It’s no secret that I was a fan of the recently defunct The Ugly Duckling blog. When I first conceived of the MEET section on Ka-GO, I knew that I would feature an in-depth interview with that blog’s mastermind, Kyle Swan, known to most FOLs as Cygnet, to get his insight on LEGO in general, the world of minifig customization, and his take on the overall state of AFOLville. The potential of a great conversation between our two blogs seemed to be coming to fruition. Exactly 13 days ago I received an update on the progress of the interview. Talk about a mixed-bag: Cygnet assured me that the interview was coming, but revealed that it was going to be a little different in tone because he was strongly considering mothballing The Ugly Duckling. Enter my desperate pleas for him to reconsider. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall…as the Ice-T classic goes, “Bloggin’ ain’t easy!” (Oh wait…) But, as you”ll read in the following interview, the mythical “Swan Song” has no basis in reality; this baby swan sings on with new LEGO-related projects. (Note: Who knew? As I learned from a recent baby shower, “cygnet” is the term used for a hatchling swan.)
What are some of your earliest memories of playing with LEGO?
The most vivid memory I have of playing with LEGO is a Space moonbase set I received around the age of 8 (I think?). It’s kinda funny but the damn thing kept breaking apart when I was putting it together. I still have the parts and minifigures, but to this day I can’t find the set online for the instructions.
Before you started working on The Ugly Duckling, in what ways did you involve yourself in the AFOL community? Were there particular events you’d attend, publications you’d read, or forums you’d participate in?
Before Ugly Duckling (UD) I really wasn’t active in the AFOL community. I would read blogs and peruse Flickr. UD was really my indoctrination into the online world of LEGO.
So when did you actually start working on The Ugly Duckling? Why did you decide to take this “next step” in helping to actively build the AFOL community?
My “dark ages” ended about a year and half ago and I started buying sets again. I quickly discovered, and I don’t know if you know this, but LEGO sets are expensive! I came across an article from Nannan about selling minifigures on BrickLink to help pay for the sets. The Ugly Duckling actually started as a Facebook page for the BrickLink store in January 2010. At some point I started to think I might like to try my hand at blogging. There really weren’t a lot of sites dedicated to minifigures. I saw an opportunity and just “went for it”.
So where did the name come from?
[When] I opened a store and had to come up with a name, [I] didn’t want it to contain the words “brick” or “figs” or “LEGO”. Given my last name is Swan, I thought “The Ugly Duckling” might fit the bill. I always pictured the old English pubs or taverns when I came up with it.
The Ugly Duckling was great because it really delivered some great content about custom minifigures. This focus really allowed for some depth in coverage. Were you always especially interested in this aspect of LEGO?
I can’t remember who was my “gateway drug” into the customization scene, it’s very likely that it was Jas or Morgan via a TBB article. In the early days of the site I was always looking for relevant content. Customization fit in very nicely, and many times was the bulk of where new news was being generated. To this day I admire all the artists in the custom minifigure scene; what they are able to do at such a small scale still amazes me.
Now that I’ve decided to shut down the site, I’m hoping to actually DO more in the way of customization, building, design, and photography. I’ve actaully started a new group around “Digital Minifigure Customization” on Flickr to learn more and grow the discipline.
Have you noticed any positive and/or negative trends with the whole minifig customization scene since the time you’ve been covering custom minifigs? How would you like to see this whole customization thing develop? Anything you’d like to see more or less of?
I always tried to cover those “different” themes in minifig customization. As I’m certain everyone active on Flickr knows, there’s a lot of WWII, post-apocalyptic, clone trooper themes. These are all great, but it’s refreshing to see when people branch out in new directions. The Minifig Design Battle contests were also a way to hopefully motivate people to try new themes.
Other areas I’d love to see further development is the nexus of customization, toy photography, and digital enhancement. Shobrick is the closest I’ve seen who has approached it from all three directions. When I’m able to come back to the AFOL scene online I would like to try to be active on bringing these three things together.
As for negative trends…I think the bullying that can happen on Flickr is something I’d like to see go away. I think it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person on the other end of a Flickr account. Sure, some people do things that are annoying or just plain dumb, but most people can see it for what it is.
Do you yourself make custom minifigs?
No, not outside of purist customization on my own time. I’ve purchased tools and supplies for projects, but just haven’t had the time to dedicate to it.
I started down the the path of a Naruto custom for a tutorial series on the site, but it kinda got stuck in limbo. I want to revisit that, and I now have time to do so.
You’ve talked a little about this with the recent closing of the site, but what was it like working on The Ugly Duckling? What was the schedule like and how did it fit in to the rest of your life?
It has honestly been a lot of fun over the past year, but it took up all of my free time when I wasn’t working. My family [was] very understanding, but increased demands at work [took] their toll.
There seemed to be several people working on The Ugly Duckling? Who all was involved?
Ha, ha, ha! No it’s been me until the last few months. Leper joined on to help out with the guides a few months back. Other than that…it’s just “us”.
Whoa…really? Whoops. My bad. I guess that’s just a testament to how slick and polished The Ugly Duckling came off. Well, since it’s been about 12 days now since you’ve announced the site’s end, what was the best part of working on The Ugly Duckling?
The best part was to be able to talk to a lot of great artists via the interviews and hopefully helping people grow in their efforts via the tutorials I’ve collected. One of the big “beefs” I have with sites like TBB is that they really have the power to help people grow in their efforts with LEGO, but still, largely just post pics of other people’s stuff and say, “Isn’t this cool?” I completely appreciate when they do things like Bricks for Charity, but otherwise…they could do better.
As Jesse Jackson used to say, “Keep hope alive!” So, indulge me, will ya? Where would you like to see The Ugly Duckling in 5 years? Is there anything you weren’t able to do over the last year with the project that you might be willing to pick back up and work towards in the future? Hypothetically speaking, of course…
UD in five years? I don’t know, I could always bring the old girl back if my situation changes. I would need to have some help in the next go round though. Maybe give TBB a run for it’s money…
“…need some help,” you say? Where should I send the resume?