Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd

They say that Lego blog readers don’t care about convention coverage, they say that unless you were present to join in the action personally it is impossible to appreciate the experience fully.  They even claim that people are resentful of parties they are not invited to.  While I don’t necessarily debate this sage and long-standing wisdom, I’m throwing caution to the wind to provide you with the unvarnished truth of my time in the city of angels.  It took me almost a full week to process everything that went down in order to compose my thoughts in a way that didn’t read like an embittered rant and even allowing for the interval I’m not sure I succeeded.  But I am confident you’ll let me know in the comments.  -Spoiler Alert!-  Bricks LA 2018 was in turns awkward, uninspiring and mostly boring, which is the greatest sin any convention can commit.

I journeyed to America’s second largest city in search of big-city adventure and excitement but found only regional boilerplate and the only fun was the fun we brought with us or had nothing to do with the convention itself.  For the T.L.D.R. crowd you can check out now, go back to your video game and jumbo-sized bowl of paste, but the rest of you should gird your loins and prepare for a deep dive into….mediocrity.  We’ll get into it later but this was the convention that made me realize I’ve become terribly jaded, almost incapable of enjoying the conventional traditions of our people. So if you were there and you think I’m being terribly unfair, take solace in the fact that this review may have more to do with my growing disenchantment with the very concept of conventions than the event itself.

This was Bricks LA, 2018.

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Continue reading “Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd”

2017 The Manifesto Year in Review

“And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne” constant reader, as we collectively celebrate another successful trip around the sun.   Here in the Manifesto HQ all is quiet…rountRee and Rutherford are sequestered in the lounge, donning their carefully constructed outfits for the much anticipated Father Time / Baby New Year cosplay spectacular.  I’ll leave it to you to guess how the roles are distributed, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.  In any case, the bar is fully stocked and the vomitorium has been steam-cleaned for your post-revels convenience.  Before the party gets started and the traditional games of grab-ass and jai-alai begin, why not join me for a statistical look back at 2017, your favorite blog’s second year of existence.

Let’s begin with the most important numbers, the total number of views, visitors, likes and comments.  I take the most pride in the last number, because for my money the Manifesto is all about the celebration and promotion of the lost art of conversation.   When you strip it all away we don’t really re-invent the wheel here, but what we are good at is active discourse, even if it’s mostly from a half dozen usual suspects.  And even though we are without question one of the smallest, shabbiest blogs in all the land, I doubt there are too many (if any) who can boast larger numbers of comments.  It is most impressive to me that even though we had significantly fewer articles posted this year (105 / 70), we managed to wrack up better stats across the board than our first year of operation in 2016.

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Here’s how the year broke down by month, I think it’s interesting that even in the stretch between August and October when there were no fresh postings, the blog still did decent numbers (relatively speaking) in comparison to the dead months from the year before.

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And now we move on to a short list of the most popular articles of the year.  Initially this data point seemed like a buzzkill because on my own fucking blog I should be able to at least crack the top ten! I don’t count the pinned Blog or Die! contest announcement and frankly I’m lucky to be sitting in the number 12 spot.   But after putting my considerable ego in check I think it’s actually something to be celebrated.  I want to issue a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to submit an article, you have no idea how much I appreciate it and clearly the readers responded in a big way.  It’s also quite interesting to note how a certain Mr. Van Cleave smoked the competition like a cheap cigar, no other contributor even came close to his gaudy numbers.  Cheers Aaron, you almost single-handedly made this year one to remember with your Art Hoax masterpiece and without a doubt you drew more eyes to the blog than anyone in it’s brief history.

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My favorite statistic of the bunch is without a doubt the global breakdown of where the Manifesto views are coming from.  Unfortunately most of these people never say a word on the blog, and some of the hits are no doubt bots, but I find it fascinating and inspiring nonetheless.  Malvides!  Paraguay! Gibraltar!…the international flavor is palpable, unbeatable and it’s great fun when I’m able to pair up an AFOL to his or her country like Kyle Vrieze in Bermuda, Angka in Indonesia and Gilcelio in Brazil.  I never expected to get much play at all outside of the US and Canada so all of this is delicious gravy.  Now if I could only get these far-flung readers to comment!

