About Mithril and Chris Tubb

More than forty years ago, Jan Edman founded Prince August in Sweden which specialized first in model railway accessories and then in soldier figurines . The company later moved in Ireland near Cork in 1976.

Mithril was founded back in 1987 by Lars Edman (the son of Jan Edman) and the world famous miniature designer Chris Tubb, as a subsidiary of Prince August. In almost 20 years, more than 600 figurines have been released, all inspired by the reknown books of professor J.R.R.Tolkien : “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” . These figurines represent celebrities as well as common characters from the novels, all of them designed with maximum details and a lot of realism, in the 32mm scale.

Since its creation, Mithril has produced single miniatures, boxed sets or Limited editions, and also a 54mm range of figurines. Recently in 2017, Chris Tubb has switched his sculpting technique to 3D Modeling, using the ZBrush software. Since then, all masters have been made in 3D printing but the final casts remain traditionally in metal. This allows for master longevity as the original is a digital file and no more a physical master cast. To reflect this change in sculpting technology, all reference now use the Prefix MZ (Z standing for Zbrush)

Here is a list of the series :

  • M Standard range : regular series based on a rolling, unlimited production but for a time only (more than 680 up to date) these also include the boxed sets (MB) vignettes (MV) , released or unreleased warbands (MW) , Mithril Designer projects (MX) and the Fellowship figurines (MS ans MZ)
  • LR range : Limited edition series (only 40 references exist)
  • LO range : 54mm regular series (30 references so far)
  • LT range : regular series on the “Helm’s Deep” theme (only 15 references exist, they replaced the M range, for a time)
  • MC/MCD ranges : mithril “classics” or “double-classics” which are re-edition of old discontinued M range figurines
  • Special Editions : including special Christmas figurines (either promotional or Fellowship limited) in 54mm or 32mm but also very unique prototypes or gifts figurines

Over the years, special events or releases occured among the Mithril Community such as the creation of the original Mithril Fellowship, and Tengwar magazines, giving access to its members to special miniatures not to be released on the market. Now the fellowship “has gone Gold” and allows , in its newest form, to contribute in the choice and voting of a regular monthly based figurine available to its members only. Also, some figurines are so precious, rare and sought after by collectors all over the world that we can now see some of them on eBay reaching very high prices which can only reveal how prized this collection can be.

Interview with Chris Tubb

Chris Tubb was born in 1952 and has sculpted figurines for more than 20 years. It’s him, along with Lars Edman who “gave life” to Mithril. Being the “spirit” behind every Mithril figurines released up to this day, his name has become quite famous in the universe of fantasy miniatures. In the next lines you will find an interview I had with Chris Tubb covering several aspects many collectors may be interested about.

Mister Tubb, when did you discover Tolkien, what made you love it?
I discovered Tolkien when I was around 11 years old. I remember that I went with my father to his office for the day. After an hour or so it got rather boring and I was given some money and told to spend it in one of the nearby shops one of which was a bookshop. Here I found a paperback copy of the Hobbit, bought it and started to read. I almost did’nt put the book down all day ; the dull commercial office disappeared and I spent the day in the Shire , along the east road , at the house of Elrond and in the Misty mountains.I continued reading after we had returned home and finished the book about 24 hours later. Later on a friend told me that there was a sequel to the Hobbit called “The Lord of the Rings”. I could’nt beleive my luck and borrowed the first volume from the library shortly afterwards. I must admit that I did’nt read the whole of the LOTR then . I found it very hard going and gave up, leaving Gandalf with Denethor in Minas Tirith. I did’nt read it through entirely for another couple of years. But the seed had been sown and Tolkien had worked his subtle magic on me as soon as I opened the Hobbit. What I loved about it was the way in which Tokien made this fantastical story so believeable. The Elves and the Dwarves had their own histories and everything in the story was consistent. The Elves especially interested me. Until then, to my mind , elves meant little fairy creatures that only appeared in stories for young children. Tolkien’s elves were noble , mysterious and warrior-like, but retained a rather unearthly quality. They were distant and magical in some un-defined way. The elves remain for me the most difficult of Tolkien’s creations to capture properly.

At what age did you make your first figurine and what was it ?
The honest answer to that question is that I cannot remember a time when I did’nt try to make figures. As a child I remember spending many hours playing with plastecine mostly trying to make characters from books and comics. I recall buying a material from my local art store called plastaset which you could bake in the oven and creating some small stylied figures form this which I was very proud of at the time.
I was about 10 years old when I made my first proper figurine. It was a very poor model of a Russian cosmonaut but I thought it was great at the time!

