Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The changing face of adult fan conventions

Are LEGO conventions moving from a gathering of like-minded adults into a place for families and children to connect over a shared love of plastic bricks? That was the big (unanswered question) of BrickWorld this past weekend in Wheeling, IL.

What seemed like an adult convention with a few precocious teenagers in 2008 has morphed into a family friendly universe that is pulling in fans of all ages. The youngest of BrickWorld's 800+ attendees was five years old -- the oldest was 74 years old.

While I'm used to talking with adults at conventions about their creations and assuming that they're attending because they're a passionate LEGO fan, I found myself repeatingly talking to parents who were only attending because of their child's passion. Some built alongside their kids, others appreciated what aduilt builders could do and saw it as inspiration for their children, and many were fans themselves. However, attendance was not a direct indicator of interest.

That last point is the most salient. Fans come in all ages and BrickWorld is starting to be a reflection of that idea. It's an interesting question going forward for the adult fan community, who may need to learn to play nice with children faster than they expected.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The plane I wish I took to BrickWorld

Adults don't get many opportunities to summer camp. I just back from three days of summer camp in Wheeling, IL.

Officially known as BrickWorld, I played with LEGO bricks, purchased LEGO bricks and got to see some of the coolest creations put together by builders that flew into Chicago from around the world.

I had the benefit of signing books across from the table that held a LEGO-ized Quantus Airbus A380. Ryan McNaught brought his seven-foot by six-foot plane that's made of 35,000 bricks all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Despite the plane being destroyed in transit -- he spent a full week rebuilding his creation -- McNaught was in excellent spirits at the convention.

My personal highlight of the convention was watching kids see the airbus for the first time. They'd let go of their parent's hand and run to the yellow chain a foot away from McNaught's plane. Just as the parent got ready to chide them for running away, they would see the airplane. Then both parent and child would stand there...mouth open, in awe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Have Minifig, Will Travel

I feel like the opposite of George Clooney's character in "Up In The Air," (or at least what I understand from the trailers) as I sit waiting in the Kansas City International Airport (we have the All-Star game in 2012 and flights to Mexico now, watch out!). He seemed to find traveling exhausting and soul-numbing. Me? The only time I fly these days is to go somewhere to get to talk about and play with LEGO bricks. This is not such a bad job, folks.

And so I sit in a Starbucks with the crumbs and coffee cups of a day's worth of passengers around me. But I have company -- my mini-fig doppelganger who I just discovered hiding inside my computer bag. Even creepier. We've both got on gray shirts and blue pants/jeans.

I'm on my way to Chicago and then through to Wheeling, Illinois, for BrickWorld. Come see me at the convention or the Borders in Schaumburg (1540 Gulf Road) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are adult fans of LEGO mainstream?

Is there a tipping point for a subculture where it no longer ceases to be underground and instead is just an accepted part of the mainstream? If so, how do you identify that exact moment?

For poker, was it when James McManus published Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker? Or when ESPN started getting boffo ratings for the World Series of Poker? If not then, how about when Matt Damon showed us what it means to be a card shark in Rounders?

All of this stems from the increasing awareness of the Adult Fan of LEGO community. There's an article out in the Associated Press today devoted entirely to the world of AFOLs. Also, there might be a book you should consider getting for a dad or father in your life for Father's Day. LEGO: A Love Story is the best book written by me this year, in fact.

But I know that I'm too far involved in the world to have a good gauge on the cultural zeitgeist. I also know that in the three years that I've started this project, the idea of an adult playing with LEGO bricks has become a lot more accepted...and not just by me.

Image via Rob Young.

Monday, June 14, 2010

U.S. vs. England World Cup match recreated in LEGO bricks

To some this will be a great triumph. To others, an unmitigated disaster. The recent football match (which ended in a 1-1 tie) between England and the United State has been recreated in stop motion LEGO animation.

With the actual announcers' commentary over the dramatic goals for both squads, it's a simple but compelling 90 seconds. The ball trickling past the English keeper -- with the replay -- is no easier to watch than the live shot. So to English readers, my apologies for propagating the video. To the rest of the world, this is the best way to watch World Cup highlights.

Image via the Off Side.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Talking to LEGO; book signing in St. Louis tomorrow

Apologies for the radio silence. I was traveling to and from the hinterlands of Vermont for the annual LEGO sales and marketing conference on Wednesday and Thursday. On the final day of meetings, I had the opportunity to address employees of LEGO on the impact their product has had on adult fans.

It was a wonderful chance to explain how LEGO has evolved into an art form, a matchmaker and a philosophy on life. I was excited to be able to tell the stories of adult fans to the very people that work daily to bring them the products they love. And, even better, the crowd was excited to hear the stories of adult fans and how their lives have been changed by a (not so) simple plastic brick.

On Saturday, I'm off to Pudd'nhead Books in Webster Groves, Missouri. If you're in the St. Louis area between 2 and 4 p.m., pay me a visit. If you're not, book a plane ticket and the first frozen custard is on me.

Image via Pasakaru76.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The robot invasion begins in Lawrence, Kansas

I was in Lawrence, Kansas, last night to talk about the history of LEGO bricks and the world of adult fans. Local kids -- of all ages -- had been invited to bring their creations to be entered into a contest to win a $100 gift certificate to Sadly, the miniland version of Kate and I didn't secure me an entry.

I had a brief slideshow and question and answer session -- note, if you ever need to impress a group of children, show them this Iron Man minifig. At the end of my talk, I called up the kids (age four to fifty-two) who wanted to talk about their creations. I got the chance to do mini-interviews finding out just what they had built and discovering that although everybody knows their name, one's age can be difficult to summon in front of an audience.

