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”

Advice Works (Blog or Die! Entry #15)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Caleb Inman (VAkkron)

Word Count: 1,282

Advice Works

I often see Lego touted as both an art form and as an application of engineering principles, because of its immediate tactile response and precision.  Fortunately for me and all those who choose to participate in the greater community, Lego is also a culture.  One that offers community and inspires me to learn about other people, understand our differences, and celebrate a shared passion for creativity.

Well, you already knew that.  You’ve all had that same realization.  Heck, maybe you’ve even put it all in a job application essay like I have!  Anyway, I want to tell you all a story tonight.  So fill a glass at the eternally flowing countertop that is the Manifesto, sit back, and try not to puke at the WIPs.

I want to explain what I did when both the science and the art of Lego failed me.  I had a great vision and a hopeful imagination, but not surprisingly, it was difficult to pull off.  This is a story about the creation of my Isaac Newton storytelling bust which I created in 2016 for a competition.  But I decided that I wasn’t content simply meeting the contest criteria, and Bricks Noir and Absurde were both inspiring me to push into the character-building genre.  The competition was Radley’s annual mad scientist competition, and the assignment was to build a crazy scientist in their laboratory, either real or fictitious.  I decided to make a bust of Isaac Newton, and from the first minute of my planning, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look.

I say that because I very rarely build with such complete vision.  But for this model, I knew that I wanted to build a super-realistic version of the man’s face in full or close-to-full scale.  I wanted his luscious wig to unfold with stories of his life built in miniature atop them.  I even wanted to build a Lego orrery coming out of Sir Izzy’s scalp.

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Photo Credit

The problem was, I wasn’t very good at that.  I started out with my science, by building a Technic frame, which limited my size to roughly a ¾ model.  Fortunately, that helped my tan parts collection actually stretch across the entire model, which it would not have with a full-scale face.  The wig was difficult and I wanted the fold-out miniatures to be saved for the big reveal, But I knew I was having trouble with the face when it looked far more like your grandma than Isaac Newton (reference picture).  It was time to call in the big guns.

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[First WIP Image]  Photo Credit.

I’d only seen closed-group WIPs talked about on the side a few times, and had maybe been a part of one myself.  But I decided to post a private photo of my senile, rat-haired freak to Flickr, because heaven knows I had no clue what to do next.  And that is where the beginning of my story becomes relevant.  Since this hobby has introduced me to so many engineers, artists, and everything-in-betweeners who know what they are doing, I asked them all for help.  I’ve seen carefully-worded, politically-correct posts about “comments and criticism are welcome”, but I didn’t want any criticism.  I wanted straight-up mockery, swearing and vocalized pain that my model inflicted on their eyes.  To my great delight, that is exactly what I got.

If I showed you the group of homies who commented on my model, you’d probably recognize many of the names.  That’s because the Manifesto is something amazing to me in a personal way: literally most of my good friends online are constant readers here.  Hi friends!  They breathed fire, they broke down my model step by step.  Absurde brought the technical expertise.  Keith brought the vision.  Matt brought the artistic commentary, Wolff brought the cranberry pie, and we all had a delicious collaborative Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I’m going to serve you some of the best comments that turned this build around.  I will include mostly the helpful stuff, so if you bear with me, you might learn something yourself (unless you were the person who said it).  Until further notice, please refer to the above eyesore that is a WIP.  This is what the comments applied to.

First off, Matt Rowntree chimed in early and gave some wonderful advice.  So useful, in Advice

fact, that half of my other responses were echoes of his advice, or rather, the advice of one of his mentors.

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I’ve actually taken this to heart since, and try to see through all replicas that I make with this sort of inspiration.  Matt also kindly noted that my nose was too small, citing Izzy’s “massive proboscis of pugilistic proportions”, which sounds like it could be a disease description.  If that is so, I probably suffer from the same thing.  Keith commented with some professional hair advice.

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Topsy also joined in the nose conversation, bringing some near-compliments to the table.  Unfortunately, her advice on color wasn’t going to work, but I had to make some concessions.  Luckily I took her and Keith’s advice regarding color tone and consistency, and this model made me realize the true power of color in a piece of art.

