Ode to a Plastic Brick

In keeping with the broader scope of our new blog we thought we’d do a few posts about other topics that may be of interest to our Voyager readers. We’re kicking it off with our contributor Mark’s debrief of his trip last weekend to a Lego Fan Convention! Any other topics you’d like to discuss or see more posts about? Let us know in the Forums!

    As some of our Forum members know ( and anyone who has read my bio ) I’m a bit of a Lego Geek/Nerd ( I’m not sure which I identify as, but thats an argument for another day! ) and have been for over 10 years. We’re also known as A.F.O.Ls or Adult Fans Of Lego. When I started buying Lego Star Wars sets back in my early 20s I hid the sets and claimed I was buying them for my nephew or godson, but now, I’m out and proudly buying sets whenever I can!

Last weekend I attended my seventh Australian Lego convention, this one was called Brickvention, in Melbourne at the Royal Exhibition Hall. There are also annual shows in Canberra and Sydney with smaller regional ones popping up all the time. One day is dedicated to talks, competitions and socialising with the other two being public exhibition days. Both public days sold out at 9,000 visitors each day. There were cosplayers raising money for charity and independent stores there, including ones who make jewellery from lego!

On the convention day we had a talk from Lego Australia’s CEO and a Senior Designer from Denmark ( where Lego is still largely produced by the same family owned company in the town of Billund. ) who shed some light on the process of getting a new product theme into production. It was interesting how much market research they do into what their main audience ( boys 7-14 ) want, how they try to tailor their product’s stories to that, and the extraordinary costs involved in creating a single new colour for lego parts or a new shaped part. Stories also play a large part in lego branding these days, mostly revolving around a conflict between good and bad guys, often over a resource that they both want. Back when I was a child it was less about conflict and more about exploration- a sign of different cultural thinking perhaps?

In a broader sense it was surprising to see how many non-families ( though they were certainly the majority ) came to see the models and how many adults expressed a fascination with Lego. It feels to me like there has been a massive “mainstreaming” of Lego in the last couple of years; we’ve seen it used in advertising and with the increasing tie-ins with movies and comics its has reached a new level of geek-cred and collectability with the general public. For example before the Hobbit movie came out late last year the Hobbit Facebook page posted photos of the Hobbit actors, in costume, holding the Lego versions of their characters.

    Here in Australia we also celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Lego being sold in Australia, originally by a single door-to-door salesman, last year. The company made a huge effort by creating events all around the country with billboards, pop-up building sites and giant versions of Lego trees and flowers appearing in cities and the desert near Broken Hill. This undoubtedly also helped raise the profile of Lego in the general public’s awareness. It’s perhaps a little known fact that Australia had the first lego-brand store in the world, which I remember going to in Sydney as a child. Unfortunately it’s no longer open, but still, impressive!

I take my inspiration from movies, TV shows and of course books. My big “Blacktron” ( named after a lego-owned theme from the 1980s) spaceships are heavily inspired by the classic sci-fi art of the 70s that adorned so many of my early sci-fi books’s covers. Being a bit of a steampunk fan I’d love to do some more wood & brass vehicles in lego form too. All my models are my own designs built without any instructions and the conventions are just as much an art exhibition to me as they are a chance to meet and talk to fellow AFOLs. Much of what I exhibit at the shows is kid friendly, like my Wall-E or Bumblebee the Transformer  ( no, he doesn’t transform! ), but there’s a few adult-oriented ones like my Big Kahuna Burger restaurant- an extrapolation from a burger chain referred to in the movie Pulp Fiction. I also exhibited a model of a book cover I made to celebrate the author’s ( one of our long-term mailroom buddies, Jim Sonter ) retirement.

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in going out, picking up a set ( or drag one down from the childhood cupboard ) and just give it a go! It’s fun, creative and there’s a great community of men and women out there for those who’d like to get involved.

Mark

My Blacktron Ships

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