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.

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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.

Two for Tuesday: Dan Rubin

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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 the only lawyer I know who also has an art degree, proving he may be one of the few who posesses a soul.  Of course I’m talking about long-time crony and member of KeithLUG, Dan “Happy Weasel” Rubin. Dan has quite a long and distinguished Lego fan-resume: he’s a senior contributor TBB, he’s been a multi-term Ambassador, he’s run a prominent forum, he’s been a theme coordinator for a major convention, he’s an OG member of WAMALUG and he’s won multiple convention awards for his building prowess.  I’m sure the list is actually much longer, but those are the highlights.  I’ve had the good fortune to hang out with Dan at three conventions and we’ve collaborated a couple of times over the years.  We’ve also experience the kind of bonding that can only be achieved through the low-budget convention experience.  We crashed on basement floors and shared cramped hotel rooms with very weird fellow Lego nerds, to include one dude who thought it was cool to hang out in the hotel wearing nothing but a pair of tight red booty shorts.  I’m no prude but I am a believer in timing, and being able to judge a room.  They were Kodak moments.  Magic moments.  And Dan was there for more than one night of convention shenanigans and when I think about my early convention experiences, Dan always comes to mind.

Mr. Weasel and I came into the online hobby at roughly the same time, when LUGNET was still the community hub, but the end was near.  We both had our own second tier sci-fi factions, which was the trend du jour back then, following the examples of guys like Sandlin and Giddens who popularized the idea with PCS and 3vil.  Dan’s faction was called the Galactic Inquisition and for our first shot we’ll go back to 2004 and this VTOL gunship called Rapier.  I’m pretty sure Dan was the first builder to come up with the rotary cannon design you see on the nose and it was frequently copied.  I still think those antenna bases on the nose are terrible, but the build still holds up quite well after 12 years.  Those big chunky intakes and engines are a hallmark of Rubin’s style, whether it was built for a faction or not.  Dan was also one of the first sci-fi builders to really embrace the color tan, which was only recently available in any usable variety of parts.  If you like this style, Dan has a great stable of Galactic Inquisition builds, and the Emissary series might also be of interest, just follow the links and immerse yourself in some old school grooves.

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For the second shot, I could have gone with one of the annual BrickFest layouts Dan produces along with his partner in Lego crime, Nick Kappatos.  They collaborate on a large sci-fi diorama each year, with names like “Total Eclipse of the Xenogenetic Heart”, “Faded Giant”, and “Days of Plunder”, while operating under the guise of 3LUG.  There are only two builders in 3LUG, it may seem confusing but the 3 is actually a sideways nut-sack, so it should, in fact, read as “BallsLUG“.  Ultimate I could not choose between 3LUG’s many award-winning dioramas, so instead I went with the bold colors and shapes of the Mephistopheles Courier Service – S36 Lapin.  I think it provides a nice contrast with the Rapier and shows how Dan has developed as a builder.

Once I rediscovered this gem from 2009 in Dan’s photo-stream, I couldn’t resist it.  Again you see the chunky intakes, but it’s the color scheme that gets me every time I look at it.  It’s times like this where Dan’s art background shines through, most people would not combine these colors and they are perfectly blocked.  Dan says the colors were inspired by a pair of sneakers, which is the kind of thing you don’t hear every day.  There are 5 years between the two featured models and you can see that Dan was committed to keep improving right along with the parts selection available to us. That cockpit is so very….Matango!3946350668_fdeee6eca6_o

