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The female minis bringing LGBTQ and women’s history to light

Annie Norman, founder of tabletop mini maker Bad Squiddo Games, talks about the demand for female minis and uncovering hidden histories.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - my heroine, a shieldmaiden holding a woman in both arms

Annie Norman has spent seven years commissioning, manufacturing, and selling female minis in believable armor. I spoke to Norman to find out more about her company Bad Squiddo, her love of history, and how she’s using toy soldiers to share hidden stories from women’s and LGBTQ history.

According to its website, Bad Squiddo exists “to create and supply the miniatures that would have made the hobby far far better for my 10 year old self”, and its range includes historical, fantasy, sci-fi, and guinea pig miniatures. They’re hand-sculpted models with a slight old-school vibe, perfect for miniature wargames or, in the case of the fantasy ones, DnD miniatures. It’s only the subject matter that makes them stand out as at all unusual in the market.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - Viking shieldmaiden hearthguard

Wargamer: How did Bad Squiddo start?

AN: I wanted some shield maidens to play with in my own games. I thought if [trying to sell them] doesn’t work, at least I’ve got some figures that I can use. When I was getting figures for myself there was the choice as to which bikini to put them in, there wasn’t really an option outside of that.

I never wanted to take the bikini option away – it’s just more choice available.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - Soviet women tankriders

Which of your ranges sell the best?

Definitely the World War Two Soviets, which was one of the first big projects I did. I think that’s because World War Two is such a huge gaming platform in general, I guess people get bored with world war two painting exactly the same thing all the time. Whereas fantasy games, you’ve got all your different units and bits and bobs.

You have a range of minis depicting famous women from history – how did that start?

Originally I didn’t want to focus too much on specific women because it made it seem like [women in the military] was an anomaly. Throughout history sometimes it was a massive anomaly, but in other cases it wasn’t.

For example in Soviet Russia there’s two very famous ones, Lyudmila Pavlichenko the sniper, and Mariya Oktyabraskiya, she was a tank commander. She sent a letter to Stalin and said Can I have a tank, he said Yep, if you pay for it yourself. She had ‘fighting girlfriend’ written along the side.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - Lyudmila Pavlichenko, soviet sniper ace

Pretty much every role in the Soviet army had women in it; some might have had a lot, some might have had one. I felt that by naming [the figures I was selling] it would make it seem like Lyudmila was the only woman sniper, Mariya was the only tank commander.

But then I realised that people still wanted the named characters! I was selling packs and people would say: Do you have Pavlichenko? No, but I do have six snipers that could all be her. But they wanted the model with the name on the label. So once I realised that I started to focus on some specific named models, particularly when they were anomalies.

The problem with that was, if they were outside of a range, they could still be a really cool woman from history but not have a purpose in gaming and therefore wouldn’t sell. So I set up the ‘Community Miniatures’ project a couple of years ago. Everyone votes periodically for what the next figure is going to be and chucks a fiver in, like a mini Kickstarter.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - my heroine, a shieldmaiden holding a woman in both arms

You have a series of gay vignette miniatures – how did those come about?

It’s become a run-in joke with the sculptor that at the end of each Kickstarter we’d do a gay vignette. The first one I did was the shield maiden rescue. At the time I was doing all of the Dark Ages figures, and quite a few companies make a figure of a viking carrying off a kicking screaming lady. People see it as all a bit of a laugh…

That was enraging me, that it was fine to represent that. There’s a David Mitchell rant about it, “if there’s pillage then the rape’s okay”, [people treat it] as this sort of jovial historical thing.

So I wanted to make a consensual one. It’s called ‘My Heroine’. She’s just rescued her from a burning hut or something. It was based on a screenshot from a scene in Xena: The Warrior Princess.

I was still relatively new then, so I was unsure how My Heroine would go down. I was really surprised at the take-up. I don’t think I’ve heard a negative comment about it. I’ve found that a lot of older men were buying them, going ‘I have a gay niece and she’d really like it’. I’ve had people buy that one to paint up as a wedding topper as well.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - WW2, a woman and a female officer dance

You recently came out as a lesbian: do the gay vignettes have any special resonance for you?

They give me a nice sense of satisfaction, especially the World War Two ones, they make me really happy each time I look at them. There’s one of a Lady in the ATS and a woman in civilian clothing dancing. The one in the dress has nicked the hat off the other and put it on herself in a jokey way.

The other World War Two one is called ‘The Serenade‘. A woman playing a guitar at a campfire in all the gear, and another woman just enjoying it. There’s a sort of sadness tinged with it though.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - The Seranade vignette, a female Red Army soldier plays guitar to another female soldier

I read a lot more than just what the uniforms will look like to design a mini, just to get a bigger picture. I’ve read a lot of tales of people being gay in those times. There’s a mixture of sweetness and sadness – when you see old photos it’s sweet to see, but it’s also sad, because you know those people didn’t live their lives the way they would ideally have wanted to.

That said, I don’t want people to get the idea that just because you support a thing, you must be that thing. It just means you’re a human being that wants other human beings to have a good time. I joke about it, but I could have been making lesbian vignettes because they’re neat.

Female miniature by Bad Squiddo games - model of an Auxiliary Territorial Service servicewoman sitting on a park bench.

How does it feel to be shedding light on historical figures gamers might not know about?

I think it’s really important to tell those stories that people don’t know. I’m definitely not a World War Two expert – most of the people who are into the hobby that are into World War Two will know a lot more than I do.

But I know more specifically about the women’s history area. So it’s nice to be able to teach people that already know a lot about the subject something that they didn’t know.

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - Women's Army Auxiliary Corps

Trying to get representation into figures is hard, you don’t get a figure and say ‘Here is this figure’s sexual identity’. But you can put clues in, coding, and I try and make a big deal about women from history, gay women, all LGBT people basically. The more marginalised, the less chance people have of hearing about them.

In terms of hidden histories, what’s interesting to you at the moment?

I’m reading ‘Female Husbands’. A lot of the women in history I research disguised themselves as a man to fight. And there’s going to be a chunk of them who just really wanted to fight, and that’s what they had to do.

[You find] documents of a woman that dressed up as a man to fight in the army, then she married a woman, and carried on dressing as a man even though she didn’t need to. Statistically a group of those people have got to be trans-men.

That’s a whole other kind of representation that’s just been brushed aside. You can’t call it ‘erasure’ because you can’t say either way even when it’s documented, and people didn’t have the terms, but some authors flat out deny that it was even possible…

Female minis by Bad Squiddo Games - Josephine Baker, performer and French resistance agent

Are there any gay figures you particularly want to point out from your current or future range?

[French resistance agent and civil rights activist] Josephine Baker, she’s currently the only World War Two France figure we do. She was a performer in pre-World War Two Europe, which at the time was more liberal and free before it all suddenly shut down.

One of the bits I’m researching at the moment is Frida Belinfante who was part of the Dutch resistance. There was a group of gay people who resisted the Nazis and helped out Jewish people by making fake IDs. They realised that if someone started looking into the records it would be exposed, so they blew up 800,000 records in the Amsterdam municipal centre.

Willem Arondeus was the leader of that gang. He was captured and he was killed, and his last words were “Tell people that homosexuals are not cowards”.

Thanks Annie!

Wargamer: if you enjoyed this article, we have more features about LGBTQ experiences in tabletop gaming that are well worth your time.

Contributor Gab Hernandez makes the case that Warhammer 40k’s version of LGBTQ representation works because it’s so darn boring; Jack Trumbull argues that the Warhammer community still doesn’t feel safe for LGBTQ people; Amber Willmott says that DnD and other RPGs will always be a queer haven.