Sunday, 9 August 2015

Pygmy Fallout - And Some Good & Bad Figures From Other Manufacturers

So, my last post about the Pygmies was intended to be a sort of companion piece to Orlygg or Zhu's older blog posts on the same topic.  Their analysis was more positive than mine and recent events prompted me to write what I thought of as a sort of rebuttal.

A quick check online revealed it was a topic the Oldhammerers had talked about before but I thought a piece that mentioned both arguments, had some pictures and tried to present it in a newbie-friendly way might be interesting. If nothing else, my local gaming chums aren't huge Oldhammerers so they might not know the history and might be interested to read about the offending pieces.

Some of the offending pieces.

As I often do after I've written a blog post, I posted a link to any appropriate Facebook groups I'm a member of to try and drive some traffic and start some conversation.  I posted it to four Facebook groups all in, and the three generic gaming/modern 40K groups were all perfectly pleasant and civilised about it.

For whatever reason, the Oldhammer group went nuclear very quickly.

Just add ejecting electrons

You may recall I asked some questions at the end of my post: questions like how would you react if these models appeared on a table in front of you or can you think of any similar models.  This is an intentional habit of mien when I post long and/or potentially troublesome posts - it's a sort of "did you read the whole thing" test.  When replies come back about those questions I know someone got all the way to the end and the point of my piece, whereas if someone comes with a ready-made argument and rambles on some other topic I am suspicious that they just read the title and went from there.

The Oldhammer post had quite a few of those people, alas, and the two main arguments were that anyone who was for/against the Pygmy models was an idiot who couldn't understand that there obviously is/isn't a problem with them.  Within a few hours Orlygg himself, a mod on the Facebook group, sent me a message informing me the post had been reported by a few people and he was deleting it to try and nip it in the bud.

I was a bit bummed that the thread got deleted - I had hoped the Oldhammer board would be a good traffic drive to my blog.  I totally understand why it was deleted though.  It's interesting that Orlygg and Zhu's blog post did not seem to be as flamebait-y as mine - is that something to do with the membership of the Facebook group, the way my post is worded or even just the current politics of the era?  (In the last year or so, race politics in the USA has become a headline news item pretty frequently) 

I don't think this is the same thing as the Pygmies
Another reason it's a shame the thread was deleted is that there were some jewels amongst the comments, a good load of people who were civilized and shared their opinions both for and against.   There was the person who mentioned that even in the 80s when they owned the figures new they were kinda uncomfy with them, and the guy with a whole army of them.  One poster mentioned owning the Kallistra figures only to in the end sell them because he was not happy with them, thinking they werern't that bad in a picture but disliking them when he painted them, which I found curious - but then he said that the fact he could sell them easilly suggested that plenty of other people didn't have a problem with them.

A common argument in their defence is that racial stereotyping already exists in the models of the Citadel Miniatures line and elsewhere.  When the figure is 28mm but you want to quickly sell the idea of it being a Russian, Scottish, Arab or whatever then you give them national dress.  Not every Scot wears a kilt at all times, but a kilt or tartan clothing is the universal way of saying these guys are Scottish.

I don't think that's a fair comparison to the Pygmies, though, and said so last time.  To expand on that - I think that models like the Tallarn Desert Raiders may have stereotypical Arabian flowing robes and head coverings  but the actual facial features, my main bone of contention with the Pygmies, have not been changed.  These figures could be a pasty hued Lawrence of Arabia or a native Middle Eastern Saladin shade and it would work just the same.  Similarly, when have any of the Bretonnian range had "French features"?  What Japanese figures exist that have the same exaggerated facial features of World War II era propaganda?

I don't think this is the same thing as the Pygmies, either, but it's a lot closer

Clothing also bothers me less because soldiers usually do have a uniform which is an unusual item of clothing.  Regular Scottish people wear kilts rarely - it's formal wear to some extent, so basicall, the same occasions an American might wear a tuxedo with the exception of national sporting events when it is also traditional.  Scottish regiments often wear a kilt as part of their dress uniform, though, and in living memory have gone to battle in them.  Russians all wearing russian furry hats in their day to day life is a stereotype, but standard military issue would indeed produce units like the Valhallans.  If your whole army is composed of models in furry hats and standing on icy white/blue bases then a message will be sent about what you army is, and I appreciate that.

