Sunday, December 28, 2008

Preparing for Glory ... Part IV: The Aspis

The what?

The aspis is actually the correct term for the shield carried by Leonidas and his soldiers, not a hoplon.

As I had mentioned, I had asked JJ to do the shield after I had originally commissioned the Spartan armor. Due to the fact that the vambraces needed a bit of back-and-forth alterations, the present weather was not conducive for me to take shots in nothing but a bit of metal, leather and a thin red cloak. I will just have to wait until spring when it's a bit warmer to take the outside shots.

I got a call from JJ sometime in mid-December telling me that the shield was nearly done. When it was done, he sent final shots before boxing it up and sending it to me. Again, JJ outdid himself in terms of the quality and sheer detail he puts into his work.

The front:

and the back:

I got the aspis on December 24th - what a wonderful Christmas present! It feels incredibly good and balanced in the hand - just like one of his swords.

JJ based the suspension closely on the movie shields, both from studying both the "behind the scenes" featurettes and also the Leonidas action figure. In the movie they used what appeared to be a canvas half-tube riveted to the back of the shield for the arm; the action figure uses what appears to be vinyl. He used stout leather for the half-tube and welded brackets to the inside of the shield, then bolted the half-tube to the brackets (avoiding having rivet heads showing on the front side of the shield). The bolts are covered by pieces of suede to make them look less obtrusive/old-fashioned, not modern. The handle appeared to be of metal (a rigid handle and not a strap) so he made one of steel that he welded to the inside of the shield.

And a movie factoid:

There's a part early in the '300' film that you might recall where young Leonidas is sitting with his father and they're looking at a spartan shield; the father knocks on the shield with his fist, and it makes a deep ringing metallic noise. During the commentary, one of the guys asks the director if that was a real shield because it made that noise, and the director says something like, "Oh, no the shield is plastic, we had to add the sound in post production." Well, MY shield really makes that cool sound without added sound effects, because it's metal.

Bring on those Persians!!!

Friday, December 26, 2008


Old habits die hard.

I've finally decided to do something that would have a number of my former elementary and high school teachers spinning in their graves at a rate that could power the country for a few decades.

I'm going to wear my shirt untucked (at least on some casual occasions).

Yep - it's amazing what baggage gets picked up during eight long years of catholic elementary school and four years of catholic high school.

They would be APPALLED. Absolutely horrified. The fabric of the cosmos is being torn asunder as I write this entry.

It all began in second grade with Sister Jane (more like BDSM Mistress Jane - now looking back) in getting us little ones ready for first Holy Communion. The primary order barked at us was "Keep those fannies off the seat!", followed closely by "Tuck in that shirt!" (we also had to perform standing, sitting and kneeling based on the number of 'clicks' the evil woman demanded of us with her Holy Hand Clicker of Antioch).

The "Tuck!" command was not aimed at me - but the commandment insinuated itself deep into my subconscious - "Thou shalt never wear thy shirt outside of thy pants!"

Along with a number of changes this 2008, I decided to try the forbidden fruit ... during a friend's holiday party, I wore a white shirt and jeans with a hoodie and by God, it felt marvelous! The fact that those shirttails were peeking out beneath the hoodie not only looked great, but felt great too!

Decadent. Wickedly sinful. Depraved. I can see Mephistopheles rubbing his hands together in glee.

I wonder if this is what Eve felt when she took that first bite ...

So this adds yet another notch on the belt of iniquitous things I've done this year.

Poor Sister Jane. I've succumbed to temptation at last.

And my fanny is firmly on the seat when I kneel.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Geek Break IV: Symbolic Math to the Rescue ...

For those of you that have been following the blog, I wanted to dispel any possible notions that after becoming adept at swordwork and archery, AND slimming down, AND being mistaken for a male model AND reveling in the rather chilly Spartan costume (pics to come!), that my IQ has somehow dropped into the two digit range and is more in line with my waist measurements.


which makes me think of a discourse involving Rene Descartes. Exasperated, he shouted at the offending oaf:

"X-squared + Y-squared equals one ... therefore, God exists. Refute That!"

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Anla'shok

It's done!

The last piece of the puzzle - a stylized belt buckle - was completed by Russ and was promptly shipped to Andrea for attachment to the belt/baldric.

Then I got it. Along with the rest of the outfit. Andrea performed her magic once more and I cannot believe how beautiful and comfortable the outfit is. Well, yes I can. After all, it is Andrea's work!

As to the details of the outfit:

The shirt - Andrea made a black twill body with the checked chevron lower sleeves and a brown/tan cowl. We were also able to find a dark brown, shimmery type of ribbon that edges the chevrons.

The tunic - an oatmeal-colored tunic with brown/tan striped inserts at the throat that highlight the cowl and serve as a base for the baldric. Again, we used the shimmery brown ribbon as highlights on this piece

The baldric/belt - one of the most incredible pieces of work Andrea has done to date. Dark brown material with the shimmery ribbon highlights, plus all the extra work she had done with attaching the belt buckle from Russ. I had asked him for something that incorporated some Minbari-ish sweeping curves with some Vorlon-ish organic elements. He did a beautiful job!