Mea Culpa, constant reader, I have a nasty habit of fucking with my friends at conventions by hiding their models during public day, and Dan is no exception.  Most builders, understandably, don’t like interacting with the public and they tend to wander off during public hours for meals, conferences, local attractions and the like.  This makes for the perfect time to hide a model and it seems to plant the notion in the builder’s head that the responsible party must be a member of the unwashed masses and not another AFOL…and certainly not Goldman.   In fact, Dan provided the best reaction I’ve ever seen in nearly a decade of pulling the same boilerplate prank, and it really cemented a tradition. So Dan is out to lunch on one of the public day’s for BrickCon 05′ and I swipe a starfighter he was quite proud of and put it in an empty box under the table where my stuff was displayed.  When Dan comes back from lunch he immediately spots the theft and starts looking around in surprise.  That surprise slowly turns to irritation, then sadness and finally anger as he starts pulling over everyone in arms-reach to tell them about the theft.  It was like watching somebody go through the grief process at an accelerated rate.  Then I watch as he goes to convention management to report the theft, and at this point I’m feeling a little bad because I really didn’t set out to waste the time of the convention organizers whose event I was so greatly enjoying, but the guilt didn’t last long.

I let Dan stew for a while, then I borrowed a local builder’s phone and called Rubin, while crouching under my display table.  In my best disguised voice I told him; “If you ever want to see your spaceship again, you better meet me in stall number 3 at 2 o’clock.  Be ready to pay.”  So Rubin rounds up a posse of his buddies (including me) to go and confront the thief in the bathroom.  Rubin’s AFOL sidekick Fradel even kicked in the door for dramatic effect, to find the stall empty.  Originally I planned to leave the ship inside the stall, but too many standard issue Seattle homeless dudes with obvious mental health issues used the main bathroom for a variety of reasons, including eating bread and painting the stall with fecal matter, so I couldn’t bring myself to risk it actually being stolen…or violated.  Instead I produced the ship from my pocket and waited for him to notice.  Fortunately for me, Dan reacted well to the joke and everyone had a good laugh.  While not every case has been as hilarious, it never fails to entertain and I finally got Rutherford this year in Utah.  With his typical focus on his own ego, Rutherford was actually proud that someone took his model, that it indicated a certain level of quality.

You may be asking why I’m divulging my secret and won’t it be more difficult to pull it off nest time?  I wanted to tell the Rubin story and doubt I’ll ever get caught with or without this admission.  In a way, it’s a tribute to our hobby that people just don’t expect their models to be stolen at a convention.  It happens occasionally with small builds and minifigs but they are very much the exception.  And when it does happen, they blame the public, never their fellow builders.

Now…just between us girls, I would never do this kind of thing to a random convention attendee or someone I just met, but anyone else is fair game…especially dudes who dress like this…it’s your legal counsel, Dan Rubin!

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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.

Dan has a large collection of cool nerd T-shirts I could have picked but I deliberately went for this one.  The reasons should be obvious, it’s a polo shirt…a polo shirt.  The standard uniform of shitty service jobs and golf courses.  I’d rather wear a bowling shirt or a sports jersey than a polo shirt, and that’s saying a lot.  Polo shirts should be collected and destroyed in a polyester fueled bonfire.  I know pink is a perfectly acceptable color for men’s clothing, and it went through a brief fashion trend when it was considered “gangsta”, but this particular porcine hue isn’t doing Dan any favors, it makes his skin look pink.  Dan’s skin isn’t crayon pink, but it looks like it here.  Also, I like a stylish watch, but I can’ really evaluate it fairly from this angle, so no points for that.  Dan looks like he’s dressed for a company lunch at El Torito, on a special “team building” day when the “home office” stooges come in and make everyone nervous.

Dan, burn that shirt, it’s stealing your soul…even when you’re not wearing it.  Do it now!  Even if you decide to keep it, I’m afraid your fate is sealed…now…

th

 

 

