Elbe Spurling


(Brendan Powell Smith redirects here)

Elbe Spurling (/ 'ɛlbi 'spərlIng /; born September 7, 1973) is an American transgender, lesbian, atheist author best known for creating The Brick Bible (under her birth name Brendan Powell Smith), an ongoing project to illustrate the entire Bible in LEGO building blocks. Although Spurling is not religious, she has studied the Bible, ancient Christianity and Judaism, and is motivated by the belief that all people, whether believers or not, are better off knowing the content of the scriptures. Her unique storytelling and illustrating style has been noted for its meticulous attention to detail, and its ability to walk a fine line between humor and poignancy. In April of 2015, Spurling announced that her next major LEGO-illustration project will be called The Brick Book of Mormon in which she will present the history and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Spurling has worked on various other creative projects, including writing and recording music. Her latest release is an experimental pop EP called in betwɘen released under the artist name ