Tuesday, January 13, 2009

J'aime des zouaves !

The zouaves of Marksmen: great potential, 
lost opportunity.

I don't know how long ago Marksmen produced these zouave figures, but I do know that they are simultaneously some of my most, and least, favorite figures on the market.

The limited but imaginative poses are very animated, generally in quite a delightful and naturalistic way.  The sculptor must have had a knack for cartooning as the massing and proportioning of some of these figures remind me very much of the "Willie and Joe" cartoons of Bill Mauldin.

The casting however, undoes all of the good that has gone before it, with sloppy separation lines, gross amounts of flashing, and a distractingly waxy appearance to the oddly translucent blue plastic.

Not only is the particular hue of blue used a little off, but they also cast these guys in RED,

and regular readers of my blogs know few things  annoy me more than fascism and casting toy soldiers in ridiculous colors.

"But wait,"  you insist, "Weren't zouaves known for their colorful uniforms?"

"Certainement! But this is simply too much.  Here's my inflexible rule:

Mannie's inflexible rule:
Yankees are  dark blue.
Rebels are any shade of gray, brown, tan, taupe,  beige, and perhaps even ecru.

Zouave  uniforms were characterized by many things including voluminous pantaloons much like the zouave  below...

whom Van Gogh managed to catch in a moment of ...of...brushing crumbs from his lap.  Pesky hardtack!

But I think It should be enough to let the distinctive features of the uniform, the gaiters, pantaloons, short jacket, fez, eloquently suggest that these little 54 mm guys are zouaves rather than casting them entirely in red.  Gads!  C'mon  Marksmen (et. al.) the consumer isn't as stupid as you think.  

Of course Marksmen isn't alone in this playing down to the toy soldier consumer, Armies in Plastic does the same thing, and I'm sure others do as well. 

Enough already!  On to the figures

This guy is  perhaps the least interesting of the bunch, a fairly conventional pose, and uncharacteristically subdued pants for a zouave.  I do however appreciate his fez, distinctive facial hair, and that fantastic necktie.  The anatomy is quite good and if the base were as substantial from side to side as it is from end to end this figure would be much better balanced and stable.

It also demonstrates the bane of this particular product...

those hideously distracting separation lines.  Yikes! that's sloppy work.  "I know," sez the set-up man at Marksmen "I'll put the separation right across his face where no one will notice it."

Nice going, genius.  But take heart, I feel another  mood swing coming.

Take a look at this pose.  Its dramatic and dynamic with great animation as well as outstanding anatomy with a little bit of that cartoon influence I was talking about.  Look how braced and steady this guy is, and the details of his uniform are so evident right down to the tassel on his fez.  

For a standing shooter this guy is a stand-out among all ACW 54mm plastics, perhaps my favorite.  He is drawing a bead on someone with a grim determination that convinces me there's going to be some broken plastic downrange.

This is an outstanding, well imagined, and beautifully sculpted figure.

The weaknesses include again, the narrowness of the base which provides little weight or stability,

the excessive casting marks and sloppy flash which detract from the otherwise superb sculpting,

and the dreadful seperation lines, which turn our zouave into a Yankee Harvey Dent.  

A second really outstanding imagining of a zouave is the "charge bayonet" guy.

Although the animation and sculpting are again outstanding and exciting,

the execution mitigates the effectiveness of the figure.  Careful engineering and better plastic would have provided a much fiercer figure.  Imagine a phalanx of these as executed by Italeri or even Imex.

The "holding flag and shooting guy" is a textbook encapsulation of what is so frustrating about what Marksmen has foisted upon us.

Look at the precarious balance of this figure, nearly toppling over due to the lack of weight and mass in the diminutive base.

And I'm not certain what the sculptor was trying to get across here...

flag, or tattered tee shirt?  You decide what this odd bit of plastic is supposed to be.

But, again, this figure represents the strengths of the enterprise with some outstanding detail.

The trunk and head are fantastic, the moustache fabulous (hey isn't that the guy who used to be the principal of Horizons High School!?), the buttons, though large, are quite delightful...

as is the piping along his vented jacket.

Epaulets no less, fantastic. Bravo!

Cartridge box, more piping, and buttons, this guy has more detail than a Victorian wedding cake!

Check out his discarded fez lying at his feet.  Sigh, if only the sculptor and the set-up man hadn't been feuding, this would have been a much nicer piece.

Here's another good one.  Though not a particularly imaginative pose, it still has great balance and is superbly sculpted.  Whoever this sculptor is he (or she) has mastered anatomy, massing, and the concept of "drawing a bead" on someone.

