2023 in LEGO: The Year of Casey

You might be wondering what this “year of [so and so]” business is about. I’ve written only one article like this before in 2020, and it’s not something I am often driven to do. In fact, it’s one of those things that only comes about because someone special in the LEGO community crossed my path. A “year of” honoree needs to stand out enough that I’m like, “Wowsa, I need to shout this out over the rooftops!” (well, over the internet anyway)! This year, that person is Casey McCoy.

Just WHo is This Casey McCoy? Read on and Find out!

I think we all know when we’ve met a true maestro of the bricks at the pinnacle of MOCcing, and let me tell you, Casey fits the bill with the incredible creativity and design aesthetic of his 2023 builds. What’s more, he’s been prolific this year, crossing into multiple genres and effortlessly mastering them all.

Plus… when you meet a super nice guy who ticks all the above boxes, it adds to the motivation to write the feller a feature article, right!? I have met Casey twice now at Brickworld Chicago as part of my OrphanLUG experience (i.e., not having a LUG table at the convention and then being unofficially adopted by BrickNerd’s own Simon among other talented builders)… and he’s a great force of positivity strolling the convention halls. So it’s my pleasure to chat with Casey about his year in LEGO with all you readers, and I think you’ll be as impressed as I am!

Doug: Howdy Casey, thanks for sitting down to chat with BrickNerd!

Casey: Thanks for the opportunity, Doug!

Doug: Let’s start with what I consider the big kahuna of accolades: congratulations on winning the Brickworld Master award at Brickworld Chicago… that’s a big deal! I was lucky enough to see your happiness and emotional high in person as you received the award. What was that moment like when they called your name?

Casey basking in the afterglow, with some good pals

Casey: It’s extremely cliché to say but it was so surreal. There was a lot of ugly crying. All of Brickworld 2023 was like a dream and this was it reaching a fever pitch. Brickworld is like Christmas, but non-stop fun and five days in a row. But due to my insane Brickworld schedule (see image below), I slept anywhere from 4-5 hours a night and barely ate.

Anybody having Calendar PTSD just looking at this!? Apparently this was Everything he hoped/Planned but obviously things evolved as the weekend went on

I’ve gone to Brickworld for 11 shows and dreamed about that moment as a teen. So, I was an emotional basket case Saturday and Sunday haha. Sorry to the people I unloaded the tears on! That goes to show how much it meant to me. Being seated next to my friends Simon, Nick, Alec, and Zane for the moment and having my family in the front row made it even more special.

The Gang!

Going into this year, I had devoted a lot of time to building out my BrickLink store and my New Hashima contribution, so being nominated and winning was all a shock. I thought this year was a wash, and I would gear up for a big 2024. Especially with legends Graeme Dymond, Roy Cook, Dale Klein, and the Durands as “competition.” I had the goal to be a Brickworld Master before age 30, so it was certainly a pleasant surprise. I felt like I had worked really hard and grinded a ton in the last couple of years to improve, and this was the culmination of thousands of hours building, sorting, studying, learning, teaching, growing, etc.

Doug: It’s really neat to hear about your goal of hitting the accolade by age 30 and that you achieved it after so much hard work. It makes me wonder now that it’s been a while if reality has sunk in yet.

Casey: I didn’t think it would sink in so fast until I had two interactions Sunday of Brickworld. One before and one after closing ceremonies during teardown. Two younger builders asked me about (1) how to get involved in large scale collaborations and (2) how to improve at film making. A light bulb went off – the camera pulled back on my life and I could see the circle of life where I was that younger builder asking for advice just a decade ago. That’s when the reality of it hit me like a brick wall. And a few days after the convention, I’d wake up and be like “Oh, that actually happened, it wasn’t just a dream.” Still happens from time to time ????.

Oh it happened alright… along with a lot of other awards and notations at Brickworld!

Doug: That’s a pretty wonderful thing to have, that occasional moment of surprise intense happiness realizing something so cool happened! So let’s talk about some of your builds this year. I think to me your building topper for New Hashima and the “Die in Your Arms” miniland build stand out for me as noteworthy achievements… but I want to hear from you, what build(s) are you most proud of this year and why?