What lead you to become a figure sculptor , what were you doing before that ?
My main subjects at school , at least in senior school were maths and physics. I had wanted to do O level art but was told I was not good enough. After school, I worked in various jobs including early computer programming, which I found very dull. During this time I discovered a shop in London which sold military figurines and purchased a couple that I was interested in. When I could’nt get a particular figure that I wanted I decided to try and make it myself. I bought a plastic DAS pronto tool (which is the tool that I still use today for all the Mithril figures) and made it from plastecene and developed a method of building the armature as the figure progressed. I have since then experimented with using other materials for the first-stage of the figure, such as duro and Milliput etc, but I really only feel happy working with plastecene. It gives a fluidity to the design and a possiblity to move and change the pose until the right look is acheived. I enjoyed designing figures so much that I gave up my dull job enrolled as a part-time student in art school . I supplemented my meagre income with freeelance design work.

What kind of figurines were you doing before sculpting Tolkien characters for Mithril ?
I made various figure ranges mostly historical ( I love 54mm historical figures – and still make a few for myself if I ever get time . my favourite period is French 2nd Empire). I knew very little about role-playing figures D&D etc, and my first work in this field was for a little French role-playing game called BITUME. It was a post-apocalyptic scenario with gangs at war with eachother in a ruined Earth. It was a new area for me and I enjoyed it greatly. The Tolkien Licence in a way came as a result of Bitume. On the strength of my work on Bitume Lars Edman of Prince August and myself went to the U.S to see if we could get the licence to make figures for the new MAD MAX game which ICE was planning to produce. When we eventually got to meet Pete Fenlon from ICE we discovered that the MAD MAX deal had fallen through and that there would be no game . However ICE liked the bitume figures very much and asked if we would like to create a range for their LOTR game modules. After some negotiation with Tolkien Enterprises we obtained a licence to make LOTR figures and Mithril began from there.

Besides Tolkien and figurines what are your other passions hobbies ?
I am very interested in ancient history particularly Roman history. One thing that I plan to do if I ever get a long break is to learn ancient Greek. I am also a keen amateur astronomer . On the physical side I enjoy cycling and walking. I also spend as much time as I can with my children. I have five, three sons and two daughters and working at home enables me to see a lot of them. I love reading and have fairly ecclectic tastes.

What are your 5 favourite Tolkien characters ?
As my favourite Tolkien work is (by far) the Silmarillion I suppose I have a bias toward this. I like Turin and Beleg . Turin is a character with a whole cycle of stories and who plays many different roles as his fortune rises and falls. Beleg Cuthalion is the best ( in my opinion ) of Tolkien’s tragic heroes. Slain unwittingly by Turin, his presence strangely remains with Turin, in the form of the sword Anglachel, the very instrument of Fate itself , which Turin wears at his side ever after. Also, of course, Galadriel. She spans such a vast sweep of time throughout the history of Middle-earth, from the crossing of the Helcaraxe to the end of the Third-age and is one of the truly pivotal figures throughout all the works. This is why I chose her for M1. I find Earendil an interesting character: a mortal man who, nonetheless is chosen by providence to play a vital and indeeed cosmic role in the fates of Elves , Men and , indeed, the Valar themselves. As for the LotR , Sam, for me is the real hero. His tenacity, common sense and practicality are the virtues that really defeat the forces of Mordor. He is also the only ring-bearer who surrender’s the ring without external pressure. You could argue that his tenure of it was very brief, but its power over the wearer , while they were so near to Barad-dur was so much magnified, so his surrender of it so much harder.

What are your five favourite Mithril miniatures ?
This is a very difficult question . I tend to like figures/ vignettes that have a little humour in them or some whimsical quality. For this reason I enjoy making the Hobbits and amongst my own favourites are M350 Gandalf and the Hobbit children and M352 from the same series. I wanted to show Gandalf as a grand-fatherly figure in the eyes of the Hobbit children as the “Bringer of fireworks” rather than the arbiter of great events I was pleased with Lotho and Lobelia; Lobelia like a rather fierce maiden aunt commanding the rather spineless and put-upon Lotho. Mv 359 , Isildur at the Gladden fields, was a vignette that I was pleased with . I wanted to have the effect of feeling a threat from all sides , a kind of “Custer’s last stand” in Middle-earth and felt that the vignette worked quite well. I like M192 Hundin, the bandit chief , as it was really a portrait of a friend of mine. I have made several likenesses to friends throughout the range( M120, M389 and M391) but this one was the one I liked best. My other favorite was LR28 Goldberry , the one where she is sitting on the rock combing her hair. The river-daughter, as she is called , suggested the statue of the Little mermaid in Copenhagen harbour and the figure is a fairly close re-working of this.