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If you’ve ever been curious as to the identities of the biggest gasbags on this august blog, wonder no longer.  The only surprise here is that King O’ Gasbags Rutherford is as low as he is and Wolff is as high.  I’m glad to see a young guy like Wolff crack the list because God knows we need a break from the geriatric crew from time to time.  What is absolutely crystal clear is that rowntRee should start a formal column on the blog, he’s practically conducting his own mini-blog in the comment section.  Art School Girlfriend, you need to formalize our relationship and give the people what they want!  Ditto to our beloved resident contrarian and bullshit artiste, Vitreolum, nothing would please me more than to give you your very own shiny podium from which to hold forth. Just like the guest-writers I’d like to offer a big THANK YOU to all of the people on this less than comprehensive list, without your commitment to keep the conversation going I would likely not bother with running this dump.

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And we’ll conclude our statistical review with an unlikely bit of information, I always assumed our busiest day was Monday, when people returned to their places of employment and studiously began their weekly quest to avoid work.  The only conclusion I can draw is that the Friday Night Fights are more popular than I imagined.

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I’m very optimistic that we can capitalize on this year’s momentum and make 2018 even better.  I think the new, slower posting pace has yielded clear dividends and we’ve certainly brought in more new voices than ever before.  You will continue to encounter all the boilerplate content you’ve grown to expect from the Manifesto and I’ve got some hopefully fresh ideas in the works to keep the action fresh in coming weeks and months.

So Happy New Year, constant readers, please accept my heartfelt thanks for making 2017 the best year yet for the Manifesto, you guys (and the occasional gal) make it all worthwhile.  Best wishes to you and yours for a safe, happy and prosperous 2018!  Now we’ll begin the traditional hallway melee! Gird your loins, it’s on Rutherford, you fascist rat bastard!

 

“I love Los Angeles, and I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”

The appeal of Andy Warhol has always been somewhat baffling to me but I do think his quote works well within the context of this article.  You see constant reader, I’m jonesing for some Lego action, I love plastic and I want to be plastic surrounded by other like-minded plastic people.   I want to reconnect with old AFOL Pokemon and add some new cards to my deck.  For a variety of reasons I missed the convention scene entirely last year so I’m determined to kick off 2018 the right way with a short trip down Interstate 15 to check out the festivities at Bricks LA.  Growing up in southern California, I always thought of Los Angeles as my beloved San Diego’s older, chlamydia-riddled sister, but I’m willing to put all of that baggage aside for a weekend of questionable antics with the usual suspects. The convention is in it’s 3rd year and since it’s one of only two options within driving distance from Vegas,  I’m all out of excuses for not checking out the scene.  It might not be the big action like Chicago, Seattle or D.C., but when I consider the dozen or so cons I’ve attended over the years, more often than not the most memorable ones were the regional ones.  One big advantage of a smaller con is that you don’t have so many drive-by conversations “Hey, how are you, what did you bring?” and you really get to know people and have a chance to hang out.

Constant reader Matt rountRee will be joining me for the road trip and if we’re very lucky so will noted Manifesto columnist and all around gasbag Michael Rutherford.  When the stars are in the right alignment, we form a distinctly American power-trio with the mutant power of making even obscure conventions like the one in Orem Utah a blast.  So if you’re in the greater Los Angeles area between January 5-7 of 2018, you should absolutely stop by and join us for the biggest Manifesto gathering to date at the Pasadena Convention Center!

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I’ll be bringing along The Marcus Garvey, my SHIPtember offering from this year, along with a throwback from 2008, ChiefLUG’s oMICROn Weekend.  It is also my intent in the next 50 some days to create a modest diorama to showcase the Garvey, and I’ll likely document that process here on the Manifesto as it progresses.  Generally speaking I don’t keep models assembled for more time than it takes to photograph and post them, but I’ve held onto the Garvey to show some visiting AFOLs and it seems like a good opportunity to get a second use out of it.