Two for Tuesday: Shannon Young

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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 legendary curmudgeon and old-school MOCpages raconteur, Shannon Young.  I had the good fortune of meeting Shannon at Seattle’s Brickcon in 2007, where we hung out a bit and ventured forth on one of the best field trips I’ve ever experienced at a convention.  Most of it is not fit for publication, at least without getting some waivers signed, but it culminated with a pilgrimage to the grave of Jimi Hendrix, along with fellow AFOL’s Jon Palmer, Mark Neuman and a small group of complete strangers.  Of course we left a Jimi Minifig at the grave.  It was the second most fun I’ve ever had in a cemetery, and Shannon was a great tour-guide to the city, even if he drove like a maniac and his brakes were iffy at best.  We vowed to go to Bruce Lee’s grave at the following year’s convention but unfortunately that never worked out.  We were able to Collaborate for my Highway 44 diorama in 2009, it took some serious wrangling but it was worth the effort.  When I asked, Shannon used to always tell me: “I don’t dance to your music, Goldman”. Eventually though, he did, even if it was only payback for MOCtag, which we’ll talk about later.  I can certainly understand his hesitance though, it ain’t easy to dance to Rush.

Shannon was way more active on MOCpages and was one of those cats who never embraced Flickr or any other spot where builders gather.  He was one of the first builders I knew who combined a talent with the brick and an outspoken, sometimes controversial voice in public.  Every once in a while he would combine the two, like his wonderfully irreverent take on Christianity called “Pyramid Scheme”.  So let’s have a reminisce about one of the most infamous and celebrated characters of MOCpages, shall we, constant reader?

The first model we’ll be looking at tonight is “Shannonia”,one of the first examples of a micropolis I can remember seeing online.  I suppose it’s closer to nano-scale because at this resolution humans are too small to be represented with brick.  In traditional Micro-scale, humans are represented as 1×1 cylinders, or minifig-trophies.  Right away it reminded me of Sim City, one of my favorite games from back in the day and it had a big impact on me at the time.  Debuting in 2007, it was very impressive to see the mountains and coastline included alongside the typical urban layout.  Taking inspiration from his hometown of Seattle, Shannon began with a humble patch of buildings and expanded it into an award-winning sprawl.  If you like construction-journal style Lego writing, I can’t encourage you enough to take a trip through the City of Shannonia Visitors Center on MOCpages.  Not only is Shannon a skilled builder, but he also has a way with words and his account doubled as his own personal blog.  There are a lot of frustrated would-be novelists in our hobby, and he was one of them.  I had the good fortune to read a little of his work and it was clear he’s got some real talent.  The Shannonia series is nice because you can see the humble beginning stages of the project and take a tour of each individual point of interest on the map.  Each building has it’s own story, even if it’s a brief one, which is something that you can’t always say about more modern micropolis efforts. The greatest compliment I can give a builder is to let them know their model inspired me to build something, and Shannonia made me take a hard look at creating my own micro-city.

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The next shot probably doesn’t seem that impressive, and if I was going strictly by how pleasing the model it, it would have made the cut.  This humble diorama is the first installment in a hugely popular and unique community building project called MOCtag.  It is ironic that Shannon considered himself such a curmudgeon and yet he created something that was inherently positive and inclusive.  In Mr. Young’s own words:

To start the game, I am It. Below will be one line to open a story, accompanied by a MOC to illustrate it. I will then tag someone, who must continue that story with an appropriate MOC. They then tag someone, who continues the story with a MOC of their own and tags someone else. And we’re off and rolling.

So I’m not going to talk about the actual model, it’s the least interesting thing about MOCtag and at the time it was posted I found it down right irritating.  I was pre-selected by Shannon to be the first person tagged after his initial model got the ball rolling.  We talked about it having a minfig focus so the reveal was a big surprise.  Instead of adapting to the larger scale, I turned Rory the Chicken into and gave him a minifig girlfriend.  The entire project was pure chaos from the beginning, and it didn’t take long before the train went off the rails entirely.  It was simultaneously the beauty and the great flaw of the effort.  While the story made no sense at all, the subsequent builds were interesting to say the least.  It was like a great stream of consciousness experiment and it drew in some of the greatest builders on MOCpages,  people like Jordan Schwartz, Mark Kelso, Shannon Ocean, and Alex Eylar.  Unfortunately many of the participant’s don’t have MOCpages accounts any longer so a great deal of content was lost over time but MOCtag produced some entertaining and frequently bizarre work, along with some crap to be sure, but that’s the way of all popular fads.  And popular it was, MOCtag had a huge following of commenters, and it spawned a half a dozen copy-cats and a sequel somewhere along the line.  It remains to this day one of the most original and compelling community challenge ideas I’ve ever encountered and it was a blast to participate with Shannon and my fellow builders.  I do wish Shannon had tried to regulate things a bit more, I encouraged him to be the Rod Serling who edited the stories and introduced each one, to give the whole thing more direction and cohesion.  Shannon, however, would have none of that formalized structural bullshit, he just wanted to unleash the idea and revel in the chaos.  Mission accomplished, this is one idea that I would like to see get an updated treatment, if the old curmudgeon ever comes out of his self-imposed exile, I’ll encourage him to do so.

