Brendan Powell Smith’s new The Brick Bible: A New Spin On The Old Testament transforms the holy book into a colorful graphic novel through the use of Legos by way of his digital camera’s macro setting. Smith has long posted these adaptations to his website but now he’s spreading the Gospel of Lego in printed form via SkyHorse Publishing — though you probably won’t find a copy of in your hotel room quite yet.
Smith began his project in 2001 at the beginning with the Garden of Eden, but didn’t see it as any great undertaking. It was much more a response to the gifts life had placed upon him in the form of Legos.
“When I first started it I really didn’t think, okay, I’m embarking on this 10 year project to illustrate the entire Bible,” Smith said. “I thought, well, I have this big Lego collection now as an adult and I need to find something really cool to do with it. It’s like a ‘with a great Lego collection comes a great responsibility’ sort of feeling.”
Smith had become fascinated by the Bible in a college class. His concern was that few people knew what was actually in it and he wanted to offer some clarity. While he wanted to make it enjoyable visually, it was important that it be retold in a straight manner. He didn’t want to impose his own spin on the story, a mistake he sees in too many illustrated versions of the book.
“I think that’s where a lot of misconceptions about the Bible come from,” said Smith. “You hear these stories from children’s books or you get various selected stories from the Bible read in church and then you read the actual Bible for yourself and it bears only a very passing resemblance to some of these.”
Smith started with the first six stories of the Bible and put them up on his website for friends and family to enjoy. Several thousand visitors later, he realized he has something special on his hands, and decided to stick with it. A decade later, Smith has managed to adapt most of the Old Testament and large portions of the New Testament, as well as special presentations of Biblical law and the teachings of Jesus. His depictions include some of the worst moments the Bible has to offer, but as acted by Lego people, the gruesome incidents within become easier to take.
“There’s a limit to how harrowing or horrifying a story can get when it’s depicted in little Lego figures,” said Smith. “That’s kind of a fine line too, and I like when I get across a story that is harrowing and they come away from it laughing but a little disturbed.”
For the book version compiling an Old Testament, Smith was charged with the task of editing down the 3,000 images he had shot to a target of 1,400 photos, laid out in a graphic novel format over 256 pages. This meant not including a lot of non-narrative portions and also focusing on the central story of lineage from Adam, which served to keep the Book of Job out of the collection.
“What I really do really love and admire about the Bible is that it stays on point,” Smith said. “It carries on one epic journey from the first man and follows his lineage through Abraham and Moses and all the Israelites down through David and Solomon. It’s one long continuous story and that’s what I really wanted to focus on for the book.”
The work that goes into creating the scenes varies, with more intricate ones such as battles demanding more time and attention to detail.
“I’ll have the camera going for hours at a time and I’ll keep making very minute adjustments of the characters to perfect what embellishments would look like, so every little bit of what’s in the frame has something interesting going on and they aren’t blocking each other,” said Smith.
Smith reuses intricate sets like Solomon’s Temple because construction is time consuming, but he also goes through a constant recycling process, taking scenes apart immediately after use in order to be repurposed. He uses sets from the 1960s through current releases, and strives to keep it pure Lego even as he mixes and matches details from all the sets. To create Jesus, for instance, he pulled a Jedi robe from a late ’90s Star Wars set, a wizard beard from a 1980s set, and long, brown female hair from a more recent set. He tries not to alter the pieces.
“When I originally made the God character there was no white hair piece, so that was a conundrum,” Smith said. “I knew I wanted to have God in his long white robe and his long white beard, but either he was going to be bald, which didn’t seem quite right, or have a mismatching hair color, or I’d have to get out some paint, which I really didn’t want to do. So what I ended up doing for that to keep it Lego is I took a Lego space helmet and cut off the chin strap and carved some bangs into it.”
Smith has no official connection with Lego, though he’s won fans within the company who have expressed delight at his work.
“I can understand why Lego would keep a distance and for me it’s probably good,” he said, “because I can see how if they were supplying me with free Lego — while that would be great because they can be expensive — it could end up with me feeling beholden of them in terms of content and it feels much better to be a free agent.”
The Brick Bible is an unusual book, which has lead Skyhorse Publishing director of publicity Jennifer Doerr to keep an open mind about getting the word out. The target for promotional efforts — signings and potential on-air appearances — includes comic book fans, religious audiences, and anyone who might enjoy a quirky take on the topic. She says they also see it as having great holiday tie-in potential.
“We’ve had orders from small Christian bookstores, indie comic stores, as well as Wal Mart — so we are getting a good sense that this title is already appealing to a great range of people,” she said.