarist with Queen, and his son who both stayed in my room for 30 minutes watching me make epic orc vehicles. We never even mentioned music, only what he had come to see because his son liked the models.

Enfield Chambers was the most creative time and Bryan would often come in for a chat with people. I used to have my own room in the end because I would get distracted with people around me. There was a certain manager who would often sneak up on me and watch me work, and I wouldn't hear him with my headphones on so one day I put a box full of Milliput scraps including lots of dust from filing it on top of the door and sure enough he crept in and it fell on his head and I still remember these wild and angry eyes staring at me through this dust cloud, it was hilarious!

We eventually moved to Castle Boulevard and it wasn't the same anymore, but I still had a laugh with people. I remember rolling going off putty balls under my door towards the twins' table and this went on for a long time. One afternoon I was sat there and a whole shower of putty balls landed on my head, it was one of the twins throwing them over the partition, they were characters to work with and amazed me how they worked.

Orcs from Kev's collection. have you seen these anywhere before?
RoC80s: How were miniatures designed and built back in the 1980s? Did you always work from concepts or did you have the freedom to invent?

KA: When I first started making models I would use copper wire for the armature and bend it  into shape.I would then build wet putty straight on to the wire and if I did legs I would attempt to make them in one go and would end up chasing the putty around the wire so I learned the hard way. People like Jes and Aly would put Milliput on the wire and build on to that and its a better way to work really and its how I work now as its wise to have some support to work on.

One afternoon I watched Jes and Aly make a batch of chaos warrior dollies with superfine white Milliput. The next morning the Milliput was still wet because somebody had mixed the Milliput tubes so I guess they used two lots of the same catalyst with it all being white. They were gutted and had to remake the lot!
Bob Naismith was the master of Milliput, I watched him hang rods of it from his lamp and then when dry he would cut tubular sections for arms and legs as well as body and drill through them before inserting on the wire dolly. He would then come back after lunch, animate the bodes and finish the detail and head with putty- pure genius!

I learnt a lot from Bob and he was older and more experienced so he would tackle anything and gave me confidence.
Bryan Ansell taught me most of what I know now, he showed me a lot when I worked at the Foundry. I still don't use wire in arms after he revealed  a more flexible way using putty and superglue. I was shown all sorts of tricks and I still use those techniques and have a lot to thank him for.

When I worked at Enfield Chambers there was more creative freedom so a lot of things I made were straight out of my head. The snotling pump wagon springs to mind but John Blanche was a huge influence on me back then and so was Tony Ackland  and I have always loved the Perry Twins' models for their realism and dynamics.

Jes was a big influence too and I remember buying all of his Asgard orcs and dwarfs as soon as I saw them and was amazed at the sharp detail.

Concepts became more common at Castle Boulevard but I've always had total freedom with the faces!

Kev's first model for Citadel Miniatures. The C31 Giant Hill Troll. There was a second variant that never saw production by Kev thinks he lost it years ago.
RoC80s: What tools do you use to sculpt miniatures? I am assuming you don't use the broken end of a cocktail stick?

KA: All of my tools are dental tools now apart from one that hass got a needle inside a thin bit of brass tube, the other end is cut like a syringe and is useful for C shaped cuts. I have a brass rod too that I roll putty with its pointed one end and rounded the other.

Though, when I started making toy soldiers I would use sanded cocktail sticks!

RoC80s: Incredibly characterful faces have long been evident in your work. Was it always a specialty? 

KA: I've always liked making faces on models, its where a lot of the feeling comes from in a model. Back in the mid eighties I had all these duplicate models lying around so I wanted to have different models and that is how I started making faces.

My lamp at Castle Boulevard was covered  in orc and goblin heads from pressed models. Goblins are my favourite because of the element of mischief but I enjoy orcs and anything nasty looking and love to put as much anger and venom into them as I can.

Recently, I've started to make humans and am still learning and like to put as much expression into the faces as I can too. Females are a new challenge and something I would like to master but its still early days.

RoC80s: How did your famous nickname come about? Who named you the 'Goblin Master?'
KA: I haven't got a clue who started calling me the Goblinmaster, perhaps it was Bryan or it could have been John Blanche. I believe it may have come about when I made those war machines back at Enfield Chambers - its a  loose  trade mark really when I think about it .

Its a name I find silly and embarrassing to be honest but if it sells models for people it can't be a bad thing. I'm not the slightest bit interested in fame and just love making models for a living and consider myself fortunate to have been part of the most exciting part of Games Workshops history .

My heart is still with the early fantasy tribes look and Warhammer, that period is in my blood and I still love it.

RoC80s: You moved on from Citadel in the in the nineties. Where did your travels take you then?

KA: After working for GW I made a range of dwarfs and goblins for Harlequin and a few models for Alternative Armies. I then  joined Heartbreaker and made several ranges including orcs, goblins and dwarfs and then I made Warzone models. I also made some large lizards and orcs in resin for Fantasy Forge.

The next two years were spent at Harlequin and I made quite a few ranges from Tony Ackland's concepts which were expertly moulded by Pete Brown. After Harlequin, I spent two years working for Fasa on their Maelstrom game,  most of the models were quite large and monstrous.
I then spent two years working for Foundry and made lots of orcs and orclings, and was taught my first lessons in making human models by Bryan. For the last fourteen years I've worked freelance and made models for Renegade, Otherworld , Hasslefree ,Black Hat, Urban Mammoth ,4A, Midlam and recently Mike Burns with the Egyptian range.

My favourite models are still goblins and I've made a sizeable range for Crooked Claw.

Greens for a Crooked Claw goblin war machine!
RoC80s: Andy Craig once told us about a miniature you made based on him pulling a funny face. We assume this model never made it to production. Where there any other model's hat didn't make it that you can recall?

KA: There is only one model that wasn't released that I can remember and that was the first set of Jolly Japes, one of the managers took exception to its rudeness so I had to change it to sitting on the helmet.The original had a jobby coming out of its rear end and curling into the helmet, there's only a few of the original in existence now.

I knew Andy well so its possible but such an orc would have had hair and the GW ones were bald but I've got some in my painted collection with hair and one of those could be him. I used to do conversions of existing models and paint them and I've given a lot of them away over the years. Because of this, its quite possible I might have made on based on him as we got on well.

A working Troll Pipe sculpted by Kev, from the collection of Pete Brown.
That's a funny place to leave your sage before seasoning your pork chops, isn't it?

Twentieth Century Troll. A Perry sculpt painted by Kev. Part of the collection of Pete Brown. 
RoC80s: You are well known as a prankster. Have you any amusing anecdotes to share about your antics during the 'Good Old days'?

KA: I played loads of pranks at GW! Here is one! It was the only night I went out with a GW artist and he ended up coming back to my house and I gave him a choice of where to sleep; the settee or front bedroom. He didn't know it, but the front bedroom was home to my many cats and it wasn't long before he was calling me.

I had just got out of the shower and put my head around the bathroom door to see him doing this funny dance on the landing. I pissed myself laughing, it was so funny, he was covered in cat fleas and itching all over with flea bites! I should have warned him but decided not to. I did give him a choice where to crash for the night and the silly sod chose the wrong room! LOL!

Here is another funny story that I have just remembered! Our sink in the Studio was near the Fire Exit and you could look right down three floors and see the enclosed area behind the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre and there were two men fixing a generator. If they looked up, the sun was in their eyes.

So I got a spoon and kept flicking wet teabags at them and there was a big pile on the sink so I was having a whale of a time. This man would hear SPLAT, and then look round and this went on for a while and everybody in the Design Studio was pissing themselves watching me wind this worker up as wet teabags were flying past his head and landing on the generator!

He went ballistic in the end because he couldn't see where they were coming from but he shouted up; "I will fucking throw you off the balcony!" I kept it up until he gave up and went back in his door! If I had seen him coming I could have easily hid so I had him there. The whole thing stopped everybody from working for a good twenty minutes because it was so amusing.

But that's what goblins do ;)

Kevin 'Goblinmaster' Adams.


  1. thanks to both you and Kev for this excellent interview. I've had the opportunity to have some communication with Kev as well and he is always very open and willing to chat...and as is evidenced b y this interview he is full of great stories.

    ...he did let me know that the paint job on the lighter is not his work though. Still amazing none the less.

    1. Thanks for the heads up there. My mistake and one that I have correct! Glad you enjoyed the interview Blue.

  2. Tremendous interview. I am staggered by Kev's consistency over the years - a wonderfully high standard. I have had the privilege to see some of the items in Pete Brown's collection in real life; mind-blowing stuff! Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. Your thoughts are very true Axiom. Consistently excellent and prolific. The stuff I have seen of Pete's collection has been fantastic and I'd love to see more!

  3. Great interview, Kev was always my favourite sculpter and the reason why I love the goblinoids

    1. It has to be said, its not going to be a goblinoid unless kev's put it together. That's probably why they are called greenskins now (;

  4. Another amazing coup, orlygg! Thank you to both you and Kev, that was a real treat to read!

    1. I was a joy to put together. Hopefully, in the future Kev will take loads of photographs of his collection and share them with the community.

  5. Fantastic read - thanks for the great interview. Pleased to see Kev is recovering from his ordeal. I just got some Goblins from Black Hat which Kev sculpted gorgeous models.

    1. I was looking at those the other day, though Crooked Claw won me over in the end. Gotta love those goblins!

  6. Fantastic interview :)

    Kev Adams has always been one of my favourite sculptors.

  7. Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderfully rich interview!

    I was at Salute but completely missed him. I did buy a goblin from Midlam Miniatures (from their range Goblinvylle) and was very happy with the old school feel of it. It was only when I got home that I realised that this was a goblin (among many others from that range) sculpted by Kev. And then I kicked myself for not getting more of those goblins at the show!


    1. Kev had a bag of them in his pocket and was letting us all have a real good look at the castings. They were so, so similar to the great '80s stuff. Kev went as far to say that that is what he is basing many of his models on now.

  8. Thanks for this interview (and the others (and this wonderful website)). It is a joy to share in the nostalgia.

  9. Thanks for this interview, as I said before, Kev is a simple guy, I mean, he's a star for us, a famous sculptor with high skills in making toy soldiers but he Stills to be simple and very generous! I love this man and his work and I collected a lot of his minis.
    I hope hé Will have a complete recover! :)

    1. I think we have yet to see the best from the Goblinmaster! Keep your eyes peeled for 'Warmonger'!

  10. That's scenery lichen in that pipe, right ?

    1. Pretty sure its some misplaced green flock from Woodland Scenics!

  11. Interesting and awesome interview, thank you for posting it.
    Great to see lots of lovely Goblins and to find out more about their creation and creator. Good to hear that Kev Adams is on the mend and still sculpting. :)

    1. Thank you Mr Lee, though the praise must go to Kev for spending all that time sharing his memories.

    2. Thanks using my painted version of Kevin’s Zippo! Any chance you can credit the painting to me!!;)

  12. I've always liked Kevin's Goblins, they all had such great character that you don't see much these days. Sculpts now, IMHO, are too "serious" and "real-world".

    I would love to see a sculptor team up with someone like Brian Froud and create an entire range of models. Kevin's goblins always reminded me of the goblins from Labyrinth. Lot's of small, funny details you don't see right away.

    It must have been such a great experience being able to work with the GW studio staff, John Blanche has been an influence for me since I was a teenager.

    Unfortunately it seems that the "Good Ol Days" of studios like that are coming to an end with the growing use of digital sculpting and outsourcing.

  13. Hahaha just asked to be credited as the painter!! ;)

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  15. Great interview as usual! Kev is the undeniable master of greenskins, but I must say I also love the 5th ed and early 6th ed Brian Nelson ones. Lots of great geenskins by Brian like the Big Un's, Grotfang, Nazgob, the early Goblin Shamans etc.