Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: The Starving Artist

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s irregular feature by the highly irregular BrickLink vendor Chris Byrne.  Please recall that Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his online store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last. What you’re about to read is as close to advertising as you’ll ever see on this blog of blogs. Chris was kind enough to include a discount for you guys, even though I told him it was a terrible idea and begged him not to.  So if you have any burning questions you’ve always wanted to ask a BrickLink vendor, have at it in the comments.

Use the phrase MANIFESTO at checkout to get 10% off your BrickLink order at www.bricksonthedollar.com

Without any further ado, take it away Chris!

I bet you thought I was dead. Nope, just worked to death. Last we spoke, I had opened my retail store Warminster Brick Shop and was pulling myself out of debt caused by an all-too-comfortable BrickLink path. Opening the store was just what I needed to turn everything around. I now have a steady stream of used parts from the store which are going into my BrickLink store, several ongoing consignors for my Fulfilled By Clutch program selling your parts in my BrickLink store, and I am living debt-free. There is one reckless path that I am still following though, and that is the subject of this post. My LEGO Artwork passion project which has not, and may never pay for itself. The AFOL Poster Subscription Service.

Every month since January of 2017 I have commissioned artists from around the world to produce an original piece of art that I can sell in poster form. The prompt is simple, “pick a LEGO set and re-imagine it in your own style.” I have released 25 posters from 19 different artists and there are many more to come. Unfortunately, my tallest hurdle in this project has been getting these posters in front of the right eyes. There are plenty of AFOLs, but how many of you would really buy a very nice piece of paper instead of just buying more bricks? But perhaps I am being to harsh. Who has wall space for 25 different 11″x17″ posters? I tend to produce goods and services that I myself would enjoy as a customer. While I would buy (almost) all of these posters for myself, I can’t expect every AFOL to love or even like most of them. If I am to settle for AFOLs buying their favorites, then I just need a wider range of buyers being aware of the releases.

Something interesting happened about a week ago. I was feeling proud of my latest poster release and I was feeling the crush of MailChimp’s monthly fees weighing on my lack of motivation to send out emails. I sent out an email to my list with a simple message: here’s my October 2018 poster and here’s a link to buy it. It was either the art itself, the direct, in-your-face way of presenting a call to action, or a combination of both. I sold a bunch. I’ll be doing that more often. I’m also signing that artist on to do a suite of posters in the next year.

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I started this project because I had always been fascinated by the artwork of the Surma Brothers. They were featured on The Brothers Brick & The New Elementary a few years ago and they later had a spread in Bricks Culture Magazine. Marcin and Przemek Surma of Poland have created over 100 pieces of art following the same prompt. In 2015 they went on a hiatus from their LEGO-themed art. I craved more. In starting my poster series, I managed to book Marcin to do my March 2017 poster for Sail N’ Fly Marina, cementing my place in the LEGO art selection…as far as a google search goes.

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To be honest, I really don’t know how to make this project turn a profit. I would definitely have quit by now if bringing new LEGO Art to the world on a monthly basis wasn’t so thrilling to me. What was there before I started having these created? The Surma Brothers, the art of Guido Kuip, and the Ice Planet 2002

artwork that I know you saw at least once by Blizzard artist Luke Mancini. If there are more artists who have been creating artwork like this with a LEGO theme, please let me know, but I found there to be a real lack of choices in late 2016. All of my posters are available individually or through a monthly subscription. I would also like to put out a coffee table book which would feature all of the artwork to date, the rough drafts, info on the artists, and depictions of the original LEGO sets. I have a feeling that the book will sell better than the posters and may quite possible be the thing that pays for the art, making the poster sales the supplemental income for the project.

So now you know why I do it. All there is left to do now is to check out the artwork that has been released so far and provide me feedback. What do you like, what do you hate, who would you like to see create my next poster? As always, all can be seen at bricksonthedollar.com or more specifically for this article, afolposter.com.

When next I write you, it will be about the LEGO T-shirt subscription that Kevin Hinkle and myself have been producing for 5 months now.

Chris Byrne

Shout-out: Return of the Twees

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After dusting off my membership card, it appears that I still have writing privileges here, although I have no article for you constant readers this time. I come instead bearing news of the return of fellow important laygo blag, Twee Affect. While the rest of the laygo community was yabba-dabba-do-ing over the latest Lego Ideas announcement, I was diligently checking their web site’s home page until the action on my F5 key loosened like an AWFOL’s purse strings at the prospect of a new Star Wars miniature figure. Poasts at the Affect over the last couple of years have been few and far between (something it has in common with this blag) but the past week has seen a barrage of new content with the promise of more to come. While short, the Affect’s art-icles often address topical issues in the hobby, interspersed with valuable insights about soap. Just the intellectual medicine that this community desperately needs, but probably doesn’t deserve.

The current resurgence comes courtesy of Kevoh, who writes from the perspective of a man playing catch up with MOCs he’s missed from his past few years of inactivity. I’m sure the ever-discerning readership of the Manifesto will get a kick out of his musings in the absence of Manifesto content (speaking of inactivity, the cobwebs around here are now officially SHIP-sized). One of Kevoh’s latest poasts concerns the supposed lack of interaction in the laygo community, and I hope you prove him wrong by offering some valued opinions.

After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018

Mike Rutherford  returns to blogging, with his unique observations concerning the recent Bricks LA convention. Without further ado, take it away, Rutherford!

I love After Action Reviews.  They are one of the first things any U.S. soldier experience.  You practice some task over and over.  Then you execute that task under stressful conditions, usually involving a lack of sleep, a lack of information, and a lack of time.  You execute this task while another group of people pretend to be your mortal enemy (an opposing force, or OPFOR), harassing you, disrupting your efforts, and exploiting your laziness or your lack of attention to detail… steeling unguarded equipment… kidnapping hapless team members who wander off to pee behind a tree… engaging in all manner of mischievous behavior (oh, and also “killing you” in accordance with the rules of the training event).  All this goes on while dispassionate “Observer Controllers” (evaluators) watch, check the time, and scribble in their notebooks.  By the end of the event, your entire team is ragged, sleepy, cranky, and often smelly.

