Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From The Archives: My LEGO Pyramid

Somewhere in my teens, I grew bored with LEGOs. I briefly explored abstract creations with the specialized pieces of Technic and Classic Space, and created octahedrons using the classic bricks.

Eventually, I used a 50x50 base plate, and constructed a pyramid with bricks. Using almost every brick I had, I corbelled each brick so that half of each brick was attached to the one below, creating a stair-step angle. I had to calculate which row would have which color to maximize the use of bricks. I only used one cheat: a blue layer needed a brick, and I had to laminate slats to create the needed brick. I soon discovered that each side tended to buckle towards the middle of each side, which necessitated the use of braces along the bottom half of the pyramid.

Since this was a pyramid, I felt that the interior should have some sort of ritualistic purpose, and designed a complex structure inside. However, all that remains of this are some schematics drawn on graph paper. LEGO does offer a digital construction program on their website, and I might reconstruct this digitally.

Once completed, I stored it away in a cabinet with the remains of my other LEGOs. Roughly eight years later, I dusted it off, and wrote a paper for an architectural history class, investigating the use of LEGOs and corbelling techniques. I passed the class... and the original paper awaits rediscovery via Macintosh System 9.

What follows are pictures taken with my Treo cellphone, as I deconstructed the pyramid. Almost very brick is classic, although some were from Classic Space sets.

Plot Factory: Boy Meets Girl

My freshling year at Cornell College, I took my English requirement in the Spring. Sitting in South Hall, trying to type a report on a PC with a three-color monochrome screen (orange type, white type, green type), staring out the window at the warm weather, I started the following to keep from going crazy. The original draft had 78 choices for Girl, and 68 for Boy. I added more, ending with 108 Girls and 95 Boys.

Later, when I transferred to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I turned this list into a french-door binding for an art class on non-adhesive bindings. The professor, Bonnie O'Connell, then invited me to adapt this into a fifteen-by-fifteen print for an invitational portfolio. I spent Spring Break typesetting the text, fueled with Double Stuff Oreos and Mountain Dew.

The Big Idea: Start with the basic plot. Select one possibility from each, and use that to write a story.

Plot: Boy meets Girl. Boy falls in love with Girl.

Girl is:
engaged/promised to another boy.
a figment of Boy's imagination.
using Boy to get revenge on her parents.
a different religion than Boy.
not interested.
possessed by Cthulu.
suffering from an Electra complex.
from the wrong family/social class/gang/species.
jail bait.
all of the above.
Boy's mother.
Boy's father.
really a boy.
Boy's long lost sister.
J. Fred Muggs in drag.
a terrorist.
Boy's assassin.
a leader of a small European monarchy.
an alien humanoid from another planet.
a prostitute.
a mafia princess.
Typhoid Mary.
an IRS agent.
an agent for the KGB.
a porn film star.
an advertising copyrighter.
actually Cleopatra.
a private detective.
a time traveller trying to prevent the future from happening.
a psychologist studying acute sexual deficiencies in human males.
a right-wing, flag-waving, God-Bless-Amurika Christian.
a swimsuit model.
a television producer.
a writer of Gothic romances.
an editor for the National Enquirer.
a fugitive.
a foreign spy.
a statue.
a mermaid.
an insurance salesman.
a robot.
a millionaire.
a ghost.
a psychopath.
a nymphomaniac.
a militant feminist.
a manic depressive.
a masochist.
a sadist.
terminally ill.
a vampire.
a werewolf.
a nun.
a contributing editor for People Magazine.
a painting.
a drug kingpin.
an actress looking for her big break.
a donut dolly during the World War Two.
an animal.
a witch.
Catherine the Great.
a Neanderthal.
an undercover police officer.
Boy's reflection.
Boy's teacher.
an animated cartoon.
a comic strip character.
Boy's nanny.
Boy's guardian.
Boy's step-mother.
Boy's niece.
Boy's aunt.
Boy's grandmother.
Boy's mother-in-law.
a clown.
an Olympian immortal.
Boy's professor.
Boy's minister.
minister's daughter.
an hallucination.
Boy's evil twin.
an Army drill sergeant.
the anti-Christ.
Boy's daughter.
a telephone sanitizer.
a foreign exchange student.
a junk bond broker.
a mime.
a spokesperson for "No Excuses" jeans.
kidnapped by gangsters.
an angel.
a blood-sucking alien looking for a host.
boy's student.
a gold digger.
a zombie.
a Valkyrie.
Eva Braun.
a KGB agent who was using Boy, but who has since fallen in love with Boy.
a cheerleader.
Boy's warden.
an orphan who was raised by black widow spiders.
the Pope.
farmer's daughter.
is Elvis in cognito.

