When a Pen and Brick Unite (Blog or Die! Entry #4)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Werewolff

Word Count: 1822

When a Pen and Brick Unite

 

Good morning/ afternoon/ evening all (time zones, amiright?)! The Manifesto’s resident sufferer of lycanthropy here, glad to finally be able to spin some words for your eye-holes. Now then, I’m sure you’re all simply rapt as to what I’m going to present for you today, and I’ll admit I was unsure of what to talk about myself. I mean, I could waffle for a thousand words about poetry, but I just couldn’t get myself motivated and, to be honest, it would be pretty dull.

So, it came down to the two other things I kind of, sort of, know how to write about.

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However, after careful consideration, I realised that the masses may not be able to understand the benefits of breaking down the comedy found in only the best Australian television show ever made (oh, and the fact that I’d have no idea how to link it through to LEGO.)

So, option two it is. Ladies, gentlemen and Rowntrees, I give you today’s piece on… Story Writing.

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Now before you vault out of your seats like the qualified gymnasts I’m sure you all are, let me clarify what I mean. Fictional story-telling is one of the biggest parts in my life (besides a severe lack of exercise, Vegemite and the constant nagging by my co-workers to get a real hobby). A good book to me is like a glass of fine wine to many others; it’s what excites me, captivates me, forces me to think and act. And absorbing all of this information eventually led to me taking up writing, to the point where it’s literally almost everything I’ve posted when it comes to Lego.

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I, like many others, see Lego building as a form of expression, of passion, of emotion. When I start building a minifig, I start thinking way too hard about it. What is this person’s name, what’s their story? Do they come from earth, or somewhere unheard of? Are they human, monster, something in between? Where do they sit emotionally, and where do they end up? What’s their personality like? Would I like to share a drink with them, or smash said drink over their head? What would be their stance on the world they inhabit?

I’ll admit, that’s quite a long train of thoughts from a few bits of plastic with some horribly inaccurate proportions, but it’s what drew me to the community in the first place. I’ll go to the grave thanking Keith, Ron, Michael and Matt for Decisive Action 2, for providing the opportunity for a young scamp like me, with zero experience, to join the world of online MOCing. However, it wasn’t what kept me invested in the brick during the years beforehand.

No, in actuality it was a Lego story that I stumbled on purely be accident back in 2009. Pretty low-key series actually, not sure if you’ve heard of it…

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Besides utilizing some incredible set pieces filled with mind-boggling brick usage, I was captivated by AP’s Rise of the Mage. Never before had I seen someone utilize what was essentially a toy (in my young, foolish mind) to craft such a seamless and brilliant story. Never had I thought that a simple double-sided head could convey so much emotion, never had I seen an amalgamation of pieces become the fiercest threat the world had ever known.

After that, I threw myself into building my ideas, my own stories. The humble brick provided me with the form of expression I’d been searching for, and suddenly my characters where physical beings, my locations could be felt, could be seen, my worlds existed outside of the admittedly bizarre place that is my brain.

And I loved every moment of it.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that story-telling isn’t for every builder. In fact, many believe that a write-up isn’t necessary and that the build should speak for itself. But, regardless of the lengths of paragraphs, I’m sure everyone can enjoy when a Lego story-build is done right! AP’s work is one example, but Ludgonious’ LIU Atlas is another. And it’s this story that I want to use as an example for some of my top tips for crafting a Lego story. Note that this isn’t for writing stories outright, but specifically those that use the Lego media.

Now, without further ado…

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TIP 1: Building Supports Your Narrative.

Obviously, the BIG advantage Lego story-telling has over traditional pen and paper (or finger and keyboard) is the visual aspect. Suddenly these characters or places aren’t merely thoughts, they actually exist. Obviously, comics fall into a similar category, but I believe there’s just something more… solid about a Lego image accompanying a paragraph. Immediately, you know the scale and the skill at work, and can see the effort that’s gone into it from the get go.

Therefore, the building should be key when you begin to craft your story. Too often, I see builders publish something with some absolutely fantastic writing, but the accompanying pictures seem to suck the ‘epicness’ out of the scene. They may be of a poor quality, or too dark to make out, or maybe were just shoved aside in favour of the narrative, with next to no thought put into them.

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A good example would be this old gem of mine (Excuse me while I cringe dramatically.) A decent write up on the backstory (if you take the time to read it) with even a little bit of thought-provoking prose. Overall though, the whole thing is overshadowed by the build. It’s lacklustre, flat and boring, and it’s pretty clear that there was next to no effort put into it at all. And the figs! You can tell I just wacked them on there straight out of the box. Even the supposed ‘shocked’ Duke’s wearing a smile! What’s that about?