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The undisputed master of the art form (imo at least, but hopefully that’s enough credit to his skill) Letranger Absurde graced my page with his presence and offered some frank and very specific suggestions.  I am so glad I changed the nose and got rid of those two awful studs above the round 2×2 tile as well.

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My good buddy Josiah pointed out that the focal point of the picture was off, something that I hadn’t even considered when building it.  Again, that’s a piece of advice that has stuck with me for every model I’ve built since.

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After all this welcome but challenging feedback, I took two weeks to improve the model.  In this case, improve actually meant scraping off everything but the lips and chin, which had been the only unanimously liked part.  The result is shown below, with the final version at the bottom.  Fortunately this second iteration was such a hit that there was very little to change.  Even I as the artist could just feel that this was almost spot-on, and I was expecting the minor critiques that I got.  Some of that second-round feedback is posted below.

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I think the best thing I heard was “recognizable”.  I learned the valuable lesson that mimicry of real people with Lego is hard.  But fortunately, with the specific advice from people who had very good perspective, I was able to look past my creator’s blind spot and see this through their eyes.

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[Second WIP Image]  Photo Credit.

I know SHIP-builders revel in the big reveal.  I know castle builders love to show their latest technique or greeble-intensive rock wall.  It is so easy to hold our visions to our chests and not let anyone else peek inside until we can vomit it out on an expectant audience.  But my best work, which was truly borne of my hard work, came at the behest of others’ advice.  I trusted those people with garbage.  As it turned out, if I hadn’t shown the garbage to anyone, I wouldn’t have created the treasure.  And in doing so, I learned that all the gents and lady who I counted on for frank and succinct advice really did want me to succeed and were willing to help me develop my best.  It’s a valuable lesson, and again one that I’ve used in internship applications.  So thank you to that whole jolly group who were my work-in-progress commentary.  I wouldn’t even have tried to do it without you.

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”

MOCpages, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Firetrucks

It is my great pleasure to hand over the airwaves to friend of the blog, matt rowntRee, who has graciously agreed (after a great deal of cajoling and mocking) to share his wisdom on the current state of MOCpages.  With any luck this will not be his last article for the Manifesto, but for now lean back and enjoy matt’s take on a topic that has been burning up the comments section.

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First off, let me welcome you aboard the cruise ship here, pay no attention to the hole.  Or the slight tilt.  But the band is playing down on the Lido deck and we’re still serving drinks, albeit without alcohol much to Lloyd’s displeasure.

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But that’s so we can include the kids in our little voyage.  I mean, why would you NOT want to include them unless you’re admitting that you’re a godless pornographer looking to destroy impressionable young minds.  Is that what you want, sicko?  Is that why you’re here reading this drivel knowing full well who wrote it?  Is that why you are morbidly curious about this “fine” vessel?  Is that why the Shirley Temple you just ordered tastes like Kool-Aid with a hint of almonds?  Yes, remember folks that on this voyage we have to take into account the fragile minds of children.

(That one’s just for you Keith.  😉 )

Sound fun, constant reader?  But wait, there’s more!

Here are your monogrammed towel and rose colored glasses because our only port of call is a fine little island that goes by the nickname Castle Rock.  There you’ll find such wonders as a pigs head on a pointy stick with flies buzzing around it, a young man that talks to it, several tribes at war over a pair of glasses, and one boy named Piggy wearing a boulder for a hat.  Don’t worry if he doesn’t feel like talking, he’s just dead.  At the end of our time there, we will have ourselves a glorious little bonfire which may attract some curious soldiers on a transport to wonder how these children could become so feral and violent.  Don’t mind the warship, it’s only irony.

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You want an update on Mocpages?  Curious as to what’s going on there?  Want the latest scuttlebutt about a site where I can’t say “scuttlebutt”?  Wondering why someone that you, constant reader, here know to be zealous about artistic freedom would have some insight as to the social experiment that takes “LEGO Dark Ages” literally?

Well, you’ve come to the right place then!

But as with all things on Mocpages, I am the man to ask only by default.  All the lifeboats were filled and most everyone rowed to bigger, brighter, less sinking sites.  Good for every one of them!  You as well, constant reader, if for some reason you find yourself to be included in that wave of saved souls.  However, I have to ask why you left.  Was it the glitches like the INactivity bar?  Was it the comical Bonk, Smash, Thud-ism prevalent during contests with timeframes?  Was it the uploader that never ever EVER works, even though it does?  Was it technical, or was it something else?

