At the checkout at our local comic shop, my husband noticed (and grabbed) a flyer for a convention World War Brick. As a family of LEGO lovers and history geeks, a whole convention dedicated to WWII LEGO creations pretty much seemed like nerd nirvana.
World War Brick is the brainchild of Dan Siskind, the owner and founder of Brickmania. For those not “in the know” (aka me, my husband had to explain to me later that how I didn’t know about Brick Arms was beyond him), Brickmania is a company that makes custom LEGO kits utilizing BrickArms customized minifigures and accessories.
Walking around World War Brick, I noticed that behind the make-your-own build tables were a lot of kids. With various levels of sophistication, famous scenes from World War II had been recreated in LEGO. Handwritten 3×5 notecards, some with sprawling scrawled handwriting of younger kids and others smaller more meticulous handwriting indicating teens, explained the historical significance of the recreation. Kids of all ages excitedly discussed their builds with the viewing public as well as with each other. Talking to the event coordinators, I found out that 80-85% of the builds were by kids aged 12 to 16. More interestingly, and more importantly, several had been done by kids who had met at other Brickmania shows and who had collaborated via email or other electronic means because they lived far apart. World War Brick was not, by any means, a local only event having individuals flying in from California and Florida to partake in the activities.
Talking to Mr. Siskind, I asked him how he got started. He told me that (and again, I enjoy LEGO with my family but have not been the lifelong fan my spouse is) LEGO had a policy of not doing war sets or having weapons. Since he enjoyed building historical models, he began by bulding in his basement. Needing more room for his structures, and a little bit of money to keep up with his hobby, he put a few up on eBay in 1999.
Today, Brick Arms is a 15 employee business housed in a warehouse (that coincidentally has a bunch of Pokestops and a Pokegym), a store in the Mall of America, and another store in Chicago. Everything is printed, packaged, and designed in house using only LEGO bricks. In other words, despite other companies making similar products, Brick Arms is pretty much the go-to for the LEGO aficionados.
Mr. Siskind, a quiet but excited to share his love of historical LEGO man, was extremely gracious answering all my questions despite the pull of the group build and kids asking him for help and showing him what they were doing. The Brick Arms builds, which Mr. Siskind admits are pricey (as well they should be), take between one afternoon and several weeks to design. One of the things Mr. Suskind told me he loves is that the group builds give kids a chance to play with the sets and try them out even if they can’t afford them on their own. When asked his favorite build, he responded that it was his USS Missouri and that even though “I don’t usually like big ones because they feel as though you’re working for six hours and have accomplished nothing, this one was scheduled to go in a museum in Evansville, Indiana.” According to the owner of Brick Arms, they do a lot of museum fundraising events and those are usually biggest weekends for the museums.
Closing out my discussion with him, I asked what he loved best about Brickmania and World War Brick. He told me that “my favorite part is getting out if the house. I get to be surrounded by people who share the hobby. A lot of people are interested in what we do and this is where we get to meet them.”
This sense of community fostered by Mr. Suskind and his crew is what made World War Brick far more magical than you would think a small convention taking place in a Crowne Plaza in a random suburb would be. For us, World War Brick didn’t end when we walked out the door of the hotel on our way to the car. Perhaps one of the things I loved the most about this tiny convention was how it inspired my son. For the last few weeks, I have watched him as he has mostly abandoned his requests for new sets to build from the store. He will sit now and build his own recreations of historical events or just imaginary events he places in historical time periods. While this may seem to be the norm for a lot of parents, my son seemingly did not realize that he didn’t need to have an expensive Call of Duty set to build a historical recreation. World War Brick inspired him because he saw other children engaging in something he didn’t think was possible. My son saw a community into which he felt he fit, one he fell in love with.
This is what World War Brick is about. World War Brick isn’t about selling Brick Arms (although they’re totally available for sale) or about showing off your MOCs (although that totally happens). It’s what fan conventions have always been about. It’s about building community around a shared love of something. In this case, it’s about a shared love of history and LEGO. It’s about bringing together kids who may not otherwise find their community in their hometowns. It’s about engaging our children in the best way possible, through historical creativity. Will we go again next year? Definitely. Perhaps, however, next year my son will want to build a creation and try the group builds that he was afraid he wouldn’t be good at this year. If geeking out has taught me anything, it’s taught me that community is found when you seek it out.
World War Brick is worth seeking out, my friends. Totally.