If you were a gold fellowship member yourself, what suggestion would you submit, or if you prefer what figurine (or scene) you have not yet sculpted would you really like to make?
I would make a vignette of the Elven-king’s hunt, with Thranduil on a galloping Elven horse and a white hart running just ahead of him. Strangely enough another figure that I have wanted to sculpt for a long time has just been suggested on the Mithril Forum by another member . The Balrog in combat with Gandalf or else the fallen Gandalf and Balrog. My original idea for this was the bridge at Kazad-dum with Gandalf and the Balrog confronting eachother uopn it. it would be a very large piece though and I don’t know if its size would really allow it to fit into the Fellowship range.

When you make research about Tolkien resources in order to create a new figurine, do you use LOTR and The Hobbit only or also other released work on Tolkien (eg. Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, HoME books…) ?
I use mainly the Hobbit and LotR as you would expect , though I do have the History of Middle-earth which I will occasionally consult. I do find volumes 1 and 2 of the latter work someone heavy and impenetrable but the remaining volumes are more to my taste. They offer more of an insight into the evolution of Tolkien’s thought on the development of Middle-earth though the occasional detail is useful for the design process.

Some people consider you to be one of the most talented “Tolkien-world artist” along with artists such as John Howe , Alan Lee and Ted Nasmith (who make illustrations as wonderful as your figurines are), have you ever thought about submitting or showing your work to the Tolkien Estate (Christopher Tolkien for example) on an artistic basis ?
No I have not done this. I know that Pete Fenlon, formerly CEO of ICE did approach Christopher Tolkien with some of their Middle-earth gaming products , but the latter was not really interested. Apparantly , he considered all merchandising products etc a distraction from his father’s great literary acheivement.

There have been figurines made for the Silmarillion in the past (the Turin series), since there was no licence for this book, how was it possible at that time ?
The Tolkien license contains certain areas which are subject to interpretation . I do not want to comment too much on this subject except to say that the terms of the licence have been “tightened up ” over the years and that there is now no possibility of Mithril being able to produce any figures from the Silmarillion in the forseeable future.

Some rare figurines (such as the early Christmas figurines or the m16) can reach incredibly, even prohibitive, prices on auction sites such as ebay. How do you feel about such a demand and “collector-mania” regarding your work ?
I suppose the high price is just the result of supply and demand. The moulds do not exist for the first 80 or so early figures, which is why they were never put into the classics range. These together with the Christmas gifts are genuinely rare items. I am conscious of the possibility of artificially inflating the prices of other items like the Half-orcs which is the reason that I sold these sets at fixed prices rather than auction so that chance rather than money decides who gets the small numbers available.

If you were to make figurines from other fantasy authors what would it be ?
Very easy question. Without doubt it would be Niel Gaiman’ s Sandman series (DC and vertigo comics) . I regard Gaiman as the best writer in this genre alive today. It is insightful and highly intelligent writing . The images therein are so varied and offer huge scope for a range of figures. I did contact DC some years ago about this but at that time they were not interested.

How long do you think you will keep on sculpting figurines and are there any other sculptors beside yourself who would carry on making Mithril when you decide to retire?
With five children to put through school and university, I think I will probably be designing for a few years yet!. The real answer is that I do not know. It depends on many factors. All I do know, is that my passion for designing miniatures remains undiminished which I suppose is the most important factor here. I do consider myself very lucky to be able to do for a job of work something which I love so much.

Which leads me to ask , what do you foresee in the future for Mithril (new series, new material such as accessories range, building ranges) ?
For Mithril, the plans in the regular M series are more Middle-earth armies, starting with the Easterlings and covering some races and groups that we have never done before. There is also another M series that I am currently planning to run alongside the armies releases but I do not want to say too much about that at this stage.

Well thank you, mister Tubb, for this interview, I am sure many people will find your answers very interesting…

(all the images and logos on this pages are copyright Mithril, An Groupa Edman Teo 2004 – 2006or or used with the courtesy of Chris Tubb)