My next guest destroys the long held belief in the community that a builder must always keep the proper signal to noise ratio. Although Leigh Holcombe has a stable of well built and some might say handsome models, he may be best known for his numerous postings in various LEGO related fora. Armed with a sharp wit and a willingness to use it, this keen observer of the community has made his own mark through the years. I caught up with Leigh, better known as worker201, on a barren stretch of flatland about halfway between Houston and Waco Texas. We talked about the ELF, the WTO and ELO. We also talked about LEGO.
KG: Your early builds were mostly in the sci-fi or military genres, but then you switched to chairs and a bit of town with J-Flo’s flower shop. Was there a reason behind the switch, and in a perfect world, what direction appeals to you the most? Do you think builders in general, get too locked into one genre?
LH: I think sci-fi is the geek default, because the designers in that field literally get paid to ignite the imaginations of their audience – being inspired by that genre is so easy. It’s a lot harder to get inspired while walking through IKEA, but I swear it does happen.
I think this hobby is a textbook cross-section of different levels of obsession and focus – of course some builders get bogged down in a single genre, and some can’t sit still long enough to even have a genre. I’m somewhere in the middle – eventually, I’d like to build something castle or train, but I’ll probably make more spaceships too.
KG: Many young builders begin by recreating the work of builders who came before them. You, however, came in on the ground floor of the hobby or very near to it, so where did you look when you started building?
LH: When I was a kid, back in the late 70s, there was nobody else – just me, the bricks, and the back of the box. I think that’s how it was for most AFOLs. My dark age ended when the Star Wars sets first came out – I couldn’t believe how awesome that first Snowspeeder set was. Then I got on the internet and found Shaun Sullivan’s AT-ST , which was really inspirational to me. He posted instructions for it, and they helped me to remember all the techniques I had forgotten. Realizing that something so awesome was made with basic bricks attached with normal clicking techniques really flipped a switch for me.
KG: Whether it is a job, school, deployment, health issue or even a stay in prison, like many builders, you have been in a position where you want to build for an extended period of time but have not been able to. As the time goes by does it make you think about LEGO more or less? Does it change your mind-set on building, and when you do get a chance to build, does it change anything?
LH: Oh, it’s tough. Lego is a creative outlet and a stress reliever, and not having it is like trying to quit smoking. Plus, keeping up with Flickr and TBB every day puts inspirational stuff in front of me all the time, and I can’t do anything about it. I have so many hypothetical projects lined up, and I’m afraid I’ll never get around to them. The only time I really get to build is when I visit my nephew – and then, I’m mostly making stuff to impress him, like big guns and weird minifig combinations.
KG: You created a popular and polarizing fan-forum called Stajinaria when the equally popular and polarizing JLUG went down. Talk about those two forums, what they formed in a reaction to, why they ended and what they offered that was unique. Is AFOL 16+ the latest version of this tradition?
LH: I don’t know exactly what Janey and Ross were thinking when they started JLUG, but it pretty quickly became the home of community criticism. At that time, Lugnet and Classic Space Forums were dealing with censorship and leadership issues, and the people at JLUG seemed to enjoy calling out what they deemed hypocrisy and conservativism in those communities. After JLUG disappeared, a lot of its members decided that the group of people was more important than the site, so I took it upon myself to create a new home for “merry pranksters”. Someone accused JLUG once of being a ‘staging area’ where mischevious activists planned their shenanigans (not one of which was planned), which is where Stajinaria got its name.
Many of the core group are still internet friends today, but the mass migration of the community to Flickr made the forum extraneous, so I shut it down earlier this year. Both sites were based on the sandbox rule – if you don’t like the rules in someone else’s sandbox, make your own sandbox. AFOL 16+ was a sandbox that didn’t allow young kids, who were becoming an increasing annoyance in the Flickr Lego group. I think it started out with a bunch of venom and righteousness, but now I think of it as just another group of people who are familiar enough with each other to kid around and be sarcastic. (I also run Lego 35+, a place where grownups can interact, but nobody ever goes there.)