I was continually struck by how the stories of what kids built were as interesting (if not more so) than the structures they held in their hands. And I was surprised by the ingenuity of some really young kids -- like the boxy tank that was pulled apart to reveal an Imperial speeder bike inside.

My favorite might just have been a 11-year-old that held up a robot made primarily from 1x2 tan plates and grille pieces.

"What did you build?" I asked.

"A robot," said Bryant.

"And what does he do?" I asked.

"He's a robot," he reiterated.

"I see...well, be careful, robots are always taking over the world."

"I know," he replied.

"Well, you were smart to build him so small, that way you can prevent him from taking over the world."

"Nope, he can just build a bigger robot, who would then build an even bigger robot."

"Well, you better take him apart to keep that from happening, right?"

At which point, Bryant snapped off one of the robot's antennas to show it who was boss.

Image via Wallpedia.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy 42nd Birthday, LEGOLAND

So you come to the factory where you work. You sit down at your station, the beginning of an eight-hour shift. And that's when the family of four walks by, pointing and talking about your workstation. They have tons of questions. They're touching everything. And suddenly you're behind and your friend further down the line is now waiting on you impatiently. He can't work because you can't work.

Welcome to the LEGO factory in 1967. The toy company in Billund, Denmark, found that production was being slowed by people wanting to (understandably) visit the factory. And so the LEGO Group opened the first LEGOLAND theme park, not a 10-minute walk from the factory, the following year in an attempt to give tourists something to do other than disrupt the line at the factory. Today (with a hat tip to Dave Banks at Wired's Geekdad) is the 42nd anniversary of that park's opening.

There are now theme parks in Germany, England, and the United States (Carlsbad, California) with parks slated to open in Dubai and Winter Haven, Florida, over the next two years. LEGOLAND helped me to triple the number of roller coasters I've ever ridden in my life (to a whopping three) -- although, I'll admit it didn't hurt that the roller coasters are designed for the scare quotient of a 10-year-old.

Image via FanPop.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why you should build your resume out of LEGO bricks

When I was little I thought my dream job would be as a master model builder working for LEGO. I certainly had no idea we'd enter an age where LEGO building could be the difference between getting a job and remaining unemployed as an adult. We live in weird times.

The Scottish Sun has the story of Lindsay Burns, who apparently didn't get a job in a call center because her plastic brick building skills weren't up to snuff. To use the Sun's lede -- I was gobsmacked by this story.

There is something positive to come out of all of this. The next time somebody catches you playing with LEGO bricks, you can explain that you're conducting a mock job interview. In addition, all your LEGO purchases might just be considered "work expenses" at this point.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yup, that's a LEGO ship in a bottle

The question that I get asked most often is why LEGO still matters today. What has allowed this toy and this company to continue to be relevant to kids (and adults) in a world that is increasingly digital?

Depending on how much time I have (and the interest level of my conversation partner/interviewer), I tend to give an answer that centers around one idea -- creativity. The short answer is just that word, followed by a long blank stare until it gets uncomfortable. The longer answer gets at the heart of the hobby/obsession/passion/calling...

For me, I'm continually blown away by what people build. And in a world of spoilers and constant information -- where it is difficult to keep a secret -- I'm excited that I get to be surprised by what I find in the adult fan of LEGO community. Yesterday was a perfect example. I've seen blind builds and builds in a bag, but I've never seen a build in a bottle until Brothers-Brick linked to Jeremy Mood's LEGO ship in a bottle.

So why are LEGO brick still relevant? Because every day somebody shows me something I've never seen before.

Image via Jeremy Moody.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Carrie, Rod Roddy, and LEGO Ear Buds

I never knew that I would become an amateur LEGO fashionista. In fact, this blog at times feels closer to "Go Fug Yourself," than I'd care to admit. Most days, I just sit here and pray that LEGO accessories will make it into Sex and the City 2: The Return of City.

LEGO Ear Buds are the newest design inspiration to come across my desk (sadly, only in virtual form). Thanks to the keen eye of Swiss Miss, you can find them at Molla Space for $29. While they're ear buds, I'd be dying to build a set of LEGO headphones to connect them.

You know what these ear buds would look great with? How about...(move to a Rod Roddy voice here)...a brand new LEGO MP3 player? Cue the jumping up and down and the Bob Barker hugging.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The first book signing in a bookstore...

The lunch hour stood still for a brief moment last Friday in downtown Boston. That's when I was in town to give a bit of insight into the world of adult fans and sign a few hardcover copies of LEGO: A Love Story. For the several million of you (in and outside Boston), who missed the event, here's a peek into what happened...

Despite having lived in Boston for close to five years, I forgot that parking near Newbury Street can be akin to winning Power Ball. Thankfully, there was a very nice garage attendant willing to take my car and hold it for only $32 for 90 minutes. I outsmarted you Boston.

I arrived a few minutes early to the Borders and asked the man at the information desk where I should head. He spoke into a walkie-talkie and after a brief bit of confusion as to whether I was a "vendor" or a "Bender," I was brought upstairs to where the signing was being held.

A small, but engaged crowd, were seated on the second floor when I got up to the podium. I started just a minute or two after 12 p.m. -- you shouldn't have to give up your sandwich time completely to hear me -- and spent the next 45 minutes talking about collectors, instruction books, and why adult fans come out of the Dark Ages.

To the good folks at Borders (particularly Batman fan-girl Katie) at 511 Boylston, thank you for hosting me... Afterwards, I signed a few dozen copies for the store -- including my own, dog-eared copy, which now includes best wishes from myself. Well, at least, when I inevitably leave that copy on the train, plane, or bus -- the stranger who finds it can enjoy an autographed copy.