Monday, January 31, 2011

Favourite Sets: 6625 Speed Trackers

In my last "Ones That Got Away" post, I made reference to the fact that I *did* manage to acquire a number of Police sets over the years, just never a police station. One of those sets is today's "favourite set."

6625 Speed Trackers was the first Police set I owned, and it's one of my earliest Town sets (#4, I think). I got it during the summer of 1996 (the year it was released) on a roadtrip to Montana with my parents and one of my brothers. That was a very traumatic LEGO experience for my brother, as he lost the head to the Royal Knight king he purchased, but my policemen made the trip back to Alberta in one piece each, and their vehicles likewise.

Both vehicles are quite lovely. I've always had a thing for the old motorcycles, and this would ultimately prove to be the only one I would ever get in a set. I would manage to get one in the mid-2000s (minus one side of the handlebar), but for most of my formative LEGO years, this was the only two-wheeled motorcycle I owned, making it even cooler than it perhaps deserved. The car was also much appreciated, and I think it is still a nice design, if a bit smaller than a lot of the more recent cars. Its main deficiency is that the driver cannot wear a hat--but, as you can see, LEGO helpfully didn't give him one.

This driver was more than just a mere patrol officer in my Town. Since I never acquired a police station, or even a larger set with a police chief fig, the hat-less man in black with this set became known as Chief Samuel Smith, and his motorcycling partner became his brother, the ace detective Officer Gregory Smith. As the Smith name (which also appeared with a couple of the Gator Landing figs) may tip you off, I wasn't particularly inventive with names, and the fact that these two characters got full names is indicative of the high favour they enjoyed.

I would eventually get a real police chief when I got 9293 Community Workers, but that was the better part of a decade later, and much too late to knock Chief Smith off the top of the totem pole--besides, I had two towns, and someone had to be chief of police in Paridisaville (that would be the new guy's post). Eventually, Chief Smith got a new uniform, while retaining his head, so I'm not sure who's actually in the picture here. Perhaps the Chief still likes to ride the beat now and again, for old time's sake.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grandfather's Tale, Chapter IX

Although I've already introduced Grandfather's Tale, my introduction only covered the introduction, and skipped over the eight chapters that I'd finished. I'm going to skip over them completely, because today I finished and uploaded Chapter IX (Brickshelf link to the folder, once it's moderated).

Although I'm sure there's no one reading this blog (yet? ever?) who is also unfamiliar with my LEGO Castle-illustrated epic, but for the sake of completeness, let me recap... just a little. In the last chapter, the Forestman leader, Rebecca Hood, was convinced to lead Princess Anne's company through the Dark Forest, safeguarding their journey against the attacks of the Fright Knights, who want to get their hands on the Princess.

The new chapter begins with this journey...

Here are the rest of the deeplinks:

02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15

I'm not entirely happy with this new chapter, in terms of photography. Part of the problem is that I had a good system going for backgrounds in the Dark Forest, but now that I've move out of the woods, I can't just paint the background with the underside of a green baseplate. This chapter experimented with taking pictures in a LEGO tub to give a smooth blue background, but I don't think I'll stick with it. I'm not sure what I will do, though.

On top of that, I got a new computer for Christmas, and while it was a much needed step, I still haven't adapted to the new programs entirely. The learning curve for the GIMP is kind of steep when the last photo-editing tool you used was ACDSee from ca. 2001.

Still, the story moves along, and it's not a complete wash in terms of pictures.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Introducing a Webcomic

Today I want to introduce the first episode of what I hope will be a weekly sideline webcomic. I have eight episodes thus far, and the pictures taken for a few weeks more, so this should last until late April anyway, but as it's only a sideline to working on Grandfather's Tale, I don't expect it will be much more frequent than that. Hopefully, you'll enjoy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Ones That Got Away-Part 3

After the two previous "Ones That Got Away" posts about Imperial Guards and Space Police (ii), given their overlap in era and the fact that I said I liked themes associated with law and order, and 'the good guys,' it will perhaps come as no surprise that today's post in that vein is about Town's Police theme.

Well, perhaps I should define what I mean by "Police theme." LEGO has never been as clear-cut with its Town sets as to what belongs in each theme as it has in Castle, for example. Back in the era I'm thinking about, Police sets were lumped (at least in my catalogues) with firemen to make the "Rescue" theme, and around 1995 it also included some Coast Guard/Life Guard types. In the 2000s, police sets were either part of the broader "World City" theme or its successor "City."

All the same, I think its clear what sets I mean when I say "Police theme." LEGO has usually had a whole range of Police sets, from small motorcycle up through larger car, helicopter, and mobile command centre, to police station. And over the years, I managed to accumulate quite a few of these--except for a police station. Hence the inclusion of Police sets in this series. Despite the vast number of Police stations that LEGO has released over the years, I have never acquired one.

