[REVIEW] – ‘BRICKSY’ ; LEGO meets Banksy street art

51J1G8qbqZLThe folks at Skyhorse Publishing have sent along another pretty great LEGO book – especially if you’re a fan of the anonymous street artist Banksy. ‘Bricksy: Unauthorized Underground Brick Street Art‘ ($14.99 direct) brings you LEGOized versions of some of Banksy’s most famous works of vandalism – err, art.

The book itself is done up quite nicely with a vividly colored dust jacket wrapping around a good solid hardcover mirroring the art on the jacket (missing only the information on the inside jacket sleeves). The pages are laid out very nicely with some of photos spreading across facing pages. What I really liked about the book was the inclusion of the original Banksy artwork with each photo.

For the most part, author and photographer Jeff Friesen did a fabulous job recreating Banksy’s poignant whimsy. But, LEGO can only go so far when imitating life – and sometimes even less when imitating certain works of art. There are several photos where Friesen takes liberties in recreating the original version but usually the changes reflect his canvas – the world of LEGO.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner. (Image courtesy of Amazon)

I’d suggest reading the short introduction from Friesen as he briefly dives into the pairing the worlds of street art and LEGO, and how they compliment each other.

Accompanying the pictures, aside from any prophetic words from Banksy himself, are some short quips reminiscent of my own type of LEGO photography – of which I owe my comic hero Gary Larson.

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As you can see, Friesen has done a fantastic job building complete worlds for each of Banksy’s ideas to live. Not to mention he’s made us of many of the new LEGO Collector’s Series minifigs which is just fun to see. Each shot is fully expanded to include the original art and built upon it – to possibly show might have been had Banksy used a more traditional canvas, and not the sides of buildings. But some are future imaginings or replies to Banksy’s original piece.

The book is rounded out with a short but insightful FAQ answering most of the questions you’re probably thinking of right now – and an index of all the original Banksy art photos (who took them, where they came from, etc). A nice, more colorful, way to dish out photo credits.

Overall Bricksy is a great little book that will appeal to fans who enjoy both subjects. However I’m not sure someone without an appreciation for Banksy art would get as much out of this – but that seems obvious.

Bricksy: Unauthorized, Underground Brick Street Art: [A]
Skyhorse Publishing
Available now. 

Extreme Bricks: Spectacular, Record Breaking, & Astounding LEGO Projects From Around The World

As the rather wordy title above suggests, Extreme Bricks [available direct; $24.95] is a chronicle of taking LEGO to the extreme. It echoes another book I reviewed in October, Beautiful LEGO, but is a much more complete work. Full of photos, it also goes behind the scenes with the builders and their stories; the whys, the hows, etc.

The book itself is a solid, hefty hardcover with a dust jacket mirroring the coverart printed on the book itself. It’s pages are thick, heavy, with excellent color. However like many other books of this variety it suffers from “old picture plague,” which is a term I just made up. This happens when a book includes pictures obtained from outside sources like you and me, or other 3rd parties. The photos aren’t properly white balanced or edited, giving them a dim, dingy, dirty look that looks really terrible set against the nice new white book pages. But this sometimes can’t be helped – though in the digital era I’d hope any actual photos could be scanned to digital then run through some editing software, but I’m not a publisher so I don’t know how it all works. Don’t worry though, these poor quality photos are the exception, not the rule in Extreme Bricks.

Clocking in at over 240 pages, Extreme Bricks brings a ton of fascinating stories about Adult LEGO fans and builders, and their creations. There is a lot to read here, it is not just a picture look like so many LEGO showcases are. Author Sarah Herman has compiled not only a long list of builders and models, but all the facts behind them.

The entries run pretty similar throughout the book – featuring a “What is it?” section explaining what the model represents and where it’s HUM_2inspiration came from, a “Project” section detailing the trials and tribulations of the actual building phases, and a “Factfile” detailing how long it took, how many bricks, when it was completed and where it’s located. Some entries have a few other sections depending on the material. Put together it makes a great handful of pages.

The book also goes beyond highlighting a few individuals massive builds. It also delves into the beginning of the giant statues at LEGOLand, enormous mosaics of LEGO, and other giant large-scale models around the world. Of course there are also some pages dedicated to some of the more recognizable landmarks like the Grand Palace of Thailand, The Sphinx, Mt. Rushmore, skyscrapers from the US, and even a stegosaurus. There is a lot for people of all ages to enjoy. Young readers can admire the photos while adults will be engrossed in the prose.

This is a pretty short review but don’t take that as a negative, there just isn’t much to go on and on about. That also sounds negative. That’s not what I mean. Extreme Bricks is great, and full of the kinds of things LEGO enthusiasts want to see and more importantly, read about. All kinds of spectacular, record-breaking, and astounding LEGO projects from around the world.

Extreme Bricks […]:  A

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The LEGO Adventure Book: Volume 2 [No Starch Press]

I was quite pleased with Volume 1 of No Starch‘s LEGO Adventure Book. It offered builders a lot of options for some new, fun models you won’t find on store shelves. Now some months later, author Megan Rothrock and No Starch are back with Volume 2. The title remains exactly the same – in fact the only thing distinguishing the two books is the colored border at the top of the hardcover [this one is red; volume 1 was blue] and the 2 on the spine. The coverart is different but you can’t see that when it’s lined up on a shelf. Oddly enough the only Volume 2 label is on the spine…you’ll notice the cover to the left has no mention of volume number. I could understand for some it may cause some confusion but I like the consistency a lot so it doesn’t bother me.

