Stop, Collaborate & Listen (Blog or Die! Entry #1)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Primus (Cam)

Word Count: 1522

Stop, Collaborate & Listen

 

At this very moment you may be thinking to yourself things like “Wow, they really will let anyone write for the Manifesto,” “I have no clue who this guy is,” and “I’m probably not going to care for what he’s writing about.” And, constant reader, you may very well be right, as I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart: Bionicle™ Collaborative Builds. Yes, you read that right, BIONICLE™ Collaborative Builds.

Basically, this past year a bunch of prominent Bionicle™ builders (or, as prominent as you can get for a Bionicle™ builder) have been posting creations based on a common theme.  You may have heard about these builds (unlikely) or you may have seen these as they flooded your Flickr stream (more likely, but still unlikely). At the very least, you may have read the Brothers Brick article about one of the collaborations, which (given the fact that you’ve stumbled onto this article) I think is a safe bet. I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in a few of these collaborations; therefore, I am a leading authority on them. At least, more of an authority than most people. Either way, let’s move on to the interesting stuff.

As far as I can tell, the first of these collaborations (or collabs as the cool kids call them) revolved around reimagining the Lego™ Bionicle™ Vahki™ sets in the styles of different Bionicle™ builders. Since that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, I’ll clarify slightly. The Vahki™ were a line of Bionicle™ sets (basically evil robot police) and apparently all prominent Bionicle™ builders have a style (bit of an assumption). As I’m sure you all know, there were 6 Vahki™ sets released in 2004. Thus, 6 builders were contacted by an anonymous person, given the prompt for the collaboration and a date when to post the MOCs. And that’s it. Pretty clandestine. Seriously. I don’t actually know who reached out to us. I thought it was pretty weird at first, but also a pretty interesting proposal, so I decided to partake in the experience.

The builders contacted were Djokson, Red, Cezium, Lord Oblivion, Felix the Cat, and myself (Primus). Definitely an eclectic assortment of Bionicle builders (all of whom I’m certain you’ve heard of).

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Even with this rather open-ended theme, the builders all managed to build MOCs that, once put side-by-side in an easier to understand picture, were all somewhat recognizable as reinventions of the original sets. My personal favorite of this collaboration was Red’s Bordahk (the blue one). If it makes you feel better, I had to Google that name, and I actually build with Bionicle parts.

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I think that he did an excellent job of recreating the shape of the original set while also making a very dynamic and menacing-looking MOC. It exudes power and looks like it could take on a tank. I sure wouldn’t want to be caught in an alleyway with that staring me down! To top it off, his parts usage was outstanding and he really demonstrated a mastery of color. Truly an impressive MOC from an impressive builder. All-in-all, I would deem this collaboration a success, as 6 builders were contacted and 6 people built something, and usually when something like this happens at least 1 person can’t make it.

The next collaboration had a similar theme. This time, as far as I can tell, the builders were tasked with reimagining the Bionicle Rahkshi sets (spooky robot suits for evil slugs). More builders were contacted (by the same person, I’d bet) and, given that they all posted on the same day, I assume a deadline was set.  For this build, Djokson, Cezium, and Red were contacted again, as well as The Chosen One, Sparkytron, Rhymes Shelter, and Gamma-Raay. To my knowledge, this is everyone that posted. From the looks of it, the direction given was a little clearer than last time as they even had a common naming scheme, “The Sons of Makuta.”

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Again, I feel that the builders really knocked this one out, showcasing a wide range of styles and techniques in the builds. I also think that these were a bit more cohesive visually than the previous build, as these are all pretty recognizable as Rahkshi, even before I put them side-by-side. Of these builds, Gamma-Raay’s Panrahk was my favorite (the brown one).

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In this build, he managed to recreate the look of the Rahkshi from the official Bionicle Mask of Light movie (another thing I’m certain you’re familiar with). However, what really made this build the standout to me was the construction of the spine and System integration in the torso. Really excellent shaping in those areas. His posing and photography isn’t too shabby, either, and added an air of menace to the creation. This collaboration was enough of a “success” that The Brothers Brick blogged about (most of) it, which I guess means something. Don’t really know many metrics for success when it comes to collaborative builds.