Unlike more bracketed off themes like Imperial Guards or Space Police (ii), the perennial appearance of Police sets means that I never settled on a single police station as my utter favourite. Nonetheless, there were a couple that held my attention most in the 1990s, and remain my nostalgic favourites.

The first of these was 6398 Central Precinct HQ. Due to its 1993 release, it was around for a few years in catalogues, during my formative, catalogue-staring, years. It was a nice, large set, with four vehicles, including a helicopter and one of those awesome-cool motorcycles, and five minifigs, including Jailbreak Joe, who held a special status in my LEGO wants as the single Town bad guy. (It did not occur to me, apparently, that I could make someone else a bad guy... so for quite a few years my police had nothing worse to deal with than natural disasters or traffic violators, unless non-Town figs invaded.)

However, the Central Precinct did not manage to secure utter domination in my heart, because those years were not particularly Town-centric. Pirates and Castle held sway, and when I started becoming more Town-interested around 1996, another Police station was released--one which would vie with the Central Precinct for my attention.

6598 Metro PD Station had better pictures than the Central Precinct, and came out just as I was getting more interested in Town generally, and Police specifically. Besides, it also had a helicopter, and not one but TWO motorcycles! It also had a boat and jailwaggon, albeit at the expense of the car and jeep that came with the Central Precinct. Besides, it had more minifigs (8 vs. 5), and still included Jailbreak Joe! About the only thing that Central Precinct still had going for it was that I liked the look and shape of the station better, and I preferred its white helicopter to the black one with Metro PD.

Of course, you already know the ending of the story. It was a moot point which one I wanted more, because I never got either. A new Police station, with green windows (a fact my 11 year old self did not approve) came out in 1998, and although I would have settled for it, I never got that one either... and so on down to the present. I would have been happy to have settled with a mobile command centre, but I never got 6348 Surveillance Squad either. Back in the day, I thought that was a pretty amazing set, with its motorcycle and computer-filled command centre.

Although I never acquired a police station--not even a mobile one--my police force was a formidable force, with quite a fleet of vehicles. In addition to being a list slightly too long to mention here, a few of those sets will appear as "Favourites," so I'll leave off discussing them for now. Suffice it to say, however, I did remain forever without one of those cool motorcycles.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Favourite Sets: 6563 Gator Landing

Another of the ongoing topics that I want to visit with this blog is that of my favourite sets. Given my age, and when I started collecting LEGO, these are probably going to be sets from the mid-1990s and later. Anything earlier than that would probably be more appropriate to the Ones That Got Away series--in other words, this series will focus on sets that I actually own.

The first set I will look at in this series is 6563 Gator Landing. Released in 1996, this set is something a precursor to the Outback line of sets that came out the following year. I picked it up in the summer of 1997, when I found it on sale with a couple other sets at the "Real Canadian Superstore." Even before I got it, I thought it was a pretty cool looking set, but the fact that it makes my favourite list now is more a testament to 13 years of ownership nostalgia than anything else.

The main reason I've selected Gator Landing as my first set is because I recently rebuilt it, after having it in pieces for over six years (like much of my LEGO, it is slowly reassuming set-built form). Consequently, it's been on my mind of late, and as I've been hunting down pieces and rereading instructions, I've come to appreciate it all the more.

As a set, Gator Landing seems to be based in a swamp, or at least a lagoon or something of that nature, since it has a hut built on stone (well, grey) pylons, with a swinging rope bridge to a rock promontory. The presence of the lone bush piece suggests that there is land at hand, and the alligator gives the set its moniker.

In addition to the landing proper, the set includes three vehicles: one each from land, sea, and sky. The sea vehicle is this hydrofoil craft, piloted by a stetson-wearing Townlander in that familiar green vest, with storage for two suitcases in the back.

In hindsight, I think this truck is my favourite of the three vehicles. It's a cool looking red and black jeep/truck, with my first set of yellow tire-wells (indeed, my only set for a number of years, in any size), and a design aesthetic similar to the truck in my oldest Town set, 1720 Cactus Canyon.

Although the jeep claims my favouritism now, the seaplane was the real reason I wanted this set back in 1997. My brother had the first airplane in the house, from an Outback set, and I was green with jealousy. After all, planes could fly--and who can deny the swooshability factor? I certainly couldn't, and the big reason I wanted this set was so that I could have a plane too. I always felt a little bit cheated that it was a seaplane, rather than one with wheels, but I like the black, red, and yellow colour-scheme, and it's still plenty swooshable.

Boasting all of a chair and a glass mug, with a half-high door and more roof than walls, this little shack may not seem like much, but back in the day it was a millionaire's palace. My LEGO town had a severe shortage of housing, and this was the first, and for a long time only, Town set I had that came with a building--and a building that wasn't related to business. As such, it was a sauve waterfront estate in the midst of the cruder, basic brick houses I had built otherwise out of Freestyle sets.