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You see, constant reader, I have to tell you honestly that I don’t believe you when you say that it was technical issues for one reason:  They really only exist as minor annoyances.  Does Mocpages need upgrades?  Abso-fucking-lutely!  Without any doubt, the site is stuck in 2002, and it painfully shows its age.  It’s why many rowed their way to Sweden Flickr and Facebook.  At least that seems to be what they have said when asked, as if being courteous and non-confrontational, respectful and mindful of other points of view as if avoiding any sort of boat rocking on this unsinkable vessel.  The problem is that those sights are not Mocpages, that perfectly suited page set up ripe for conversation and display, that hive of active groups engaging in contests and community, that premier site devoted to the one single bond shared by every one of us:  Sharing our LEGO creations.  Hell, that’s even the motto at the top of the page there!  So what is it that made you flee a sinking ship?  Was it even sinking?  Had it hit the iceberg just yet or is it still blissfully full steam ahead?  If Mocpages is archaic, slow, and technically annoying, then why does anyone care?

I have the answer to that as well.

It’s simply perfect.  And you all want it to work.  It’s beautifuuuullll!

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But just like Pantera’s Box it cannot be closed.  We have all seen that Mocpages is the best platform for what the community needs and wants.  However, it is broken.  Well, sort of.  Not really, but it has issues.  Fixable, but seeing that everyone has pretty much left the liner, there is little reason to patch the hole that doesn’t seem to be taking in any more water, if it even was in the first place.  No ballast, no hole below the waterline.  Or I may simply be imposing my bias towards the pages there as they better suit my own style of building, a concession I would readily admit.  But something as open to all styles like that should by design be open to evolving and expanding, welcoming all manner of expression to freely converse and hopefully improve.  Again, I would freely confess that my expectations are far greater than actualities.  But as Keith’s art school girlfriend, I think they should be.

Now I think it’s time for a bit of updating as you all have been patiently and anxiously awaiting, likely begging even with baited breath no less.  That nervous tick of frustration compels you to know, like ripe fruit in front of you.  So close.  So very close.  Or you are just simply bored going through your daily routine in the morning before setting off to your job and want me to get to the damn point because you have some shit to say about Mocpages and this jerk keeps yammering.  (Don’t worry, I know that answer too.)

So, are you ready?

Are you sure?

Then in the immortal words of Herb Tarlek, “Mmmmmokayfine.”

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Nothing has changed.

Yes, you heard right, folks, and you heard it here first!  Not a goddamned thing has changed with Mocpages!  Still the same old glitches, still the same old uploader, still the same old spectacular cast of dozens (except of course those that are rowing vigorously), still the same castaways on their little island nations looking for power with Piggy’s spectacles regardless of who broke the conch shell (c’mon guys, read your classics!), still the same rose colored glasses, still the same man behind the curtain (shhhh, don’t wake him), still the same Pandora’s Box open to the world, and still the same rowntRee fighting the only causes worth fighting for, lost ones.

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(God, I hate that sappy movie.)

Is it sad to know that Pandora’s Box actually gives us all a bit of hope?  Yup, I can see it’s still at the bottom of the Box there.  And it’s why I haven’t completely jumped ship.  I have been over there for actually five years now (had to look it up) and have been riding the meteoric decline since.  The great exodus was right in front of me and I still saw that the site was worth the effort of sticking around (Surf Chernobyl!)  And over the past couple years, there has been a revival of voices (the remaining ones, that is) that have all but demanded that Sean wake up and fix the technical issues.  The hope is still there and I even have proof!  We started a group where we could gather ideas and suggestions (hence the name) to present to Kelso to present to Sean, all done in the hope that Mocpages was worth saving.  There were some great ideas fleshed out into feasible positives and a host of easy changes to operations that could be tasty and attractive.  Even for Sean!  Yes, we took into account that it had to appeal to him rather than be a whine fest of MP denizens demanding more now.

Well, Sean rolled over a bit.  And then promptly went back to sleep.  Apologies, Mr. Kenney for disturbing you, we’ll genuflect softer next time.