God only knows what rountRee will be schlepping to L.A. besides a flask of Jamesons, his battered VLUG cap and a home-made shank, but I would imagine his contributions will include the infamous Bushmaster, and if we’re lucky his Speeder Bike Contest entry from the beginning of the year.  If you do make it out to LA, don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to walk the hall and critique models with rountRee, to see the hippy bullshit-artiste in action.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll never look at models the same way again.  If you play your cards right, you might even hear him imitate Rodan with broadcast clarity.  Don’t be put off by the fact that he looks like a cannibal (those teeth!), Matt is very approachable and pliable with liquor.

If Rutherford does make an appearance, it will probably be with his standard kit: some pocket lint, half a tube of Mentos (The Freshmaker) and this dusty relic from 2007 that he drags to every con but can’t be bothered to post in his own photostream…because he’s lame.  I’m sure he’ll even bring one of his cherished copies of Brick Journal’s sold out, first edition to prove how awesome the model is.   He won’t mention the fact that I built everything under and around that model, or that Ryan Rubino took the cover photo because Rutherford can’t handle technology…no, no, he’ll stand there grinning from ear to ear, basking in the nostalgic glow of his beloved VTOL ambulance.  I would assume Mike’s SHIPtember entry will also make the journey, reduced to the component level by baggage handlers and his own terrible packing skills.  At least the design is so very simple that reconstruction shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes tops.  Seek out Rutherford at your own peril, once you get him talking it’s very difficult to extract yourself without great effort.

If all that isn’t enough to convince you to come and hang out, I’ll also be judiciously doling out some prime Manifesto SWAG to constant readers, cronies and a small cadre of convention-goers who prove their worthiness over the course of the weekend.  So why not join us for Bricks L.A. in January, it’s not like you have anything better to do.   Quite frankly, if you read this blog you can’t be that busy.  Yes the timing is less than ideal, right after the holidays, but won’t you be ready for a break from your loved ones just about that time?  Don’t you want to be figured prominently in the after-action reports from the field?  Ponder these questions, in the small hours of a long winter’s night.

Tales From the Legoratory: Vegas Edition

If you watched episode 28 of Bricks & Beer you saw a limited view of my Legoratory, but the camera was fixed and we were too busy discussing the subtle nuances of string-theory and molecular gastronomy to give you a proper tour of my building space.  Although the size of my Legoratory has changed over the years, this is the same basic setup I’ve had for the last decade.  Sure I’ve added a good deal more LEGO product in that time period but the tables and layout have stayed the pretty much the same.  The main table is 4 feet by 8 feet by 3 feet tall and I’ve successfully covered it in LEGO 5 times since 2007: The Omicron Weekend, Logan’s Run, Zero Hour, Spirits Rise and most recently, Bucharest.  The space is certainly a far cry from my first Legoratory which was the tiny living room of a 1 bedroom apartment, where I built on a coffee table and the few organizers I had were crammed under furniture and in the back of our single closet.  While the table may not look all that appealing, it breaks down very quickly and space-efficiently, making it ideal for transporting large-scale dioramas.  When Bucharest was finished I recruited three neighbors to help and we simply picked up the big sheet of plywood and carried it like a coffin to a waiting cargo van.  The table has the added value of having ample room for storage underneath.

In case you’re wondering, the black and white map on the wall is an aerial photo of Vegas taken in the early seventies.  It came from an old real-estate office, you can see different colored film overlays for different zones.

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My current Legoratory is one part of a large room at the front of my home, which also contains a living and dining area.  I have never had a work space that was this open to the rest of the house and initially I resisted the idea but the only other option I had would have resulted in a smaller build table, an that just won’t do.  My previous and most beloved Legoratory was situated in an upstairs corner, very private and the closest thing I’ve ever had to a man-cave.  I thought I would miss that privacy and being so exposed to the most-used section of the house, I thought I’d lose build time to various distractions.  Quite the opposite has happened, I actually get more build time now because I don’t have to make special preparations to sequester myself in the back.  Now I can easily squeeze in a half hour session here and there, which over the course of weeks and months adds up to quite a bit of extra time. The kids like it because they can still interact with me while doing something else and I can communicate with my wife without yelling or those annoying in-house text messages.