Assuming that you’re still with me at this point, constant reader, I’ll move onto the next collaboration. This is another one that I participated in and the theme was to build robot saints.  Well, Orthodox robot saints, to be specific. A bit of a departure from the last two collaborations. This time around, the directions were a bit more detailed. The builders were instructed that the saints should be obviously robotic, that there should be a brick-built background that incorporates a nimbus, and finally that the saints should be wearing robes (as saints tend to do). The date, time to post, and naming scheme were also provided and the builders were left to their own devices. The builders chosen this time were Red, Sparkytron, Cezium, myself, and The Chosen One. Red must have really liked this theme, as he ended up building a second saint.

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I found this to be a very peculiar theme to build for, and a pretty challenging one at that, as I had only ever worked with Lego cloth elements once before. However, it looks like some of the other guys had used them before, as they really did a great job with them. Of the builds, my favorite one was from The Chosen One (the one on the far right).

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The subtle texture of the background, the shape of the head, and the inclusion of the “wiring” in the neck area were all great details that made this my favorite of the builds. I also liked how he was able to give the build more volume through the use of the second cape. I thought his execution was very clean and that it was a very well thought out concept. Really, this theme was a very thought out concept, if a bit odd.

To my knowledge, there’s only been one more collaboration this year, so we are nearing the end of this diatribe, constant reader, and I commend you for making it this far. Moving on, this most recent collaborative build, as far as I can tell, revolved around using older Bionicle/Technic parts to make up the bulk of the MOC. Given how they were posted, I would assume the directions were the same (whoever is organizing these is at least very consistent). There were fewer builders in this collab, though I assume that’s because higher education is a thing and there are a lot of final projects and exams occurring around this time. Unless I’ve missed someone, the builders contacted for this build were Djokson, The Secret Walrus, The Chosen One, Red, and Optimus Convoy (who has recently returned to the community from a dark age).

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I really liked the different directions the builders took with this theme. I especially liked how Djokson used the Technic blasters in the legs of his model and how Red used the Toa feet to create the neck for his lizard knight, but my favorite out of all of them had to be Optimus Convoy’s robot.

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For an old-school collaborative build, Optimus Convoy really hammered it home in my eyes. He built a robot that not only used old parts but also old techniques and styling. The teal/grey/trans-neon-green color scheme was very reflective of the time period, and the integration of Throwbot parts was a smart choice. This build might have been a little bit rougher around the edges, but I think that adds even more to its old school charm. Another interesting theme with some pretty intriguing results.

We have finally reached the end of this post, constant reader. I’m glad you’ve stuck with me this far and I hope you now know significantly more about the recent spate of BIONICLE™ Collaborative Builds than you did at the start of the article. Maybe you’ve even found a new builder or two to follow. Maybe you think you’ve wasted your time. Maybe you have questions like “Who is this anonymous person that organizes all of these builds” and “Why haven’t they asked me to partake” and “Why does Primus use so many questions?” But, perhaps most importantly, maybe you’ve really enjoyed reading about Bionicle MOCs for a change.

-Cam

The Life Modular, with Sean Edmison

Modular terrain is certainly not a new concept in our shared hobby, but it’s always interesting to see it done well.  Although I couldn’t pin down the origin of the technique to a specific date or single builder, the Classic Castle City Standard from 2003 was certainly one of the first attempts to codify a standard.  A group of enterprising builders (Medinets, Sava, Hoffman etc.) started with an easy to replicate modular castle wall system and later expanded to terrain, water and buildings.  You may also be familiar with the MILS system or Base8 or any number of offerings by individual builders like Magnus Lauglo who have experimented with the concept over the years.  The core technique inspired by the official line of 1980’s castle sets like the beloved 6040 Blacksmith Shop, and involved wall segments with a common design that could be connected via Technic pins and recombined with other sets or original builds.  It’s probably also worth mentioning the influence of 2002’s Moonbase project which used a similar methodology for building large collaborative displays at conventions.