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Actual changes can be summed up easily with LukeClarenceVan the Revanchist (Lachlan Toal) and Chris Roach being made site wide moderators to help Mark “I’m pulling out my hair with all this bullshit” Kelso and Chris “I’d pull out my hair if I had the time” Phipson.

So, four people now occupy the prestigious position of Mocpages moderator.  They have all been granted complete power to enact changes and control issues, they can step in and take action under any circumstance to affect results in Sean’s absence, and they can repair all the technical problems as Sean has granted them full access to do so as necessary.  Okay, all that was complete bullshit as it is just four mods left to clean up the mess that opening the Box created.

There is only one other change of note.  The occupancy/activity has been reduced from over twenty pages (28 mocs each) when I joined to what is now four pages at best.  And most of them are filled with, yep, you guessed it, firetrucks.  Yes, you know your site is doomed when firetrucks invade the homepage.  I’m pretty sure it’s one of the signs of the apocalypse, the eighth seal perhaps, real wrath of god type stuff.

So where does that leave us, constant reader?  Because if you’re really interested in what’s going on over at a FREE website, then why aren’t you over there interested?  You all know it not to be LUGNET, it obviously was more than an exclusive sounding board and offered pics to share.  You know it wasn’t Brickshelf, it allowed more depth than a simple photo dump.  It was the best of both worlds; Flickr became the clubhouse by default.  But why is that?

My experience on Mocpages was tame by most standards and I’m not compooter savvy enough to know otherwise; it likely afforded me a bit of wiggle room when throwing in some sound reasoning to any argument.  It still however did not prevent me from getting booted out of a group there for pointing out their bias.  But I know that Vitreolum and Bricks Noir have both been “chase(d)…round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before (they’ve been given) up!”  Seriously guys, read the classics, but if you insist:

So that’s it.  All that is going on over at Mocpages is the same.  And it’s been the same over the past fifteen years.  And it’ll be the same over the next.  So, you want to know more?  Then get over there.  If everyone’s so curious, then go check it out.  But the only thing that really has changed in all the years is that everyone left.  For whatever reason, no one stays.  Blame Sean, he’s certainly culpable in letting it fall into ruins.  Blame the bands of roving mobs dictating policy based on their juvenile sensibilities, they are definitely the loudest voices since no one else there is speaking, let alone against them.  Blame me for trying more indirect approaches after seeing that kicking down the front door only let more flies in to swirl around the rotting pig’s head.  But if you’re not there actively engaging, then I’m not sure how anything I say will be enlightening.  There are no more players and there is no game, the lights are on but there’s no one home.

I tried.

I tried here as well, constant reader.  I was tasked with writing an article about Mocpages, but I’m afraid that although I have a unique insight, there just simply isn’t anything worth writing about.  Gertrude Stein would call it the Oakland of the interwebs, there’s no there there.  I am not one to call to arms and go fight the fight as I don’t see anything there worth fighting for.  Lost causes are one thing; Mocpages has simply devolved into a mob ruled monarchy.  And no matter how many moderators are put in charge, it’ll remain that way until Sean is out of the picture.

Or we take it back.  I mean what can they do?  Kick us out of a site we aren’t really on in the first place and certainly one we’ve been forced to not care about.  But for some strange reason, we still do.  And out of my own morbid curiosity, I am wondering why everyone will not give it a second glance.  For academic reasons, I want to know that if all the technical issues were fixed then is it possible for a migration back there.  Would the prodigal community be welcome by the locals?  Is a new uploader, all shiny and chrome, important enough for anyone to go back?  It seems to me that we’ve all adapted to Flickr relatively well, would adapting to Mocpages be out of the question?  If so, why?  We all seem to harbor fond memories of the old gal.  Yeah, on occasion she can be a bitch, but there was in fact something there that isn’t anymore.  Maybe it’s just us that aren’t there anymore.  And if it is more Mobpages than Mocpages, maybe it’s just the wrong mob.  Have we all been on that cruise long enough and are just simply sick of shrimp and Shirley Temples?  Should we just wish it a fond bon voyage from our own island?

