Glomshire Knights: A tragedy of Errors (Blog or Die! Entry #3)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Dennis Price

Word Count: 2063

Glomshire Knights: A Tragedy of Errors

 

Ewart was supposed to die.

The length of his mortal coil was set, his flame was to be snuffed, his clock had run out and his fate was die horribly at the hands of Mordock the Malignant deep within the hidden shrine of Melvin the Wizard King.

Except he kept writing the best jokes.

If I would have killed him off as I intended, it’s doubtful that Glomshire Knights would have achieved its pseudo-legendary status in the annals of brick comics.

Perhaps some context is in order. GK was a Lego-based webcomic that appeared on MOCpages and on Comicfury from 2009-2015, and for the first (and likely the last) time, I’m pulling back the curtain and revealing the history of how it came to be and why, after 577 episodes, I let it languish into obscurity.

I’m No Spielberg

I started off with a desire to use to make stop motion animations then I realized that there are middle school boys who would eat it, or at the very least would engage in that time-honored activity of throwing it at each other like spider monkeys fling — well, I’ll leave THAT to your imagination. That was when I turned to Lego, which I’d never had as a kid. We stopped into Toys ‘R Us and I bought a tub of basic bricks. Opened it up in the basement, realized I had no “Lego men” and no vehicles, so I went to Lego.com and ordered a people pack and some small vehicle sets. My sister got wind of what I was up to and offered up a small tub of Lego the nephew had sitting around from when he was a kid (he just turned 40 this year). I poured it out, picked up a classic yellow spaceman, and I was hooked.

That’s right, my entrance to hobby came well into adulthood and quite by accident, but that’s not the point. I cleared out a small space in the garage and tried my hand at animating. My first effort is still out there you can watch it at your peril.

My second film was The Quest for Space, and it actually took some planning and effort. There were some glitches in the process, and a serious computer crash, that caused me to shorten what had been planned to be a 10-min film, but I’m still satisfied with it. While the film doesn’t come close to the quality of some films I’ve seen, it does reveal something very important: my sense of humor. Sir Robert of Goddardshire is the ancestor of Bob the Wizard, who would shortly shuffle onto the stage of my little morality play.

After completing The Quest for Space, I came up with the idea of an evil wizard taking over a kingdom in some sort of medieval Monty Pythonesque ripoff that probably would get me sued, or at least victimized by the Fish Slapping Dance (oh, I wish). There were actually two Glomshire films made, but more computer problems and poor production values — not to mention the lack of a proper studio space to control light — brought my film career to a screeching halt. I knew enough that I could help the kids make their own films, and that was when it snowed.

BLAME IT ON THE WEATHER

Snowy winters aren’t necessarily the norm where I live, but every now and then those cold wintery winds will bring us more than a dusting. When that happens, schools generally close for a day or two. Such was the case in January, 2009, not long after I discovered a software program called Comic Life. The following is the result:

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In the meantime, I had recently started lurking around on MOCpages and was wetting my feet there with a little picture story about what happened when President-elect Barick Obama failed to take the oath of office at precisely noon on Inauguration Day in the United Bricks of America, or some claptrap like that. After Snow Fun, I started using Comic Life to tell that story, which was called “The Ascension” and is still available in that long abandoned electronic ghost town if you want to see it. I was interested to see if others were using Lego for storytelling, and that’s when I stumbled upon Legostar Galactica, The Brick House, and Tranquility Base (all webcomics).  Then and there, I decided to forgo brickfilming altogether and thus, he wrote pompously, Glomshire Knights was born.

Mistakes Were Made

I believe I had some builds sitting around from an attempt at joining the building contest over at Classic-Castle.com, which unbelievably is still going strong. My building skills, however, haven’t progressed either. I tossed that junk I had on the table together, set up some lights, shot some pictures, crammed it into Comic Life with some text and pushed it online. Don’t believe me when I say it was tossed together out of table scraps? Look for yourself:

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Ah, the memories — and what I believe was the lone appearance of Saxby.

Not realizing what I was doing, I meandered into the story, which basically involved the hunt for a relic that was supposed to thwart an evil prophecy that foretold the doom of Glomshire, which is the name of a kingdom and a great walled capital city. (Come to think of it, I never did get around to making that clear.)  Misadventures followed, as they say, and eventually the bad guys were defeated. I’ll let you read it, rather than spoil it. Since the supreme overlord of The Manifesto demands contest entries of 1,000 or more words, I’m going to need to fill the rest this thing with something. Therefore, let me bore you with more meandering musings on the making of Glomshire Knights. (Wait! Should I use the word Lego more in this post, Keith? Lego! Lego! Lego! Lego! Ah, shaddup already!)