With the exception of that dam OPFOR, the whole deal resembles what a Lego Convention staff goes through.   At least at the several conventions I have attended…

Well, in a training event, the end of the event is the precise moment when a well-run After Action Review is crucial.     An AAR is a semiformal discussion here all the participants discuss the event.  The guys who executed the task, the pretend bad guys (OPFOR), and of course the Observer Controllers.  And in a good AAR, it really is EVERYBODY who participates.  From the lowest ranking soldiers to the commanders.   If you were there… and you did a thing, or saw a thing, or are responsible for a thing… you better be ready to discuss the event.   Because the harsh crucible of experience has taught us all that “even the little guy” might be the one to see that one crucial detail that resulted in success of failure.

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It also has to happen quickly.  Right after the training event.  Before you change into dry cloths, or pack up your gear, or get back to the unit headquarters.  Before you get a good night’s sleep.  Before your memory fades, and before your mind replaces uncomfortable knowledge with more pleasing versions of what went down.  With a good AAR, you need to strike while the iron is hot.  While people are still stinging from the errors that were made, or still glowing from the satisfaction of getting it right.  Quick, clear, concise.   Because in a week… most of these lessons will be forgotten.  The important lessons must be captured in writing quickly, and organized for detailed review in the weeks and months before the NEXT training event.  THAT is how improvement occurs.  Shit.  Guess I should have written faster…

Continue reading “After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018”

73 Questions (Blog or Die! Entry #21)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Cameron (-Primus-)

Word Count: 3,218

Judge’s Notes:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 8:41 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  In fact, I somehow lost it and had to be reminded by the author himself earlier today.  My apologies good sir, I was asleep at the wheel!  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

** This is the last official entry, the deadline has come and gone.  Formal reviews of each submission will follow throughout the week and final results will be posted no later than (Sun, Jan 21), in a dedicated article that will include every review for easy comparison.

*** To all the intrepid writers, interviewees and comic designers of the Blog or Die! contest I thank you for your participation, effort, skill, entertainment and patience. The Manifesto salutes you!

It’s en Vogue

 

Because I haven’t seen many (if any) entrants into the interview category, I figured I’d give it a go, constant reader. And what’s a better way to structure an interview than to parrot the style of a popular magazine (Vogue)? Or at least, I think it’s a popular magazine? IDK, my girlfriend reads it. As a forewarning, this is gonna be a long (but hopefully enjoyable) article, constant reader. It may even give Rutherford a run for his money.

Anyway, here’s 73 QUESTIONS, featuring the illustrious Jayfa.

  1. What’s your online handle? Jayfa
  2. What’s your IRL handle? Joss F. Woodyard
  3. What’s your age? 20
  4. What’s your location? Newcastle, Australia
  5. Are you in school/college right now? University Conservatorium of Music, Newcastle (University of Newcastle)
  6. What do you study? Bachelor of Music
  7. If I wanted to find your works, where would I look? @jayfa_mocs on Instagram; Jayfa on Flickr
  8. How long have you been building with LEGO? Probably since I was 5 years old or so. My parents tried getting me into Lego even earlier but I wasn’t interested until my older brother got a Bionicle for his birthday and I was like “I need that.” And from that point onward I’ve kinda been consistently into it.
  9. What’s your secret to taking Instagram by storm? Probably just posting frequently, responding to critiques, getting consistently better over the course of the year. There’s probably a bit more to it than that.
  10. What’s your favorite LEGO theme currently? Probably Elves, honestly. Like, I don’t buy it for the sets but the parts they come with are so, so good.
  11. What was your favorite Lego theme previously? I mean, that’s pretty obvious. It’s always been Bionicle whenever it’s out. I was so stoked when Bionicle came back in 2015. I bought ever single set over the course of the two years. That includes ones that weren’t even released in Australia.
  12. What’s your favorite MOC of yours? Um, it’s probably a tossup between Dagon & Dragonfly

 

  1. Why are they your favorite? Dagon it’s kind of just been my golden goose and everyone seems to have liked it. Dragonfly I feel like is one of my most solid and well-built MOCs in a long time. because it seems
  2. What’s your favorite MOC of someone else’s? One of my favorite MOCs I’ve ever seen is Kulgai by Brickthing. I thought that was so cool when I first saw it:

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  1. Why is it your favorite? It was like before I seriously got into MOCing that I saw it. Seeing his MOCs is what really pushed me to do more MOCing (I only just started posting to the Internet in 2016). What really impressed me was his parts usage, I thought it was cool that he used mermaid tails as leaves. Just really clever parts usage.
  2. What your favorite MOC of mine? Easily the Midnight Dragon