Unfortunately, Shannon seems to have dropped off the radar entirely in the past few years, with his last post to Flickr dated 2012.  The last Lego-related image he posted was a thoughtfully depressing farewell to his good friend and fellow AFOL Heather Braaten.  I don’t want to read too much into that, I have no idea why Shannon left the scene, but I will say that her untimely death had an understandably huge impact on a large segment of the hobby and there are several prominent people who simply stopped posting new models after Heather’s passing.  Whatever the reason for his departure, I hope Shannon enjoys his break and gets back to building one of these years, because his creative mojo and smack-talk are greatly missed.  I reached out to the Shannon while writing this post a few weeks ago, but his old email address is no good and I have yet to get a response on Flickr.  If and when I do hear back, I’ll post an update to this story.

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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.  This photo contains not one but two Shannons, the two most popular and well-regarded Shannon’s in the short history of this hobby. The Shannon on the left…the one who looks like a Russian gangster is constant reader Shannon Sproule AKA Shannon Ocean.  He’s dressed like he’s looking to push some product so we’ll leave him alone.

The Shannon in question is the Shannon on the right, so let’s focus on him.  The jacket is entirely unremarkable and forgettable, the perfect jacket to wear when you rob a liquor store because nobody will remember it in their description to the police.  Ditto the jeans, they are the definition of generic.  The necklace though…it’s a favorite accessory because he’s wearing it in just about every photo that exists of him online.  At least it’s not gold, and at least it doesn’t have an embarrassing dongle of some kind hanging from it.  It seems very Seattle, so I guess he’s fits in well with his fellow citizens.  The T-shirt is a Grateful Dead number, which I’m going to count as a negative because to me they are the quintessentially overrated American band.  I like none of their songs, I’ve seen them live once and I remember nothing except the smell of patchouli and the hippy chick dancing in the row in front of me.  So reluctantly we say….

th

Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!”

This is the fourth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…

I’m trying to narrow my focus today.  I offer a very narrow thesis and I will endeavor to get straight to it.  But still… go get a beer… or two.  Oh, and before we start, I am curious: How many of you read this blog in the can?  A co-worker (and AFOL) told me that he habitually waits until he is in the can before he reads this blog.  Like he might have time when he isn’t in the can… but he waits until he is (is in the can)… and then he reads it.  I was sort of taken aback… but then I thought about it (yeah… I know.  Of all the things to think about, right?).  Is it a strange thing that only he does?  Or is it actually a new norm that I’m just not clutched into?  So, ummm… are “WE” in the can right now?  You, constant reader… and I?  Together, in the can?  For the record, I don’t read, or write for that matter… in the can.  Ever.  Just so you we’re clear.

Well, I guess that pretty much shot the notion of getting right to the point.  How about catching up by jumping straight to my point!

Thesis: Awards at Lego fests are good for the state of the hobby.

Supporting points:

Competition.  It is a culturally universal concept which, when controlled, can motivate innovation, improvement and excellence.

Limited competition focuses this potential but requires rules.  Rules equate to cooperation.  Obscure rules undermine cooperation.

Transparency prevents obscurity.

Transparency is lacking in Lego conventions.

Let’s get all Aristotelian!