Of course, the possession of three vehicles and a waterfront estate wasn't all the evidence I had that these three characters were millionaires: there was also the conspicuous presence of money in this set. How I missed it then, I don't know, but it looks pretty clear that this is a hideout in the bayou/swamp somewhere for... robbers, smugglers... someone apparently unsavoury. That never once occurred to me. For whatever reason, these three fellows, Messrs. Smith, Smith, and Octan, were millionaires who happened to carry a lot of cash on hand. In suitcases.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Empire State Building

Saturday afternoon, I got the very last of my Christmas LEGO--a gift from a friend in California that (I presume) didn't quite make it out as early as some people's Christmas presents. As a result, set 21002 Empire State Building is my newest LEGO set. It's also my first Architecture set, and I have to say that I was impressed.

First of all, it's pretty much all basic bricks, plates, and tiles. There is a criticism of the LEGO Group's decisions over the past couple decades that makes this a great thing. Basically, the criticism is that sets contain too many specialised and/or juniorised pieces. In other words, even with a fairly large set collection, a builder is always running short on the most basic LEGO elements, unless he augments his collection with things like Pick-a-Brick, BulkLUG, or Bricklink. To an extent, this can be mitigated by sets like Creator/Basic/Freestyle, or the large Sculpture sets, but there are limits to this. What's more, as a fig-favourer, this is not something that's often been available to me.

In consequence, I'm quite happy to have this attractive little collection of tan bricks--tan being a colour that is widely usable in bulk and somewhat rarer than the primary colours.

I was also pleasantly pleased with the amount of "advanced techniques" used in constructing what appears, at face value, to be be a straightforward stack of bricks. Mostly, the "advanced techniques" are used to stagger the bricks, so that half-stud differences can be used to approximate the original skyscraper. All in all, I was quite pleased.

I apologise about the picture, as it's not the best. Possibly because of the white background, I had difficulty making the colours more vivid while still allowing the tan to appear tan. Also, I've only been using GIMP (and have never used Photoshop) for a few weeks, so you get to see me on the learning curve, I'm afraid.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

KK2 in Hindsight

Yesterday I posted about LEGO of the last decade, and in one of my longer digressions, I wrote about Knight's Kingdom (2), or KK2 as it's more often known, and how it is among the most vilified Castle themes out there.

Certainly, when it came out, I was not a fan. I'm still not, really, although it's fair to note that I never managed to get my hands on any of the third year (2006), and I certainly acknowledge that the theme improved, and that it suffered unfairly from being the first new Castle theme in new grey--a double handicap if you consider the importance that grey brick has to a Castle builder.

One of the biggest complaints about KK2 is that it featured the most ridiculously coloured knights: solid red, solid green--and the archetypal evils of solid purple and solid baby blue.

However, I was looking at some figs standing on my bookcase today, and I was reminded of what an awesome colour light blue LEGO is--and reminded also that in the right context, any LEGO piece is useful. Perhaps KK2 wasn't the right context for Jayko and his troopers, but I feel like I've put some of his chess set to good purpose by making them conquistadors. They'd look just fine next to my Imperial Armada figs, don't you think?

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Decade Gone

Back in the year 2000, I was something of a smart-aleck. I still am, but having passed the threshold of my adult years (by a wide margin now), and having gained some excuse for it insofar as I'm now (hopefully) actually smarter, it's less obvious. What can I say? Back at the dawn of the 2000s, I was not even 13--that didn't happen until a month and more after Y2K failed its glorious promise to wipe out life as we knew it.

Anyway, one of the smart alecky things I remember best of that prehistoric period is that I was greatly irritated by anyone who said that the second millennium ended Dec. 31st, 1999, and that the 3rd Millennium commenced the following day--and I'd have told you so, if given half a chance. Not, we should be clear, that my opinion has changed: a millennium is a thousand years, and the first millennium started with year 1, not year 0 (there was no year 0, only 1 B.C. then 1 A.D.... but I digress).

This leads me, in a roundabout way, to this post's topic: the fact that a decade has just ended and a new one begun. It was a decade that spans four major residences in my life, from my childhood home to my family's move back into town as a teen, to my college years, and now to my graduate studies in another country. Within the scope of this blog's interest, it spanned the years from the heyday of my "classical" childhood view of LEGO, through the discovery of the AFOL community and the great "take-apart" of 2004, when most/all of my sets were dismantled, changing my collection from a set-based status quo to a moderately well sorted pile of bricks, and then back past a "dim" age into the rediscovery of my love for official sets and the transition into story-telling.

Okay, that was a long sentence...