Now, I asked for information about similar figures and I did get some suggestions.  So here are four other manufacturers of Pygmy or Pygmy-a-like figures for your consideration.  How many of them will look like they should have been made in the 40s?

From Italy, which curiously has a few Blood Bowl-a-like figure makers.

Gaspez Arts make a Blood Bowl team of Pygmies, who seem designed to be played with the Halfling rules.  There's a team and coaching staff.

I quite like these figures, which could indeed be seen more as "tribal Halflings" with their facial design.  The outfits are loud with giant feathers but I'd expect that for a sports team.  The cooks are comedic but then Halfling cooks are played as comedic as well.  Overall, I think these figures are quite nice.

Deep in the bowels of Nottingham, something is stirring


Wargames Foundry, they who hold many old Citadel historical lines, have an entire Darkest Africa line.   This includes the Pygmies shown above, though the figues I like the most in this line are the Masai tribesmen below who look pretty badass.  (But then my Dad was in the army in his youth and served in Kenya, so I've heard a lot about East Africans growing up!)

Daddy Quail was there shortly before they got their independence from Britain. 
 I quite like these figures overall, with their historical nature meaning their outfits are pretty faithful,  The features of the pygmies seem a little different than European features but that might just be the different art style and/or the different scaling to exaggerated Citadel faces.
I got nothing.
Eureka Miniatures.... oh dear.  There's a lot to like about Eureka Miniatures as they have a wide variety of different figures of antipodean design.  I occasionally flirt with getting some of their soccer players, and some of the less boobalicious Shadowforge and Laughing Monk figures are alright.
  (I've long had my eye on Sci Fi Conversion Packs 1 and 2 for some lady Imperial Guard goodness.)

But their Pygmies....  The chieftan above is probably the worst, but even the core troops choice have quite heavily distorted mouths.  The whole thing feels a bit too much for my tastes.  Not sure this gets the Bearded Quail Seal of Approval, chaps.
Add caption

Excalibur Miniatures are a company I hadn't heard of before but found when doing a net search for this post.  They seem to be a Germany company who do a mix of figures including quite a few adults-only ones. Their Female Orcs aren't too bad, I think, and the sci-fi range has some fun aliens.

There's only a few pictures of their Pygmy line but what there is ain't filling me with confidence.


  1. While the Tallarn models aren't problematic, I was very disappointed in the "Desert Raiders" novel, which portrayed the Tallarn as being tribal and split by a religious disagreement into two sects - something the rest of the write ups for Tallarn have managed to avoid completely.

    1. Hmm, I'm a little mixed on that information.

      On the one hand it does feel a bit lazy to just make the Tallarns "Historical Arabs in spaaaaace". I don't think they've had much in the way of fluff before, but I always got a slightly more modern impression from them than what that Desert Raiders fluff implies. It also sticks the only notable non-white Imp Guard regiment as being from a more feral world, which seems a touch "white men = culture" to me.

      On the other hand, religious sects are something a bit absent from the 40K fluff and adding them in is probably sensible. Catholicism is the obvious model of the Ecclesiarchy but historically the Roman church almost never had a truly unchallenged monopoly on the faith - Arianism, Pelagianism, the Eastern Church, Protestantism, Franciscans and all sort of other variants minor and major kept the job of the Pope a little more complex than he'd like. In contrast, what we see of the Imperial Creed can come across as a monolith of religion which seems unlikely - even in Catholic countries there are variances in belief and practices due to local politics, pre-Christian practice4s that stayed on, etc.

      Bar the Age of Apostasy/Sebasitan Thor as a Reformation/Martin Luther analogue, there's nothing quite like that in 40Ks fluff. Any religious conflict raises the stakes to Imperium vs Chaos really quickly - there's nothing like the Protestant vs Catholic situation where both sides seriously believe they are following the real version of the faith and the others are sorely mistaken. Adding a pinch of that into 40K, giving the church the same level of variance that the Inquisitors have with Puritans/Radicals/etc, might actually do the MInistroum fluff some good.

