“I live here in Birmingham, I work at Alabama Power and I am a big fan of LEGO.”
That’s how Wesley Higgins introduced himself to me when I spoke to him on the phone last week. He’s one of many AFOLs — Adult Fans of LEGO — who will be attending the first Brickfair LEGO Fan Festival in Birmingham Jan. 14-15 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. Of course, kids are welcome too — the event will feature dozens of displays of contributors’ MOCs, or My Own Creations, built out of the tiny plastic bricks, plus a “stay and play area” for kids and kids-at-heart who wants to get their build on. Brickfair Alabama will also include numerous vendors selling LEGO creations, designs and individual pieces.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a show like this in this area,” Higgins says. He has served as a local contact and facilitator for the show’s organizer, Todd Webb. “I was thrilled when Todd set this up in Birmingham. We haven’t had anything with a Southern impact of this nature.”
Adult fans of LEGO
Higgins, 35, is married and has four boys with ages ranging from 7 to 11. He, like many AFOLs, was introduced to LEGOs as a child, but then lost interest.
“Of course I did [play with LEGOs] as a kid, but then I kind of got out of it and into what they call the ‘dark ages’ — it’s a time when you don’t play with LEGO, but you’re going to come back around to it,” Higgins says. “You enter those dark ages when you’re in college, when you’re first married, stuff like that. Then, when I started having kids and they got a little bit older, I started looking at toys on the toy aisle again, and I was like, ‘Hey, cool, look at what LEGO does now.’ That kind of got me back into it.”
Higgins says he spends “a good bit of time, probably more than the wife would like me to” playing with LEGOs in a given week. “But it’s a fun hobby, and since I’ve got four boys it’s good time to spend with them.”
Mark Kniphfer, a high school baseball coach and fellow AFOL from north Shelby County, had a similar experience. “I’ve just always been a big fan of it ever since I was a kid,” Kniphfer says. But Kniphfer says he didn’t play with LEGOs from the age of 18 and he was 34. “I started getting interested [in LEGOs again] because I had a kid on the way, and that’s one way we could do things together, and build a few things.”
Kniphfer, 50, describes playing with LEGOs as a form of therapy.
“I sometimes just sneak down to the garage and grab a box of stuff and start building something,” he says. “I may get halfway through it, I might finish it. It’s a stress release for me because now I’m concentrating on something I love to really do and everything. It just fascinates me.”
Kniphfer’s kids are teenagers now (they’re 16, 15 and 14) and they’re not as interested in LEGOs as they once were. That may have dampened Kniphfer’s own interest in the tiny plastic bricks — he passed up a chance to visit the LEGOland company store in England because, he says, “I didn’t want to make my son’s trip to London all about LEGOs” — but it hasn’t killed it. He volunteered to be a caller at Brickfair Alabama’s BINGO game (featuring prize giveaways from Brickfair vendors), and during our phone call he told me, unprompted, how excited he was about seeing the Birmingham buildings fellow AFOLer Wesley Higgins was going to be displaying.
The first Brickfair Alabama
Higgins specializes in building replicas of Birmingham buildings out of LEGO. One of the buildings he’ll be showing off is a replica of the Alabama Theatre, complete with all the architectural details one would expect, including the famous projecting sign and a box office made out of clear plastic. His replica of the 1925 Alabama Power Company corporate headquarters will also be on display. His displays will contribute to more than 37,000 square feet of original creations that organizers expect will take more than 90 minutes for visitors to explore.
“I haven’t gotten around to building Vulcan yet,” Higgins says “I need someone to finance that for me. LEGOs aren’t cheap, you know.”
To pay for their LEGO habits, Higgins and other vendors will be selling LEGO pieces, sets and mini-figs — short for mini-figures, which is what LEGO fans call the little plastic people that populate the LEGO world. “People collect those quite heavily,” Higgins says.
Other Brickfair vendors will be selling custom-molded plastic weapons for the mini-figs. That’s the kind of LEGO-world contraband you can’t get at your local toy store.
“LEGO as a company doesn’t sell a lot of weapons for the LEGO mini-figs just because the crowd that they cater to is kids, so adults that want to set up a battle scene or something like that have a secondary market out there for those type of items,” Higgins says.
Brickfair will also house at least one vendor selling and showing off a painstakingly-produced stop-motion film made with LEGO mini-figs and sets. Star Wars tributes in this vein seem to be popular on YouTube, but the Shatterpoint Entertainment booth at Brickfair will be offering copies of Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled, a LEGO-based retelling of Joshua’s Biblical battle. The 30-minute film took 18 months and 40,000 photos to make, and won the animation category at the 2009 Cape Fear Film Festival.
But what Higgins is most excited about seeing is LEGO monster chess. The word “monster” in LEGO monster chess refers to the size of the chess pieces, Higgins says. The units are several feet tall and built out of LEGO. The knights look like a horse rearing up on its hind legs, with fore legs that actually kick.
“It’s actually robotic units for every chess piece, on a board that covers the floor.” Higgins says. “Each piece rolls and it moves itself on the board, so that’s going to be cool to see.”
Brickfair Alabama runs Saturday, Jan. 14 & Sunday, Jan. 15 at the BJCC, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day. Tickets are $7 and are available at the door. Kids ages three and under get in free. Find out more by visiting www.brickfair.com.