Meager Skills = Mediocre Content

Similar to the way I build MOCs, GK was fairly free-form: I never meticulously planned out every episode. Some comickers, if that’s even a word, block out and script every panel in details fashion. I work in a fashion similar to the way Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Don Heck and others at Marvel Comics back in the day. Here’s an interesting blog post by John Rozum that will save me from explaining it.  As for my process, I had an ever-evolving plot summary filed away on the computer. Important bits of dialogue, such as a particular punchline, would be included or summarized, as would directions for specific shots I wanted. I also would note any specific builds I might need, such as a peasant’s hut or throne room. There were “dream builds” that never came to fruition, to be sure, and some builds were simply beyond my somewhat limited skill set. Additionally, due to limited space and number of bricks, no setup was kept intact except for Bob’s quarters, which is now just a memory thanks to a cat. It really didn’t matter since so many of my  panels were a fig or two with simple wall as a backdrop. The real problem with doing a Medieval strip was that so much of the action happened outdoors. I tried to break up the horizon line formed by a flat baseplate and wall behind it with some construction paper. It worked, but I grew to hate it as well. I never have learned how to build a more organic looking landscape, but I also haven’t taken the time to try. Color me lazy.

Once the photographs were taken, I’d plug the shots into Comic Life and write the dialogue. There were times when I’d have to reshoot some shots to reflect dialogue, and since my process was so loose in planning I had the flexibility to come up with new jokes/situations as I built. This explains why the plot seems to wander over the course of the series, but I always knew that there would be a massive battle with an Mordock’s netherling army at the end of that first story arc.

The End of Glomshire Knights?

The defeat of Mordock and Hiryxzan, and the death of Xnder (pronounced Mike, silly), was not supposed to be the end of the strip. I planted the seeds of at least four or five new stories (or more) along the way, plus opened up other opportunities with Bob “reading” tales of Glomshire’s history.

I just grew tired of it. Making a webcomic can be a grind, although it is fun, but the hardest thing in the world to do is be genuinely funny. I think I can be funny in a snarky, smart aleck sort of way, but being funny is hard work. I truly think anyone can write something coherent with just a little effort, but to be funny on a consistent basis is exhausting. That was a big part of it, but a slim readership base and inconsistent output coupled with, sadly, my father’s illness and passing over that last six months of the strip made it hard for me to even consider diving back into that rabbit hole. Plus, I never really felt respected, appreciated, or outright hated for my aspect of the Lego hobby at conventions or online, and I had more than one person say to me, “I don’t read, I just look pictures of models.” This happened at least three or four times over the course Brickworld 2015, and that probably sent a signal that it was time to quit. (Note: This negative vibe NEVER came from people who know me or took the time to actually try and talk to me, just rubes that wanted to rub in my face that they were jackasses when they realized that I made a webcomic, I suppose. I actually hinted at this sort thing in a 2013 post I had already wrapped up the storyline and started working on where the strip was going next, so I published the rest of what I had and that was it. No grand finale, no tearful group hug, no rocks spelling out “Goodbye” or other such nonsense.

Aftermath

I’m not complaining about the lack of attention or readership — I did the strip for fun, and I wasn’t having any. Besides, MOCpages, where GK got its start, was already dead in the water and the strip wasn’t getting much traffic on Comic Fury either, so perhaps it’s for the best. My story was told, so I kind of think of those plot threads and dropped storyline in a similar light to the cancellation of Gilligan’s Island – we just stopped where we were. Maybe there’ll be a TV movie in 10 or 15 years or so, ala Rescue from Gilligan’s Island!  Check out this link if you have no clue about one of the unsung influences on GK. I have kept a low profile for the most part ever since, and I haven’t built more than a few MOCs sdf since I closed up the shop.  I’m not a world class builder by any stretch, so no loss to the community, such as it is, on that front.

Gil, Ewart, and the gang are still tucked away in their craft organizer home, ready to burst forth for adventure should the urge strike.  I can’t bear to mix them into that tub of assorted minifigs I keep tucked under the computer desk.  That strip was my brainchild, the thing that led me into the hobby for real.  There’s also a certain yellow classic space fig in there; it holds a special place in my heart because he was part of a Christmas gift I gave my nephew in the early 80s – long after I had outgrown toys and was making my way as an adult.  I have toyed a couple of times with trying something more long form using that fig and others I’ve collected over the past six or seven years.  It would be more like a comic book, and pushed it out into the world as a .pdf every few months to download for your reading pleasure on a website or maybe even the manifesto – but don’t bank on it.

Everyone knows Keith hates to read.