In other words, it was a decade with a lot of change. Obviously, there was the colour change in 2004, and the change to flesh-toned figs in licensed themes within a year (if my memory is right). It saw the proliferation of licensed themes, including Avatar, Batman, Indiana Jones, Spongebob Squarepants, and Prince of Persia--not to mention the unstoppable force of Star Wars that began in the last years of the previous decade.

With regards to LEGO's core themes: Town, Castle, Space, it was an uphill battle, but they all came out of the decade stronger than they entered. Castle had the most dramatically rough ride. It started with Knight's Kingdom, which had amazing figs and juniorized sets, having finished off the previous decade. This left a Castle-sized hole in LEGO's lineup for three years, until the Knight's Kingdom label returned in the vanguard of the colour-change in 2004. Known better as KK2, this theme is probably the most reviled Castle theme to date, the Fright Knights possibly excepted, though it improved in its three year run. It was immediately followed by Castle (known variously as Castle 2007, the Crownies, Fantasy Era...) and, in 2010, Kingdoms, both of which seem to belong to a renaissance within the Castle theme.

Similar tales could be told about Town, which started the decade with juniorised fare and LEGO Studios, and ended it with several years' worth of amazing sets; or about Space, which launched Life-on-Mars (a bit of a dud...) in 2001 and ended the decade strong with Space Police (iii).

In addition to the licensed themes, and these core attractions, LEGO during the 2001-10 decade also featured Alpha Team (in 3 incarnations), Orient Expedition, Exoforce, Aquaraiders, Power Miners, and Atlantis.

There is a lot that I could say about the individual LEGO sets that came out in the decade just finished, and I probably will say a lot, but for now that overview of what the decade spanned will have to suffice. Besides, it's a bit unfair to the sets to tar them with the same brush... after all, for example, what does a 2002 Alpha Team-Mission Deep Sea set have in common with a Kingdoms set?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grandfather's Tale--An Introduction

Having named this blog after the LEGO epic I've been working at with an erstwhile schedule, and having said that I plan to use it to promote that same epic just a little bit more, I feel like I ought to give a proper introduction to Grandfather's Tale.

The premise of the story is simple enough: an elderly minifig gathers the village whippersnappers, and tells them the story of some great hero of their past.

(It's worth noting, as an aside, that I think my minifig photography skills have improved since the epic started. In the mythical "someday" that everyone has, I'd like to redo the opening here... but we all know that will never happen.)

Who is this old geezer? Why does he want to entertain these silly children? Does his story have a nice beginning, middle, and end? Or is it just some long ramble that will last as long as I have interest?

All of these are good questions, but they're not really germane to the story. The story is about Marcel of Flamond, about Princess Anne daughter of Charles, about Giles and Humbert. The grandfather is an excuse for me to use a more personal narrative voice, and to interject more exposition in a dialogue form with the kids.

Of course, I'm an English student, and one of the things they teach us English students is that the narrator is never neutral, never completely free of bias. S/he might be reliable... but that doesn't mean s/he doesn't add a slant.

Mind you, the grandfather isn't a "s/he." He's a he--and he's an old he who's been kicking around Liondom (as I call the Kingdom of the Lions and Falcons) for some time now. I actually do have a bit of an idea in the back of my mind concerning the grandfather, but it's something I'm only toying with and haven't made my mind up. Until and unless you hear otherwise, ignore him and and the kids, except as instances of humour and exposition.

Speaking of exposition, that's really all that Chapter One of the Tale is about. Here we learn just enough about Lion history to get some context for the story and get the ball moving--and to get a brief introduction (and I do mean brief!) to two of the major characters: Marcel and Anne. We'll meet the two other major characters of the first several chapters, Giles and Humbert, in Chapter Two, where the action really begins.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ones That Got Away-Part 2

It wasn't my original intent to post another of the Ones That Got Away so soon after the first, but my back-up plans tended to involve taking pictures of LEGO, and as things currently stand, it's quite cloudy in Boston, with the result that taking pictures in natural lighting is not going to make for good pictures. Although I'm considering experimenting with a light box, I don't really have what I need for that at the moment, and it's much too wet to venture out and get them--getting groceries and this semesters' books brought me back earlier this afternoon feeling like something half-drowned.

So we'll continue with the Ones That Got Away.

For Space, this theme was always Space Police--Space Police (ii) as most would call it. Even more so than the Imperial Guards, these were the ones that got away, because I never had an opportunity to buy one. I vaguely--very vaguely--remember seeing one of the smaller sets in stores while I was looking at something else, back in the fall of 1995, but Space was only just starting to legitimatize itself in my eyes as a "cool" theme. Unlike Castle and Pirates, I did not look at it in the catalogues and decide I want it.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that apart from some Star Trek (which was visually nothing like Space-themed LEGO), I'd never had much/any exposure to science-fiction at this point in my life, and even the Star Trek was a few years in the past, before we moved to an acreage in the country. Consequently, I didn't really know what to do with Space. It would be another five or six years before I got into Star Wars and Star Trek, and then into other science-fiction, but in the meantime my brother and I started to accumulate a few Space sets. He was ahead of me in that respect, having a few medium-sized sets, and representatives of whole themes I didn't have, namely Unitron and Roboforce. My largest set was 6879 Blizzard Baron, which I got at Christmas in 1995 as one of my two first Space sets.