Now, for a comparison at what a story-build with some effort can look like. Let’s take a look at this relatively recent entry of LIU Atlas, Haruspex.

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Look at that set! Fantastic right? The buildings nicely contrasting with the ground thanks to their wooden panelling, the gradual gradient within the orange river, the white leaved trees, it all just…works. Even the minifigs are great and unique, and instantly you feel absorbed in that world. Already, you want to know more about this strange place, what the blue cones on the trees are, why the water’s orange and why the middle building seems more important than the others.

And that’s the strength of the build, helping to draw the reader in, to see the physical space the characters and the world take up. However, when it comes to building…

TIP 2: It Doesn’t Have To Be Complex.

Look, as much as some of us like to imagine, our Lego box isn’t limitless. We’re always scrounging for that one piece that we’re sure we saw only a minute ago (when we didn’t need it), and we’re always finding that we own far too many tyres to be reasonable (or is that just me?) Needless to say, though we realize the importance of building, we can’t always get our story build to the scale or detail that Ludgonious can.

But we don’t need to! So long as the build is considered and prioritised, the set doesn’t have to be the greatest thing conceived by anyone ever. It’s nice when we have the parts or the time to build something like Lud’ can, but a good story can be told with even the smallest scene. Take a look at another episode of LIU Atlas, specifically this image here (warning, contains scenes of alien torture):

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Again, the build has clearly been considered heavily, but this time it’s nowhere near as intricate, or as large. It’s all basic colours and pretty simple techniques, yet it still works remarkably well, and sucks you into the room. Immediately, you’re thinking about what the alien’s feeling, or what Doog’s going through, successfully sucked into the world. Another example would be the following, a teaser from a good buddy of mine, Marley Mac:

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This one’s obviously more complex technique wise, but it still uses pretty common pieces and isn’t exactly large. However, it fits the mood of the story perfectly, and carries the same effect of drawing in the reader and representing the character’s ‘presence’, which is the ultimate goal of the build.

However, whilst builds are clearly important…

TIP 3: Remember That This is a STORY.

I’ve prattled on about building so far, but all of that means squat if the story doesn’t match up with the bricks. The reason why Ludgonious and Marley’s builds work so well is because the story is lined up exactly with what’s being shown. The mood and tone are the same in both, and the reader is successfully absorbed.

However, if the story wasn’t there, then what are you left with? A great MOC definitely, something that can be OOHed and AHHed over at a local con. But how much better is it with the story? All of a sudden, these figures are characters, with emotions and thoughts and goals. All of a sudden, a ship is a home, with a thousand personal touches and a hyperdrive that doesn’t work.

Now, this isn’t me saying that EVERY great build deserves a great story, but that when great builds are utilised for a narrative they need to link in with said narrative. I won’t go into the intricacies for writing a good story as it’s wonderfully subjective (and mostly luck, to be honest), but if you are using the Lego medium to express it the two need to be linked like a pair of eagle lovers.

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So, there we have it. When it comes to writing story’s through the Lego medium, make sure the builds aren’t merely shoved in to tick a box, but are instead welded to the narrative, regardless of the technical complexity and scale at work. With those tips at your side, you’ll be reading to dive straight into the Lego bin of creative possibility, and who knows what awesome story will come of it?

Well readers, I thank you for making it all the way to the end. Hopefully I’ve been interesting enough to keep you in those seats (though I see you there Keith, ready to unleash your triple standing backflip on us), and hopefully I’ve been able to pass on a little knowledge to those aspiring Lego -writers out there. Well, I’ve run out of things to say, so I suppose I’ll leave you with this:

The humble brick, a simple thing

Placed with guided hand

But when the pen and brick unite

The results are truly grand.

 

Sorry Matt, I just couldn’t help it. XD

 

-Wolff

 

 

 

 

Glomshire Knights: A tragedy of Errors (Blog or Die! Entry #3)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Dennis Price

Word Count: 2063

Glomshire Knights: A Tragedy of Errors

 

Ewart was supposed to die.

The length of his mortal coil was set, his flame was to be snuffed, his clock had run out and his fate was die horribly at the hands of Mordock the Malignant deep within the hidden shrine of Melvin the Wizard King.

Except he kept writing the best jokes.

If I would have killed him off as I intended, it’s doubtful that Glomshire Knights would have achieved its pseudo-legendary status in the annals of brick comics.