Where Volume 1 brought us “Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs, & more!”, Volume 2 boasts a tagline of “Spaceships, Pirates, Dragons, & more!” Once again, Rothrock has compiled a bunch of home-built models from expert LEGO builders around the globe. This time she’s managed to include a few from some actual LEGO-affiliated folks including a retired LEGO designer (isn’t that cheating?!!). Like last time, I need to give a special shout-out to Birgitte Jonsgard (p.105) because a) her Gingerbread House model breakdown is really great, and b) she’s a SCIENCE LAB2_116-117TEACHER…in Norway. That’s like – double awesome. And I also have to give special mention to Arjan Oude Kotte because a) he’s a Dutch bicycle mechanic (a man after my own heart!), and b) his ship models are bleeping fabulous. His rendition of Cousteau’s Calypso is dynamite. LEGO Cuusoo that sucker please.

Following the first book, Volume 2 showcases creations from each builder in their own color-coded section for easy reference. Each section is a mix of fully built models they’ve created – leaving it up to readers to figure out how to put them together – and some step-by-step instructions for a few models as well. The cover of the book says there are “nearly 40” breakdowns for readers to follow and build. Like me, many will be saying “aw man I wish they’d shown me how to built that one instead!” But, in the end I think there’s a good mix of really small and simple breakdowns and a few larger ones. If the book has one downfall, it’s exactly the same as the first – the models that readers are really going to want aren’t the ones with the directions. Going along with all of the pictures of the models and directions are a continuous series of comic panels featuring Minifigured versions of the author and the featured builders. Each comic is shot in it’s own setting and usually follows a story containing the models currently shown on the pages. Adults will find it superfluous but younger kids will enjoy the mix of fun with the directions.

LAB2_100-101As for the book itself, No Starch continues to produce well made, good looking books. It’s a nice solid hardcover with thick richly colored pages. Overall a solid addition to the LEGO book lineup from the publisher. And with the holiday season coming up, No Starch can definitely fulfill the LEGO lover’s book needs, so don’t forget to check out their website. I hope Rothrock continues this series of book and look forward to Volume 3? Make it so.

The LEGO Adventure Book Volume 2: B+
$24.95 direct – NoStarch.com

The LEGO Play Book from DK

DK Publishing has a few new books to add to their ever growing line-up of officially licensed LEGO books. I’ve reviewed quite a few of them in the past and was able to get my hands on two new ones for the fall/holiday season. First up is The LEGO Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life. Much like its predecessor, The LEGO Ideas Book, the LEGO Play Book offers up hundreds of bits of inspiration for builders of all ages, skill, and interest.

Staples of LEGO books from DK are their astounding color, layout, and detail and this offering is no exception. From the moment you open the book, even the table of contents is immaculate. The book is divided into five different themed sections – I’ll go over those in more detail soon. After a few pages of building tips, tricks, and info, the book dives into the first theme: Once Upon a Time.

Most can surmise this particular theme is fairy-tale oriented: see the dragon right on the front cover. There are 40 pages of goodies from fairy-tale creatures to giant flowers – and a giant. Some of the more complex builds include a wonderful castle, a stable, and that trusty dragon. There’s also a goofy looking model of Neptune, Lord of the Sea.

A Small World is my favorite of the five. LEGO has plenty of models out there – especially the Creator sets – designed to be full-scale (to a minifig). This section shows readers how to make the most of their smallest bricks – or even the lack of bricks. None of the models in this section are designed to fit a minifigure. Think of these as the Matchbox Cars of LEGO – you just use them as they are. But there are a lot of great builds here, especially when it comes to the buildings. I’ll admit LEGO City is my favorite theme (yes even more than Star Wars), so the incredible detail possible using small pieces to approximate architecture is one of my favorite aspects of LEGO. But there are more than just buildings. From mini sea creatures, African animals, dinosaurs, to an oil drilling rig, there will be something for everyone. The mini racetrack and space station are the highlights for me.
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Go Wild is perhaps one of the more fascinating but also frightening themes in the bookIt’s all animals – but you probably figured that out already. It’s amazing how on one hand you can make a pretty good approximation of a giraffe but at the same time create one of the most frightening monkeys I’ve ever seen. The penguins are downright adorable.

Things That Go Bump in the Night is your run of the mill horror/Halloween theme with everything from mad scientists to monsters coming out of your closet (I love that build!). Kids will probably enjoy the selection of robots as well. My favorite here is probably the giant oversized skeleton.

Wish You Were Here: LEGO on vacation!
Thankfully it is not all beaches and pools. While the beach hut build is phenomenal I was delighted to see mountain climbing, mountain biking, and snowboarding builds as well. The deep sea diving among the coral reef build is pure eye candy however.

Sprinkled throughout each chapter of the book are challenge builds created by fan builders. The LEGO Play Book does a great job of combining the skills of veteran builders with some of the younger fans. DK has always done a great job putting their LEGO books together. There are literally hundreds of things to build here. However this leads me to my one gripe…

If the book lacks anything it’s directions. It’s hard for me to look at a book with so many awesome models, designed to be built by readers but with no way to accurately do it. The builds that do have directions are usually just very small, quick ones. A few of the slightly more complex ones are shown in cross-section, or pulled apart to show the types of bricks but it can still be complicated to see just what is going on. While I’m sure many fans will just enjoy the pictures in the book there are going to be just as many who want to build everything they see. Frustrating.

PROS: Detailed, colorful, chock full of hundreds of models to gaze fondly upon. Up to the usual DK standards.

CONS: Light on the building instructions. A keen eye and problem solving intellect could probably figure out some of the more complex builds but the average LEGO fan is going to be disappointed only a handful of instructions are included for the more simplistic builds.

LEGO Play Book: B-