And, predictably, closer examination reveals the sloppiness of execution that characterizes these Marksmen figures.

One wonders if the plastic was simply not at the right temperature when the casting was done.  And that translucent waxiness is very distracting.

I've saved the best for last.  Here is, to date, my all-time favorite ACW 54mm plastic figure, whom I like to refer to as...

                                              "the jaunty campaigner"

This single figure represents that which I wish more companies brought to the transaction; a small amount of whimsy, or what I like to call "cartooniness" in their sculpting.  I love the breezy demeanor of this veteran as he ambles down the dusty road in search of an unguarded smoke house or chicken coop.

The animation of this figure is nearly transcendent, leaving all other companies in the dust of this happy warrior.

This figure, with baggy pantaloons, and battered boots puts me very much in mind of the cartoonist Bill Mauldin,

and his wonderful "Willie and Joe" characters from WWII.

This figure also has outstanding detail, including bulging backpack and haversack, as well as a tin cup.

But, sadly, the illusion comes to pieces with the ham-fisted clumsiness of the casting engineers at Marksmen...

with this final, and most aggregious example of dreadful casting.  What a waste of an otherwise outstanding sculpting.  Something at Marksmen must be very wrong that their casting department is so out of touch with their sculptors and that their marketing department is so out of touch with their clientele.

For a glimpse how it can be done right and for more of this wonderful "cartooniness" in figures go here for a Youtube video featuring some fabulous 54mm figures from Aurora that are very much informed by the Anime style.  I'd love to see ACW figures so brightly and spritely done. Thanks to Vintage Castings for making this video available (I dig the music too).

Final thoughts
Of the four figures below (which will all be reviewed in later postings) we have, from left to right:
                    Marksmen      Italeri    Hat Industries    Armies in Plastic

Just imagine how utterly outstanding, how fabulously breathtaking the Marksmen zouaves would have been had the casting been undertaken with the same skill as shown by the fine folks at Italeri.

What a sad, sad, missed opportunity.

So now we bid a fond adieu to the zouaves that fill out the ranks of my collection;

exotic, colorful, and evocative of...

times past, perhaps?

See you on Feb 1.

Soldier on!



CraigSpiel said...

Well done as usual Mannie! I have found a small hobby soldering iron works very well for removing flash and mold lines. Admittedly, it takes some practice, but you can quickly run the point or edge along a seam of errant plastic, and it literally melts away. In many ways, I prefer this technique to "knife work".

I never noticed that the flag guy had epaulettes and the longer Chasseur jacket before! I read some place that several hundred French Chasseur a Pied uniforms were purchased and issued by the Federal govt. Who would have thought that they would re-appear in 54mm plastic?


Mannie Gentile said...


Where in Michigan are you from, and when did you go to MSU?


Crowwatcher said...

Could help noticing the Aurora "Street Girl" is SOLD OUT. She pretty much sells herself.

CraigSpiel said...

I am from Oscoda, on the Huron shore. Wurtsmith AFB was the big deal there growing up. I gaduated from MSU in 1990.

Scott B. Lesch said...

Hello! I have a ton of the Marksman Zouaves and I think I can identify the poses.

"This guy is perhaps the least interesting of the bunch" I THINK it's supposed to be a New York Fire Zouave in the simpler uniform worn at 1st Bull Run/Manassas.
The "flag" man POSSIBLY is from the 83rd Penn received Chasseur uniforms from a dealer in France. The pose is a right or left Guide with a the flag guidon in his rifle. Two per Toy soldier unit is enough! Great Blog! Thanks for posting this.


Mannie Gentile said...

Thanks for the info Scott!

Brian Carrick said...

Hi Mannie, the sculptor for the Marksman zouaves was Peter Cole who is the man behind Replicants. At the time he was in partnership with a military illustrator called Mike Ellis. Mike came uo with the ideas for the poses, he has always had a big interest in the French military and and used engravings of troops from the Franco-Prussian and Crimean wars as his starting point. These were some of the very first figures that Peter sculpted and this was very much a learning experience for them to see what they could and couldn't do technically. The first figures were made in a kind of rubbery plastic like the early Conte stuff, my examples are in light blue and grey plastic and sont suffer from the poor mould lines that yours have, so I'm guessing that the dark blue and red mouldings that you have are later production where the moulds have started to wear a bit. The Marksman partnership ended after two ranges of figures and Peter went on to found Replicants while Mike has dropped out of figures altogether. Hope this is of some interest let me know if I can be of any further help.

Mannie Gentile said...


Thanks for that very informative comment.