  1. Competition fosters improvement.
  2. Awards are competitive.

ERGO

  1. Awards foster improvement.

Thesis clarification:

Competition.  An environment and an event wherein participants try to get or win something that someone else is also trying to win: to try to be better or more successful than someone or something else (Merriam Webster).   Competition is broader.  It exists in a natural state.  Trash the normal rhetoric about gazelles competing with cheetahs on the savanna.  They don’t compete… they mutually support one another by perusing separate but interrelated agendas.  Remember that it is not the cheetah with whom the gazelle competes, but rather the other gazelles.  The cheetah is relevant to the gazelle… but the cheetah wants neither the limited supply of grass, nor to mate with the limited supply of hot gazelles.  Yes, cheetahs and gazelles run together, at the same place and at the same time…but they are running for DIFFERENT REASONS… running DIFFERENT RACES… often right after dinner for the gazelle, and right before dinner for the cheetah.  But the gazelles all know their race is not against the cheetah.  It is against the next slowest gazelle (the one who the cheetah is going to actually catch).  For the gazelle, it’s all about the grass and the mating (So what you’re saying is… Keith is a Gazelle?).  Getting what the other gazelles want.  That is the competition.  Be a better gazelle, get more grass and more ass.  Competition incentivizes gazelle to be BETTER gazelles.  This is what I mean when I say: Competition fosters improvement.  Take a look at gazelles.  Most of them are pretty good at gazelling.  The not so good gazelles?  They are harder to spot…  Usually busy feeding the cheetahs.

So its clear then.  AFOLs should run across the savanna until we catch one another, and then kill and eat one another (frequently wedging our dead AFOL victim up in a tree to protect the body from other conniving AFOL rivals).  NO!  Don’t be silly!  Most of us would stroke out from the shock to our cardiovascular systems!   Duh!

Here I say only that competition is part of natural life (and yes, I have a bias towards artificial systems that “borrow” from natural systems because nature pretty consistently kicks ass!) and that it fosters improvement.

But there is more to the VALUE of COMPETITION.  It is CULTURALLY UNIVERSAL.  War is competition.  Religion is competition (lots of overlap with war).  Commerce is competition (again, with the overlap).  Exploration, science, agriculture… almost every field of human culture (non-natural) has a competitive aspect.  Yea rowntRee… Art as well.  Further, all these fields overlap and interconnect.  It’s quite a weave actually.  All humans from all cultures do this stuff.  You might even say it’s universal.  Makes for some tough problems.  COMPETITION CAN ALL BE HIGHLY DESTRUCTIVE!   I mean… I started the list with WAR for god’s sake!   Let’s review the concept of LIMITS… Yea?

Limited competition is all the competition that happens within agreed upon parameters.  Sometimes vague, as with underlying cultural assumptions, and sometimes specific, as with… wait for it… rules.  If ANY participant in a limited completion abandons these parameters, these rules… then the competition becomes unlimited again.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!””

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: Kyle Vrieze

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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 checks in from exotic Bermuda, where the triangles will wreck you and so will the Goslings Black Seal Rum.  I’m speaking, of course, of the indomitable Kyle Vrieze, whose remarkable builds you’ve been enjoying since 2004 when he made his first post on LUGNET.  If you’ve ever been to the BrickWorld convention in the last decade, the chances are good that you’ve seen one of his signature mecha and assorted Sci-Fi boilerplate in person.  You would remember Kyle because he looks like an action figure and stands out in stark contrast to his fellow Lego nerds because we tend to run pudgy or gangly, without much in between.  I’m not saying all Lego nerds are fat, that would be a cruel stereotype.  Many of us are in shape so don’t start yelling about how much you can bench in the comment section or how you run marathons.  Or maybe you should?  In my experience there are a lot of fatties in the hobby (myself included) and my point is that Kyle makes us look good when he poses in our group photos.  And dude loves to pose.  He’s got tickets to the gun-show and he’s not above firing off those guns in public.  More about the raging biceps and fashion later, let’s stick to the brick for now.

