The project, titled “Brickjest” and displayed in more than 100 photos on www.brickjest.com, is the work of Kevin and Sebastian Griffith, a father and son from Columbus. The pair spent five to six months creating diorama-style Lego scenes that capture key plot points spanning nearly 1,000 pages of Wallace’s grandest piece of literature. Brickjest was equally, yet inversely, grand as the book, taking a massive piece of fiction and distilling it into 100 or so freeze-frame visuals of tiny proportion.
The idea was born when Kevin, a professor of English and legal writing at Capital University, stumbled across The Brick Bible, a book featuring Lego recreations of the Old Testament.2 He and Sebastian read it over and over, pondering how they might be able to produce something similarly ambitious but non-religious; Sebastian had “like two tons of Legos” that he’d been playing with since the age of three. One day he finally turned to his dad and said: Hey, how about we do Infinite Jest in Legos?
Kevin taught the novel in critical theory class3 four times at Capital, and he hoped that if Brickjest came out well enough it would provide a visual aid for his students, as well as a fun experience for him and Sebastian.
“It’s off-putting to have this enormous novel sitting there that you’ve gotta get through,” Kevin said. “So I thought, ‘Well, this might be an interesting way to get people acquainted with the novel and help keep their place.’”
But first he had to translate the dense text into snippets of information for Sebastian to use as inspiration, a process made more difficult by the novel’s adult topics, like drug abuse, alcoholism, recovery, the existence (or not) of God, a highly addictive video, and separatist assassins4 from Quebec (in wheelchairs, of course). Kevin chose passages that were between one and 30 pages, and then described them in a way that was straightforward and generally out of context.
“I would just tell him, ‘Okay, in this scene we need a guy doing this next to a wall fan and another guy looking at him,’” Kevin said. “Or, ‘I need a scene of like five guys in a shower, one wearing a black towel,’ and he could do it pretty easily.”
Unlike some Lego projects, which involve constructing life-size superheroes or replicas of Ohio Stadium, they didn’t have to worry about elaborate set designs – most Brickjest dioramas were only four inches by four inches5 – because Infinite Jest focuses mostly on human interaction in small rooms. The scenes took anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple hours to make; Kevin mostly let his son’s imagination run with the description and only occasionally offered suggestions.
They did encounter problems, though, like the grueling length of the book – they rejoiced when they hit page 400 before realizing they had more than 5006 left to go. Or when a passage called for a specific, hard-to-find prop: “There’s a guy in the scene who’s wearing a safari cap or something,” Kevin said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God, where’s the safari cap?’ You know, here’s a box of 10,000 Legos here, we gotta dig through it to find a safari cap or a tiny Lego pickaxe.”
After they completed each diorama, Sebastian used his first-generation digital Kodak camera to snap a close-up photo of the scene, with particular attention given to the dramatic expressions on the faces of the Lego figurines. Each picture includes an excerpt from the novel that serves as a caption detailing the setting, characters, and action.
The results are striking, a whimsical mixture of childhood fantasy and darkly humorous, near-future dystopia: A man sitting on a chair, staring at a shelf where a life-size insect sits, drinking from a mug.7 A man on a bed, surrounded by lost teeth. A man lying on his face with elevator doors closing on either side of his head.8 One depicts a Risk game board with a man sitting at a desk working on his laptop while a woman and another man lob tennis balls at each other, representing nuclear holocaust, with the caption – “God is never a particularly popular role to have to play…”
The reaction was nearly immediate. The British newspaper The Guardian covered the project on its Book Blog near the end of August not long after Brickjest was completed, and The Telegraph, Salon.com, and Flavorwire.com followed suit. Only a few days later, a representative of Academy Award-nominated director Lucy Walker9 contacted father and son about potential involvement in a Disney film. Skyhorse Publishing in New York asked about the possibility of making the project into a book, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany – the world’s largest – asked Kevin and Sebastian to attend as special guests, all expenses paid.
“It’s just been crazy,” Kevin said. “It’s unbelievable how it took off. You know, you hear about things going viral, and you think, ‘Well, that’s pretty rare,’ but it’s amazing.”
While the pair mulls the various offers, Sebastian keeps busy with other projects. He’s interested in movies and has been filming stop-motion Lego animation using the same Kodak camera ever since he saw clips online at six. “I just saw videos on YouTube and I was like, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” he said.
He reads – more age-appropriate fare like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and comic books – and he’s writing a novel of his own, about men who transform into animals and are constantly on the run from Hunters.10 He’s also kicked around the idea of giving other novels the Lego treatment. He has been playing cello since he was five11 and may pursue a career as a cellist or a cello teacher, when the time comes. “It’s kinda far away to figure that out yet,” he said.
Yes, no reason to grow up too quickly. For now it’s just child’s play, one reimagined literary masterpiece at a time.