An investigation into the origins of the LEGO Foot Soldier comic [Interview]

LEGO memes are in abundance, but not many of them surface more often that the idea that stepping on a LEGO brick is painful. One of the best-known iterations of this meme is a comic that’s been making the rounds on the internet for years featuring a brick-general giving training to other brick-soldiers gathered around a plan of attack diagramming the human foot.

If you’re a fan of LEGO, chances are good that you’ve seen it at some point in time and probably even had it shared with you more than once. But did you ever stop to think, who created this? Well, perhaps I’m more inquisitive than most, but that’s what piqued my interest. So let me share with you the journey of discovery that I took…

The Hunt

My search started at the few iterations of this theme in physical brick form. I quickly discovered, however, that the comic predated these iterations. Some of you may remember when this version, called “The Rookie” (2016), surfaced late last year. The origins were relatively easy to trace as it contained a signature giving credit to Samsofy. With Google at my fingertips, I found that Samsofy is Sofiane Samlal, a French LEGO fan who’s also a photographer and artist.

Importantly, Sofiane gives credit to “inspired by a thing found on the web”. The question is: where?

The other physical iteration that surfaced recently is by Didier Burtin, another French LEGO fan who’s an aerospace engineer and currently lives in Spain. This version is from his Flickr Feed titled “They have a plan!” and was published in February 2017. It’s been LEGO-fied even more than Sofiane’s, with even the foot being built of bricks.

They have a plan !

Like Sofiane, Didier gives an acknowledgment of his inspiration.
So, it’s clear that both brick-built versions are taking cues from the original Foot Soldier comic.

Knowing that this meme has evolved from a simple hand-drawn artwork to a partially LEGO-filled photograph, to a complete scene with a brick-built foot, I had no choice but to press on to find the origins of this original comic that inspired many an AFOL out there!

Trail of breadcrumbs

I did a lot more digging to find the earliest presence of sharing. Much to my chagrin, that involved checking every datestamp from the countless pins on Pinterest and various forums. The earliest possible trace with some level of descriptive sharing that I could turn up was this Reddit thread from four years ago titled “Battle Strategies”. In the intervening years, the comic has been plastered all over the internet.

The earliest image footprint (pun intended) of that Reddit post was a shared via the imgur platform and reveals a date of 15 December 2012 (http://imgur.com/474Lk) So, perhaps 2012 is when it was first released. That seemed to be the earliest thread of evidence I could find.

So I began to search for clues to the creator. As I trawled through LEGO artwork, I realized that these foot soldiers were starting to look more and more familiar! It seemed I’d found another piece of sibling art with the same style and strokes in yet another doodle that regularly surfaces of two LEGO bricks hugging. It features the same elongated hands and feet, so I hoped I was on the right track.
From there, I came across a piece of artwork of a LEGO brick dreaming of the Great Wall, and this time it includes a copyright note from www.ilovedoodle.com

At last, my research has almost come to an end. ilovedoodle.com is the site owned by an illustrator and graphic designer known as Lim Heng Swee based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Lim Heng Swee is well known in his industry, having been published in international magazines, design blogs, and magazines across Europe, and he has a strong social media following. His mantra in life is “Doodling a Smile – aiming to make people smile more in their everyday lives” and if you ask me, that’s what he did for all of us in the AFOL community. So, from the modest origins of a Malaysian artist with a pencil in his hands and a passion for making people smile, Swee has influenced a French artist who expresses himself through plastic as a medium and another French AFOL living in Spain, and brought joy (and perhaps memories of pain) to countless LEGO fans around the world.

However, while my research is complete, my journey does not end here. While it’s been a fun ride discovering the origins, the story is not over until we hear from the man himself.

The Interview

After I tracked down Heng Swee, he was kind enough to give us an interview, and some insight to the inspiration behind the comic!

When did you start doodling or knew that drawing was going to be your path in life?
That was after I graduated from University and received my degree in Mechanical Engineering. I had no interest on those machines and mathematics equations at all. I told myself that I had to do something I love for the rest of my life… and thats when I started to draw.
The biggest question from the Adult Fan of LEGO community is probably this: Are you a LEGO fan? Do you build sets? Or look at them for inspiration?
Yes, I love LEGO for sure, but I grew up in a rural village where we’re not privileged to have access to modern toys. I grew up with nature — mud, trees, insects; and we forged handmade toys made of natural materials. I only knew of LEGO as an adult. I still love the concept of LEGO during simpler times where building bricks would encourage kids to imagine and create, instead of the fancy sets we have now which promote build-and-assembly via instructions.
When was the comic actually released? My research took me to circa 2012.
Yes, to be even more accurate, I created that doodle on the 11th of December 2012.
What inspired you to create that drawing? Is it from real life? Your actual pain?
Ha! I’ve never stepped on any LEGO brick prior to when that drawing was made. After the success of the first Lego illustration “Lego! No!”, I did a bit more research and based it off true stories from other parents. Since then, after I’ve introduced LEGO to my 3 year old son, I now know how painful it is when one does step on one of those bricks!
Did you know it was going to be so popular and viral?
No, I never expected it, but I did have a lot of fun making this illustration.
How long did it take you from the initial sketch to finished piece?
In 2012, I challenged myself to a “doodle every day” project, which was to make a drawing every day for 365 days. This is one of those drawings from the project. Every piece took a few hours to complete. Mostly of them are simple drawings based on humorous ideas and messages. The concept of the idea always took longer than the actual drawing process.
What about your other LEGO doodles? “LEGO! NO!” and the Great Wall “Inspiration” comic? What was the inspiration behind those?
I have a sketch book to keep track of many objects/things/animals which I think are potential characters in my art. I’ll then start to imagine situations. What if they run? jump? smile? fall over? hug? dream? … and then these ideas pop into my mind. This is my approach on how to ignite and spark ideas.
What do you think about the ‘evolution’ of your art, the Sofiane and Burtin versions?
OMG! Never seen these before! Totally cool! Thanks for showing me these 😃
What would your advice be for budding artists?
Just do what you love. If you really really love it, then you’ll be sure to find your own way and you will be just fine.
Any last thoughts that you want to share with your fans out there?
Thanks a lot for all the support for all these years. I’ll keep doodling to put a smile on both yours and my face. Cheers!
Thank you, Heng Swee! We look forward to more LEGO inspired doodles! You can see more of Heng Swee’s art at ilovedoodle.com or follow him on instagram for your dose of doodle funnies.

4 comments on “An investigation into the origins of the LEGO Foot Soldier comic [Interview]

  1. Danilo

    This is a great story thank you for sharing it and getting a hold of Heng Swee. Amazing!

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