Kyle hasn’t posted anything yet this year so I had to reach back to December of 2015 to find his most recent model, the simply titled “Fighter 14“.  The silhouette is one that Kyle has revisited over the years, but each version get more refined and interesting.  There are almost too many angles to count but he somehow wrangles them into a cohesive and striking design.  Kyle manages to reign in the chaos just enough without taking off the edge and the result is a very aggressive looking war machine.  Naturally, it also sports some ‘roided out missile-pods, which is Kyle’s signature feature whether the platform is a spaceship or mecha.  In fact, the more I think about it, the missile-pods are just an extension of his ripped biceps.  This is the point in every Two for Tuesday posting when I urge you to take a trip through Kyle’s back catalogue if you’re not familiar with his work.

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For tonight’s second shot I’m inserting myself into the mix, as usual.  I met Kyle at the 2010 edition of BrickWorld Chicago, where he was generous enough to contribute a kick-ass Vic Vic Viper to the nnenn memorial formation.  He is definitely one of the nicest people you can meet in the hobby and I don’t mean “nice” in that Disney-cult, Landru, early days of LUGNET sort of way.  Kyle is always ready to talk Lego or talk smack, he’s equally skilled at both and he’s always ready to grab a sandwich if you are.  If you need any more convincing, you should know that Kyle is also endorsed by the righteous bros of Bro-LUG.  Those talented but feral youths don’t typically accept bro’s over the age of 25 or so but even they couldn’t deny Kyle membership, especially after his performance at an arm-wrestling initiation ritual that I’m not at liberty to speak of.  So if you find yourself at BrickWorld Chicago, seek out Mr. Vrieze and tell him “Keith sent me for a sandwich“.

I had the pleasure of dining with Kyle at the Mirage Hotel and Casino here in Vegas some time later and we hatched a plan for a collaboration, which brings us at last to the second shot.  The photo you see below is nothing like the idea I pitched to him over steaks and beer, I had some vague notion of an underground launch-base in mind and I asked him to build a VTOL fighter or three as the focal point.  In the end I had to shit-can the entire concept, I just couldn’t translate the idea into the brick.  So instead, I said something like “just send me what you can and I’ll figure it out”.  Four months later I finished this diorama, which features three of Kyle’s designs, including the epic mecha you see below along with a robot and a futuristic scout car.

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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.  The photo is entitled “Sandwich Buddies” and let me tell you brother, you have not lived the BrickWorld convention experience until you’ve had a sandwich with Kyle. Traditions matter, people, they matter.  You can’t just have lunch with any random AFOL, or you may get stuck with an Aspy paste-eater or Rutherford, so choose your dining companions carefully. Meals are the rarely spoken about highlight of spending a weekend with your fellow Lego nerds.  Booze, good eats, shit-talking, shenanigans…meal time really is fun time.  Whether it’s Thai food in Seattle or Sandwiches in Chicago, it’s important to make the right choice when dining out.14715664850_cddf63e5aa_o.jpg

Please note that Simon is wearing Chairman Zhang’s brick-badge in the photo…did he just give up trying to correct people calling him Nannan?  Did he murder Nannan and abscond with his badge?  Was it a mundane trade or some kind of friendship bracelet kind of thing?  All I know is that the Chairman used to be Kyle’s official Sandwich Buddy and now it’s Simon.

Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.  Kyle, as I pointed out earlier, looks like a generic action figure…of a wrestler, or a commando, or a biker.  Since you can’t go wrong with a basic black T, the verdict is an easy one.

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And Simon is here because he’s Simon and he’s ubiquitous.  At least he’s got Fry on his chest this time as opposed to that horrible Tie-Fighter tuxedo shirt.