Sometime between the arrival of the Blizzard Baron and late 1999 when I began to foray into Star Wars, I picked up some more interest in the Space themes--possibly motivated by my brother--and in looking through the old 1993 catalogue, came to favour the old Space Police. *I* say "old Space Police" because I didn't know at the time that the Space Police as I knew them were actually the second iteration of that theme, following the theme closely allied with the (also unknown to me) Futuron theme. Hence, while older fans than me speak of "classic Space" (aka the Space sets of the 1980s) with fond sighs and dreamy eyes, my most similar feelings belong to the 1992 Space Police, with their trans-green elements, and red-highlighted grey-and-black ships.

Obviously, as it was the largest set, the one that I wanted the most would have been 6984 Galactic Mediator. In addition to being one of the largest spaceships I was familiar with, pre-Exploriens, it had a nice triangular shape which was not at all old to someone as ignorant of science-fiction as pre-10-year-old me was. On the contrary, I loved that shape for the same reason it is so clich├ęd: because it looks fast and swooshable.

I also liked the Galactic Mediator, specifically, because it came with the Admiral fig. He was sharp, with his white, green, and black uniform, but especially with those yummy red epaulets. He was the only Space fig I knew of with epaulets, and to my Pirates-educated mind, that made him a pretty classy fig. Besides, he was a policeman! I mentioned in my last post how I've always identified with the law-and-order themes, and Space was no exception. The Space Police figs looked sharp and professional with their microphones and arched eyebrows, and they sported a cleanshavenness that was emphasised by the bits of sandy/brown hair on their foreheads. It's still one of my favourite LEGO heads.

In fact, so much did I like the Admiral, that the Space Police set I was wanted most after the Galactic Mediator wasn't the impressively large, next biggest 6957 Solar Snooper, but rather one of the smallest sets, 6813 Galactic Chief. (As an aside, I have no idea why I never called him "the Chief," which would seem like the obvious name for someone who is both head of a police force and so named in a set I lusted over for years... all I know is that he's always been an admiral to me.)

In the early 2000s, having discovered Star Trek in the wake of Star Wars, and having become fairly well-bit by the science-fiction bug, I was quite sad about the fact that I had a total of 6 Space sets and none of them larger than the Blizzard Baron. I did what I could to augment this--handicapped, I admit, by the fact that I didn't want to integrate either Life-on-Mars, which was too close to Spacesport, or Star Wars into my Space world. The Rockraiders came aboard, and I made a starship out of a blue baseplate and some basic bricks, but it wasn't until Mom started coming across used LEGO at garage sales that my true Space collection started to grow. Most happily for me, one of the figs we managed to get, which I managed to acquire (rather than my siblings), was the Space Police "admiral." Admittedly, he didn't have a trans-green visor in those days, but had to make do with a trans-neon-green one. Still, he was my very own Space Police admiral.

A couple years later I discovered Bricklink, grew up, and stopped playing with LEGO in the same manner as I used. My success as an adult has been rather better in acquiring Space Police than it has with Imperial Guards. Part of this may have to do with a lower demand in the AFOL community--the "green coats" are less iconic than the redcoats. I still don't have a Galactic Mediator, hence its inclusion as One That Got Away, but I have acquired a used Galactic Chief, as well as a number of loose figs and elements, and a 6852 Sonar Security and a 6897 Rebel Hunter. Although somewhat lost in an upsurge of Explorien and Iceplanet nostalgia (after all, my first set was the Blizzard Baron), as well as a healthy appreciation for Mars Mission and classic Space, I daresay that Space Police (ii, to be specific) is still my favourite Space theme... which is why it's kind of funny (from my point of view), that my brother runs a blog about Blacktron... (Colour It Blacktron). But he always was a funny kid...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Ones That Got Away-Part 1

In the age of Bricklink and eBay, I suppose the story is becoming less frequent of adult fans of LEGO (AFOLs) who lusted over some set in their childhood or youth, but were never able to acquire it, either because of a lack of money or being born too late. However, I doubt this story is completely eradicated, because the great old sets, due to this very interest, command a high premium in the resale market, and most fans probably go through a "poor student" or "unemployed" phase or two. Certainly, I have.