kills Girl.
kills himself.
kills himself and Girl.
kills Girl and serves her to parents as main course.
kills Girl's family.
kills Girl's boyfriend.
blackmails Girl.
keeps Girl captive in basement.
marries Girl.
marries another girl to escape from Girl.
dumps Girl for European model.
sells Girl into slavery.
loses Girl.
turns Girl over to the authorities.
abandons Girl in the Amazon rain forest.
leaves Girl waiting at the altar.
enlists Girl in the United States Marine Corps.
marries Girl's sister.
marries Girl's mother.
seduces Girl's brother.
enters a monastery.
enters an insane asylum.
joins the Merchant Marines.
joins the Peace Corps.
joins the French Foreign Legion.
changes his identity to escape from Girl.
changes his gender to escape from Girl.
defects to Albania.
gets drafted.
participates in questionable genetic experiments.
escapes to the Amazon, and is never heard from again.
turns himself over to the authorities.
is cryogenically frozen to escape Girl.
flees to deserted island in the South Pacific.
volunteers for missionary work in New Guinea.
writes bestselling novel about his experiences with Girl.
assassinates the President of the United States to show his love for Girl.
appears on late afternoon talk shows.
overthrows a small African dictatorship.
wins a Nobel prize.
writes best selling love song about Girl.
saves Mankind.
dies from sheer boredom.
becomes a chronic alcoholic.
withdraws into himself.
fails blood test.
starts Armageddon.
dies from shock.
is never heard from again.
wakes up.
does nothing.
doesn't care.
self destructs.
sells soul to the devil.
builds a luxurious palace for Girl.
has torrid love affair with Girl's mother.
leaves wife for Girl.
dies from battle wounds.
elopes with Girl.
rapes Girl.
has deep meaningful relationship with Girl.
kills Girl's brother.
creates a popular television sitcom about Girl.
loves Girl anyway.
forsakes family heritage to marry Girl.
undergoes operation to be equal to Girl.
dies in Girl's arms.
writes Doctoral thesis about Girl.
volunteers to fly the Army's experimental fighter, is lost somewhere over the Caribbean.
kills Girl's rabbit, makes rabbit stew.
gains infinite wisdom, realizes that Earth is illogical, and destroys it.
marries Girl, has 2.3 children, makes $25,063 a year, and dies an average death.
asks Girl to prom.
ridicules Girl in front of entire student body.
writes, directs, and produces TV Movie of the Week about Girl.
performs questionable genetic experiments on Girl.
joins police force to find girl.
dumps Girl for Girl's brother.
reveals that he, too, is what Girl is.
remembers previous appointment, leaves Girl.
wins lottery, enters life of decadence.
elopes with Girl's moose.
accidentally kills Girl's brother.
reveals secret identity to Girl.
writes bawdy limerick about Girl.
goes AWOL to elope with Girl.
wins six Olympic Gold medals, becomes immensely wealthy, and forgets about Girl.
joins leper colony to escape from Girl.
is exiled from society for associating with Girl.
rescues Girl.
invents time machine to escape from Girl.
invents faster-than-light travel to escape from Girl.
changes gender to fulfill Girl's sexual needs.

This Is Only A Test

My True Fans will recall one of my earliest posts, "Testing Email Posting", where I posted a tongue-in-cheek test.

The following was the inspiration for my test. I acquired it from my uncle, Herr Doktor Hans Steffen, business professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I do not think he ever administered this test, although I do recall him laughing over the questions.

(I do know of one English professor who administered a test over Hamlet with one question: "At the end of the play, who survives?")

You have four hours.

From the Archives: Buttons

Here are a sample of buttons I have collected up to circa 1994. This is not the complete collection, but just the best. Many were purchased when I was in my hippy rebellious stage in college (purchased from a counter-culture / progressive catalog based in Minnesota). Others were collected from comics shops, others were lying around the house, a few I actually purchased in stores or found at garage sales.

Since then, I have found many more, mostly via science fiction conventions. (The "Watergate" button is an example.)

If you are wondering, the "Mutants for Nuclear Power" button was pristine at one time. The stains are from water damage, not radioactive material. Now that I think of it, a luminescent button with that design would be pretty cool...

YouTube: Martha Stewart and Cookie Monster

Here we see Cookie Monster visit Martha Stewart's kitchen, to bake cookies.

Of course, the word "cookie" cannot be spoken, lest Cookie Monster loose control. Of course, the magic word is spoken, and Cookie barters with Ms. Stewart to satisfy the cookie monkey on his back!


Something a bit more serious:

From the Archives: Self-Portraits From The Erlangen Comic Salon

As you saw in the previous post, I attended the Comic Salon in Erlangen, Germany, in 1994.

It was my first comicbook convention, and I guess a was a bit uncertain what to expect. As comics events go, this was quite interesting... the city embraced the show with the Lord Mayor having breakfast with many of the guests, the train station had advertising to promote the festival, and there were comics displays in the local bookstore window.

Wandering around the convention hall, I soon realized that various guests were drawing free sketches for attendees. I quickly departed for the nearest stationery store and purchased a drawing pad.