Here's a funny story - my buddy Tom and I are always talking that in modern society, it is extremely difficult to be decadent. Frivolous, self-indulgent or gauche, maybe, but not decadent. The ancient Romans had that perfected to an artform that we seem to have lost. Perhaps the last whiff of decadence was the Weimar Republic in the early twentieth century. My ring of Barahir was not considered decadent - that was an "investment". However, when he saw the custom sterling silver buckle (now remember, this buckle is about 5" square - it's HUGE!) with the mitsuro sculptured nebula and carved White Stars - and the price I paid for it - his eyes widened and he grinned. "You've done it - you've hit the low end of decadent." Woo-hoo!

The pants - are my leather swordmaster pants from Reg at Ravenswood Leather. I used these in my Aragorn costume. I liked the juxtaposition of lace-up leather pants in a twenty-third century Ranger, and to follow J. Michael Straczynski's homage to Lord of the Rings.

I love Russ' comment - "I have to say it. I really respect a man who can pull off leather pants."

The boots - my Han Solo boots from Caboots. These are wonderfully comfortable and go with so many periods and costumes.

The robe - again, going with canon, this is a long flowing robe with a black yoke and the patterned panels around the sides. It was a real pain to find the triangular fasteners, but we did! It turned out that combining two fasteners together was perfect! There was also a bit of "origami"-type folding work to get the back yoke properly placed.

And so, I have another wonderful outfit thanks to my material and metallic muses - Andrea and Russ!

Thanks guys!


I happened to go to a small con earlier this month as my Minbari Ranger. I received quite a number of compliments on the outfit. The best thing was, I had this one guy that kept staring at me from across the room. He finally came over and said, "I can't believe how f***ing incredible the badge and the belt look. That is what they should have been if we had had a bigger budget."

It was Dark Hoffman - one of the property masters who actually worked on the Babylon 5 series!!!

Wow! How's that for life imitating (and vastly outdoing) art!!!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors

Pre-Flight Checklist - Spartan

Leather Speedo
Cloak, Shoulder Harness and Brooch
Bronze Greaves
Bronze Vambraces
Bronze Helmet
Bronze Aspis Shield
Falcata Sword
Battle Totem to make a Persian soil his loincloth
Muscular Definition (enough for me!)
Mediterranean tan

I asked JJ for the aspis shield later in the costuming process, so I didn't expect to get it with the rest of the stuff. It took us a while to find shield blanks in the right size and shape for an accurate recreation. I'm a patient guy. The upside is I'm also getting a Boromir shield at the same time! Woo-hoo!

But the tan ... Ahhhh.
Now that presents a problem. You see, I am light-complexioned and tend to burn, rather than tan. SPF15 is my friend. Not nordic pale, nor fish-belly white (thank God!), but if I take off my shirt, you can see the considerable difference between my face and hands and the rest of me. (Does this, then, make me a type of redneck?) The color in my face, hands and lower arms is a pale gold.

My friend Mike is just the opposite. He's got a light olive complexion, but if he spends one lousy hour in the sun, he's got a killer tan that lasts for weeks. Damn him.

There's no way I'd go to a tanning salon - I have no intention of developing melanoma. Also, I don't want to prematurely age my skin, either.

And over-the-counter aerosol or rub-on tans are also something I wouldn't consider. I don't want to look like a variegated carrot with nicotine-colored palms. After all, if I spent this amount of time and effort to look like a Spartan, I'm not going to ruin it by getting a cheap tan.

That leaves me with a professional airbrush tan. I pass by this one place - the Spa Meridian - every day to work, so I decided to do some Googling and see if there was any reviews for them. It turns out they are basically a glorified nail salon that tries to do everything and winds up doing nothing well.

Some other information that I came across while looking for a reputable place was something called "sculpted airbrushing" - this involves using some slightly different tones to "accentuate the positive" - one guy on Yahoo! indicated that the place he used added the illusion of a slightly flatter stomach and hints of a six-pack. Nice ... Just what I'm looking for...

My Google search led me to Sundara Sunless Tanning. This is all that they do and they are listed as a 5-star establishment from New York Magazine. Sundara (which means "beautiful" in Sanskrit) does a customized color match to your skin - with me, I'd most-likely need a more golden color, rather than reddish-brown. I'd also be looking for something a bit more subtle than the picture to the left - I'd probably take the day off for the paint job and if I came in the next day with a savage tan, everyone would know something was afoot. I need to go in to Sundara for a consultation - I do have some questions that I'd like answered:

  1. Given my proclivity to eye infections, how is the spray applied to around the eyes?
  2. What about the normal face and neck shaving? Isn't this going to take the tan off quickly? Do they offer a take-home touch up for guys?
  3. Do I need to exfoliate all over first, or is that something that Sundara offers as part of the prep?