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  1. Why is it your favorite? It’s one that I remember seeing a very long time ago and I always thought it was so goddamn cool and I’ve always been a sucker for parts-spam MOCs. Like, before I knew Bricklink existed it was such a weird, foreign concept to me and like seeing someone do it was like really surreal. Also I just really love that old gold color.
  2. What’s one thing you’re looking to improve in 2018, MOC-wise? Mostly polish on my MOCs because a lot of the time this year I kinda rolled them out without sitting back, looking at it and thinking “OK, are there any last things I want to do this?” Which is why I’ve updated so many MOCs throughout the year as I wasn’t happy with their build.
  3. What’s one thing you’re looking to improve in 2018, not MOC-wise? Probably just being more committed at University.
  4. What’s one thing you’re looking to do less of in 2018? I can’t really think of anything for that, can’t think of any one thing I’m looking to do less of. Being lazy? Do less of being lazy?
  5. What’s one thing you’re looking to do more of in 2018? MOCing, honestly. I’m just going to be doing that all the time. It’s just so much fun. It’s a great escape from everything.
  6. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about building? Honestly, COLOR BLOCKING. It was pretty late in the year that the concept of color blocking was made apparent to me and since then I feel like my builds have gotten incrementally substantially better.
  7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever given about building? Personally, it’s to be open to criticism and be receptive to it, even if you don’t listen to it to a T.
  8. How do you feel when people criticize your MOCS? I LOVE IT. I will take a really in-depth, harsh criticism any day over a “WOW, nice MOC!” I live for those critical comments so if you got them, please give them to me.
  9. Do you think criticism is helpful when it comes to MOCing? Without a doubt, yes.
  10. Why? There are just some things that you don’t pick up yourself, ya know? Like, there are some things that you overlook when you look at a MOC long enough, you just kinda get used to the way it is in front of you. It can be really really helpful when someone points out that the arms are too short or there is a gap that you might have missed.
  11. Do you often criticize other people’s MOCs? Hell yeah, ratblasting for the win.
  12. Do you think they appreciate it? Most people actually do, and I really like that about this community, especially the small community we have on Master Piece because a lot of the people there are really really open to criticism and are aware of how much it helps them, which I think is really good.
  13. Do you think criticism is healthy for the Bionicle community? I do, yes. I feel like more people should be open to it.
  14. Do you think that the best builders are ones who can take and give criticism? I don’t necessarily think you have to be good at giving criticism to be a good builder but definitely you need to be able to take it.
  15. Do you think that builders that actively ignore constructive criticism are shooting themselves in the foot?
  16. Why? Because it just hinders you as a MOCist. IT’s a barrier, if you will.
  17. Do you think I’m asking a lot of targeted questions? No comment
  18. It’s almost like I have an agenda, isn’t it? No comment,
  19. Do you think that the Bionicle community is more critical than the overall Lego community? Well, I can’t really say so because I’m not really that in with the overall Lego community. Most of the time though I only see the “WOW, Nice MOC!” comments that I talked about earlier, but I’m sure there are a lot of niche subsections where people can get good criticism.
  20. Why? I can’t really judge as I’m not that involved yet.
  21. As a relative newcomer to the community, what do you think has been the biggest boon on your building and why is it criticism? I remember when I first posted a MOC to the TTV message boards, which was the first place I had ever posted anything, it was my self-MOC, and I was like “This is the best thing I’ve ever made and probably ever will make, it’s so good” and when I posted it half the comments were about how certain parts of it looked like ass. At first I was pretty salty, but then I kept posting more and more MOCs and got more and more criticism and decided to finally start listening to some of it and I got better. I got better fast.
  22. Can you name a recent MOC of yours that I can feature it in this blog? I’m probably going to have my Queen Phosperantidae [note: I hope I didn’t butcher that spelling] posted by the time you post this entry so might as well plug that one. [additional note: at the time of this article’s writing he still has not posted the MOC, so the Keithlug audience is getting an exclusive sneak-peak]

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(Image credit: Jayfa)

  1. Please describe this MOC to me: That’s not really a question? Anyway, I bought Nocturn [At this point just assume all of the bracketed bits are notes: Nocturn is an old Bionicle set] about a year ago and it finally arrived before Christmas [shout out to the Australian Post] and when it got here I realized how much I fuckin love glow-in-the-dark pieces. So I decided I was going to order as many of them as I could find from one Bricklink seller. And then I decided I was going to build something with them and this was the result.
  2. What meaning do you derive from this MOC? That’s a weird question. What meaning do I derive from it? It’s a fun build using more old parts than usual.
  3. Do you think this was a successful MOC? I posted it in Master Piece and people seemed to like it there and I’ve posted it on Facebook and they absolutely adored it there, so I’m gonna say it’s been pretty successful so far. We’ll see how it goes when I post it to Instagram and Flickr.
  4. How do you define successful MOCs? Well, honestly, the amount of attention it gets on social media is kinda secondary to me as to what the people I respect as builders think of it. That’s like the biggest thing for me. If I can get someone that I really look up to and take lots of inspiration from to leave a comment on a MOC and say they really like how it turned out, that’s like, that’s what really means a lot to me.
  5. So then you think success is gained via respect of your peers and not through self-awarded accolades? Respect of your peers, easily. I don’t need other people to validate my success, but it sure helps.
  6. Who do you think are the 3 most successful Bionicle Builders in the past year (you can include yourself)? For starters, I suppose I wanna say Alex Park because he’s been whipping the last couple of months of 2017. He’s really starting to pull himself together and I really love the style of his builds recently. He’s been listening to a lot of good criticism, which is really important. I mean, obviously DJOKSON is up there as well, because like, he’s been around for a long time but he still posts so consistently and builds at such a consistent quality, which I really admire. And I can say the same about Red as well. I have been loving what Red has been putting out.
  7. Name a MOC of one of theirs that you’d like to discuss? Kinda leading off of that last question, I’d like to talk about Red’s Chaz Chokkuthruz the Greatspear of the Lizardfolk