As I said, constant reader, I am not one to call to arms.  But there she sits; same old Mocpages where nothing has changed.  But now you have an article telling you not only something you already knew but also absolutely nothing worth reading and somewhat indicting in its tone.  Apologies and you’re welcome.  Will any curiosity drive you to take Mocpages back or is the ease and features of Flickr enough?  Is community there at all appealing in comparison to community on Flickr?  Is there an obligation to one over the other?  Is there any hint of responsibility to this medium that compels you to help the next batch of builders to not make the same mistakes we all did?  Anyone else just simply enjoy a good fight?  Is matt going to relent with all these fucking questions?

Just one more:  Is Mocpages worth starting the fire of revolt over or is simply setting it ablaze the best option?

Either way, thankfully there are enough firetrucks to prevent it from getting out of hand.

“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.

Convoluted

Greetings, valued readers. It’s your resident loon, Chris Hoffmann here. Keith is absent at the moment (something about a SHIP?) so until he gets back I’m throwing you all a bone with an article on my experiences at BrickFair Virginia. What’s that, you say? BrickFair was over a month ago? Er, never mind that. Let’s just embrace the tardiness and I’ll take you back to Japan Brickfest and last year’s Brickworld along the way. Hopefully it’ll provide some context to those convention photos you’ve already forgotten about or ignored.

This is a sequel of sorts to Ted’s inaugural Brickworld 2017 article and will include a bit of autobiography. Like Ted, I was a con virgin until Brickworld 2016, and we were both solicited by none other than friend of the blog Simon Liu. As regulars to the Manifesto already know by now, Simon assured Ted that organizing a collaboration six weeks before convention wasn’t such a bad idea after all, and then coaxed me to join in the fun shortly thereafter. Flash forward another year and guess who talked me into a flight from Japan to Virginia for BrickFair?

Simon has a knack for this sort of thing, particularly with getting some of the younger talent to come out of their shells, see the bigger picture, and meet people in person at their first con. My roommate from this year’s festivities imagines Simon with a fishing lure, enticing and reeling in anyone who catches his eye. It’s a high-level social skill I wish more of us had, and the community owes a lot to the guy for it, more than is obvious from his public work alone. I’m no Simon, but hopefully this article will have a similar effect on some of you reading.

If this sounds like I’m sucking up to the guy, then you’d be right! I kind of screwed him and everyone else over this year at Simon Draft, but more on that later.

Hold up, did you say Japan?

Yes. I moved to Japan for work shortly after Brickworld 2016 and was fortunate enough to find the only international LUG in the country a doable hour and a half train ride away. We’re the main organizers of Japan Brickfest, which recently became the third official Lego “fan weekend,” joining Skærbæk in Denmark and Paredes de Coura in Portugal. It sounds big and important on paper, but really it’s just a standard con with slightly more support and representation from TLG.

The company has been trying to reach out to the Asian market and, as small as our group is, the show we put on is still the biggest horse in the race with 270 builders from 11 different countries this year. From what I’ve gathered from my fellow LUG members, there just aren’t that many Lego-specific conventions in the Pacific region, leaving fans to piggyback on the larger video game and comic cons. There are good people trying to change that, but for the time being JBF is the place to meet cool cats like Lu Sim, Benjamin Cheh Ming Hann, and all those silent Flickr profiles you didn’t know were from Asia.

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LHB-025 by Ryuhei Kawai

Side note: Some fans regard our corporate overlords as gods and go crazy whenever they meet one of them at a convention. Me? I’m indifferent. Lego artists are Lego artists and marketing goons are marketing goons, regardless of who signs their paycheck. The ones who work for Lego aren’t worth climbing over hundreds of bodies to get a few words in with when there’s plenty of others standing right next to you. Just be politely wary of the more “aspy” con-goers, whose social skills include vacuous staring, rattling off part numbers from memory, and generally derailing conversations.

Cultural relativity

Now, being conditioned by my experiences in America, I anticipated a certain amount of leeway with regard to convention shenanigans. But what seemed like an innocuous joke to me at the time involving obvious tampering with competition votes was rather lost on the genteel otaku from the land of the rising sun. Everything seemed fine until I caught wind of angry messages sent to the LUG’s email account—never expect the average Japanese person to give feedback about things like this out in the open.

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Photo courtesy of Takamichi Irie

Another thing that can dampen the con experience in Japan is that it’s only gonna last the weekend. The harsh work culture here and in much of Asia makes taking time off impractical at best, meaning you’ll never see the five-day conventions we’re used to in the west. Every day is a public day and this naturally means less time to meet people and hang out, which sucks since that’s the main draw of going to a convention in the first place. My few passing interactions with other builders were all too familiar: “Oh hey, I recognize this,” “This technique here is pretty cool,” etc. Nothing substantial as there wasn’t room to dig deeper.

