How LEGO magazines evolved – Bricks n Pieces, Mania Magazine and more

Blocks is by no means the first LEGO magazine – many fans grew up getting a regular publication from the LEGO Club. In this feature from the Blocks archive, we take a look at how those classic LEGO magazines evolved over the years.

Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, recently opened up the back catalogue. Now, all print subscribers get access to the full digital back catalogue of more than 80 issues and 9,000 pages – along with a great selection of other perks.

To give you a taste of what’s in the archive, here’s a feature about how LEGO magazines evolved over the years, until the LEGO Group eventually moved over to a digital offering. This was originally published in Blocks Issue 54 and if you want to know how the LEGO Club and its magazines began, check out this feature first.

Expanding the LEGO magazine portfolio

The LEGO Club, or LEGO Builders Club, is woven into the story of many AFOLs. Organised and administered by the LEGO Group, legions of brick lovers will cite these clubs as their first link to the fan community, and a source of both joy and coveting from their childhoods. The story of how these clubs came to be, and the LEGO magazines that served as their foundation, is a fascinating piece of LEGO’s history.

Community building has been the cornerstone on which the LEGO Club has been built throughout all its various forms during the years. They were birthed out of a desire to connect fans and encourage kids to share their creations, long before that was as easy as it is today. At the start of the ‘90s there were three established clubs: the oldest, based in the UK, published Bricks ‘n Pieces to a primarily British audience; De LEGO Krant, a Dutch publication served the Netherlands; and finally, the newest to the party, America’s LEGO Builders Club, which published Brick Kicks. The wind was at the back of LEGO Clubs, and they were primed for expansion.

The 1990s brought a wave of major changes to each individual LEGO Club established over the previous 20 years. Each would see a significant alteration to their structure and publications. Additionally, the need for more clubs rose exponentially thanks to LEGO’s ever-increasing popularity, as well as wider geopolitical changes. The fall of the iron curtain most notably brought Germany forward as an even more major player in the European market for the company. By the end of the decade, the new millennium would signal the most seismic shift of all – worldwide consolidation of what had become an unwieldy web of disparate clubs.

France became the next country to get its own official LEGO Club, and it would serve as a harbinger of the changes that were coming. While its own entity, the club was served by a publication titled ‘Innovations Le Communiqué’. Despite being a different title, this magazine was just Brick Kicks from the US reprinted in French, with the builds swapped out for those by kids in France. The vast majority of its content was completely recycled from the American club. This strategy made perfect sense – why reinvent the wheel? The content in Brick Kicks was not region-specific, and there was almost no way a child from France would have access to printed content from across the Atlantic Ocean. In short, a whole new population could be served by a LEGO Club without having to spend a boatload on new content. This is the first known instance of material being consistently shared across two regional LEGO Clubs. It was an idea that would quickly catch on.

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Making the magazines free

There are three watershed moments in the history of LEGO Clubs. The first was covered in this feature – the British LEGO office rolled out the trial of the first LEGO Club and their Bricks and Pieces newsletter. The second occurred at the close of 1994. At that time every LEGO Club the world over made some transitions. Two ceased to exist – De LEGO Krant and Innovations Le Communiqué were discontinued.

The two remaining LEGO Clubs in Britain and the US, along with their respective publications, underwent transformations. Both stopped charging for membership, Bricks ‘n Pieces changed its format and appearance while Brick Kicks was replaced by Mania Magazine.

Why the sudden change, and why the shift from paid to free? Here we must extrapolate a bit from the limited information provided at the time the shift occurred, as well as the events of the next several years, both for the clubs as a whole and the LEGO magazines in particular. The inaugural Mania Magazine in the US explained the changes this way:

‘The LEGO Club’s official magazine has changed – it’s bigger and better and jammed full of great new features like the LEGO Maniac comic and mani-activities. We needed twice as much room to put in all the cool stuff you wanted, so now each magazine has 16 pages instead of 8. With the extra pages, there’s lots more space for your letters, pictures and stories. So now you have no excuses not to send stuff to the Maniac Mail Bag and Maniac Madness. If you want, write and let us know what you think about the new magazine. Our building sections have expanded. Enter the Building Challenge and check out the Cool Creations.’