Perhaps some context is in order. GK was a Lego-based webcomic that appeared on MOCpages and on Comicfury from 2009-2015, and for the first (and likely the last) time, I’m pulling back the curtain and revealing the history of how it came to be and why, after 577 episodes, I let it languish into obscurity.

I’m No Spielberg

I started off with a desire to use to make stop motion animations then I realized that there are middle school boys who would eat it, or at the very least would engage in that time-honored activity of throwing it at each other like spider monkeys fling — well, I’ll leave THAT to your imagination. That was when I turned to Lego, which I’d never had as a kid. We stopped into Toys ‘R Us and I bought a tub of basic bricks. Opened it up in the basement, realized I had no “Lego men” and no vehicles, so I went to Lego.com and ordered a people pack and some small vehicle sets. My sister got wind of what I was up to and offered up a small tub of Lego the nephew had sitting around from when he was a kid (he just turned 40 this year). I poured it out, picked up a classic yellow spaceman, and I was hooked.

That’s right, my entrance to hobby came well into adulthood and quite by accident, but that’s not the point. I cleared out a small space in the garage and tried my hand at animating. My first effort is still out there you can watch it at your peril.

My second film was The Quest for Space, and it actually took some planning and effort. There were some glitches in the process, and a serious computer crash, that caused me to shorten what had been planned to be a 10-min film, but I’m still satisfied with it. While the film doesn’t come close to the quality of some films I’ve seen, it does reveal something very important: my sense of humor. Sir Robert of Goddardshire is the ancestor of Bob the Wizard, who would shortly shuffle onto the stage of my little morality play.

After completing The Quest for Space, I came up with the idea of an evil wizard taking over a kingdom in some sort of medieval Monty Pythonesque ripoff that probably would get me sued, or at least victimized by the Fish Slapping Dance (oh, I wish). There were actually two Glomshire films made, but more computer problems and poor production values — not to mention the lack of a proper studio space to control light — brought my film career to a screeching halt. I knew enough that I could help the kids make their own films, and that was when it snowed.

BLAME IT ON THE WEATHER

Snowy winters aren’t necessarily the norm where I live, but every now and then those cold wintery winds will bring us more than a dusting. When that happens, schools generally close for a day or two. Such was the case in January, 2009, not long after I discovered a software program called Comic Life. The following is the result:

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In the meantime, I had recently started lurking around on MOCpages and was wetting my feet there with a little picture story about what happened when President-elect Barick Obama failed to take the oath of office at precisely noon on Inauguration Day in the United Bricks of America, or some claptrap like that. After Snow Fun, I started using Comic Life to tell that story, which was called “The Ascension” and is still available in that long abandoned electronic ghost town if you want to see it. I was interested to see if others were using Lego for storytelling, and that’s when I stumbled upon Legostar Galactica, The Brick House, and Tranquility Base (all webcomics).  Then and there, I decided to forgo brickfilming altogether and thus, he wrote pompously, Glomshire Knights was born.

Mistakes Were Made

I believe I had some builds sitting around from an attempt at joining the building contest over at Classic-Castle.com, which unbelievably is still going strong. My building skills, however, haven’t progressed either. I tossed that junk I had on the table together, set up some lights, shot some pictures, crammed it into Comic Life with some text and pushed it online. Don’t believe me when I say it was tossed together out of table scraps? Look for yourself:

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Ah, the memories — and what I believe was the lone appearance of Saxby.

Not realizing what I was doing, I meandered into the story, which basically involved the hunt for a relic that was supposed to thwart an evil prophecy that foretold the doom of Glomshire, which is the name of a kingdom and a great walled capital city. (Come to think of it, I never did get around to making that clear.)  Misadventures followed, as they say, and eventually the bad guys were defeated. I’ll let you read it, rather than spoil it. Since the supreme overlord of The Manifesto demands contest entries of 1,000 or more words, I’m going to need to fill the rest this thing with something. Therefore, let me bore you with more meandering musings on the making of Glomshire Knights. (Wait! Should I use the word Lego more in this post, Keith? Lego! Lego! Lego! Lego! Ah, shaddup already!)