    2. The problem is making it the Arab inspired group having a religious schism over a prophet, frankly. That there need to be more religious disputes and disagreements within the Ecclesiarchy is true - the problem is then making your one example of that a massive bout of ill considered cultural appropriation.

  2. Regards the 'other stereotyping' question (see, I did read it all ;-)), do have a look at Citadels Aly Morrison's Hobgoblin Warriors and compare with the Tokyo Kid.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Ha! Thanks for popping by again!

      Yeah, the Hobgobins are the closest we have to "Tokyo Kid" style stuff. I don't think it's coincidental they dropped that look completely when the Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins got paired up, even though fluff wise they are still filling a Mongol-type niche. Is this part of the reason we have never seen much in the way of Asiatic Warhammer figures, I wonder? An inability to render the cultures without turning into negative stereotype?

      I don't find the figures quite as problematic myself because they aren't supposed to be Humans but Hobgoblins, monsters with a human cultural motif but their own weird features and proportions. The Orcs, Elves and what have you also have some weird and wonderful stylings, some of which are very heavy and if perceived as human-a-like would be very negative. The pygmies, though, are actually supposed to be Homo Sapiens but have a gross restructuring of their body not seen on any of the other Human peoples across the GW line.

    2. Most of the Warhammer world creatures (Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Humans) were genetic experiments by the Slann, designed for specific tasks. The back-story round WD100 has the Pygmies as aliens crash landed on Warhammer World - I'm not sure the Pygmies were ever supposed to be seen as homo-sapiens.

      However, there are a group of humans in the real world which we call "Pygmies" but the name and the idea of them belonged to the ancient Greek imagination long before it was applied to those people. Do you think the Warhammer Pygmies have been less problematic if they'd been called Southern Halflings?

      I'd also argue that the Elves, Orcs and whatnot are also based on human stereotypes - some going back to the Crusades, and others even earlier. Essentially Warhammer was an alternative history setting, and as such the Hobgoblins as the "Yellow Peril" is every bit as problematic - a racial caricature used to re-define a fantasy trope.

    3. Definitely fair to say that the non-human Warhammer races owe a bit debt to real world cultures. I think that's true in most nerd hobbies because it's an easy shorthand: Star Trek's Klingons with their heavy dose of Viking, for example, give an easy hook to hang things on and in RPGs I've often gone with an elevator pitch of "Norse Elves", "Indian Apemen" or "Nazi Dolphins"

      Usually these are more cultural motifs than physical ones, though - the Chaos Dwarfs inherit from particular historical cultures including their distinctive beard style but they aren't portrayed as in some way looking "middle-eastern" in quite the same way. Part of why the Hobgoblins don't bother me because I can tell myself the stylings are because they are monsters, not because they are Oriental people - if they were humans with the same exaggerations my sympathy would vanish.

      I think the problem with the Pygmies is compounded by (a) the name which makes them more overtly expies of a real-world culture, (b) being the only example in Warhammer of people dark enough to not be able to sit at the front of a 50s American bus and (c) being stereotyped humans rather than monsters with nicked elements of a human culture. Change any of those pieces and I think my disgust would start to ebb.

      Perhaps a useful case to consider might be the Norse of Warhammer who are very stereotypical vikings with beards, horned helmets, furs, exposed skin and a background of being violent marauders who worship dark gods and delight in a scrap. The figures, however, could just as easilly be historical dark ages warriors and the facial features, heights etc generally make them look no different than the Empire or Bretonnian troops. It's outfit, not physiology, that tells the figures apart.... but it's still portraying the Scandinavians in a very trite, overused way. Without the historical baggage it bothers me way less than the Pygmies, though.

    4. Most of the Warhammer world creatures (Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Humans) were genetic experiments by the Slann, designed for specific tasks. The back-story round WD100 has the Pygmies as aliens crash landed on Warhammer World - I'm not sure the Pygmies were ever supposed to be seen as homo-sapiens.