I don’t mean to bash Japan Brickfest. As I said before, JBF is currently one of the best places to meet AFOL from that corner of the world and I’m proud to be a part of that. It really feels more like a festival than a convention, right down to a courtyard with local food carts and live music. So it’s got a unique vibe from what you’re probably used to.

I’m sure much of my experience at JBF was colored by constantly being on staff. I’m not big on activities at cons because they interfere with valuable hangout time, so having a full schedule of them isn’t my ideal. Even after convention hours, there was hardly any downtime since we’d finish late, exhausted, and have to be on early the next morning. It didn’t help that we were short a few people, but I have a newfound respect for anyone who volunteers to help run these things. As a regular attendee, I can see the event being more worthwhile if you play it right. Lu Sim has recorded that perspective on his blog, which is probably the best you’re gonna find in English.

“Maybe things will be better in Chicago”

I’m generally pretty good at staving off homesickness, but after Japan Brickfest 2017 I began to miss my first con experience back at Brickworld Chicago 2016. I regularly mentioned to my fellow LUG members how amazing it was to be able to drink and chat in the convention hall all night long across the better part of a week. But there was an unscalable wall called the Japanese school year blocking me from going back over. So at the end of BW 2016, during the long goodbye, I was left wondering when if ever I would see the friends I made there again.

BrickFair Virginia 2017 was entertained as a possibility and slowly crept its way into reality over the next few months. In the end, I’m glad it was BFVA this year instead of Brickworld. Brickworld is a mere week after Japan Brickfest and I was creatively exhausted after helping with a sizable medieval collab for my LUG’s display, which I was admittedly halfhearted about. This was all in between trying (and failing) to finish builds on time for the Lego Speederbike Contest and the Real World +200 Starfighter Contest—plus admin for the latter. But the two month gap between JBF and BFVA afforded me enough time to recover and finish up some non-LUG projects I was more interested in but too burned out to work on before. BFVA became a point to look forward to, unlike JBF where the pressure was on to finish stuff for the collab. Many of the same faces from Brickworld 2016 were back at BFVA 2017, in what now feels like my second true con experience.

The second time around

I hate to get too grandiose here, but going to your first con is a transformative process. You will put faces to names from the online community and get to know people beyond your shared love of the brick. Flickr handles quickly crumble away to reveal real people behind all those builds you’ve been admiring. You may have interacted with some of them online from time to time, but that’s nothing compared to the convention, which is multiple straight days of sharing food, drink, and company. Some of these people will become your genuine friends by the end of it. It’s to the point that I feel like there’s a pre-con and a post-con version of myself as an AFOL, especially since I only communicated with other AFOLs online beforehand and hadn’t so much as joined a LUG.

Ted said in his Brickworld article that “you’ll always remember your first time,” but things only get better from there. Now that you’ve already passed the asshole test, you don’t have to deal with that awkward introductory phase again. And you’ll get acquainted even faster with new people through the ones you met last time. Before you know it, Simon has “blind date” roomed you with Sean Mayo, who then introduces you to Dan Rubin and Blake Foster. And wait, Red Spacecat is here?!

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CFX-7 Peregrine UCAV by Stijn van der Laan

If you’re lucky you can graduate from those cramped 2-bed hotel rooms and live the suite life. While it may not compare to Brickworld’s most outstanding feature of keeping the display space open all night, it does have its own cozy charm that lends itself to more intimate conversations. Sean Mayo will talk your ear off if you let him, and boy am I glad I did at BFVA this year. In the best of these alcohol-fueled convention chats, there’s so much to say and respond to that on your way to saying your piece you lose half of it, then promise yourself when you’re sober to pick up where you left off the next day, the next meal out, the next convention. But there’s never enough time.