I think I'm a fairly representative fan of my generation, in terms of which sets I always wanted but could never have (at least until Bricklink). I'm in my mid-twenties, born in the late '80s, and I started getting LEGO 18 years ago, at the Christmas of 1992. Despite getting a few more sets in the following years, it wasn't until 1996 that I really started buying sets for myself on a regular basis, and not until 1998 or so that I had the allowance/earnings to do so to an extent approximating that which I wanted. However, my very second set (mentioned before as "Dr. Freestyle's" Basic set) came with a 1992 catalogue, and I have memories of staring at 6086 Dungeon Master's Castle throughout the summer leading up to my first year of Grade 1. Although I lost that catalogue sometime around when I got my third set, said third set came with a catalogue (from 1993), which would forever dominate my imagination's definition of "the epic sets that got away."

Fans older than me have memories of the 1980s and first couple years of the 1990s, but while I have a few sets predating 1992, my systematic understanding of the LEGO System's history only went back to the 1993 catalogue, so Classic Space, Blacktron (1), the Black Seas Barracuda, El Dorado Fortress, and Black Falcons only existed on the barest fringes of my mind, until I discovered the Internet, ca. 2000-1, and was able to put some context to these very old memories. In the meantime, however, the 1992-3 releases captured my imagination, and because I could never have them (by the time I had money it was faaaaaar too late), they have always been "the ones that got away."

Now, while you might have asked my younger self to name some he wanted but could never have and he would probably have given you a set name, the reality is that it tended to be a whole theme that captured my imagination, and the largest set was simply a placeholder (a "synecdoche," to use the literary term) for the theme of which it was a part. This post will be the first to examine these long-cherished themes, and see why I loved them, and how well I've succeeded in acquiring them.

Perhaps the strongest such theme that I never had were the Imperial Guards, from the Pirates line. The Imperial Guards were released by LEGO in 1992 as a red-coated replacement or upgraded version of the blue-coated soldiers who had been the pirate's nemeses since the advent of the theme in 1989. Although the pirates were very much the darlings of any game my brother and I ever played--while ostensibly still the 'bad' guys--I always preferred the Imperial Guards, part of a long-held preference for those who uphold the law rather than break it.

Of all the sets I've ever wanted, but never been able to find/afford, none have ever captured my heart so well as 6277 Imperial Trading Post. That set had it all: a base, a ship, and a boat for the pirates. For that matter, it had both pirates and good guys--including a rare example of civilians in the crew of the little ship. Most importantly to my young self, it had four redcoats, including the elusive and much-wanted admiral figure.

However, I would have gladly settled for 6271 Imperial Flagship. Though it had no base and had no pirates, it still had three of those cherished redcoats--including the admiral--and was a larger ship than any I ever owned--although, come to think of it, had I got the Imperial Trading Post, the little ship there would have been the first (and so the largest) I owned. It was not until 1998 that I got a ship... assuming that one can dignify 6250 Crossbone Clipper with that title.

Meanwhile, back in the mid-1990s, the Imperial Guards had not one, but TWO beautiful larger sets that I desperately wanted... and never had. Even today, I still don't have either of them. I have some Imperial Guards, having acquired 6252 Sea Mates at the height of my Imperial Guards era. In early 1997, I also managed to buy the last Imperial Guards release, the 1995-released 6263 Imperial Outpost, which satisfied my need for an Admiral figure. Until the discovery of Bricklink, however, that would be all the Imperial Guards I would find.

Even today, however, given the high popularity that the redcoat figs have with both nostalgicists like myself and army-builders wanting Napoleonic-esque armies, I've only upped my numbers by one. Consequently, I was happy to see the 2009 release of a new Pirates theme, including an updated version of the redcoats--although it's worth noting that finances prevented me from doing more than amassing a collection of the smaller sets. Even so, my new-redcoat army is larger than my old-redcoat army.

I still want to get Imperial Trading Post and Imperial Flagship someday, but the prices on Bricklink are not encouraging. I would probably have to spend $150 for the former, and $80 for the latter (USD), and that's assuming the prices don't climb more by the time I'm in a job where I can consider such purchases. Until then, these will always be two of the biggest "fish" that got away.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bedroom: Population 1000

As part of the aftermath of my trip to the LEGO Store over the weekend, I've been updating my LEGO census--which is to say, the spreadsheet list of my minifigs. (We should note, however, that although saying "spreadsheet" makes it sound complex and mathematical, it really is just a list.) According to the census, I now have 994 minifigs in my possession. This total fails to take into account the approximately 10 figs I still have back in Alberta, buried in with other things at my parents'. It also fails to consider the bucket of mismatched "leftover" fig parts, out of which I could probably construct... five or so figs.

In any case, it is probably fair to say that as a result of the trip to the LEGO Store this weekend, as a result of which I now possess an additional seventeen minifigs, which boosts me over the 1000-mark. It's been a long time since I started accumulating figs--good old Dr. Freestyle from set 525 will be 18 years old on my birthday, coming up in a few short weeks. Not that the good doctor was my first minifig... but he was my first non-Fabuland fig, my good first real fig.