Casey: By far, the builds I’m most proud of are my “Moments of Melancholy” builds: True Contrite, Die in Your Arms, and Growing on You. I felt like these were the apex of what I’ve learned with color selection, gradations, techniques, composition, presentation, etc. with subject matter that didn’t lean on my usual crutch of pop culture. But more importantly, these feel like they have the most me in them out of any MOCs I’ve made. They feel personal and as though I’m, in part, giving form to emotions.

My favorite TV show (besides 2004’s Battlestar Galactica) is probably LEGO Masters Australia. Loads of the builds are informative, inspiring, and beautiful. Plus, I can watch it with my family (unlike BSG)! But in Season 3, the judge, Brickman (Australian LCP Ryan McNaught), is moved to tears by David and Gus’s finale build. That moment, since seeing it in 2021, has stuck with me ever since. What does it take to move someone to tears with a LEGO model? When a Flickr user left the comment “I’ve never had a LEGO model stir my heart the way this one does” to “Die in Your Arms,” that made it all worth it. While I don’t think I’m at ‘move someone to tears’ yet, that’s the response I’m chasing.

Doug: I love that you made it a series of similar builds in certain ways but still allowed for quite a range of fun, different techniques and color choices. It feels like that choice added to the value of each of the individual builds. Now, regarding prolific impact on the hobby, your Instagram feed hints at the many locales you’ve been to and the events and activities you’ve participated in this year. Can you tell our readers about the events and activities you’ve participated in this year?

Casey: It was quite busy! Three big shows and a bunch of smaller LUG shows and AFOL Days! (1) Brickworld Chicago is in my backyard and is the LEGO show to be at – five days of fan-run awesomeness. I showed my MOCs, moshed to The Fold, ran a film festival, contributed to New Hashima, caught up with old friends, made new ones, led a workshop, and didn’t sleep or eat! (2) Bricks in the Six in Toronto is a similar dour-day event but this time I actually got to rest and treat it as a vacation. (3) Brick Convention in Davenport is a two-day expo show – very chill. My LUG-mate and legend Tom Jacobsen was on the Brick Convention circuit for 2023 so it was great to catch up and meet Patrick Durham too! Every show that you go to is unique and memorable in its own way.

Casey’s Bricks In the Six Swag!

The events are easily the best part of the hobby (and sorting and photographing are the worst ????. It’s OK enough to toil over a MOC, but to connect, share, and do ridiculous things is where all the fun is to be had! Anyone who hasn’t been to a show, joined a LUG, or shared a MOC online is missing out on the other half of the hobby. My upcoming 2024 year should be stacked with my first time going to a show in the South (Atlanta BrickCon), returning to Nebraska Brick Days, and another round of Brickworld and Bricks in the Six!)

Conventions spawn some awesome side activities with your LEGO pals… like seeing the big new movie!

Doug: That is indeed quite the lineup of shows for 2023 and planned for 2024! To expand on a particular event, I hear you were very active at the Toronto convention Bricks in the Six (BITS) this year and maybe not all in traditional ways. I am not sure I can believe this actually happened at a LEGO convention… but did you host some sort of fitness presentation?

See! It’s real!! This screenshot is straight out of the Bricks in the six program 🙂

Casey: Haha – a big part of my life is staying healthy and active, but traveling to a convention can be the easiest time to skip workouts, binge eat, and fall off of healthy habits. So I figured, why not just drag your LEGO friends to the gym with you? The hotel at BITS is connected to a legitimate gym, much better than your typical hotel gym, so it was the perfect opportunity. So I “hosted” an AFOL workout time. Everyone was competent enough to where I didn’t need to present hardly, but I think we’ll do it again next year hopefully with a bigger group!

Doug: I think it is very safe to say a jolt of healthy habits injected into the con experience could go a long way. I 100% relate with your comment regarding the extravagant food and bad health habits that one falls into during a “fun vacation” experience. Regarding another experience you had this year, something that caught my eye was a picture shared on Instagram of a letter you received from the LEGO House congratulating you on being one of the winners of the “Exhibit Your Creativity in the LEGO House” contest. Can you share how you learned of the contest, what it took to participate, and a little about the experience after winning?

Now that’s some LEGO zen with Casey’s “Growing on You!” build

Casey: Shortly after Brickworld, Caleb Wagoner posted in our Discord about the contest. I took a look at the three categories, saw one on “Seasons” and thought, “Oh, this would be perfect for ‘Growing on You’!” which was just a vision in my head at the time (that I really wanted to be at Brickworld 2023). I was vaguely familiar with the contest but had no clue about the details. Every year, the LEGO House calls for new MOCs to be displayed in Denmark. You just need to follow their guidelines (syntax, no inappropriate content, etc.) and submit up to five photos with a brief description.