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  1. Why did you pick this MOC? Just because it really embodies the use of retro parts. And it’s not even just Bionicle retro parts, there’s like a few really groovy System parts put in there. Like, all of the parts used are from the same era, and it feels so wholesomely representative of that time and yet it is so, so well done.
  2. Do you derive any worth from this MOC? I mean, yeah, I think it’s an inspiration. It’s very well done in concept and execution.
  3. Does it matter to you if this MOC has a storyline? Not really, honestly.
  4. Why? It’s kinda neat to see some kind of background to a MOC every now and then. I’ll be like “Oh that’s cool that they thought that out,” but it’s definitely not necessary for a good MOC. I consider it like two separate hobbies really. By all means if you like to write and you like to MOC then go for it, but I don’t think you need to have one to do the other.
  5. Does it matter to you if this MOC has more than one picture shown? Not really, I don’t mind if MOCs only have one photo as long as it’s a good photo.
  6. Why? I personally suck at doing that because I feel like I want to show off my MOC’s poseability, but if it is meant to be a statue, which is totally fine if it is, then it’s totally fine to have just one photo.
  7. Do you think that you have a distinct MOCing style? Not really, honestly. I can vary in styles a lot, mostly because when I build I tend not to mix System, CCBS, and Bioncle all at once. I kinda just pick two of them at a time, which I think can lead to very varied looking stuff. That’s just my opinion though, to others I might have a very distinct style.
  8. In 3 words or less, describe your MOCing style? I can’t say this without sounding like a pretentious asshole, but “Varied and Unique.”
  9. Do you think I have a distinct MOCing style? I think back in the day you kinda did, like if I look at your older stuff from the early 2010’s and older, it’s very clear you did. It’s really interesting to see how much your style has changed and you’ve been branching out with your past few MOCs, but I really like that. Nice to see more color usage too haha.
  10. In 3 words or less, describe my MOCing syle? Builds Black Robots
  11. Can you name a MOC of mine that you’d like to discuss? I’m just gonna say the teal TechnicFig dude with wheel feet

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(Image link)

  1. Why did you pick that MOC? I just thought it was so cool because it was the first time I’d seen TechnicFigs used in a Bionicle MOC and I just thought it was done really well.
  2. What stands out to you the most about that MOC? The proportions of it, the way you posed it is really dynamic, and I’m also a sucker for the teal pieces. Thank god that’s coming back.
  3. Do you think constructive criticism from my peers helped me while I made that MOC? I can’t speak for you but I’m guessing so, yes.
  4. Do you have any constructive criticism to give me for that MOC? It would have been good if you had edited out the technic cams you used to hold it up or used a clear piece instead.
  5. These are a lot of questions, aren’t they? YES, it certainly is.
  6. Why do you make so many serpent MOCs? I built the first one, it was successful and it was a lot of fun. And I feel like the elves pieces really helped it out. The second one I made was originally going to be a different creature but then the head worked out really well so I was like “yea, I’m going to make another one of these.” I’m probably going to make an orange one that’s a lot bigger at some point if I have the time and money.
  7. And when you’re not making serpents, why did you start doing the Plague Mech series? For the first Plague Mech, I took inspiration from Astorix’s Mizaka. It was an older MOC but the way the cheese slope pieces were used was really really cool and I wanted to try it out myself. I just started making a torso and it looked really cool and then I made some really gangly-ass robot limbs for it. I struggled with the head but eventually settled for this bug like head. And people really liked it. The second one kinda happened by accident and then I was like “You know what, I might as well start making more of these things because people tend to like them.”
  8. You wouldn’t happen to have a collage of the Plague Mechs would you? I do, I will send it you after the interview is done

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(Image Credit: Jayfa)

  1. Do you think you’ll be able to complete the whole series? I really hope so, and if I don’t do it myself I’m probably gonna do it with help from other people who will make contributions and stuff. Which I really like the idea of because a lot of people seem to be keen to givin it a shot for themselves.
  2. Do you think constructive criticism has helped you with the making of these MOCs? Abso-fuckin-loutely. Like, if you look at Dragonfly V1 versus his most recent interation, the difference is ridiculous, all because I listened to the criticism people gave me.

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(Image Link, latest version on the left)

  1. Do you plan to continue to listen to constructive criticism? Certainly do.
  2. Do you plan on still giving constructive criticism? Yeah, it’s fun, and very rewarding if you like come up with something someone else hadn’t seen in a MOC and they take it to heart and it makes their MOC a million times better, I’m all for that.
  3. What would you criticize about this interview? That it was early in the morning and I stayed up til a ridiculous hour last night so I’m a bit drowsy.
  4. What would you praise about this interview? Some good questions here, lots of thought provoking ones. And I’m enjoying the dig in on criticism.
  5. Do you think I’ll hit my minimum word count halfway through this interview? Probably. I hope so.
  6. Do you think you still need to prove yourself as a builder? Yes, honestly. There are a couple of “big dogs” in the community, if you will, that I feel like aren’t totally on board with me yet, which I totally understand. A lot of the people that are like, more well known in the community have been around for a very long time and it’s a very tight-knit community, so I think that will come with time.
  7. And finally, is there anything you want to say to the fans or friends out there reading this? To my friends, I just wanna say that I thank you all so much for the support that you’ve given me throughout this past year and just for being on board with this hobby of mine. As for the fans, thank you so much for actually liking my stuff and getting me to where I am now. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of you. I love you all very much.

So, there you have it, constant reader. Assuming you’ve made it this far (holy shit that word count), thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. Also I have done my best to parse through his amazing accent in order to transcribe Joss faithfully.

 

 

Bionicle and System (Blog or Die! Entry #20)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Ballom Nom Nom

Word Count: 1,630

Judge’s Notes:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:15 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

Bionicle and System

 

…Oh yes, another dogged entry bleating about Bionicle, I can already hear the prospective reader saying. Egad! And yes, I do not deny this claim, other than seeking the indulgence of the noble reader and entreating them to persevere, in the hope that what follows will be worth their while. Should discussion of Bionicle not play this role, I note that the paragraphs below, somewhere, contain a pony.

And now, onward!

Long denigrated as the ugly sibling of the beautiful swan of System, the style of building collectively described under the umbrella of Bionicle (alternatively known as Barnacle, Bonkle, Bonko, Bonk, etc. among aficionados) is in fact greatly underappreciated in the wider Lego community. However, its adherents rightfully know it to be a dazzling and wonderful medium, whose expression can be used for constructing the breathtaking profusion of forms such as armored humanoid robots and slightly different armored humanoid robots. And, indeed, such expression of the art of Lego building, while clearly not of an identical nature to construction centered about System, nevertheless has its own captivating charm. One sufficiently enlightened in its nuances and subtlety can even recognize it as the superior to System.

