Stan Johansen is the sculptor of many beloved miniature lines. A multi-faceted artist, he has sculpted everything from modern soldiers to aliens, to post-apocalyptic warriors. I wanted to chat with him about his creative process. Read on!
Adam: Can you please tell the readers how your hobby journey started?
I got into model-building early, 7 or 8 years old. A slightly older cousin invited me to play in a wargame he ran for the local CYO. It was played mainly with Revell and Monogram models and lots of Marx playset figures, on an indoor basketball court, and I was hooked at 11 years old.
A: When did you start sculpting professionally?
I got out of the army in January 1968 and joined a Napoleonic gaming club, they used 30mm miniatures, which was the main wargaming size at the time. Each member picked a country when they joined; all of the main countries were spoken for except Austria. (The problem was there were very few Austrian figures available.) So I bought Stadden and Suren miniatures from Midge miniatures, an importer based in Queens, N.Y. I used what they had, but I had to do a lot of hand conversions to make models they did not do, like Austrian artillery, light infantry, and cavalry. When some of the guys in the club saw what I could do, they asked for some things they wanted, but I did not charge for the work.
From 1968 through 1969 I just did this for myself and my friends. Around 1970 I met Duke Sigfried at a convention; he put me on to AB epoxy which made sculpting easier, so I lined up 30mm figures for scale and started sculpting figures of my own. I did the basic stick dolly with a soldering iron and Dremel tool, then I used the epoxy to dress and detail the figure. Again I was doing figures I wanted, so it was still a hobby not a business. I bought an old casting machine around 1970 and had molds made for me at first. The company that made the casting and mold-making machines taught me to make molds; I bought the vulcanizer and started making my own molds.
By 1972, I had 30mm Napoleonics, mostly things other companies did not make like most of the Austrian types, a couple of Prussians, and Spanish infantry and cavalry. I also started an American REvolution line, looking forward to the bicentennial in 1976, but I did not have any personal interest to keep it going. (Same with a small ancient Egyptian line both of which I sold to two brothers.) My favorite line was the 30mm samurai, which was the line I brought to my first convention: Miniature Figure Collectors of America PA. So I guess I could be considered a pro starting in 1972.
A: Was there much competition at that time?
Since I considered myself a hobby/business and still do, I never thought much about competition.
A: How did you plan to carve your niche in the market?
By about 1975 the hobby had changed a lot. 30mm was out mainly because Miniature Figurines Ltd started to make very complete wargaming lines in 25mm. Also, 15mm started getting popular; at some point, our Napoleonic club all changed to 15mm.
As a hobby/business I decided to do the smaller-interest stuff like SF 25mm, and 20mm Allies and Axis, which were figures that you needed for WW2, but Airfix did not make like heavy mortars Italians, etc. I also did a small range of Normans and Vikings and Buccaneers. It was all for fun. Things changed a little for me when I got involved with Fantasy Games Unlimited.
A: How did you come to work with Fantasy Games Unlimited? What was the tabletop wargame scene like then?
I came to work with FGU in a roundabout way. I was first contacted in1977 by Fitz McCray, a fellow Vietnam Vet, for Mark Ratner of FanTac Games. He wanted to know if I would be interested in sculpting figures for his original Space Marines rules. In our first meeting, we went over the drawings in the rule book. He wanted 25mm figures with separate arms, standing, advancing or running, and kneeling for 9 different races. The Bugs and mertun races would follow If everything went well. The second meeting was to look at the masters, which were all approved except the Hiss, which he wanted more man-sized. Using the drawings, I thought the Hiss were larger, but I re-sculpted them. The deal was I made the entire range at no cost to them but owned the right to produce them.The next thing I knew, Mark sold the rules to FGU’s Scott Bazar.