I submitted with maybe 24 hours left in the contest, got rejected initially, but resubmitted after slight tweaking and got in! It seems like sometimes getting your entry accepted is really finicky as they’re all manually reviewed. The two weeks of waiting for judging were nerve-wracking, but I was elated upon finding out the results. A HUGE honor! But the sinking realization of how I needed to ship my delicate MOC removed all elation, haha. Getting an exclusive set out of it as a prize wasn’t so bad!

Doug: Ha, yeah, supreme excitement… then the realization of “how in the world will I ship this thing?” is a pretty chuckle-worthy turnabout to us who didn’t have to live through it! Ok, after popcorning around a bit, now I’m going to drop in a more comprehensive list of your 2023 accolades. We’ve touched on a few of these above, but I want our readers to better understand the scope of things. (Thanks to Simon for helping me gather this list!)

Brickworld Master 2023

Brickworld Best Vignette (Die in Your Arms)

Brickworld Best Group Collab (New Hashima)

Blogged on The Brothers Brick (TBB) (x6)

TBB Creation of the Week (x1)

LEGO House “All Seasons” Judges’ Selection

Featured Artist at Brick Convention 

Zane Houston “Butter Beer Award”

Finalist in Hometown Film Festival

Tallest MOC (Octan Tower) – 6.5′ tall

Holy Mackerel that’s a tall build!!

That is an insanely impressive list, sir. I love that it includes the obvious high-tier convention-type awards and blog achievements, but there’s also an item that immediately popped out at me as really unique for a LEGO builder which is your LEGO short film being featured in a film festival!

Here’s a clip from “Sale of a Lifetime” from the archives, a sneak peak at casey’s amazing video which you can view on instagram!

Casey: With my ignorance of the LEGO House contest, it follows that I never knew my hometown of Elgin, IL had a Short Film Festival all the time I was simultaneously entering the Brickworld Film Festival from 2014 to 2017. So, this year, my mom told me, “Well, what do I have to lose?” So I entered the last film I made since I proverbially “hung my hat” on that endeavor… and I got in! Out of 30+ entries, I was one of six.

They do a pretty good job of giving you a “VIP experience,” although I missed out on most of it as I was at the Brick Convention in Davenport. But it was great to share the love of Brickfilming with an audience that wouldn’t typically watch one and get the crowd’s reaction. I had a blast and learned a ton about improving the Brickworld Film Festival (which I co-coordinate). Shoutout to my LUGmates Dan, Mel, and Nick for coming to support me!

Doug: Were there any other achievements on that list that you want to touch on that were particularly important to you?

Casey: Simon made the list so I feel like one needs some explanation: starting this year at Brickworld, new attendees were given a butter beer piece and told to give it to someone at the end of the convention who made the biggest personal impact on them at the show. I remember going to my first show and how daunting it can be (especially if you get starstruck like I did/do). Zane Houston, a legend in his own right, was nice enough to confer this to me just before closing ceremonies which was the cherry on top of BW23. We really hit it off and I’m so glad his first convention in over a decade of building MOCs was positive—that’s the experience I want for everyone. What I love about shows and the community is that you’ll meet someone completely new by chance, hit it off, and be friends from there on out.

Butter Beer baby!! Image credit Bricklink

Doug: Let’s end with a more personal note—I saw firsthand how well you get along with the other builders at Brickworld, and I have pictures of you enjoying time with pals like Simon. In fact I have a direct quote from Mr. Simon himself! “I don’t have children, but if I did, I hope they’d be like Casey. He just exudes the best qualities in the community. He’s a LEGO Superstar – his builds are technically top-notch, and he’s got that creative eye that takes the builds to the next tier. But what makes Casey a worthy successor is his attitude and vibe. He is the most wholesome builder I know. All he does is just pure elegance, with a side of Potato and Molasses. If he is the future. The future is bright!” So obviously there’s a huge social aspect to this for you—can you tell us about your favorite AFOL interactions this year?

Casey enjoying three of his favorite things: friends, LEGO, and WOrking Out!