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(image credit: the author)

The intrepid reader who is still with me after the preceding sentence may doubt the veracity of the last bold claim — perhaps even shocked! However, I hope to subsequently show the foundation for these ambitious claims, and moreover seek to inform the esteemed reader who may be heretofore tragically unaware of Bionicle and its wondrous superiority to System.

Let’s begin by turning our attention to the basic characteristics of the parts associated with the medium of Bionicle. The quadrilaterally-formed, right-angle-dominated elements of System (whether studly or smooth) these are not — our first category of parts is derived from the Bionicle line of sets produced by the Lego Group from 2001 to 2010. In their unique constituents are a variety of oddly studless parts.

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(image credit: the author)

Several ways of subdividing these Bionicle parts manifest: first, those featuring balls and sockets for the limbs and joints of the robotic Bionicle creature. Extending from the foundation laid by Technic ball-and-socket creature constructions, the parts have specialization and into parts to be used for limbs, necks, and areas built with a range of motion. Typical uses range across the panoply of limbs, from gorilla-like arms to gorilla-like legs, and in exceptional cases orangutan-like arms.

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(image credit: Bricklink)

Second, parts used for providing armor, bulk, and details to the Bionicle sets. Clawed feet, ornate breastplates, wide paneling, rows of spines, and an array of weapons and swords. Here one sees the greatest breadth of Bionicle parts — which the astute reader notes still pales in comparison to the number of System elements — but this is no matter. As a matter of fact, it is a point of advantage.

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(image credit: Bricklink)

Third, masks: parts central to the complex Bionicle mythos (the details of which may be exhaustively perused throughout million-paged Bionicle wikis, should drying paint be unavailable for amusement). Other than each featuring a face of some sort, the informed reader may generally regard these as similar to the second category.

bionicle_mask.jpg

(image credit: Bricklink)

There are two further-defining characteristics of the parts described above. The first is more incidental: an association with the Technic part system, with connections for Technic pins and axles in lieu of studs and antistuds. The second is more fundamental to what I claim is the aesthetic of Bionicle: parts with complex shapes, which deviate from System bricks in having curved and rounded shapes throughout as opposed to having at most one or two faces of the part, as System slopes and other elements tend to. Parts which vary significantly in thickness and texture, such as for accommodating a ball or socket, or spikes, or various other greebles and decorations — for, as was conventional wisdom for The Lego Group during the turn of the millennium, the Bionicle-constructed character must be riddled with greebles! Parts which could be described with terms such as non-Euclidean, and others shared by mathematicians and Lovecraft alike, which I will forbear from using at length. Parts which, in a word, are interesting in ways that the humble brick of rectilinear shape is not. (Dare I even use the appellation unique? I dare not, good reader).

Let’s continue on to the other category of parts associated with Bionicle builds — pieces under the umbrella of the Character and Creature Building System (hereinafter CCBS), which appeared in themes such as Hero Factory (the spiritual successor to Bionicle), the Ultrabuilds created for themes such as Legends of Chima and Star Wars, and Bionicle’s fleeting resurrection. This system retains ball-and-socket parts, with sets built around a core of parts similar to technic beams with incorporated ball joints and sockets. Atop this skeleton, smooth, symmetric shells attach by sockets. Extensions attach to these shells by their sole other connection point of paired rod holes.

bionicle_ccbs

(image credit: Bricklink)

Our long-suffering reader — for whom I salute the fortitude of, to persist even this far in a discussion of Bionicle — may perchance be curious how such parts are related to those addressed before, other than the superficial similarity of appearing in the Bionicle theme. And it is true that the general aesthetic differs significantly from the greebled, complicated designs of older Bionicle. However, the pleasingly varied shapes of the curved shells, and the skeletal elements intended for ball-and-socket connections allowing movement and varied angles remain. And so, with this core intact, both can be categorized under the inclusive umbrella of Bionicle.

And so, with a hurricane overview of the tools a… ahem… Bionicle builder may employ — which I note are essential to the style and when used in abundance can clearly characterize a creation with the label Bionicle — I may now more successfully contrast with System. As hinted at before, the collective whole of parts deemed indisputably “Bionicle” is a quantity much smaller than the bafflingly large array of System parts. Even if I ignore in the comparison the rarely used parts in each category, putting aside even favorites such as the beloved System camel head and the adorable Bionicle rubber squid ammunition, System still dominates by an enormous margin. (I leave the exact counting for this comparison as an exercise to the discerning reader.) This difference may be claimed by some to be a weakness of the Bionicle-based system, but I assert it to be in fact a strength!

In building with Bionicle, there exists the true struggle of the artist against an unyielding and uncompromising medium, the likes of which are not found in using System. The Sisyphean struggle with odd angles and parts make the success of a completed build all the sweeter, the qualities of the result appreciated all the more keenly, while there is less joy to be found in a more easily accomplished System build. What artistry is there to be had in immediately having available System parts for whatever is desired to be constructed? What character in a sterile build of System that all too easily presents a near-perfect facsimile of the intended design? Compare this to one of Bionicle, which demands ingenuity from the observer, to look past the greebled parts, the textures and gaps to glimpse the true intention of the builder shining through. To be sure, there is beauty in verisimilitudinous System constructions. But the System creation presents all the weaknesses of perfection, while the Bionicle creation wields the might of its deformities — especially given the handicaps it reflects.

Too, there is also how the fewer-dimensional System elements, interlocking as they do, are static and immutable, unlike the malleable forms resulting from ball-and-socket connections. This is a notable dereliction on the part of System, but owing to the age of the venerable brick, from a time where such mobility was not so prized, I ignore this fault with a passing mention, to keep this comparison sporting.

