Two for Tuesday: Jon Palmer

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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 my personal Lego spirit-animal, and O.G. Spacer, Jon Palmer.  Like too many of the builders featured in this column, Jon has drifted out of the scene, but you won’t find a person who had a bigger impact on the hobby in it’s formative years.  Jon had a hand in all of the sci-fi boilerplate we take for granted now From Moonbase to geodesic domes to the SHIPyard (an early pre-Flickr archive of SHIPS).  In the age of LUGNET, when things could be a little stuffy and insular, Jon was always super friendly and above all, funny.  Sometimes we tend to take the hobby way too seriously, myself included, but never Jon, he could find humor in almost any situation.  It’s a cliché, but he really did have a talent for bringing people together in a positive and creative way.  I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Jon on a half-dozen occasions,  even at my homestead here in Vegas, and that’s really the acid test for my fellow nerds, would I want them in my home?  Jon is one of the few people I’ve met who could move in, if he needed to.  Hands down my best convention experiences were the BrickCons in Seattle where Jon and I had a chance to hang out, it was the first time I appreciated offsite activities more than those of the convention hall. As a builder, very few people were as personally inspiring to me, his 2002 spaceship Bison, for instance, was just as important and influential to me as the Dragonstar. It may look dated by today’s standards but it was a breath of fresh air ten+ years ago in an unusual color scheme.  Outside of Rutherford and Rubino, my two cronies since high-school, nobody had a bigger impact on me in the hobby than Jon.

For tonight’s first shot, we’ll be examining Jon’s often duplicated geodesic dome from 2006.  I can’t stress enough how popular this model once when he first posted it online, people were blown away.  As a fan of 70’s Sci-Fi, it certainly made a lasting impression on me.  My build table is not ideal to make one, but I have one of those ‘some day’ projects in mind that involves about 5 domes of varying sizes.  Because he was a community minded kind of dude, Jon thoughtfully shared the building process in a series of photos.  Check out the link and maybe you’ll be inspired to make your own.  The cost may be a little steep but the result is magnificent and sturdy.  I still see this design pop up every now and then at a convention and it always looks fresh, but I don’t think anyone (including Jon) has really done much with the interior space.  I have a small section of the structure built to keep me inspired and I’ve been slowly accumulating the parts over the years.  I’d like to see how much of the dome can be closed off without annoying gaps or sag.  The dome is one of those rare models that captures your attention, even from across a crowded convention hall, surrounded by other amazing things.

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For our second shot, we will take a brief look at one of the biggest building fads the hobby has ever seen, rather than a single model.  Most of Jon’s stuff has been lost to the digital ether, the photos available on Flickr only represent a fraction of his output.  In 2002 Jon was in important part of a small group of Spacers who created and developed the Moonbase concept, the very popular first attempt at a modular, collaborative, convention-based standard.  The ghost of Moonbase can still be spotted now and then, but it’s a shadow of it’s former glory.  At it’s height, every major convention had a sprawling layout with monorails, giant towers, moon-track and smoking volcanoes.  Like every fad, Moonbase eventually jumped the shark and became a kind of parody of itself, but it’s importance in the history of the hobby and conventions cannot be understated.  As with the geodesic dome, Jon thoughtfully compiled the instructions and examples first on his personal site Zemi.net (now defunct) and later on Flickr, so that anyone can easily get in on the action.  Whether it was minifig scale or microscale, Moonbase united builders from across the planet and that’s pretty cool.  The possibilities were endless and the standard was scaled to be very attainable, even for new builders with relatively small connections.  You could make just a corridor or an end-cap, and still feel like you were a part of the display.  When I think of Palmer, I think of inclusion and innovation.

Probably the biggest build-related regret I have in the hobby was the failure of the Lord Mandrake Memorial Sea Tower, a collaborative project involving myself, Palmer and Ryan Rubino back in 2008.  Ryan and I were fresh off the Omicron Weekend and we were fired up to work with Jon, who we both considered to be a mad genius.  Ryan’s famous Leviathans model was originally intended for the this ambitious undersea diorama, with Jon building the tower itself and yours truly providing the canyon and seafloor terrain.  We were a couple of months into building and things were really shaping up, when Jon abruptly moved from Seattle to Tulsa and subsequently lost all interest in building.  There is no dramatic story or unsolved mystery, like many builders space to build was an issue and other real life considerations got in the way.  I blame it on the geography, I have a deep and abiding hatred of Tulsa and all things Tulsa related to this day.  It’s the city that ate Jon Palmer and it should be razed to the ground and salted to make sure nothing grows there again.  If I could wave a magic wand and bring one single builder back to the hobby it would be Jon, for me the hobby is a worse place without him and I’ll certainly never enjoy BrickCon in the same way again.  Well, truth be told I guess I’d bring nnenn back because he’s dead and I’m sure his family would be thrilled to have him back, but second would be Jon.

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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.

Jon is actually a pretty stylish dude, often without really trying, so I had to go the extra mile to find just the right photo.  Anyone who knows me is aware of my extreme aversion to ‘cosplay’ and more specifically ‘cosplayers’.  Most people like attention in some way or another but cosplayers take it to a whole new attention-whoring level.  The entire core of the hobby is based on the premise “look at me!   No, really, look at me!“, and it may be the one group of nerds who has a higher concentration of special snowflakes than Lego people.  The most insufferable in-law I have is a cos-player, so I’ve seen them up close and personal and it’s nothing but narcissism all day long.  I love Halloween as much as the next person, and costume parties are great, but I’m sick of cosplayers invading other hobbies and I really hate when they try to insert themselves into ours.  The only time I’ve been tempted to violence at a convention was with a dickhead cosplayer who looked like a kabuki-jedi who would run his mouth about the models without having brought anything of his own.  I think it was less about the quality of the models and more about his need to feel superior.  Just go away…I don’t care how cleverly made your gender-swapped Ant-Man X-wing pilot costume is, you’re annoying and you should leave. The same with steam punk people, save it for your own convention, nobody cares how many brass buttons you can fit on your codpiece.  Go push your tchotchkes somplace else.

Getting back to Jon though, this is the rare kind of cosplay I can appreciate.  Jon was the Space Coordinator for the BrickCon the year this photo was snapped and it was his job to handle the Moonbase layout.  This vibrant one-piece certainly looks like a suitable Moonbase uniform, without being derivative of a specific franchise and it’s orange!  Having your rank spelled out on your sleeve may not be as cool as a mission-patch but it rocks in a very 1970’s kind of way.  As you can imagine Jon was easy to find on setup day, which made it easier for newcomers to figure out who was in charge and join in the Moonbase fun…a frequent problem at conventions…most coordinators suck at their jobs.  This one is an easy decision.

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