Jonathan Bender Talks Lego Conventions

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407028_cover.indd407028_cover.inddJournalist Jonathan Bender spent a year immersed in the adult fan of LEGO community for his new book, LEGO: A Love Story, out this month. The past two years he has spent purchasing LEGO bricks; however, they can no longer be considered work-related expenses. Jonathan has written a guest post for us, sharing some tips for bringing kids to Lego conventions. — John

Silly rabbit, bricks aren’t just for kids. There might not be a geekdad among us – myself included – who doesn’t play with LEGO bricks. Lucky for us, there’s an adult fan of LEGO convention for nearly every month of the year.

Fan conventions can be a great place to bond over a shared love of LEGO with your geek offspring while showing them they can even play with LEGO bricks as a career: Mark Stafford and Jamie Berard were adult fans before The Lego Group hired them as set designers.

If you’re thinking about heading out from the living room floor to the convention floor, here’s a guideline to attending an Adult Fan of LEGO convention with the smallest LEGO freak in your house.

Ages 10+
Adult fan conventions are divided into two halves. The public days fall on a Saturday and/or Sunday, while the Thursday and Friday before are a private event for attendees. Registration is typically around $50 with an additional fee for vendors. In-between setting up group displays and rebuilding what has been destroyed in transit, adult fans attend presentations, roundtable discussions, and classes on styles of building and the community.

Raised a LEGO fan older than 13? Be glad they’ve made it through the Dark Ages – even LEGO considers them an adult builder. Attendees come as young as eight, but I think 10 is probably a better age. They’ll need to be able to enjoy a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation from an engineer and convince adult builders that they respect a toy that is not just for kids. But if they’re genuinely interested in techniques and LEGO history, the youngest participant is as welcome as the oldest. A good rule of thumb: if you’re not the best builder in your house, you might want to bring them along.

If you don’t think your kid has the right attention span or interest for a whole convention, bring them to the public display days. It’s cheaper than registering and a lot easier to leave if the day starts going sideways.

Display Well
The best part about being a fan of LEGO is building, so naturally fan conventions are designed to be participatory. The public comes to see what everyone has built and there is no bigger thrill for designers of any age than to have their creation on a white tablecloth as onlookers snap pictures. When you register, you’ll be able to fill out a MOC (My Own Creation) card to display during the convention, which describes what you’ve brought along with your name and hometown.

You also don’t have to build alone. There may be a LEGO User Group (LUG) in your area, which means you could contribute to a group display, even a small car or building if you’re still working up to a larger creation. Most LUGs meet monthly (or more frequently closer to a convention) and are glad to welcome new members to discuss the scale and nature of what they’re bringing.

If your LEGO collection is not much bigger than the 62 LEGO bricks that exist for every person on Earth, you’re fine — the adult fan community is capable of ogling creations of any size. Exhibit A is Shannon Sproule, the master of micro-scale building.

The Joy of Exclusives
This is how your kid becomes the coolest kid in school. The LEGO Group sends a mix of executives and set designers to adult fan conventions, meaning plenty of exclusives and the chance to find out what exactly is going on with your favorite sets.

The day before the LEGO Shuttle Adventure – it comes out in June – debuted online, it was flying through the ballroom of Brick Magic, an adult fan convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, earlier this month. And my Zombie collectible minifig is staring at me as I type this (don’t worry, it’s got a shovel and turkey leg to distract it).

This is the chance for you to avoid those tough life discussions with your kids, like what will happen to LEGO Bionicle. Instead of having to explain macroeconomics, you can just let a LEGO set designer explain how much cooler Hero Factory – the line replacing Bionicle in August of 2010 – is going to be as a ball-and-joint system.

Like a Kid in a LEGO Store
Take an extra suitcase; the baggage fees are worth it. The welcome kit for attendees always includes a few fun surprises, most of which you’ll want to start building as soon as you peek inside the bag. Attendees of Brick Magic got a LEGO rose for Mother’s Day, a sample pack of minifigure accessories from BrickForge, and a 100-piece WWII tank buster plane kit. When you add those together with the inevitable impulse purchase of custom minifigs and LEGO t-shirts, that rolling bag doesn’t look so large.

Each convention also includes an after hours trip to the LEGO retail store, where you will have access to special discounts and scratch-and-dent sets. And that is when you’ll discover that it is you – and not your geeklings – that isn’t leaving without a half-price Death Star.

Looking for a convention to attend? Brick Journal, a magazine for LEGO enthusiasts – has a calendar of LEGO fan events around the country. The next big convention is Brickworld 2010 in Wheeling, Illinois, on June 17 to 20. More than 700 attendees, at least 50 of them kids, are expected.

Thanks, Jonathan! Don’t forget to pick up his book, LEGO: A Love Story, on sale now. — John

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