Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Art of Rogue Trader

The iconic frontispiece of Rogue Trader by John Sibbick. The heroic last stand of the Crimson Fists Chapter against orks. Its never been bettered, not even by Blanche himself.

I sit here with my battered paperback copy of Rogue Trader in front of me. I never owned it back in the day. We were straight fantasy boys but I had a fair few of the miniatures for painting and use with Space Hulk and Advanced Space Crusade round other people's houses.

As I flick through the pages the first thing that strikes me is the art. It incredibly varied in style but unlike Warhammer Fantasy Battle, which to varying degrees, love it or loathe it, is a gallery of GW's art assets circa
1987, Rogue Trader's art is a little more consistent, in a fairly inconsistent way. What do I mean by this? Well, the art was fairy contemporary to the ruleset. Many an artist was busy scribbling away through the middle 80s to contribute to the look of Rogue Trader, most of whom were regulars from the WFB side of GW's output, but there were a few new names in there too.

I really like the 2000AD influence in this picture. '80s comics, being a child of that decade, are always a favourite of mine. This image reminds me of Death's Head. Prototype bolter design there too.

Early Rogue Trader fluff about the marines. Not much to go on yet

I love the punky graffiti on the shoulder pad of this Crimson Fist. Very '80s street!

Iconography for Space Marines was clearly an important element from the beginning. Its change quite considerably since then, hasn't it?

Out of all the images here, this one has really got me thinking. Who are these guys? Prototype chaos marines or something different? What do you think?

What strange alien species is this? Or is that some kind of elaborate mask or helm?

I really like the 'shark face' design used on these early Blood Angels. I must have a go at painting one up one day!

Here are the early colour schemes for the Marines. Most of them are well known today. The Rainbow Warriors? Could they be one of the missing legions? (joke)

Again the varied style of the artwork is obvious; another comic strip style image. I like the Mad Max influences on this picture.

A fantastic picture. Is this a Space Marine? The jump pack is very familiar but the armour? Quite a nice image to do a conversion based on really, isn't it?

Vietnam Vet style Space Marine (love the taped on screwdriver) lets rip with a big gun. Grisly ork trophy completes the scene.

Graphic battles scenes; gritty but not grimdark. Those trees look decidedly morbid, don't they?

More grisly trophies. Not quite so heroic be these early Space Marines.

Sinister Marines pose with their weapons. These creatures look radically different from the Rogue Trader Marines (more on this later) and I wonder which came first? The art or the miniatures.

The fluid style gives this picture an immediacy. I bet it was drawn in a few minutes too. 

More hideous marines with bizarre weapons. More conversion ideas here I reckon.

No Chapter Masters yet, just Imperial Commanders. Here a trooper reports to his superior.

Nice flamer there!

Cool shades there mate, very '80s indeed. Where's your silver, sequined glove?

That's a lot of beaky marines. I wonder what they are doing here?

Is he riding some strange machine or are those wheels part of his body?

Look at this marine! Souped up with fancy chainsaw arm and tank track foot. Nasty!

An early concept of a titan?

I wonder what these marines will do with their slaves considering their squats? Write them out of the background perhaps?

Close combat carnage. Note how the art is beginning to reflect the models we know and love!

Looks like the work of Paul Bonner? Am I right? Either way, these marines look just like the RT plastic ones released in 1987. 

Finally, the Emperor himself. 


  1. Hi!

    Excellent choice of imagery there! The almost print like quality of the full page illustrations like the Emperor was one of the really fascinating things about Rogue Trader for me along with the comic by Carl Critchlow in there too really got my imagination going back when I picked it up as a pimply youth!

    The sheer wildness of illustration style and the definite comic book influence along with the subtle humour in the early 40k stuff is brilliant and its a real shame that newer editions seem to be lacking it as it just seems to be too Grimdark!

    Cant wait to see what you post next!

    All the best!

  2. Echoing Mr Smith, a great selection of artwork; much of which I've never seen before. A friend of mine owns RT and we did actually play it once or twice about a decade ago and I enjoyed the vibe infinitely more than modern incarnations of 40K. Focusing on third edition WFB at the moment, but would certainly love to revisit RT in a more thorough manner!

  3. I worked at GW HQ in Lenton for about five years, quite often closely with the design studio and picked up a lot of 'rt folklore'

    A few things that might enlighten you.

    Most the original chapter names were based around irreverant jokes. Rainbow Warriors were named after the Greenpeace ship that had made the news being sunk the year before, 'ultramarine' are an obvios joke, Dark Angels were named after the poem (the chapter master being the author) and the 'crimson fists' allegedly take their symbol from a US gay rights movement!

    There were no missing legions. Rick saw some historical records of Roman Legions and for dishonour in battle some were 'expunged from imperial records'.. they just carried this over to 40k... no one has ever known who they are because its just a 'nod' to Imperial Rome. :)

    The art preceded the miniatures... the sculptors were given concept art from which to create their designs. Over time you begin to see (around WD107) more artwork where the artist copies *directly* the miniatures pose, weapons etc. Much of the art in Adepts Titanicus did this.

    Some of the artwork directly references the miniatures. The Ultramarine in camo stalking the beaked guy behind the tree is the first line of marines 'brother stalker' miniature (all the early marines were named after either police men, detectives or batman actors) hunting down an early 'mercenary' range figure called 'worldburner' Its a beaked helmet hes wearing.

    The two guys at the bar are just human renegades from imperial law... back in RT days anyone could wear power armour not just marines.

    The marine with tracks is supposed to be a cyborg as far as i'm aware and the squats are penal legion troops. Penal legion and human bombs were a big part of the guard until terrorisms higher profile made it very un PC

    when RT was written there were no models for ages and most of the playtest games were done using stand ins. Thats why loads of fantasy models are included in the stat line and bestiary at the back.

    The thing to remember is that Rogue Trader was originally written as a 'catch all' sci fi game that would let you play flash gordon, star wars, or *any* book or film you loved.. thats why there are odd reference to things like Dr WHo. It was also written to be able to use all the minis currently in production (thats why the arbites are there so you could use your judge dredd minis).

    It also *originally* was going to be a star ship combat game... the whole grim dark imperium background was very much an afterthought, thats why at times it seems very disjointed.

    Somewhere the real first mention of Rogue Trader is a small ad on a GW mail order flyer around 1985 that goes on about galactic space circuss!



    Gareth/Poniff/Mjr Hazzard from 'talesfromthemalestrom' blog

  4. Thanks for posting that, a fascinating insight into a big part of my childhood :-)

  5. Sibbick's cover sold me on 40K so long ago. Your right, it has NEVER been matched!


  6. Great stuff, thanks for posting all in one place