 

Remembering the King of all Swoosh Videos

The swooshing of Lego spaceships is a time honored tradition that has it’s roots (for most people) in the carefree days of childhood when nothing was better than running around like a sugared-up jackass with your favorite space fighter making engine and laser gun noises.  As teens and adults, most people limit their swooshing to hastily taken still photos where the greatest variable seems to be facial contortions and wardrobe.  Indeed, some artistic souls, like Graybandit2000 have mastered the art form to the point where it seems little innovation is possible or even necessary.  I’m not a swooshing man myself (I have a face made for radio), but I can appreciate a good swoosh when I see one.

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I’m not sure who was the first builder to apply the concept to video, but maybe one of you will educate me in the comments.  Swoosh videos became an all too brief fad a few years ago and most example seemed to be directly associated with the oft discussed SHIPtember.  Indeed, the practice became so popular that even the tribe of notoriously humorless train-guys tried to get in on the action, but as usual, they didn’t quite…get it.

By and large, swoosh videos are pretty uninspired, shaky-cam affairs that are sort of instantly forgettable.  This is sad when you take into account all the comedic and auditory advantages video has to offer.  I think the collected works of Monty Python alone would provide nearly endless inspiration to would-be directors, but most people refuse to apply the same creativity to the videos as they do to their Lego models.  Even when the creators get the music right, the results are frequently out of frame, out of focus and ultimately out of bounds.  One enterprising builder had the foresight to bring a trampoline into the mix and yet the final product still managed to disappoint.  I don’t think you can really maximize the value of a trampoline without the entire affair ending in injury or some form of disaster. Most of the videos seem to feature teenagers literally running around in bucolic settings, with a death-grip on their precious SHIPs.

For my money, the greatest swoosh video to date, is 2013’s simply titled SWOOSH, by Jacob Unterreiner.  Jacob seems to have dropped off the map in the last year or so, which is a shame because he was really hitting his stride as a builder.  Even though I’m pretty sure he and I shared some unkind words at some point (no doubt my fault), I always enjoyed his work immensely.  The model he’s clutching, PHOENIX, is worth a look too, it’s pretty rad and has some great color blocking. While we wait for Jacob’s triumphant return to the scene, let’s enjoy the king of all swooshing videos and pause to consider this underrated and underdeveloped sub-genre of the hobby.

Feel free to include your favorite swooshing still shots or videos in the comments.

 

 

A Modern Cure for Insomnia

Can’t stop tossing and turning?  Big day tomorrow at work and you need your precious sleep?  Well have no fear, constant reader, because Italian Builder Gabriele Zannotti has just the tonic for what ails you.  Simply press the play button below and you’ll be nodding off in no time at all.  Instead of counting sheep or pounding the hard stuff, why not drift away to the soothing sound of this minimalist printer?  David’s animation is as flawless as the build itself and I hope he continues to explore in this relatively uncharted territory.

In his Flickr profile Gabriele also offers his considerable rendering services to his fellow digital building AFOLs.  I’m not sure if it’s free or there is a charge involved, but if you’re in the market for that kind of thing you might reach out to Mr. Zannotti for more info.

I know the feeling…

I think most builders who have undertaken a large, time consuming LEGO project can relate to this Brick Barossa convention video posted by Michael Smith.  It features the demise of a rather nice and certainly inoffensive rendition of the historic Ayers House by Michael Burdon.  The Australian mansion is located in Adelaide and it is named after Sir Henry Ayers, the five time Premier of South Australia and wealthy industrialist, who occupied the stately building from 1855 until 1897.  If the builder is anything like me, he was so sick of looking at his long-term project (it’s been around for a couple of years) that the only solution was a violent end at a convention, to the delight of the crowd.  I can tell you from personal experience that putting your fist through a pain in the ass model can be very satisfying indeed.

The Brothers of Destruction

I’ve seen models dropped from stairs and slammed against a wall, but I’ve never seen a builder throw objects at a diorama with the intent to destroy.  Typically the models slated for destruction at conventions are Star Wars related official sets so it’s refreshing to see a scratch-built diorama get the rough treatment.  Nobody really cares that much if a giant official set gets wrecked, but the vibe is more intense when you watch a creator demolish his creation.  I can’t quite make out what the projectiles are, but hurling them at the model results in some very pleasing shrapnel.  The WWE style table slam at the end is a nice touch too: well played my Australian homies!  I’ll leave you with a video of the Ayers House before it’s destruction, since Mr. Burdon doesn’t seem to have an account at any of the usual sites.  If you’re into this kind of LEGO related disaster porn you can also check out the MandRproductions34 YouTube channel, where you can watch him smash a wide variety of official sets.