Eventually the whole ordeal becomes a juggling act; you only have so much time to divide among all the people you want to mingle with. Simon is an ace at this; because of how far his reach is, he’ll bounce around the convention center like a pinball catching up with his mass of acquaintances. Try to catch him yourself so you can get in on laser tag or a Star Wars-themed escape room with a bunch of other spacers. Of course, there’s always events run by the convention organizers, but schedules are lame and I’d rather wander about and do my own thing with whatever kindred spirits I bump into. Shout-outs to Micah Beideman the table-jumping baby-flipper and his dad for bringing more tabletop games than MOCs this year.

My boy, you’ve been drafted

By far one of the best “extracurricular activities” you can get in on is Simon Draft. Simon Draft is an ancient ritual dating as far back as AD 2015. I won’t get into all the gritty details here, but it’s like a normal parts draft except first pick rights are decided by building skills with the draft parts in question.

Simon Draft 1
Photo and draft courtesy of Simon Liu

Having failed to appease Kaiser Liu in this feat of strength at Brickworld 2016, I was determined to redeem myself at BrickFair 2017. And I did… by copying what I saw win last year with a quirky Mixel character build (and a fittingly Japanese influence). The strategy made me feel kind of dirty, but I can’t argue with the results.

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Photo and beer courtesy of Simon Liu

We had to leave the convention hall shortly after, so the actual sorting and drafting would have to wait till the next day. But I overslept and got chewed out for not showing up until right before the draft, too late to help with sorting. Let this be a lesson that you should carry your own weight, whether you’re part of a collab, trying to escape the Death Star, or perhaps even doing something as vital as sorting Lego.

So I forfeited my first pick rights and was sentenced by a jury of my peers to pick a number from a bag like everyone else… only to draw number one anyway.

Take that, bitches! I’ll never learn my lesson! I made off with some of the best parts in the draft, in particular some that Simon had his eyes set on. I’ll brag about them here because I know he’s reading.

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MATANGO!!

I’m neither proud nor sorry for what happened.

The big picture

Come to think of it, that photo of my Simon Draft build with the alcohol in the background is a perfect summation of BFVA. There’s some mysterious creative mojo about the place that just compels people to build— moreso than at other cons, I’m told. I mentioned earlier that I was creatively burnt out after Japan Brickfest, but the complete opposite happened at BFVA, where the inspiration hit again and again as I discovered new and spectacular models and panned for gold in the vendors’ unsorted bins. And I’m happy to still be riding that high a month later.

The most extreme example of this building fever came from David Hansel Gabe Umland. Having recently come home from New Zealand, he wasn’t planning on going to BrickFair and didn’t have any MOCs to show for it. But—big surprise—Simon convinced him to pack up some Lego and make the drive down to Virginia. So he ended up building this impromptu beauty right in the convention hall with a little help from his friends and some minty fresh parts courtesy of Simon. Oh, and did I mention he got a frigging award for it?

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Photo, parts, and attendance courtesy of Simon Liu

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned a lot of individual MOCs in this post. If I have, it’s because there’s a story behind them. And this is the real point of going to a con, and where most convention recap stories fall short. Ted touched on this already in his Brickworld article, but I’ll repackage it in a novel way like any good sequel should. People mistakenly believe that you’re supposed to bring MOCs to display or show off (or perhaps for that old vice of gettin’ the prize), but the MOCs are really there as conversation pieces. It’s not about the show; it’s about the music. Gabe’s build is a perfect example. The dude didn’t have any MOCs to bring and didn’t care. He just showed up to hang out. And with that attitude he created something valuable. There’s the MOC itself, of course, the physical ABS parts arranged just so. But that’s secondary to the immaterial connections behind the MOC.

To all you lurkers out there, I speak from experience. I found the online community on MOCPages sometime in 2005 and didn’t share any of my MOCs publicly until 2013. I was another 3 years a con virgin and now I regret not joining in the fun sooner. So don’t be afraid to pop that con cherry. The first time might be a bit awkward or disappointing depending on who you’re with, but don’t let that deter you. There’s good times to be had if you take a chance and put yourself out there. You control the action.

