Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Blanche: The Rise of Grimdark Review

John Blanche’s biography!

Although John Blanche retired earlier this year, he is still quite busy. Case in point, he released another Voodoo Forest book titled Scions of Voodoo through Hollow Press. He agreed to be the feature artist for volume 6 of the digital magazine 28. On top of all of this, he worked with authors John Wombat and Ruth Moreira to have his biography written! This biography, titled Blanche: the Rise of Grimdark, was published by Wombat Wargames (December 2023). I am happy to say that we were involved in the creation of the book, albeit in a small way. Earlier this year, when exchanging emails with John Blanche, he mentioned that he was working on the biography and asked if we had some photos from the 2016 Pilgrym game and if we could share a few words about it. We excitedly obliged, reaching out to author John Wombat, who suggested that he would quote us in the final book, as well as include some of our photos of the event. Advance a few months forward, and in late November we saw that the book was being released on December 1st! Excited to see the final book, I ordered a copy from Amazon and promptly received it on December 2nd.

The biography next to John’s Voodoo Forest, published by Hollow Press.

The book is 218 pages long and is printed in full color, featuring a selection of his artwork, both black and white and color pieces. On Amazon, it cost about $45, which is quite expensive for a book of this size (6.25 x 9.25 inches). It is soft-back with a nice soft-touch cover that does not collect fingerprints. The binding is good and the book opens easily without creasing the spine. The print quality is acceptable, but not amazing. While this is fine for the text, some of the artwork is not perfectly crisp, failing to capture the full splendor of Blanche’s artwork. This might be due to the printer quilty (low dots-per-inch) or the paper used in the book (very absorbent). However, I think the primary reason for this is that much of the artwork is presented at sizes smaller than the original pieces, resulting in compression artifacts, thereby causing a loss of definition and detail. Furthermore, most of the images are not new high quality scans of the original pieces, as is often the case in artbooks, and instead are taken from other sources. This is to be expected, however, as many of these pieces would be almost impossible to track down now, as they are likely in people’s personal collections or lost to time. Ultimately, I do not have a major issue with this, as it is being sold as a biography and not an artbook, and I would encourage readers to approach it as such. However I could see some being disappointed by this considering the price. Interestingly, it appears that the book is being printed at different places across the world to ease the shipping process, allowing it to be available worldwide via Amazon. My copy was printed in Middletown, DE on November 29th 2023. It was then shipped out by Amazon the very next day. Quite a rapid turnaround! Adam ordered one of the limited edition copies from RPE Miniatures and Games that includes a signed postcard; it will be interesting to compare the printing quality of that copy when it arrives.

Table of Contents.

Acknowledgements and Dedication.

The book is separated into six chapters that detail John’s life, starting with that of his parents, Pearl and Ivor Blanche, and then diving into John’s life, including the 40 years he spent with Games Workshop. Interspersed between these chapters are ten “sacred writings” where different people reflect on John as an artist and friend. This includes other artistic luminaries such as Ian Miller, Paul Bonner, and Jes Goodwin, as well as other former Games Workshop employees like Alan Merrett, Rick Priestley, Tuomas Pirinen, and Tammy Nicholls. Spread throughout are a variety of photographs from John’s life and a large selection of artwork, including both Games Workshop and non-Games Workshop pieces. The book closes with a lovely passage by John’s wife, Lin.

Sample pages: Jes Goodwin Sacred Writings.

The book was a quick and enjoyable read, with each chapter short and to the point. It does a great job setting up John’s childhood in a post World War II England, and how this environment shaped him as a person and artist. It is amazing John was able to become the artist he is today, growing up in a country trying to recover from the war, and in an age long before the internet or major fantasy and science fiction franchises. Ultimately, his perseverance, vision, and sheer talent made his career possible. The book talks about John’s fascination with the old Masters like Rembrant, Dürer, and Hieronymus Bosch, as well as history and the natural world, and how he is able to tie these elements together and expand on them. I also found it quite endearing to read about him shifting through the different counterculture phases as they swept through England, from being a hippie, to a punk, and then largely settling on his biker look, complete with his “company car,” which was actually a motorcycle (he convinced the higher ups at GW to get it for him instead of a more traditional car). Throughout each chapter are quotes from John himself, reflecting on various pertinent aspects of his life and career, including a lot of insight into how Games Workshop started and the various projects he worked on while at the company.

The Sacred Writing sections, where different people talk about who John is and what he means to them, are my favorite part of the book. Each gives a different and personal look into John as an artist and friend, often emphasizing how quiet and kind he is (I can attest to this personally!), and how generous he is with his time, always wanting to encourage creativity. I particularly enjoyed the section by Jes Goodwin and how he talked about how their careers’ intertwined, two legendary figures in Games Workshop’s history.

Sample artwork, including the iconic 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000 cover that brought us into the hobby.

Sample artwork from John’s Voodoo Forest.

The sixth chapter touches on many of the major Games Workshop games/projects John worked on, including Mordheim and Inquisitor. It also touches on how, for much of his life, he only collected and painted miniatures and it was only later in his life that he started to play miniature games, with a focus on skirmish-style games. It is here that they talk about Iron Sleet’s Pilgrym Inq28 narrative event. To my surprise, the book included the entire passage I sent talking about how John’s artwork brought my brothers and I into the hobby and eventually pushed us to make the hobby our own, not being limited by Codex books and official lore. It also touches on how this led us to getting involved in the Pilgrym event and meeting John at Warhammer World and then later at the Mordheim 2019 event. The book also includes a number of photos from both of these events; one even has me in it, while another includes Greg! All of this was really fun to see, and I feel very humbled to be included in the book!

Section on the Pilgrym event.

Some of the pages that included some of our photos from the Pilgrym event.

All told, Blanche: The Rise of Grimdark was a really enjoyable and informative read. It was great to gain additional insight into John’s expansive career, from how he started drawing on spare wallpaper in his youth, since he didn’t have access to paper, to eventually go on to shape fantasy and science fiction as a whole and define Games Workshop’s iconic universes. In particular, all of the passages from different artists and friends were a delight to read, as they provided further context to his life and provided personal anecdotes that help show the person behind the genre-defining artwork. While it is a little expensive for a softback book, I would still highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn a little more about John Blanche and his connection to many of the founding and important members of Games Workshop!

- Eric Wier


  1. Such a wonderful looking book. I'm glad your review was constructively critical - I cannot wait for my own copy to arrive!

  2. This is a must buy, then. I missed the launch, and it's almost 50€, but I guess it's worth the cost.

    1. It is quite expensive, but for a fan of his work I think it is worth it. If you got the limited one that had a signed postcard, it cost cost around $100 with shipping. I think at that price some people might be disappointed, particularly when comparing it to the Voodoo Forest from Hollow press, which is substantially cheaper, with much better printing quality.

  3. Great review, it must be strange to see yourself in a book! I may pick this up, but the cost is a bit steep, as you have pointed out. I think my wife is an Amazon Prime member so the shipping might be ok if I buy it through Amazon.