However, this digression does lead inexorably to discussion of the quintessential Bionicle work — the Toa (a foreign word meaning “man who stands yonder”). A treatment of Bionicle without be remiss without such a mention of the fundamental object of study. These armored, humanoid, robotic and certainly not coat-wearing warrior figures touch the very core of the medium. Detractors may insinuate that a strong focus on the same works does not show flexibility. But a fixation with a particular muse is not inflexible or smallminded at all. A Bionicle creator’s enchantment with the nuances of Toa is akin to the reverence past master artists had for favorite works – think of Monet and the haystacks, or Renoir and the lily.

Which leads to my final point, about character. By enshrining humanoids, robots, and Toa, as well as other popular Bionicle forms such as creatures and animals, there is a wealth of character demonstrated, from the builds’ expressiveness to their articulation. Is such character exhibited by System builds? Not in the basic and uninspiring grey castle, nor in the drab two tones of Classic Space, nor in faceless armies of soldiers, nor in porcupine-studded aircraft – No! It is in builds defined by a system where character as become foundational. Builds steeped in the Character and Creature Building System.

And so, patient reader, as this comes to a close, I trust that the agreement on the conclusion is unanimous. Bionicle is, of course, the clear superior of System – there is no contest. In fact, in comparison System may sometimes seem to barely be Lego, with its sea of parts that often resemble third-party components. Only the glorious Bionicle, crafted from its slender selection of parts, may truly ascend to the pinnacle of the Lego art.

bionicle_victory.jpg

(image credit: the author)

Author’s note: I regret to say there is not a pony, due to budget constraints.

A Conversation with Dan Kees (Blog or Die! Entry #19)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: LettuceBrick (Nice Try)

Word Count: 1,906

Judge’s Note:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:10 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

A Conversation with Dan Kees

 

With whom? I’m glad you asked. Dan Kees is the owner of PromoTec Specialty Printing, purveyors of, well, specialty printing. Oh, and he also prints custom designs on all manner of Lego for all manner of clients. And to top it all off, he builds! So without further ado, enough blather and on to the interview.

Screenshot-2018-1-16 PromoTec Specialty Printing.png

The Standard Questions

LB: How did you get into Lego as a child and/or adult? What keeps you interested?

DK: I probably had some type of building blocks since birth.  I had DUPLO as a baby and never remember a time without LEGO. I got my first standard LEGO set when I was five, and it’s all I ever wanted after that. I probably entered my dark ages around age 16 or so. I actually brought all my LEGO to college but only pulled it out a couple times. When LEGO joined the force with Star Wars in 1999, I was drawn back in big time, and have been building ever since. I stay interested as an AFOL because of the high stress job I have owning my own business.  LEGO works as a great stress reducer. It’s just plain fun! Another major aspect of the hobby for me now is the community. I’ve made some great friends through LEGO clubs and conventions.

LB: What are your main areas of focus when it comes to building?

DK: My wife and I put on a large LEGOWEEN display every year, so that takes up a lot of my building. I always like to make at least one large “Wow” MOC each year. Those have included a working roller coaster, a large castle, and 55 Central Park West…otherwise known as Dana’s apartment building from Ghostbusters. I don’t really have a favorite theme. I’m often inspired by a single piece and just go from there.

LB: Describe your acquisitive process and how it relates to your building.

DK: I always try to avoid buying a lot of sets, though LEGO makes that very difficult. They keep releasing such cool sets that really appeal to the AFOL community. My main budget goes to Bricklink where I buy thousands of parts for our Halloween display every year.

LB: Do you use your own printed items in creations? Other third party products?

DK: Yes and Yes. When I first started printing, I made a lot of woodgrain tiles. I use these extensively in my MOCs. However, I rarely print anything new for builds. I use a lot of custom minifigs and accessories from companies like BrickArms and BrickForge.

The Printing Questions

LB: You run a printing business which also involves Lego pieces. How did you get into printing onto Lego? Is there an engraving component as well?

DK: I’ve worked in the printing business for almost 30 years. When I first joined BayLUG, I printed some LEGO business cards for fun. I went to my first convention that same year and was really introduced to the concept of custom printed bricks. I instantly thought…hey, I could that!  I got the word out and had multiple customers overnight. I do not do any engraving, just digital and pad printing.

LB: Are there any specific challenges that Lego presents that other materials do not? Or is printing on Lego easier?

DK: Printing on LEGO is actually pretty easy. They are made from ABS plastic which accepts ink very well. They are also very consistent, which makes them easy to print in bulk…especially when printing bricks. We can interlock them in stacks and print a large quantity very quickly.  The challenge comes from running a large variety of elements. Bricks and tiles are easy, but we also print all the way around minifigs. That can get a little tricky.

LB: I assume the customer provides the design and the materials. What challenges do you face in reconciling the two and what is the most challenging Lego printing job that you’ve faced?

DK: Fortunately, we deal mostly with large custom brick resellers. They typically send artwork that is accurate and well laid out. They also understand the limitations of the process. Some less experienced customers will draw extremely detailed designs that look great on screen. However, when you shrink them down to a 16mm wide minifig torso…they don’t work so well.  Minifigures are by far the trickiest jobs. As the industry develops, people want more and more detail as well as full wrap printing. Keeping things lined up over large runs is very difficult.

LB: I know you participated as a vendor for at least one Lego convention. How did that experience compare with your more usual method of sale?

DK: Vending at a convention was tricky, because I missed so much of the convention. I quickly realized I was not cut out for retail. I really enjoy printing more than selling individual parts.

LB: What is the future of custom Lego printing for you and the market in general?

DK: The future of custom LEGO printing is really in the digital process. There are a few of us pad printing parts, which is the process that LEGO uses. Pad is great if you want your custom parts to look like LEGO made them. However digital opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with raised effects, unlimited color options, and filling in nooks and crannies that pad printing cannot accommodate. Our ratio of digital orders to pad is probably 50:1. I don’t see any end in sight for custom printing. As 3D printing and desktop UV inkjet printers come down in price, I think we’ll see a lot more people getting into custom parts and printing. I’m excited to see what the next generation comes up with.