Around 1980 I met with Scott about the deal I made on the miniatures with Mark, which he also agreed to. Scott had just had a very bad experience with adding miniatures to his business. His 15mm Space Opera masters and molds vanished along with the company that was producing his figures. So he asked me if I would like the same deal I made on the Space Marines with him on any figure lines he asked me to do.The first was to take some of the 15mm Space Opera sets he needed to fill orders and make molds and enough miniatures to fill all his backorders. And I could add to the line as I wished; all of these figures are still available.
The next big project was making 20mm figures for his Merc rules, which I started in 1980 and have added to continuously. They are now part of my 20mm Counter Terrorist line.
A: Let’s talk about Gaslands! Your minis and accessories for Gaslands are fantastic. Were you a Car Wars or Dark Future player?
Yes, I owned and played Car Wars, a great game, but you need a lot of time to play it. Dark Future was OK as a beer and pretzels game, but GDW canceled it very fast. I guess for a big company it did not sell enough. I started making the Road Warrior line around 1981, with the movie and a comic called “Rebel” in Heavy Metal magazine as inspiration. I did not tie the line to any rules; I figured gamers could use almost any modern rules. Gaslands gave my sales a good boost for about 4 months when they first came out; now its back to normal. The Road Warrior line has been and is the best-selling line I ever made.
A: Road Rage looks like lots of fun. What sets it apart from the aforementioned games?
Keep in mind that for me, the Road Rage rules are a way to sell my miniatures. So when I asked Phil Tortorici to write them I asked him to write a set of rules where a scenario can be played in a 4-hour session at a convention. Gamers seem to like the fast pace of the game, especially the Death Race scenario.
As for what sets it apart from Car Wars I think it is faster-paced and more exciting but simpler. f you want a more involved game and have the time, Car Wars maybe is more your cup of tea. Gaslands is more a SF/Fantasy game, not a post-apocalyptic game. Aliens control things, and ray weapons are just not my thing. I only played the first rule book, not the new rule book.
A: What inspires you when sculpting? Do you feel that you were affected by any particular artist or style?
I think movies have inspired me the most: “Road Warrior” of course, and “55 Days at Peking” inspired the Boxer line. I grew up on Tom Corbit and Flash Gordon science-fiction serials. The moderns were inspired by my time in the army and Vietnam. My first 20mm line was a Vietnam line, which I sold many years ago. I also did a 25mm John Carter of Mars line.
When I first started, I think Suren had the most influence. His soldiers looked like they just came off the battlefield and I liked that. Stadden figures were great, but they all looked like they were still on the parade ground.
A: There has been a revival in Old School Roleplaying lately and lots of fervor for both classic RPG and miniature games. What do you think the factors are that are causing folks to return to older games?
I don’t know for sure, but maybe they are just simpler to play. I have watched some of the new games being played at conventions and they are never completed, and when I talked to some players they said they did nothing for as much as 45 minutes. Some just walked away, but maybe it’s not the game but the game master.
A: What do you think of 3D printing?
I wish I was younger, but at 74 I don’t have the memory for new programs, and none of my kids are interested so equipment investment would be a waste of money. One of the gamers in the Florida club has done about 5 vehicles and a boat for me.
A: If you could impart words of wisdom to a beginning sculptor, what would they be?
Sculpt what you enjoy and remember if you decide to sculpt for a living it can take the fun out of it.
A: What are your favorite games? Any kind of game applies.
Modern skirmish, Road Warrior, Colonial, and WW2 skirmish in that order.
As a fan of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic miniatures I really love the offerings on Stan's website. The miniatures would be right at home for either of those genres of games. I plan on adding the Ssss Snakemen to a force for Stargrave and to use with games of Starguard.
I encourage you to check out the website and pick up some of these fantastic miniatures. I have highlighted some below, check out his website here and see them for yourself!
Some super cool Boomers! Space Kangaroos for the win!
The aforementioned Ssss! They would fit with any sci-fi game and look so dynamic.
Some 20mm Road Warrior miniatures, perfect for Road Rage, Gaslands or Dark Future!
Vintage packaging for Stan's Space Marines miniatures. You can read more about Space Marines in my previous article.
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Editing by the insanely eldritch Brian White.