What follows are various self-portraits I commissioned from the guests. Many artists do not regularly draw self-portraits, and most hesitate before drawing.

This is a pencil sketch of/by Henrik Dorgathen. He won the Max und Moritz Preis for Best German-Language Comics Artist. Space Dog, a story told entirely in icons, had been published the year before, but I was short of funds, and Mr. Dorgathen graciously drew this quick sketch.

This artist, unfortunately, is lost in my memory. He is German, but that's all I can hypothesize.

This is Hunt Emerson's self-portrait. Mostly unknown in the United States, he is probably best known for his adult humor comics, such as Casanova's Last Stand.

Scott McCloud visited Erlangen to promote the German editions of Understanding Comics and Destroy! He was situated up on a mezzanine, and seemed a bit forlorn.

The next day, I visited him again, and had him draw an abstract version of himself.

Finally, we have Neil Gaiman, who is not known for his artwork (although he did create one of the first 24-hour comics). Since this was back in 1994, he was not yet a rock star, and the line, while lengthy, moved quickly. Don Rosa, on the other hand, had to hand out tickets for his Duck drawings. Of Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman, and Don Rosa at the Ehapa booth, Don Rosa was the most popular. (Yeah, that was typical of Erlangen. Joe Kubert was also there, signing archive editions for another publisher, but he was only autographing his books.)

The next Salon is in June 2010. I suspect the festival has gotten more popular, although the comics scene in Germany is still a bit nascent.

From the Archives: Neil Gaiman

While travelling around the world in 1994, I spent two months in Europe, mostly visiting family in Hannover.

While there, the biennial Comic Salon in Erlangen was taking place, so I took the train south to northern Bavaria. The Salon was quite amazing, as the entire city embraced the culture and art of the medium! The salon itself was small as compared to other comics shows I've attended... The MoCCA Festival is probably the closest comparison to what I experienced in 1994.

My German is passable, allowing me to survive well enough on my own. I knew very little about the European comics scene, attending mostly because many American (and British) guests had been invited by German publishers. I learned first of the Salon because of Don Rosa, then met Will Eisner, Hunt Emerson, Scott McCloud, Joe Kubert, and Neil Gaiman. What surprised me the most were the free sketches most artists made for attendees! I quickly bought a sketch pad from an art store, and collected many sketches. I was extremely fortunate to be one of the first to get a sketch from Don Rosa, who actually produced FINISHED artwork... pencilled in blue, then hand inked! Not a quick sketch, but what would be considered a commission... I asked for a Guardians of the Lost Library motif (the story had just been published in May) and he delivered! Of the others, I asked for self-portraits of each artist, since many do not publicly produce them.

I had spent three months in New Zealand while travelling (and would have stopped my wandering there had immigration not been so difficult), and found all of Neil Gaiman's early stories for 2000 A.D. He graciously signed them, and then even agreed to a quick self-portrait. This might be the only time he has done this, so I am sharing this with the world. The original is on A4 paper.

Later, during the Max und Moritz Preis reception (the awards ceremony was held at the Opera House, preceded by a comedic gymnastic performance), I eavesdropped as Mr. Gaiman told a cautionary tale of an actual industry professional. Of course, I've kept it to myself, as it is not my story to tell.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From the Archives: LEGO "Wir Bauen" Idea Book

Yesterday morning, the grandkids (my nieces and nephew) came over to play.

Being the cool uncle that I am, I excavated my box of LEGO bricks from the basement.

When I was younger, I was a LEGO fanatic, having inherited the toys my three older brothers had outgrown. Every Christmas, I would get one big set (or some smaller ones). For those box-shakers out there, rattling LEGOS have a sound unlike any other! Sure, you know there are LEGOs inside, but what kind? And what are you going to build?

My friends were Space Lego fans (Star Wars influence, circa 1980), so most of my sets are from the early years of that series. (Alpha-1 Rocket Base, Starfleet Voyager (suh-weet)...)

I have lots of the older, traditional bricks (now known as Creator), and used them to build a massive pyramid on a 50x50 base plate. That was my swan song as a child, although I did use that model as the basis of a paper on corbelling for an architectural history class at university.

So, while I was digging around the boxes, I found some older manuals. The following pictures are from a magazine-sized book which was old when I first saw it. I have no idea what the original looks like, but as a kid it was both fascinating to look at and frustrating to contemplate. Here were little dioramas, little Legoland displays I could make, but the pieces were too exotic! (Clear bricks, those rare quarter-column curved pieces, flags!)
The text is German. "Wir bauen" translates to "We build". I love the illustration style, somewhere between photo and illustration. Note that brick edges have been highlighted to help builders decipher brick placement. This document is from the early 1960s, as LEGO entered that market in 1959. Possibly 1964, when instruction manuals were first produced. The staples were lost years ago, so I have arranged the pages thematically.