      I am familiar with the White Dwarf 100 backstory, but I'm not sure it quite washes here.

      Up until WD100 and Basil Barrett's adventure, no hint really exists in the Warhammer world of this strange origin for the Pygmies. The Amazons had their strange science props, which seemed to be holdovers from the Slann, but that's a big leap away from being "space travellers". The non-publication of the Lustria campaign setting means we don't know if this was intentional from the start or an excuse plot for WD100s adventure.

      Considering it was a convention adventure and comes form the same author as the somewhat controversial Doomstones, I think we need to adopt at least a pinch of salt here. But, as the equally racially questionable crows said, let's be sociable!

      Even if we accept the origin was intended from the start, the fictional traditions of the time make me think less "Pygmies are a wholly different species who happen to have evolved into a human-a-like form" and more "Pygmies are a branch of humanity than come from off-world". We know nothing about the worlds beyond the Old World bar the fact the Slann used to travel between them, but the existence of several branches of inter-related Humanity was an established game trope by this time. You're more the expert on Afro-Futurism in this conversation but I don't know if there's much precedent either way in that particular genre.

      Even if we do accept that they are aliens, that still leaves us in the unenviable position where the only non-white human-a-like people of note are not human. So the Warhammer world and it's hordes of sentient people can evolve ratmen, boarmen, fishmen, birdmen.... but not black men?

      I do think that if the Halflings of Warhammer had a more Zulu-esque variant, I would probably be more OK with that. There'd still be some questions with their specific facial features but a Tribal Halfling race sounds pretty cool.

    5. I look at the Hobgoblins and what I see is a nasty, slitty-eyed, orange-yellow skinned, buck toothed humanoid - fantasy creatures based on exaggerated, caricatured humans, just as human-like as the Pygmies and Halflings, or any other sentient humanoid. Even if they are monsterous, they still conform to a pre-existing racist caricature - and what does that say? Of course in Citadel Miniatures we do get the Oriental Heroes a bit later than the Hobgoblin Warriors, so have both noble and monsterous exaggerated portrayals of certain racial types - which is ultimately what lessens the tensions for me, not anything about the nature of the portrayal.

      Similarly, Chaos Dwarves do have hook noses and conform to various middle-eastern stereotypes on multiple levels. I don't think there's a competition to decide which Warhammer race runs closest to an example of a real-world stereotype by either cultural or physiological cliche - each has it's own set of problems and conditions that are worth investigating. Some people dismiss the problems or pretend that there is only one problematical representation of race in Warhammer, or claim that all these representations somehow cancel each other out, which is just a way of trying to avoiding the issues and stifle any discussion about them.

      Humans were designed by the Slann, they didn't 'evolve', so in-world here is no "natural/unnatural" divide between the other humanoid sentient races and the Pygmies - although there is a 'native/migrant' one. The Pygmies really had no substantive background until WD100, so dismissing it out of hand leaves very little text to work with. Any even handed dealing with the Pygmy in Warhammer has to face it head on, otherwise it's all to easy to end up just cherry-picking evidence that fits our biases.

      For me, the message of The Floating Gardens of Bahb-Elonn is in the transformational of negative stereotyping, in much the same way Space is the Place is transformational. Neither erase the negativity, but use the negative symbols for a constructive purpose.

      If you're interested in Human Diaspora in sci-fi then the relationship between the original Battlestar Galactica and Mormonism is worth looking into. It's useful in it's own right because it does shed light on how fundamentaly weird a lot of the sci-fi and pop-culture that we often take for granted actually is!

      I'm not aware of any controversy about Doomstones, other than it being a repackaged AD&D adventure, got any links?