Meager Skills = Mediocre Content

Similar to the way I build MOCs, GK was fairly free-form: I never meticulously planned out every episode. Some comickers, if that’s even a word, block out and script every panel in details fashion. I work in a fashion similar to the way Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Don Heck and others at Marvel Comics back in the day. Here’s an interesting blog post by John Rozum that will save me from explaining it.  As for my process, I had an ever-evolving plot summary filed away on the computer. Important bits of dialogue, such as a particular punchline, would be included or summarized, as would directions for specific shots I wanted. I also would note any specific builds I might need, such as a peasant’s hut or throne room. There were “dream builds” that never came to fruition, to be sure, and some builds were simply beyond my somewhat limited skill set. Additionally, due to limited space and number of bricks, no setup was kept intact except for Bob’s quarters, which is now just a memory thanks to a cat. It really didn’t matter since so many of my  panels were a fig or two with simple wall as a backdrop. The real problem with doing a Medieval strip was that so much of the action happened outdoors. I tried to break up the horizon line formed by a flat baseplate and wall behind it with some construction paper. It worked, but I grew to hate it as well. I never have learned how to build a more organic looking landscape, but I also haven’t taken the time to try. Color me lazy.

Once the photographs were taken, I’d plug the shots into Comic Life and write the dialogue. There were times when I’d have to reshoot some shots to reflect dialogue, and since my process was so loose in planning I had the flexibility to come up with new jokes/situations as I built. This explains why the plot seems to wander over the course of the series, but I always knew that there would be a massive battle with an Mordock’s netherling army at the end of that first story arc.

The End of Glomshire Knights?

The defeat of Mordock and Hiryxzan, and the death of Xnder (pronounced Mike, silly), was not supposed to be the end of the strip. I planted the seeds of at least four or five new stories (or more) along the way, plus opened up other opportunities with Bob “reading” tales of Glomshire’s history.

I just grew tired of it. Making a webcomic can be a grind, although it is fun, but the hardest thing in the world to do is be genuinely funny. I think I can be funny in a snarky, smart aleck sort of way, but being funny is hard work. I truly think anyone can write something coherent with just a little effort, but to be funny on a consistent basis is exhausting. That was a big part of it, but a slim readership base and inconsistent output coupled with, sadly, my father’s illness and passing over that last six months of the strip made it hard for me to even consider diving back into that rabbit hole. Plus, I never really felt respected, appreciated, or outright hated for my aspect of the Lego hobby at conventions or online, and I had more than one person say to me, “I don’t read, I just look pictures of models.” This happened at least three or four times over the course Brickworld 2015, and that probably sent a signal that it was time to quit. (Note: This negative vibe NEVER came from people who know me or took the time to actually try and talk to me, just rubes that wanted to rub in my face that they were jackasses when they realized that I made a webcomic, I suppose. I actually hinted at this sort thing in a 2013 post I had already wrapped up the storyline and started working on where the strip was going next, so I published the rest of what I had and that was it. No grand finale, no tearful group hug, no rocks spelling out “Goodbye” or other such nonsense.

Aftermath

I’m not complaining about the lack of attention or readership — I did the strip for fun, and I wasn’t having any. Besides, MOCpages, where GK got its start, was already dead in the water and the strip wasn’t getting much traffic on Comic Fury either, so perhaps it’s for the best. My story was told, so I kind of think of those plot threads and dropped storyline in a similar light to the cancellation of Gilligan’s Island – we just stopped where we were. Maybe there’ll be a TV movie in 10 or 15 years or so, ala Rescue from Gilligan’s Island!  Check out this link if you have no clue about one of the unsung influences on GK. I have kept a low profile for the most part ever since, and I haven’t built more than a few MOCs sdf since I closed up the shop.  I’m not a world class builder by any stretch, so no loss to the community, such as it is, on that front.

Gil, Ewart, and the gang are still tucked away in their craft organizer home, ready to burst forth for adventure should the urge strike.  I can’t bear to mix them into that tub of assorted minifigs I keep tucked under the computer desk.  That strip was my brainchild, the thing that led me into the hobby for real.  There’s also a certain yellow classic space fig in there; it holds a special place in my heart because he was part of a Christmas gift I gave my nephew in the early 80s – long after I had outgrown toys and was making my way as an adult.  I have toyed a couple of times with trying something more long form using that fig and others I’ve collected over the past six or seven years.  It would be more like a comic book, and pushed it out into the world as a .pdf every few months to download for your reading pleasure on a website or maybe even the manifesto – but don’t bank on it.

Everyone knows Keith hates to read.

 

Blog or Die! The Manifesto’s First Contest

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Tell Your Story” image courtesy of Chris Maddison

Constant reader, the time has come for the Manifesto’s first ever writing contest.  So if you’ve been too shy, too busy or too lazy to join in on the action, now is the time to live your blogging dreams on this… the smallest and shabbiest stage in all AFOLdom.  Yes, this is your chance to join the vaunted brotherhood of Liu, Hoffmann, Andes, Rutherford, rountRee, Prasad and Oohlu.  Tell your story…blog or die!

Continue reading “Blog or Die! The Manifesto’s First Contest”