Fast-forward 14 years and people are still refining the familiar modular terrain concept, with all the updated parts, colors and techniques that you would expect.  The big knock on previous iterations was that the final product often seemed generic or low resolution, sacrificing detail for sheer coverage.  The photos I’m about to show you clearly demonstrate that in the last decade things have progressed to a point where that criticism is no longer necessarily valid.  Builder and frequent convention-goer Sean Edmison says he was inspired by a discussion on Classic Castle Forums to “reimagine” the standard and I think he did a fine job adding value with both the appearance and the structure.  These models are actually about four years old, but I’d say they still classify as new-school building and if they popped up in your Flickrstream tomorrow they likely wouldn’t seem out-of-place or anachronistic.  You may remember Mr. Edmison from such memorable models as Peloponnesian War and Rivendell, or Seattle’s BrickCon where he often collaborates with fellow castle-heads.

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One of Sean’s innovations that I appreciate from my own struggles with the modular lifestyle is the use of short axles instead of Technic pins to connect the modules.  Once you get too many of the standard pins involved in the process it can become very difficult to separate the modules without a good deal of force, damaged pins and flying ABS shrapnel.  It can also be equally as difficult to connect large modules especially if your surface is less than perfectly flat (like your average folding plastic convention table).  Once you fill an entire baseplate with brick and/or plate, it has a tendency to bow or warp in a decidedly unfriendly manner that is the enemy of uniformity and smooth transitions between sections.  When Mike and I took Isla Guadalupe to Texas a few years ago, we had to abandon the notion of actually connecting the modules together because they just wouldn’t line up like they did at home where my table was decidedly flatter.

I’m not sure if Sean came up with this tweak on his own or if he was inspired by another builder, but after playing with it briefly I find it to be a big improvement.  Even though the technique does require double the number of bricks to make it work, those 1×2 bricks with the + shaped void don’t seem to be terribly expensive if you’re not picky about the color and most builders I know have more axles than they will ever be able to use in a single model.  Sean also uses more connection points than you typically see with modular terrain and I suspect cutting down on the total number would save parts/money without compromising stability.

Sean also developed what he calls a “Tank-rutted” road that looks great, especially the visible tracks under the puddle of water.  I’ve never seen this specific type of decorative approach to a modular system and it should get the often-maligned military builders excited about the collaborative possibilities.  Even if you’re not planning on assembling a 64 square foot diorama of the battle of Kursk with a dozen of your closest homies, this kind of modularity comes in handy when breaking down and packing any sized diorama for travel to a convention or LUG meeting.

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The Polish Lego scene has always been fascinating to me, in part because they don’t seem to have any weak builders. Of course I know that any group that gets large enough to be noticed will have it’s share of weak builders, but LUGPOL either drives them into the Białowieża Forest or confines them to the kiddie-table until their skills have improved.  Japan and England rightfully get a lot of credit and attention for their distinctive styles but it’s a shame the builders of Poland don’t get the same level of acknowledgment because they consistently produce outstanding, thought-provoking work.

Usually I’m not too impressed with Lego in-store builds.  It always seems to be some large but generic brick sculpture of a Disney franchise character, or it’s small, equally boring models by local builders that are often designed to push the latest product.  However, Polish builder the_jetboy recently posted photos of an impressive collaborative build for the first company store to open in Warsaw, and it’s a real eye-catcher.  The scale is truly epic, especially when you consider the thickness of the  map; this was a major effort that took 4 months and over 700,000 bricks.  I love the rivers and the different shades of green and yellow to represent different regions.  The giant map is a great concept and it immediately sparked my imagination with war-gaming possibilities.  I can’t help but imagine it as a map with micro-scale buildings, vehicles and resource markers.  Getting back to the build though, it was designed by Maciej Cabaj and the famous local landmarks were constructed by a variety of local builders.  Many of the individual models can be found in this Flickr Group, or you can go directly to the source, Polish website Zbuduujmy to!, but there is not an English option so have your favorite translation program ready.