The room also has an abundance of natural light that makes it a good deal easier to photograph large models, I just have to shoot during a specific time-window to avoid harsh shadows.  In the old days I had a bunch of lamps and extension cords running everywhere during photography so this is a big improvement.

The are a couple of negatives to my current situation but they definitely qualify as first world problems.  One issue is that I’m up against the limits of my storage capability.  The smaller tables in photos above, as well as the big table up top are maxed-out with full bins and I cannot easily accommodate any further expansion of my collection.  I’m so short on real-estate that I have to put some of the organizers on the main build table and I’ve got a box of BURPS in the attic. Because my Legoratory is one of the first rooms you encounter upon entering the house, I can’t just stack shit to the ceiling like I would if I was a swingin’ bachelor.  Marriage means compromise and I have to make allowance to my wife’s decorating sense.  I also have kids who like to climb things they shouldn’t, so there are vertical limits to consider as well.  Speaking of kids, the table and chair in the corner is a designated reservation for my wee ones.  The small Ikea table is only clean for this shot because I finally made them take down a crumbling stable/castle/dance party that was turning into an unused post apocalyptic nightmare. It was spreading onto the floor and more importantly onto my build surfaces and that can’t happen.  Back to the point, I can’t add much more new product without first subtracting something into long-term storage or selling it off.  The days of easy growth are over, this is never a problem I had to consider before…how much is too much?

Another downside to my current setup is that any visitor to the house cannot help but to notice and comment on the room and it’s contents.  While I’m certainly a base creature who craves attention for my LEGO hobby online, it’s not quite the same when it comes to real life. Most people react positively but not everyone and sometime I just don’t feel like defending my chosen hobby to the plumber.  The guy in question asked me if it was an “A.A. thing?” and when I responded that it was not, he shrugged dismissively and went about his work without a further word on the topic.  Even when the observers are well-meaning and friendly it can be tedious, it becomes like a convention in microcosm: where did you get all the LEGO? how many parts to you have? and my favorite “what is this?”.  There is something to be said for doors.  I’m not one to typically preach the gospel of the hobby either: if you’re into it, we can talk, but I’m not looking for converts.

My table has finally seen the last of Bucharest and after 8 months I’m not too sorry to see it go.  The project was fun and super-successful on many levels but 8 months of any single model is enough.  Now that the sorting is over and the rigs are about to be shipped back to the contributors only one question remains, the eternal question: what’s next?

I should probably comment on my wall decorations, since this article is about out of gas.  I won’t bore you with my sorting philosophy, it’s mostly separated by part first and then color.  I break the rules of my own sorting conventions so often that it’s almost useless to summarize because of it’s specificity.  In addition to the map of Vegas I talked about at the beginning of this article, the pride of my Legoratory is an original Escape From New York poster, a gift from my wonderful wife many moons ago.  You can also see the painting Mike Yoder did of my old SHIP the GHOUL (among others), it makes me smile every time I look at it.  Cheers Yoder!  I’ve also got an autographed photo of John Carpenter on the set of Ghosts of Mars and a painting by a local artist whose name always escapes me.  The Lego builds include Tyler Clite’s Appa design I used in my Avatar diorama and one of Dan Rubin’s Iron Mountain mecha.  I have been fortunate enough to collect my share of AFOL built models from around the globe, but I don’t have room to display them all so rotation is required.  You can also see the Aku sculpture I created with my older kid and the Scooby Doo mansion set that my younger kid won’t let me take apart.  The smaller picture frames contain programs from most of the conventions I’ve attended over the years and old BrickJournal / Wired magazine covers.  One of these days I’ll add Spock to the wall and the room will be complete, if such a thing is possible.

I hope you enjoyed the 10 cent tour, constant reader and if you’d like to see your own Legoratory appear on the Manifesto, simply write an article and contact me through the blog, Facebook or Flickr.