People of ‘The Pages’: Nick Pascale

Welcome, constant reader to the inaugural entry of a new feature here at the Manifesto called People of ‘The Pages’.  ‘The Pages’ refers to MOCpages of course, that wonderful reservation inhabited by Brickarmz prototype enthusiasts, home-schooled teenage religious zealots and all the lovable disenfranchised dreamers of the Lego dream.  Although I don’t go to MOCpages for the social interaction or creations any longer, the site does offer one redeeming quality that keeps bringing me back for more…the home-page description.  Every MOCpages account has a space for you, the builder, to say a little something about yourself and your approach to the hobby….it’s like the ‘profile‘ feature on Flickr but not so inaccessible and underused.  On MOCpages the home-page description takes center-stage and it has inspired some truly great content over the years.  It is my great pleasure to share that conent with you, just the best of the best.  This series has less to do with building and more to do with finding out just who the hell we are as a tribe.

This feature is inspired by a shitty early 1980’s TV show called Real People, that seemed to be on constantly when I was a kid.  Because there were very few channels to choose from and options were limited, I watched more of this show than was probably healthy.

So with that preamble out of the way, I’m going to kick-start the series with perhaps the ultimate home-page description in all of ‘The Pages’.  I stumbled upon it years ago, quite by accident, during my time blogging for TBB.  Nick Pascale was (and probably still is) a frequent commentator on the Big Blog, rarely would a week go by without a comment or three popping up on various postings.  Never on my posts though…never on mine…which naturally pricked my delicate ego and peaked my interest, prompting me to seek him out in his natural environment.  What I found on ‘The Pages’ nothing short of astonishing….one of the single greatest pieces of writing I’ve yet encountered in the hobby.  In future editions of this regular feature I plan on highlighting key rhetorical segments and discussing them in some detail, but this mother of all home page descriptions is simply too pure…too magnificent…and defintiely too long to attempt a critique with any meaningful fidelity.  Nick covers everything from his biography, frustrations with Lego Ideas, MOC statistics, community spirit, personal Lego achievements, Lego related travels, 9/11, obituaries, a plea for greater MOCpages activity and much much more!  You will be amazed by his use of color and font!  You will be amazed by his spirit and creativity!  Indeed, there is a new member of the great pantheon of AFOLs named Nick (Barrett, Trotta and Dean)  I will leave you to your own conclusions and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments.  If you have any recommendations for this feature, constant reader, please shoot me a link at your earliest convenience.

 

WELCOME to my LEGO(R) Creations, my VISION and my DREAM

by Nick Pascale

ANNOUNCEMENT
My project based on my MINNIE’S BOWTIQUE here on MOCpages has just been accepted as a LEGO IDEAS PROJECT. As you know I need 10,000 SUPPORTERS! So please visit LEGO IDEAS and lend me your support! If you are not a member you can join for free! there are 5 simple questions to answer and then click SUPPORT and I am there! Thank you for your support in advance! I only posted this yesterday and I already have 1,952 views as of July 12, 2016 12:57 p.m. dst! It’s so frustrating trying to get the needed 10,000 SUPPORT VOTES needed for the LEGO IDEAS TEAM to decide “Should this become a set?” I need your help! Here on MOCpages I have 2,131 views and get this 4k (4,000) views on LEGO IDEAS yet I only have 72 votes I still need 9,928 more! Proud to inform you I now have 173 Supports only 9,827 more to go as of September 9, 2016! Please get to LEGO IDEAS AND JOIN & VOTE! I’ll ask you all once more: Please go to LEGO IDEAS Join, Verify your email and Support, do not forget to click on follow and please leave a comment and mention MOCpages! Minnie’s Bowtique LEGO IDEAS.
And this is the set right here on MOCpages: LEGO MINNIE’S BOWTIQUE

…and how it appears on LEGO IDEAS:

UPDATE: I now have 64 votes of SUPPORT I need 9,936 more votes to reach for the LEGO IDEAS TEAM to consider it! What I do not understand is it has been viewed here by 2,106 people, imagine if each one went and voted for it I’d be that closer and get this on LEGO IDEAS I have 3K views that’s 3,000 views adding the views here and the views there I’d be half way there. Just like in America this is an election year and we always hear YOUR VOTE COUNTS! you can see just how important you as MOCpagers votes for any LEGO IDEAS project is. Today is my birthday – July 26 what a great present to see it reach at least 75 maybe 100 SUPPORT Votes! Thanks!

HAPPY 5TH ANNIVERSARY, Yes, guys and gals I just celebrated 5 years on MOCpages this past January 22nd, where does time go?

NEWS FLASH:

Unfortunately None of my Lego Ideas were accepted!

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