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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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….

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