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.
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.
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….