LB: To what extent and with what rigor do you separate “hobby Lego” and “work Lego”?

DK: There is a hard and fast rule that my work and personal stock shall not mix! On the rare occasion that I supply parts for a client, I always buy them “New” from Bricklink or LEGO PAB. Some parts are inevitably ruined when used at work.

 

The Community Questions

LB: How important is the Lego community both online and more locally to you as a printer and a builder? Do you sell to AFOLs only or just conventions or also the general public?

DK: The online community is much more important to me as a builder.  I like browsing the many Facebook, fan, and other community pages. It’s fun to see what people are building around the world. I feel like I could travel to just about any country and find some AFOLs to hang out with. I don’t use the online community much for business. Many of my favorite sites do not allow commercial posts…which I totally agree with and respect insistently. I have a pretty good set of regular clients that keep me plenty busy. I mostly sell to larger resellers. I get occasional requests from other AFOLs, but our order minimums usually don’t fit their projects. I no longer sell any of my own designs.

LB: Do you have an online Lego presence, business or otherwise?

DK: Not really.  I am involved with a few Facebook pages, but that’s about it. Most of my business comes from word of mouth and repeat clients.

LB: You have of late also taken part in Bricks by the Bay convention planning. (For a while now I think.) I believe you supply the brick badges and other printed items. Could you describe some of the planning that goes into that and other aspects of the convention?

DK: Yes, BBTB is one of the biggest highlights of the year for me. I love being involved with the organization. I print the badges, and any other custom parts needed for minifigs, event kits, etc. I donate a large portion of the printing. It’s a great way to give back to the community that I’ve enjoyed for so long. Recently, my company has also taken on some of the kitting for the con. It can be surprisingly complicated, but it falls right in line with our business. It takes an exhausting amount of planning to pull off the CON each year. I tried doing too much when I first joined, so now I make sure to only take on responsibilities that I have time to do well. I’m not nearly as involved in the overall planning as I once was. I mostly focus on any custom printing needs and kit planning for the badge, event kit, and workshops.

LB: Have you participated in collaborations?

DK: Yes, mostly with BayLUG.  I love helping set up large displays. It’s something I always wanted to do as a kid but never had enough stuff.  Now we have an unlimited arsenal of builds to create huge layouts…super fun.

LB: What is the Lego community’s greatest strength? What about its greatest failings and/or weaknesses?

DK: Hmmm…interesting question. I think the community’s greatest strength is the product itself. I strongly believe that LEGO is one of the most enduring and inspiring products ever produced. I would not be in a technical/manufacturing field today without it. Our greatest weakness? I’d say we expect too much from LEGO. We oftentimes forget that this is, at its core, a toy meant for kids. The AFOL community is a large demographic, but let’s not try to fool ourselves. LEGO is a toy company and needs to be run like one. They cannot cater to our every whim…and there are a lot of them 😊

LB: Do you have any thoughts on TLG itself and its relationship with fans, both of adult and long-term variety and of the more general customer?

DK: I think TLG goes above and beyond its core responsibilities when dealing with the fan community. They have been extremely generous with their support for BBTB and BayLUG. I’m sure it’s a constant struggle within the company to balance the fan relationship with core business values. LEGO Ideas was a huge bridge over that gap. I think they’re on the right path with the level of support they offer us big kids.

LB: And at long last, what do you think the future holds?

DK: More awesome sets and new parts! I often hear people say that LEGO has lost its way with all the new parts. They would prefer we only had 2×4 bricks. Those well-meaning folks just don’t get it. With every new part, LEGO opens our building palette to new possibilities. My favorite part of viewing other people’s builds are seeing the endless creative uses of new parts.

I do hold a bit of fear towards how LEGO will compete with the digital distractions kids now face.  LEGO struggles in the digital realm, with good reason. I feel the core of LEGO is the physical, tactile relationship between the user and the medium. I’ve used LDD a bit, but nothing compares with that satisfying “click” and having a great model to show for your efforts.  Emerging markets will help keep the company strong for years to come. Hopefully, future generations don’t get too lost in screens, and will still appreciate good old fashion playing with their friends.

Thanks!

LB: Thank you very much for your perspectives on general tomFOLery and your insights into the printing side of what you do. All the best for this still relatively new year!

Hidden in Plane Sight (Blog or Die! Entry #18)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: LettuceBrick (Nice Try)

Word Count: 1,424

Hidden in Plane Sight

 

Hello again, constant reader! It’s LettuceBrick, back with a smattering of seriousness.

Much has been made of both The Lego Group’s stated repudiation of violence in its products and its obvious, perhaps even aggressive, pushing into gray areas towards outright contravention of its standard of nonviolence. This article is an exploration of the gray areas – with a focus on non-licensed themes, more on that later – that have helped Lego to make a killing and, as a happy and surely unintentional side effect, have produced some rather kick-ass models.

As a preliminary, it seems a definition of those vexing gray areas is in order. To this end, I will, at my peril, ignore the dictionary and even common sense to focus instead on an implicit definition as proffered by TLG itself. Readers may prefer to consult a more authoritative…  authority.

Since TLG’s actions speak louder than its words, I’ll eliminate those categories of violence which, since they have direct representations in sets, are obviously not off-limits. For starters, it seems that the remoteness of the violent actions involved matters. Thus, Western themes don’t seem to count because that violence happened a long time ago, Castle can’t possibly count because that violence happened an even longer time ago, and Star Wars really doesn’t count because, in addition to happening a long, long time ago, that violence happened somewhere far, far away.

