Have you ever noticed that you enjoy playing with Lego with your little brother a little more than you should? Do you spend hours looking at every Lego blog you can find? Is the New York Toy Fair, where new Lego sets are announced, paralleled only with Christmas to you? Have you lost count of how many times you’ve watched The Lego Movie? Then chances are you are an AFOL.
AFOLs, or Adult Fans of Lego, are exactly what they sound like; they are adults who build with Lego bricks. This trend started in the early 1990s, and it has been growing ever since. Adults of all ages are being united their love for the bricks.
Dave has been a huge fan of Lego seemingly forever. Dave is a 20 year old college engineering student from Milwaukee. He is just about as skinny as a skeleton and as pale as one too, except for a head of dark brown hair in constant need of a haircut, or at least a comb. “One of my first memories was my third or fourth Christmas, and how excited I was to get Duplo from Santa.” Duplo are extra-large Lego bricks made for toddlers. And as Dave grew up, so would his interest in Lego.
Dave says that his first real Lego project was building Hogwarts from Harry Potter. Around the turn of the millennium, the Lego Group started making themed Lego Sets. Apart from generic sets, they have covered movies from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, and many more. These movie themed sets were based off scenes and places from the movies, and contained lego figure versions of movie characters. Some sets are very small, with only a few pieces costing under ten dollars. However, bigger sets can easily top 100 dollars, stretching over 500. The Harry Potter theme, specifically, contained all sorts of different rooms within Hogwarts Castle.
Dave says that his first real Lego project was building Hogwarts from Harry Potter. “I remember that the back of the box of some of the sets showed a whole Hogwarts castle built out of all the sets. I cut out that picture and had it taped to my wall for months. I was really determined that I would make it myself. It was my life goal for a while.” While Dave is pretty sure he never completed the whole castle, he is sure that he had a lot of fun. He reminisces on how he always got distracted from building his castle by pretending he was the Lego Harry figure flying around his room or that the troll was attacking.
Like most Lego enthusiasts, as Dave grew up he would play less and less, and build more and more. But that does not mean his love for the toy has flourished. He has collected all sorts of sets, from all sorts of themes, and has no plans on stopping. Now that Dave is an AFOL, he says that there’s whole other worlds to explore. “I’ve always really wanted to go to a convention” Dave exclaimed, “but since they are all hundreds of miles away it was never an option when I was a kid. Now that I can drive, I’ve set my sights on one in Illinois this summer.”
The convention in Illinois that Dave is planning on going to is Brickworld Chicago, and it’s only one of a growing number of lego conventions worldwide geared towards adults. At Lego conventions, AFOLs get together and show off their best custom creations, everything from intricate city skylines to movie-accurate spaceships. According to Ichiban.com, there have been 28 Lego conventions in the past year, with plenty in the coming months. These events are everywhere from Portland to Portugal, and almost everywhere in between.
Apart from Lego conventions, there are also Lego Meetups, as listed on meetup.com. There are currently 18 different Lego meet-up points around the world. The purpose of these meet-ups ranges from Lego robot-building meetups in New Hampshire to speed dating in London.
However, doing simple math, 28 annual Lego conventions plus 18 Lego meetups does not equal a lot of in-person interactions between AFOLs. That’s why Dave spend a lot of time as an AFOL online. “I have almost a dozen different lego sites bookmarked on my computer,” admitted Dave. “This is where I get all my Lego news on new sets, get inspiration for new builds, and talk with other AFOLs and LUGnuts about everything.” LUGnuts are users of the forum lugnet.com, or Lego Users Group. This is one of the largest lego forums, but there are many others. On forums like Lugnet, AFOLs show off creations and enter contests, as well as trade ideas and even buy sets.
There are quite a few different types of AFOLs. The first, and probably largest group, are the collectors. Dave is the perfect example of a collector. The collectors are people who chase after and covet every set. Many have shelves and display cases scattered all around their houses showing off the biggest, most complicated sets that Lego have put out. To take apart a set, for many, would be heresy. This group sees the highest percentage of gluers, people who keep their sets together with superglue and rubber cement. Even then, gluers are few and far between, and tend to be shunned by the larger community. However,
The second big type of AFOL is the artist. To artists, Lego is their clay. They create anything that they can imagine. All sorts of detailed movie scenes, intricate historical battles, city skylines, and fantasy worlds get sculpted out of little plastic bricks. When artists go out and buy lego sets, they usually aren’t thinking about where to display it in their house, like the collectors. They are looking at all of the individual pieces, and what they can all be used for. More and more, artists have been cutting out this by buying bricks in bulk online. The Lego Group has gotten on board with this in the past several years, by selling individual bricks and pieces on their website.
However, not a lot of AFOLs prefer Lego’s official website. They have a limited selection and tend to be a bit overpriced. For bulk Lego orders many go to the third-party site known as Bricklink.com. Bricklink is essentially the ebay of Lego. Anybody can go and set up shop on the site, listing parts of the collection that they wish to sell. Dave was very cautious not to admit just how much money he has spent on bulk Legos. For an AFOL, it is very easy to spend “too much” on this site, even though many will claim that is impossible. In fact, the site has listed that there are 247 million lego pieces for sale currently from over 7 thousand vendors. As well as selling individual bricks, many people use Bricklink to sell old, discontinued sets going decades back. These older sets tend to be so coveted by AFOLs so much that they can easily sell for thousands of dollars.
Further showing that The Lego Group is aware and open to adults who are fan of their childrens toy, every year a dozen or so sets are released that are specifically geared towards adults. These sets tend to be very complicated and expensive, with price tags topping 800 dollars.
Apart from expensive, complicated sets, Lego recently launched Lego Ideas. While this is not specifically geared towards AFOLs, it is largely used and monitored by many. Lego Ideas is a site where lego enthusiasts of all ages can upload creations. If these custom creations are supported by 10,000 other people, Lego will consider it for a set. There have been just under a dozen sets as a result of this, and all of them were created by AFOLs.
Adult fans of Lego, like Dave, have shaped the toy for over 25 years. They’ve helped design sets and inspire new generations of builders. Lego would not be where it was today if it weren’t for AFOLs. And with millions of AFOLs like Dave across the world, and new ones appearing all the time, it’s reasonable to assume that Lego will keep it’s place as the most popular toy of all time.