I Hate These Things (or) rowntRee is wrong-tRee

I can’t believe it was only a month ago that I was strolling the convention floor at the BrickSlopes LEGO fan event accompanied by famous bon-vivant Matt rowntRee.  Since it was a relatively small convention, we were afforded the opportunity to evaluate just about everything the attendant AFOLs had to offer.  Not content to just smile and nod, we enjoyed a running commentary that was equal parts praise, smack and non sequiturs.  I estimate we were in violent agreement about 90% of the time when it came to constructive criticism, with only a few models that we couldn’t come to a consensus on.  There was however a single display that sparked a spirited debate and made me question the sensibilities, judgement and perhaps even sanity of our good friend rowntRee.  I don’t want to skewer the responsible builder, because that would be a jackassy thing to do (even for me) and the blame-finger shouldn’t be pointed in his direction, but rather towards a hipster German advertising agency.  In 2012 the Jung von Matt agency out of Hamburg released a minimalistic ad campaign for LEGO. The “Imagine” series features iconic cartoon characters from American pop culture represented in simplistic stacks of 2×2 brick and plate.  I have no idea who these particular stacks are supposed to represent, but you get the idea.

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That’s right, its just a stack of bricks and plates….nothing more.  It isn’t clever, it isn’t interesting, it’s a slick ad campaign at best and moronic over simplification at worst.  I understand the point they are making about taking the most basic LEGO parts and turning them into something iconic, but that doesn’t make the end result any less lame.  This is the artistic equivalent of drawing stick-figures or making a friendship bracelet.  Watch the video, constant reader and just “imagine” how pretentious the good folks at Jung von Matt can make these stacks of brick seem.  This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live parody commercial it’s so dumbed down and could the narrator possibly sound more British?

Now “imagine” a bunch of sweaty mankinder decide it’s actually cool and they go out and cover entire convention tables with stacks of 2×2 bricks. We even give them uninspired names like “Block Buddies” and “Brick Buddies” because everything needs to have “brick” in the title if it’s associated with the hobby: BrickLink, BrickJournal, Bricks by the Bay.  If I was thinking straight, I should have called this site the KeithBrick Manifesto for maximum marketability.  Now, “imagine” those same sweaty Mankinder rushing to be the first to stamp their names over all the familiar fanboy franchises.  because if you can be the first to slap your watermark on Brick-Buddy Harry Potter, just “imagine” the kudos that will rain down upon you and how much credit you’ll receive.  Now, “Imagine” how terribly boring it all is, even when the builders break the simplicity of the “standard” altogether and start adding appendages and accessories.  You just can’t put lipstick on a pig and the more the standard morphs the worse it becomes.  Can you possibly “Imagine” how much this fad makes me want to slit my wrists.

Now “imagine” we’re back at the convention and Matt rowntRee defending the table full of row after row of stacked columns of 2×2 brick.  I’m pretty sure he used words like “clever“, “iconic” and “endless variation with a limited palette“.  He also seemed to think it was cool that the display was interactive, that public day attendees would love to play a game called guess the stack of bricks?  Is that black stack of bricks Blade or Darth Vader?  I didn’t hang around the table of Brick Buddies during public hours so I’m not sure if that’s a thing or not, but it sounds dreadfully boring.  Listen Matt, just because I can identify roughly half of those 2×2 brick stacks on the table doesn’t make it clever, it just means I’ve been programmed to identify Robin, especially when he’s standing in between the Batman and Wonder Woman.

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Of course, the first builder that popped up when I searched “Brick Buddies, Justice League” was Simon Liu.  Get out of my head Liu, I can’t take it anymore!  Once again, it’s six degrees of separation with Simon. I should have known he’d be down with Brick Buddies.  This photo has over ten thousand views!  I don’t get it.

So go ahead rowntRee, defend your patently crazy viewpoint in the comments section.  Tell me again how this is actually genius level art and I’m too dismissively highbrow?  Just “imagine” that I’m open-minded enough to consider your nonsense counter-argument.

I anticipate the following reaction from many of you: “who cares, let them do their thing” or “I think it’s cute“.  Yes, it’s true, everyone has the right to build whatever they want, I acknowledge that to be self-evident.  However, it doesn’t stop the Brick Buddies from being tragically, irredeemably lame and when we fill our tables with them at conventions it makes us all look like a bunch of simpletons.