I've updated the checklist to include the aspis shield which I received on December 24!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


As I mentioned in my previous post, I am also the proud owner of a basket-hilt rapier. This serves dual duty for my pirate and generic swordsman outfits. As usual, my regular partners in crime were involved:

  • Reg - for the sword frog and the leather pirate vest
  • Andrea - for a splendid ruffled piratical shirt in sapphire blue linen
  • Joey - for the bucket boots
A few new "special guest appearances" were also involved. These included an ebay seller for the rapier itself, and for the sash in black satin with gold trim.

I've found now that I've reached a "critical mass" of costume articles, what I can do with them is really quite amazing. I have some Highlander/Swordsman-type shirts both from Reg and from Snowbirds Creations which when paired with a pair of long gauntlets, or archer's vambraces, can be used anywhere. The great thing is that everything I have is comfortable. I don't have a problem wearing anything for an extended period of time.

I think of all the costumes I've put together so far, this was the easiest; of course, I have the constant struggle with Reg and due dates, but after my Greg Podgorny fiasco, I've come to realize that late (and no prepayment) is better than never - even if I have to nag the guy. Andrea - well, what can I say about her that I haven't already? She is an absolute joy to work with. Joey and Priscilla of Caboots - great folks. These were a set of their "standard" boots which are more comfortable than sneakers.

After this was put together, I was able to add a few little "twists" to the costume. I purchased a mask from Greyland Films - a very famous (in the Czech Republic) film production company known for their realistic latex foam creations - and a Jack Sparrow wig/bandanna combination from eBay. The mask was supposed to be an American Indian, but works extremely well as a pirate. I went to two "Pirates of the Caribbean" parties and the masked and unmasked versions were both very well received.

Friday, June 27, 2008

... less high perhaps ...

Faramir. Brother to Boromir, son to Denethor and Finduilas, steward to Aragorn, Faramir rarely seems to stand just as himself. His character, too perfect in the book and perhaps too imperfect in the movie, is notoriously hard to grasp. Even his looks have been put into question: dark haired, grey eyed and beardless in the book, he is anything but in the movies.

I think, perhaps, that is one of the reasons why he appeals to me (and Andrea) so much. Even given the lifespan of a man of Westernesse, I doubt that you could truly ever understand every facet of this younger son of Gondor.

Here are some shots of Andrea's incredible HOH and Coronation outfits. Of course, JJ's armor doubles for both brothers ...

From the Houses of Healing (cotton velvet, silk dupioni, double gold stitching down the arms)

At Aragorn's coronation (silk velvet, silk dupioni, double gold embroidery with hand-sewn sequins and ruby glass beads at each intersection on the sleeves)

Thursday, June 26, 2008


In one of the comments I had in an earlier post, I was asked how my Strider outfit(s) came out. Thanks to my wonder workers (Andrea, Joey and Reg) the answer was (and still is) AMAZING.

I had a chance a few weeks back to put on the outfits and take pictures. I find it a bit of a surprise every time I put one of these costumes on just how comfortable it is - from the boots to the duster and cape. To some extent, I can attribute that to my being in good physical shape - however, I would never look this good if it wasn't for the folks that have been working with me for several years.

I tried to take as many of the Aragorn "timepoints" as I could. There are definitely times when it is difficult holding the camera remote and the sword!

At Bree:

At the River Anduin, just past the Argonath:

Leaving Lothrien:

Near the Falls of Rauros / Amon Hen:

The Fields of Rohan / The Paths of the Dead:

Helm's Deep:

Friday, June 20, 2008

You Can Never Go Back ...

Owning a commissioned sword is addictive -- you just can't get ONE.

There is a magnificent difference in the handling of JJ's Ranger sword and the other swords that I got through the Internet. It's not that they are bad - in fact the Boromir sword, the Spartan falcata, even the rapier (yes, I have a basket-hilt rapier too - the pirate outfit was so easy, it literally made itself - but I'll put a posting together for that!) feel solid in the hand, but JJ's sword just seems to be an extension of my arm. The Aragorn sword - from United Cutlery - looks great, but feels unwieldy and ill-balanced. That's what you get when you use stainless steel and a rat-tailed tang - great to hang on a wall, not so great to wield. And no real edge.

That's why I had him do a Faramir sword.

I already have a Faramir sword ... Reg sent it to me and did a nice job of leather dyeing the pommel and scabbard a leaf green color. But it still had that indefinable "cheap" quality that just sets my teeth on edge. So when I contacted JJ, I told him I wanted a "quality" Faramir sword good enough for a Steward's son. JJ - being a true Tolkien geek like myself - approached the commission with relish and we discussed some of the finer points of the blade and pommel. For example, the pommel has brass inlays and the intertwined ravens are beautifully executed. The sword itself is complete, and he's now working on the scabbard and suspension harness. I should have everything by mid-July.

And here are some shots of the finished sword (less the scabbard) - in the second picture, you can see the beautifully detailed intertwined ravens and the brass accents on the pommel.

And below is the completed sword with scabbard! The leather is a dark, weathered green, but it's not showing up as such in JJ's photo ...