The most notable section of that introduction is the dramatic increase in page count. Considering that was paired with the subscription and club membership becoming free, something was clearly afoot. In part, this was surely a means of expanding the community-building mission of the LEGO Club. However, it is interesting to note that the same two-page allotment for members’ builds was maintained here. This held for the revamped Bricks ‘n Pieces magazine, which – while maintaining its name – also expanded its page count dramatically. Simply put, the number of pages devoted to features that were primarily community building, builds, letters from fans, et al in the old versions of the magazine stayed the same. The additional pages were used primarily for a bunch of new stuff that had one purpose: advertising.

The comics included in these magazines are a perfect example of this new phenomenon. As we have seen, comics were a part of LEGO Club publications from the very beginning. Now, however, they began to not just follow random characters, but specific LEGO minifigures as they traversed worlds and stories made up entirely of actual LEGO sets; everything required to make the story was available for purchase at your local department store.

Issues were also now themed around a specific product line. Each major theme or new release from a given year could expect to have an issue devoted to it. The centrefolds of the magazines became dedicated not to the creations of fans, but the flagship product from whatever line was that month’s focus. Do not misunderstand – community building was still very much a focus, but it began to share at least equal space with advertising. In fact, many would say it was eclipsed. Each issue was clearly intended to splash desirable products in front of kids as many times as possible, and that was acceptable because membership was now free.

Innovations Le Communiqué’s model also clearly served as an inspiration. If you compare Bricks ‘n Pieces and Mania Magazine issues from the same pair of months (the magazines were each published six times a year), shared content – both in terms of the theme being showcased and also some specific features – became more and more common. The clubs were beginning to centralise and put out generic content applicable to a fan anywhere in the world. This was a substantive change for the clubs, which had previously only been regional entities.

What emerged was LEGO Clubs that were still region-specific, but whose makeup and execution were more and more standardised to reduce personnel and cost. To serve the rest of Europe and then the Asia-Pacific Islands, a new publication was created that drew its content from both Bricks ‘n Pieces and Mania Magazine. LEGO World Club Magazine launched in 1997 and remained in print through 2002. In its final year it would serve Britain as well, when Bricks ‘n Pieces finally took a bow after its nearly 30-year run. World Club was flagrantly copying Mania Magazine verbatim, aside from regional announcements in its final year.

Standardising the LEGO magazines

LEGO Clubs’ third and final sea change came in the midst of the company’s flirtation with bankruptcy at the dawn of the new millennium. No doubt as part of the LEGO Group’s crusade to reduce costs and right the ship, final consolidation of all regional LEGO Clubs took place in 2002. A single worldwide club with a single publication, known simply as LEGO Magazine, emerged to carry the baton. This was primarily a rebranding and simplification exercise. Some of the format and content of the publication was new, but it preserved, and in some cases expanded, much of what had come before.

Magazines began featuring multiple comics so that the increasing number of LEGO themes could get their moment in the spotlight. Designer interviews, members’ creations and builds for kids to do at home all continued, just with different feature titles. Over time LEGO Magazine’s page count would expand to various amounts to make room for more and more content. Again, this was a function of the dramatic increase in numbers of LEGO sets produced over the years; with advertising now being a key objective of LEGO Clubs, more space was needed to showcase all the desirable sets. LEGO Magazine was published in multiple languages the world over.

Two final items of note occurred between the emergence of the modern LEGO Club in 2002 and the version that we see today. The first was LEGO Club going back to its roots, with a new option for fans from 2004 through 2011 known as Brickmaster. This was a paid version of the LEGO Club that included a special Brickmaster edition of the LEGO Magazine. It would have an alternate cover and more content, mostly additional build instructions. It was marketed as the option for serious fans and must have been at least somewhat successful given its long run.

The second change came in 2008 when a final, unceremonious alteration was made. The name of the now worldwide club’s publication was changed to LEGO Club Magazine. This was purely a cosmetic change, so much so that the inaugural issue where it occurred didn’t even contain an explanation or really call attention to the new branding. Brickmaster also rolled over and began expanding upon the new magazine, just as it had before. Advertising remained one of, if not the, key missions of both versions of the LEGO Club.

Times change, however, and so must the LEGO Club. Digital is taking over the world and the creators of LEGO Club content saw in that an opportunity to really take the club back to its roots, and dramatically expand its core mission to promote community amongst the fans. No longer limited by two pages in a print publication, an app could allow an infinite number of kids to share their love of the brick.

To read more from the Blocks magazine archive, take out a print subscription and get free access to the digital back catalogue.

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