Casey: Well, firstly, that is very kind of my #accountabuildibuddy Simon to say – he’s one of my longest AFOL friends and I learned from the best (in both skill and wholesomeness)! There are two really special interactions that stand out from Saturday night of Brickworld:

One was getting to meet the legendary Nannan Zhang. I had idolized his builds during my formative MOCpages years and his collaborative builds like Containment and Mirage with Tyler Clites were core memories during my first years at Brickworld. I’ve continued to go back to and study his work in the last few years. So much so, I’ve used a host of his MOCs in my “Principles and Elements of LEGO as an Artistic Medium” class as use-cases. My 2022 MOC “A Boy’s Brain” takes big nods from his build Cry of Dreams. So, I was able to meet him, fanboy out, and he was really kind and welcoming. We had a great conversation on the generational nature of the LEGO fandom where one generation begets the next and so on. You never know how your art or an act of kindness will change the path of someone else’s life. Thank you, Nannan!

The second was with Nick Della Mora. I met Nick DM in 2013 at Brickworld and he’s always been one of the kindest people in the LEGO sphere. With his BIG and tremendous win on LEGO Masters US S3, I was really looking forward to giving him a hug, properly congratulating him, and celebrating in person for the first time since the dub. Saturday night, we had a great conversation on what it means to take a different path in life, give up things, and chase your dreams. To see how far we’ve both come in 10 years’ time was really special – even if it’s in something like a silly children’s toy. He really inspires me, and I’m so proud of him.

Doug: Those are some pretty heartwarming stories, and frankly it’s the kind of thing that the LEGO hobby seems to generate more than any other area in my own life, so maybe not as surprising as it could be. But are you telling me I missed meeting the legendary Nannan at Brickworld?! Excuse me, I’m going to go cry in a corner for a bit. Anyway, continuing the personal inquiries… you shared a picture of you with your mom and brother, how have they impacted your LEGO journey, and do they play an active role in it still today?

Casey: Ever since I got into the LEGO community, Brickfilming, or anything related – my family has wholeheartedly and lovingly shown support. No one has ever questioned the passion or second-guessed the commitment. Attending Brickworld Chicago every year as a family is basically an expected family function, even more so as my little brother has been a full attendee with me for the last six shows (which just adds to the fun for me). He’s historically been the parts sorting monkey for the longest time (I let him finally retire that role ????). A lot of family members have since moved to different states in recent years but they’re super supportive. I’m especially convinced I have the best mom in the world. I just try and be the best I can be to make them proud, and LEGO has been an avenue to pursue excellence, amongst other disciplines in life.

Doug: Finally, and I believe likely to be the single most important focus of this entire article… is your apparent love and proselytizing of chocolate milk. Please do tell all about this!

MMMMMM Now I’m jealous. Image courtesy of Kroger

Casey: Haha, for me, I stumbled upon Fairlife Chocolate Milk when my regular gallon supply of whole milk ran out at work (it’s bulking season). I gave it a go and thought it was pretty good. Fast forward, Simon casually mentions chocolate milk so I casually recommend it. Now, I’m afraid I’ve created an absolute monster with Simon. I’ve never seen someone so addicted to anything before in my life – and that’s coming from a LEGO addict amongst other LEGO addicts. So, BrickNerd readers, if you’re in the market (THIS IS NOT SPONSORED), give it a try (if you dare)! AFOL certified!

There you have it folks, that’s chocolate milk chugging beast mode MOCcer Casey McCoy!

Now, you may be wondering why I chose to feature Casey versus all the other wonderful and deserving builders who had a great year… and the same question applies to my article about Eli in 2020. The answer is as straightforward as it gets. I am not trying to find “the best” in some sort of objective comparison. I’m simply noting a person who has really made an impact within the LEGO ecosystem—someone I’ve personally seen do amazing things. If each of you readers will indulge me, just pause for a moment right now… and I think of one or two builders in your life who have just really knocked it out of the park this year. Now you know how I picked!

To wrap up, I have an idea for us to pay it back to all these amazing people: I challenge you to do something to let them know you appreciate them—you don’t have to write an article as I’ve done here, but instead perhaps give them a verbal compliment, leave a social media comment, or do something unique to you! You never know how much positive vibes can mean to someone else.

Do you know someone who has had a banner year in 2023? Let us know in the comments below.

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