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There is also a list of builders and their contributions on the website if you’d like to learn more about the project.  Kudos to everyone involved for a vibrant and educational display that surely delighted the many customers who got the chance to see it.  It must have taken a great deal of work organizing the builders, creating the map and arranging logistics, but it was clearly well worth the effort.  I know it’s very unlikely to happen, but it would be great to see a convention with several different countries given this kind of treatment.

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My favorite of the landmarks is this micro rendition of Solina Dam by Piotr., the largest such structure in the country.  The model is very accurate, given the scale and it’s a perfectly condensed version of the real thing.  I’m sure it was immediately recognizable to the public, with the iconic spillway and green-roofed power station.

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I hope to make it over to Poland some year to take in a convention or a LUG meeting and meet some of these builders, they look like they’re having a lot of fun.  Even though the big map has ended it’s run in the Lego store, it’s still going to be used for future events, so maybe I’ll get a chance to see it in person.  Twoje zdrowie!

 

Two for Tuesday: Ryan Rubino

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is one of my two oldest Cronies in the hobby, Ryan Rubino. While he might not be known to many of you, I like to think Ryan represents a certain demographic within the hobby, a quiet guy who builds well but whose efforts go largely unrecognized.  Along with our mutual friend Rutherford, Ryan and I go back to high-school and I can’t think about my earliest days in the hobby without thinking of Rubino.  We began building with Lego right before internet use became widespread and we would get double-prints of our photos developed and snail-mail them to each other.  We are indeed spoiled now to easy and instant gratification when it comes to sharing our models, but back then it was an annoying process that took weeks. The upside was that we were really only building for laughs and to entertain each other, not some greater audience.  I have referenced BricksWest 2003 on the blog before as my first convention experience, but without Rubino that experience doesn’t happen.  I can vividly remember standing in the hotel lobby holding our cardboard boxes full of models and debating: should we just bail on this thing and go see a movie?  If it were up to me, we probably would have bailed because BricksWest was a poorly run, unfriendly shit-show that bears only a surface resemblance to the conventions we enjoy today.  My point is that Ryan has always been an encouraging and often steadying influence on my Lego experience.  Without him pushing me  I wouldn’t have written my first post on LUGNET when I did and I would have bailed on BricksWest after we were treated like low-guys at the door.

 

As you know, Tuesday means double-shots and the first model we’re going to examine is Ryan’s best remembered model, the “Battle of the Leviathans“.  This image has over 300 favorites on Flickr and it appeared on all the usual blogs and in two different coffee-table books including Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark.  The build represents a breakthrough for Rubino, who’s creativity was liberated by the advent of the curved slopes that make up most of the whale’s impressive shape.  Although he had experienced success before with “The Omicron Weekend” collaboration I’ll talk about next, he was unfortunately overshadowed by Rutherford and I, in part because Ryan is content to reside just outside the spotlight and in part because Rutherford and I have big mouths and we like to run them.  The “Battle of the Leviathans” was a different story though, it was widely praised by the community and it belonged entirely to Ryan.  There were big plans in the work for an entire Predator & Prey series, but as you’ll see, things didn’t quite work out as planned.

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For the second shot I had to go with the most defining and fulfilling collaboration I’ve ever participated in, “The Omicron Weekend“.  Rubino designed the wheel-shaped research station that drove the entire effort and at the time it was the biggest object he’d attempted by a wide margin.  Originally Ryan was developing the structure for an independent project, but once we three merry idiots decided to take a collaborative effort on the road, the wheel quickly became the focus of the build.  Even though it was placed to one side, it was the thematic center of the diorama and we went through several ideas before we settled on the final configuration.  Unfortunately this is one of the best photos we have of the wheel, there are some better quality close-ups, but photographing the diorama was a real pain in the ass and the final shots really didn’t do justice to the project.  The 4ft diameter wheel was over a year in the making and featured a fully decked-out interior with removable roof-panels to display at the BrickCon 2007 convention in Seattle.  Beyond the build, Ryan was indispensable on the trip to Seattle and just like our first convention experience, he was able to keep the project moving forward after a near disastrous fist day on the road and a bad hotel experience. Once again, Ryan was able to keep me on track when my urge was to bail out or stab someone with a rusty knife.

