Monday, January 25, 2010

The tale of the AFOL: An interview with writer John Baichtal

The story of adult fans of LEGO is one that has remained largely untold to date. But John Baichtal -- a contributing writer at Makezine and Wired -- is working to change that in a new book that profiles adult fans and their building styles. I caught up with him via e-mail to ask about the progress of his project and what's it like to be playing with LEGO bricks with his own kids.

Could you describe the book you're currently working on and where it stands right now?

The book, co-written with BrickJournal's Joe Meno, describes the culture of adult fans of Lego -- not only the died-in-the-wool AFOLs who go to Brickworld and post to Brickshelf, but also non-fandom grownups who inexplicably reach for that old box of bricks to help them solve a problem, create a work of art or prototype a new invention. I'd say the book is about 85% done, and is currently going through rewrites.

When you started writing, did you think of yourself as an adult fan of LEGO? Do you today?

I love Lego -- one of the things I learned in writing this book is that the AFOL culture is a very tightly-knit and influential group but its values don't necessarily represent those of adult Lego fans who may not want to go to LUG meetings, post MOCs or attend conventions. I think I'd put myself in the second group, whereas Joe is immersed in the AFOL scene as much as anyone in the world. That different viewpoint is what makes us a great team!

Has anybody's story or creation stuck with you, either because of creativity or uniqueness?

I don't want to single out any builders as being more awesome than others. We tried to get a good mix of famous names as well as noobs. Some of the best works we included, in my opinion, were by newcomers to the AFOL scene or not part of it at all. That said, my favorite overarching themes have been surrealism (e.g. Zhang), and apocalego (e.g. Fedde).

As a Geekdad, what's it like to play with LEGO bricks with the next generation?

It was something of a reality check. I was expecting instant love, but there were stumbling blocks. First, the more complicated elements are hard for little kids to figure out. My youngest two are 4 and 5 1/2, and they love the IDEA of building a model (my son got the Krusty Krab set for Christmas) but actually sitting down and doing it is too much for them right now. Second, kids have so many toys and activities these days -- interactive games like Wii or the Internet grab kids so much more readily than a bunch of bricks. Nevertheless, my son's bedroom floor is covered in Lego bricks as I write this.

Are there any of the LEGO sets that you have would have flipped for as a kid?

I think I would have liked Mars Mission, Agents and Pirates of all the recent lines. In particular, the Pirates galleons are amazing and I would have flipped over them.

Have you discovered what it is in LEGO bricks that brings out our inner geek?

I just love the quality of the bricks' design & manufacture, the creativity that Lego puts into its sets, and how the company continually challenges itself to innovate and diversify. It's not hard to appreciate something so well done.

Image via Kennymatic.

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