The world of LEGO fans can probably be divided into those who are construction-focused, who if they have an interest in minifigs see them as a dressing for the construction. In other words, though they may like a well-populated creation, it's the creation that's the important noun here. On the other hand, however, there are LEGO fans who focus on the minifig, for whom the creation, while an engaging and important task, is subordinate to the minifig who inhabits it. It's a subtle difference, but it's there: the first kind of builder will desire to build a pyramid, and then will want to add mummies and explorers to make the pyramid better. The second kind of builder will love the mummies and explorers and build a pyramid to put them in context.

Of these two kinds of builders, I fall solidly into the second category. Among other things, that's WHY I have a census of my minifigs and keep it updated. Not that I wish to denigrate the bricks themselves, or in any way indicate that I don't enjoy them... but to me they are subordinate to the minifigs. I think every AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) falls into one category or the other, regardless of what some builders may say about "being both." I don't think you can be both. I think you can appreciate both, enjoy both, collect both... but one comes before the other, even if it's only in some lightning-fast mental equation that can scarcely be measured.

Personally, I have to wonder if my preference for minifigs is tied to my philosophy--I've been soundly identified as a Thomist, and among Thomist ideas that make sense is the great Chain of Being... and in the LEGO chain of being, the minifig definitely seems to sit closer to the builder than the basic brick. Not that this is a rejection of the Aristotelian material-is-more-important-than-ideas shift that started a centuries-long argument with the Platonists... because bricks are still more important than the idea of bricks. Each instantiation of a 2x4 red brick is more primary than the idea of 2x4 red bricks... but, by the same token, each individual minifig is more important than an individual 2x4.

Anyway, my point is that it's a somewhat personal thing, and in my case I'm a fig-fan. This is probably why I've been following the online LEGO community for seven years and have scarcely ever posted a MOC (and the last was a long time ago), while at the same time I've been willing to step into LEGO webcomics, and tend to see this is as natural progression of the kinds of involvement I have experienced.

Although there's no rush to get there... here's to the next 1000 figs I acquire. May they be as well-loved and well-known as the first.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Purchases, Jan.15

As noted in my introductory post, one of the best things about LEGO blogging is the opportunity to show off the new toys in your collection. Growing up with several younger siblings, I am perhaps even more delighted in this opportunity than most, because my formative LEGO experiences were shaped by an atmosphere of "look at the cool LEGO so-so-sibling got!" In addition to the shiny-newness of new LEGO, there was also the spotlight addiction of "...and it's MY shiny, new Lego."

In that spirit, here are the fruits of my second expedition to the Braintree LEGO Store, way down the Red Line on the T from Boston, and then out a bus ride to the South Shore Plaza mall. That's quite a hike, but as I said to my girlfriend yesterday, "it's kind of a good thing it's so far away, since it means I can only realistically visit every few months."

Turns out, we picked a good time to visit. The store was clearing out last year's stock, so a number of things were 50% off, including the Prince of Persia sets, a few Star Wars sets, and a lot of keychains. In addition to these deals, I also had a pick-a-brick box (as opposed to a normal cup), to fill for free--the result of having spent too much money at the Store in the pre-Christmas season.

Besides the under-Recommended Retail Price stuff, I also ponied up for a blue 32x32 baseplate, which I should mention I am quite grateful to LEGO for re-releasing--as well as a couple token NinjaGo and Pharaoh's Quest sets, to start my collection of both.

Most importantly, however, I managed to pick up an Elf!

The elf, we should mention, is one of the coolest collectible figs to have come out this year, since LEGO started the line. I say this, of course, heavily biased by my status as a Tolkien fan--but seriously, take a look at that lovingly crafted little minifig, and tell me he's not cool. The only thing, as a Tolkien fan, is that I'm not really keen on him being blond (blond Elves are not normative, whatever Orlando Bloom may have taught you) and having pointy ears (I fall distinctly on the non-pointy ear side of the debate). However... one quick removal of the headgear, and that problem is swiftly solved. I'm thinking of replacing his hairpiece with a dragon-helm, since that's always been my "Tolkien-esque" LEGO-helm of choice, but I could also settle happily with a Qui-gon wig.

It's funny that this guy is the collectifig I've wanted most, because he's also the first one I've ever purchased... and this was the first time I've ever seen them for sale--even when I was at the same LEGO Store in November, they had none out. It also wasn't hard to pick him out. For all the talk about cheat-sheets, barcodes, and dot-codes that have proliferated in the discussion of these guys, all I had to do was feel around until I found an oval shield and a bow--only one fig in the series had those... and this was the second bag I tried.

The only thing apart from the hairpiece and my Tolkien-related peccadillos that I would change about this set would be to give him a quiver. I remember, back in "the old days," that you never saw a LEGO bow without a quiver (Note: this did not include crossbows, which were in a different colour until 2000 from quivers anyway). All the same, it's not a problem peculiar to the Elf (whom I want to name Gonderin, as an homage to the long-defunct Classic-Castle Roleplay), but is actually the case for another archer I acquired.