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If it seems like I speak of Ryan entirely in the past tense it is because we’ve lost him…no he hasn’t died…he’s quite healthy, but like many great builders before him (Jon Palmer), his job has murdered any interest in building for fun.  Since 2010 Ryan has worked in the Merlin model shop, just a short drive from Legoland California.  If you have visited any of the Legoland theme parks from Carlsbad to Dubai and everywhere in between, there is a good chance you’ve seen Rubino’s work.  We used to think that Omicron was pretty big until Ryan started working on some of the biggest Lego builds on the planet.  From small ambulances to giant temple complexes to full-sized great white sharks, Rubino has had the opportunity to build a diverse and challenging set of projects over his six+ years with the company.

Ryan’s unexpected decision to sell off his entire collection (minus the whale & squid) had a much bigger impact on me than I expected and was part of the reason I took a break from the hobby the last couple of years.  It felt like an important era had come to an end, and although we’re still great friends, one of my two best cronies in the hobby doesn’t have much use for it anymore, even as a spectator…and that sucks  So the purpose of this article is to give a farewell toast to Rubino, a largely unsung AFOL, who was my photo-editor, convention wing-man and constant source of encouragement with my own building.  I always used Ryan as a litmus test for Lego nerd groups.  If a good-old-boy’s club like the original Builder’s Lounge or the short-lived Sci-Brick wouldn’t have him as a member then I wasn’t interested either.  So knock back your shot in honor of Rubino and all the unsung builders who give this hobby life.  Also, if you’re interested in working for the Merlin model shop, then let this be a cautionary tale because as I mentioned before, Ryan’s story is not unique.  Building for a living is great fun and you do amazing things, but it just might kill your interest in building for yourself.  One final note, if you’re into great animal photography Ryan is still a pretty good follow on Flickr, he’s really developed his skills and has developed a much bigger following in his new hobby than his old one.

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For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder. Ryan, much like the subject of last week’s Two for Tuesday is kind of like an action figure.  While he does not have the physique or lustrous hair of a typical action figure, he is always found in the same basic garb.  And no, constant reader this isn’t his work-only look, this is the man in his natural state, regardless of location or situation: baggy jeans, discount hiking shoes and a raggedy movie-themed T-Shirt.  In this case a T-Shirt promoting a film about a bunch of oily Greek dudes enjoying a murder-festival and true bro-mance. I’m sorry Rubino, my good chum, but the verdict is clear…

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Two for Tuesday: Carter Baldwin

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is long time crony and friend of the blog, Carter Baldwin.  Just like last week’s guest, Jordan Schwartz, I feel like I’ve watched him transform from a teenager with no end of raw creative potential to a very polished and talented adult.  These days Carter is pillar of the community who has his own legion of admirers and fanboys who eagerly await his next build.  I got a chance to hang out with Carter for lunch at BrickWorld 2010 and looking back, that table was quite a rouges gallery of LEGO nerds: the Chairman, Jordan, Tiler Clites, Nathan Todd, Iain, Robin and even a Rubino sighting.  I have the feeling I met Carter at an earlier convention but I’m old and some of those memories are more blurry than I’d like.  Back when I was a Brother in 2012, I interviewed him for volume 17 of my “Boilerplate & Beyond” collection.  Frankly, the interview isn’t great, I hadn’t hit my stride yet with finding the right question for the right guest, but it is an interesting time-capsule. When re-reading the interview, one of Carter’s quotes jumped out at me:

“Collaborative displays are immensely fun. I’ve always wanted to build huge displays – you don’t need the ego inflation, but it’s likely a direct result of seeing your megabuilds in my formative years. Of course, I don’t have the budget or the brick to build the massive displays that will make The Goldman feel inadequate, so the next best solution is to steal other people’s collections. Making those people build your vision for you is even better.”