    6. Lots of interesting thoughts there, Zhu! I can definitely see that the existence of "good" Oriental figures helps make the Hobgoblins chafe less, whereas no "good" dark-skinned peoples puts the Pygmies in a worse place. I'm not sure I would say any of the mainstream Warhammer races have anything like the problems of the Pygmies (bar the stereotyping I mentioned about the norse) but I can accept that there's so much appropriated cultures scattered here and there that it complicates things. You can definitely read them in a better or worse light depending on your own baggage. (The Oldhammer thread did reveal some interesting mixtures of opinions on the Pygmies, so it's clearly far from universal)

      It's true that WD100 is basically our only real Pygmy details - we're talking a couple of paragraphs in WFB3 and a few pages of army list in Warhammer Armies otherwise. It's never been "over-written" exactly and it can sit just fine with the Slann origin myth, even if it wasn't the intention of the original Pygmy writers. Considering how much detail WFB3 goes into about the origin of the world, the absence is notable, but not irreconcilable. (The fact there's already sci-fi trappings in Lustria does help things.)

      The idea that the Slann engineered or transplanted a human population into the Warhammer World when one already existed off-planed is an interesting one, and the Pygmies off-world could be imagined as Slann clients, allies or enemies in a never seen cosmic tableaux. Ignoring the racial angles for a second, that does propose the question of why Old World humans came out look like people and Pygmies naturally evolved in their different routes - and whether or not they share any DNA base and would thusly be able to interbreed. If not, that makes the Pygmies a wholly separate species ala the Dwarves, which suggests scope for a wholly different psychology.

      Still, WD100 is an adventure which honest to god begins with a bunch of black skinned people sitting about eating slices watermelon so I reserve the right to not feel bad about cherry-picking what we should and shouldn't take from it. It is also from the Doomstones author and the controversy I referred to was indeed that AD&D origin - that the evidence is of a writer who didn't necessarily get that Warhammer wasn't just D&D with some proper nouns added. It's officially published so we should try and find a place for it if we can, but I don't think we should feel bad about sometimes saying a particular writer's work just doesn't really gel with the background. It ain't Matt Ward or C.S. Goto, of course, but still...

      Am I saying the author was a bad man? Probably not, much as I don't think Priestly et all were bad for originally coming up with the Pygmies. Like that time the 90s Citadel Journal used the word "gook" without appreciating it's full context, I think it says something of the Britain of the past that it did not occur to people that what they were doing was any different than calling a Scottish person a "jock" or drawing a Scottish person with red hair and a kilt.

    7. Also, thanks a lot for your comments and rebuttals. This is definitely the sort of discussion I was hoping for, and to have it with an Oldhammer type of far more experience than I is most interesting. :-)

    8. Oh, thank you for leading and continuing the discussion. You've raised some really interesting points which have helped me think around some race and representation issues in Warhammer I hadn't considered. I'll certainly be returning to your post and this conversation in the future.

      BTW Doomstones was converted by staffers GW, rather than the original authors, who just sold the rights to GW and they did the rest. I'd say that the parody, pseudohistory and science-fantasy kind of shows that the author of the Floating Gardens 'got' Warhammer as a setting, and it's integration with the rest of the background - lesbian anarcho-feminists and ancient-frog-aliens - all come together to reinforce that as well. Floating Gardens was played and written before WFB3 was published, whilst RoC was still stuck in a development hole. TEW was just one campaign and didn't really define the world or play-style for many WFRPers. I dunno, saying 'this text' is somehow more legitimate than 'that text' when it is all just 'text' seems odd to me, especially, as you note FGoB contains a whole bunch of negative stereotypes, so whilst I can look at it through a weird afro-futurist lens, and produce one reading, I could also look at it through a post-colonialist lens and yeild another.

      I never heard the 'gook' thing, must investigate! Also I don't think there was any idea of equilivance between say, what Richard Halliwell was doing with McDeaths Scottish Clansmen and what (Halliwell / Priestly / Ansell) were doing with the Pygmies. One was a culture of humans, the other was a distinct fantasy Race - and all that that implies.

      For what it's worth most academics seem to be looking at videogames rather than ropey old 80s RPGs in terms of serious subjects to consider, but if you're interested, this article has some interesting pointers towards why 'gamers' tend to dismiss attempts at putting their toys under any kind of scrutiny. I think the author also highlights other race, representation and historical issues that also surfaced in (early) Warhammer. Perhaps that's for another time :-)