Well, okay, maybe the little guy has bowstring envy (oh... there is dirty pun potential there) next to the elf... but he's a Ninja! That's why I got his set, apart from being both small (and under budget), and a nice parts pack: there's little about this set that says "-Go" and a lot that says "Ninja-". Other than the target--which would actually work for a Robin Hood-esque archery tournament I think--the whole thing would fit in nicely with my little Ninja collection, ca. 1999. Cool as the NinjaGo thing has potential to be, I'm more interested in the Ninja-half of things.

A similar division of interest is operative in Pharaoh's Quest. Like NinjaGo, it can kind of be considered a redux version of a theme that originally premiered in 1998--in this case, the Adventurers. However, in the case of Pharaoh's Quest, the part that particularly interests me is the Egyptian end of things, and the high MOC-able potential (thanks to Stargate, Egyptian-themed bad guys have found themselves a place in the sci-fi end of my Lego universe). The Adventurer end of the theme... well... I don't feel a need to expand on Johnny Thunder and the gang, and I don't feel the new guys are any better. So the bare-armed hunk on the motorcycle is, I fear, merely parts-fodder (but don't tell him!).

Also parts fodder, and also desert-based, is the Prince of Persia set I picked up for half-price. Unlike the Egyptians, however, the flesh-toned figs will join the OTHER sci-fi baddie force, which is picking up a lot of support these days: the Evil Peachy Empire (all the flesh-toned figs with a visual aesthetic reminiscent of steampunk/Star Wars).

Looks like little Bare-Arms-Parted-Out-Dude here is a bit outnumbered by evil... perhaps those nasty Peachy figs will dismember him for me.

New Blog, New Post

A couple days ago I discovered a new LEGO blog ( Granted, after 7 years as a part of the online LEGO community, chiefly as a member at Classic-Castle, it's hardly something new for me to find a new LEGO blog. However, I still occasionally seek them out--mostly because the old ones on my favourites page no longer have enough new content to keep me busy on a long, empty afternoon, and in Friday's discovery of this nature, I found just enough long text and personality-driven content that I was motivated to start a blog of my own.

So let me introduce this blog. The name is derived from an ongoing story that I have been working on over the past year, called Grandfather's Tale (note the singular vs. plural form). For the most part, this been only marginally promoted, between being hosted at Brickshelf and updated at a couple forums. Not, mind you, that this blog is really conceived as a promotional platform either, but it needed a title, and the story had one to give. It seemed an appropriate name, too, when modified to the plural form, because this blog is going to be a bit of a grandfather's ramble. It is not a news blog, like the Brothers-Brick, or a theme blog, of any sort. The only underlying themes are LEGO Bricks, and what I think of them.

That being said, there are a few sub-themes that are likely to emerge, as a result of the afore-mentioned 7 years online amidst the LEGO community. In that time, I've felt the urge to blog before, and these various urges are likely to make their presence felt now that an actual blog has come of them. Let me introduce what these are:
  • Firstly, the brick-illustrated stories I am working on. These are the literal "Grandfather's Tales," and at the moment, "Grandfather's Tale" is the only one I've actually published. This has the possibility of expanding, however, because as I've posted on Castle World, I have other, non-Castle, themed "grandfather's tales" that I'd like to work on, and these may eventually see publication. In addition, I have an unpublished comic idea going on the side, which I have nowhere else to put, and 15 years of writing LEGO-inspired stories behind me (I guess one really ought to call them fan-fiction...), which may see the light of day, in some form or another here.
  • Secondly, this blog may contain a lot of commentary. This is likely to have to do with bricks and the experience of being a LEGO fan, but could range quite a bit wider. But, really... this is a blog--did I need to mention it will have commentary?
  • Thirdly, I will probably show off the new LEGO I've acquired. This will probably take the form of set reviews and such... but let's be clear about what really motivates this: I am getting new LEGO and want to show it off somewhere...
  • Fourthly, related to the last point, I'm likely to go back in time to look at old LEGO. Similar to showing off new LEGO, this is an excuse to revisit memory lane and wax nostalgic about the LEGO of my childhood and adolescence.
Overall, this is a fan blog. I love the product LEGO puts out, and have done so for over 18 years now. If this blog lasts until Christmas 2012, it will get to chronicle my 20th anniversary with my favourite toy, and one my of abiding passions. Although I do not come close to achieving the sort of building masterpieces that I have seen on a near-daily basis online over the years, I've been known as the premier LEGO nerd in most of my social circles over the past couple decades, with the single exception of my family, where I am, at best, tied with 3 or 4 other fans. This blog is a chance to show that off, and to share that passion.