Now, of course, other licensed themes contain violence as well. Here we arrive in another gray area. After all, pretty much all of these themes contain no more violence than is perfectly acceptable in mainstream entertainment, even for children. In a sense, Lego is following the lead of the license (though they did make the choice to acquire the license in the first place) and thus of the prevailing (apply all relevant disclaimers here) culture. Said licenses have of course been picked up less for any grand ideals they may or may not espouse than for the absolute shed-loads of cash that they can generate.

So perhaps it is only modern, real-world violence that is beyond the pale for TLG. But what then is modern violence, I hear you cry. (Ok, well, I don’t, but perhaps somebody else did.) Does the American Civil War count? Sure, they had trenches and Gatling guns, but have you seen the facial hair on those people? Not modern at all, hipsters notwithstanding. TLG seems to agree with the “mustache meter” as a measure of antiquity if their old Western theme is any indication. Those bluecoats do look an awful lot like Union soldiers.

So perhaps the First World War? Well, the (really quite lovely) large-scale models of the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane would seem to argue against it, despite that war being the first really stark example of industrial killing. Then again, TLG has refrained from making any sets even remotely approaching the predominant horrors of that war: poison gas and trench warfare. Even if Lego decides to go all Rambo all of a sudden and announces something akin to a great battles theme, I doubt one of the sets would be “Gas at Second Ypres.” Even the Wonder Woman from that period shies away from such horrors in favor of a more innocuous aircraft. We thus seem to be approaching a definition of what flies and what does not: whether or not it flies.

This leaves the Second World War, which we approach via Indiana Jones (yes, yes, it’s a licensed theme). Here, we find several vehicles of a rather military flavor, especially the amphibious 4×4 that bears a resemblance to a Volkswagen Schwimmwagen and the monoplane which approximates a Messerschmidt Bf 109. Still, these vehicles are merely props in a character-driven story removed from the immediate context of the war they seem to fit into, not in a Blitzkrieg battle pack or something. Also, one of them flies and the other isn’t exactly a main battle tank.

Returning to the skies, and in particular the non-licensed atmosphere, we find an interesting phenomenon: that of the (garishly) camouflaged flying object. Many of these are very, very generic and so don’t really enter into this discussion.  Here we come at last, long-suffering reader, to my main point: many flying Lego objects bear a striking resemblance to modern military vehicles.

Let’s start with the F-14 Tomcat, 20,000 kilos of pure killing machine and total crowd pleaser:

image001.jpg

Photo credit: US Navy

Awe-inspiring to be sure, but perhaps not the sort of thing TLG is “supposed” to be reproducing in the brick. With that in mind, consider the following Creator set:

image003.jpg

Photo credit: Brickset

Sure the intakes are wrong and the colors are bright, but the overall look is very Tomcat-esque.

Next up we have the Eurofighter Typhoon, Europe’s answer to there’s something flying and I want it gone:

image005.jpg

Photo credit: Bundesheer

And here we have the excellent Sonic Boom:

image007.jpg

Photo credit: Brickset

Okay, okay, the intakes are at the sides and not underneath and it has horizontal stabilizers. So maybe a Rafale? Or a Eurofale?

Lastly in the jet category, we have everybody’s favorite concurrent boondoggle, the effing-35:

image009.jpg

Photo credit: US Airforce

And what follows is not at all, in any way, shape, form, fever dream, etc. an effing-35:

image011.jpg

Photo credit: Brickset

I can tell because it has two seats, rearward visibility, and actually went on sale within the intended timeframe.

It’s not all about the jets though. TLG also has also offered some familiar-looking helicopters:

Photo credits: Brickset: 1,2,3,4

Clockwise from the upper left we have a slightly tenuous AW101, an S-61R, a CH-47, and a CH-53. These are even more on the nose than their pointy brethren above.

Finding corresponding real-world pictures and other examples is left as an exercise for the reader. (As a slight aside, scavenger hunt time! Find the Lego depiction, in red of all colors, of an armored personnel carrier.)

So it seems TLG has no issues with using the basic shape of a real-life military aircraft in sets, which leads to a few obvious questions. Some of the vehicles exist in civilian versions, which would suggest another gray area, but many others do not. So what are the criteria for depicting an aircraft in a set?

Is it perhaps the color that matters? The Sonic Boom for instance is draped in red and white, the colors of the Red Cross, Canada, and that paragon of peacefulness, Switzerland. The other jets could perhaps emulate aerobatic display team paint schemes, which though less menacing (pretty colors!) than haze gray remain directly tied to military forces.

Or perhaps it’s the application which matters, as suggested by the helicopters? Surely no one can object to volcano explorers or firefighters repurposing ostensibly military airframes, though the thought of cops rappelling from a large helicopter may be cause for rather more pause. Then again, if a military-capable jet is used by a large corporation as a purely aerobatic display aircraft à la Breitling Jet Team, would that be okay? Could we see an official Lego BJT L-39 Albatross?

The overall formula seems to be as follows: take the cool-looking flying thing, make it not gray, don’t attach any missiles, and you’re good to go.

In the end, it seems even Lego is not entirely immune from the realization that violence is just about the only thing that sells as well as the German pronunciation of what you get when you multiply two by three. (Anyone wanna see whether or not that’ll fly on MOCPages?)

So does it matter? Who knows? Does anyone care?

Lego certainly doesn’t seem to. Lego sales have not suffered from any colorful warplane backlash, though I doubt the yay-combat-aircraft-in-cute-colors market is what is really driving the profits. Nobody else seems to care either, with the wider world reserving its ire for Lego Friends and the increase in grrr-faced minifigs. The collective response from AFOLs seems to have been a collective shrug, though there are a few very helpful Brickset bricklists dedicated to military aircraft. As for the children (there, someone thought of them) I’d say they have plenty of more traumatizing things to be traumatized by.

So I’d say Lego has found a middle ground that works. They can capitalize on the sleekness and coolness of modern combat aircraft while at the same time camouflaging the vehicles’ origins. In short, they appropriate a motif that is very familiar while at the same time keeping it within a zone of colorful, garish gray.