He’s absolutely right you know, “Making those people build your vision for you is even better.”  Over the years Carter has done an admirable job of doing just that, whether it was his often imitated Flickr group World in Conflict 2070 or the collaborative diorama Cyberpocalypse or the various combined efforts of BroLUG.  When Carter raises his banner, great builders assemble to help him realize his vision.  Now look at these two mechano stumble-bums, the latest weapons in Carter’s ever-expanding stable of war machines.  The “Brute” Mobile Frame looks like it jumped off the screen of your favorite anime series, but without the little girls in Catholic school uniforms to make things uncomfortable.  I love it when builders find a way to incorporate minfig backpacks, and Carter uses them perfectly here.  The guns are good enough to be stand-alone models, although the one on the left looks a little to big and unbalanced for the frame.  Constant readers of the Manifesto may know by now that I judge all mecha by their feet and although these seem a little small for my tastes, at least they look good.

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I can’t very well talk about Mr. Baldwin without discussing his key contribution to my recent bloated Diorama, A Bus Stop in Bucharest.  Back in 2008 I recruited Carter to help me with the equally boated Zero Hour on Highway 44 and he came through in spades, producing some of my favorite vehicles of the project.  So 8 years later when I attempted a collaboration on the same scale, he was one of the first builders I turned to.  Once again, Carter was not content with providing a single vehicle and sent a small fleet of beautiful Box trucks along with a pair of his classic Satyr armored cars.  Like a few of the other vehicles in the diorama, the box trucks were swallowed up to some degree by the scenery and obscured by flashier super-trucks. It’s a shame because these beauties were the glue that held the whole thing together.  In fact, it was Carter who came to the rescue late in the game when I simply could not produce a good concept for the toxic spill at the center of the action.  I really dislike like building damaged or “ruined” models and I’m not very good at it either.  So when Carter offered to distress one of the box trucks he pretty much saved the whole tamale.  All I had to do was combine it with some of those weird, soft Bionicle doo-dads and everything worked out just fine.  In the years between our collaborations, Carter refined his model-shipping skills too.  When the models for Highway 44 arrived, they were reduced to the component level from a combination of eggshell technique and lack of sufficient bubble wrap.  For Bucharest I don’t think there was any significant damage at all.

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For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and somtimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder.  This is one of those times.  Thanks to builder dasnewten for the enlightening photo below.

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“Dude, for the third time…my name isn’t Nannan.”

Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.  Carter is wearing standard issue convention gear for gentlemen of his age, a graphic T-shirt possibly referencing a video game or some such nerd-culture fodder and a cotton blend hoodie that probably smells quite dank.  The ensemble is fashion boilerplate and entirely unremarkable.  Although the focus of this week’s article is not Mr. Liu, his garment demands special commentary.  A Tie-fighter emblazoned tuxedo T-shirt and a suspiciously dangling belt…I’m not sure I have the words to describe the look, but Rupaul does.

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Live…From Fabulous Las Vegas, it’s Bricks & Beer!

The Manifesto is proud to cross-promote my appearance on Andrew Lee’s entertaining and always unedited Bricks & Beer! video series.  Mr. Chrome himself was in Vegas for a marathon bachelor party that ended with a little recovery time at my legoratory.  Considering how baked I was, I think it turned out pretty good, well except for my nasally voice.  This is a half hour of your life that you’ll definitely want back!

I suppose I should offer a NSFW warning, we drop a few F-bombs here and there, it was entirely unavoidable and somehow essential to the experience.  Andrew has been an O.G. member of KeithLUG since we met at BrickCon in 2007 and he’s been a great friend over the years.  For my money Andrew is the ultimate Iron Builder, his bouts with Simon and Jimmy are the stuff of legend.  Stop by any time Chrome,  you’re always welcome in the wasteland!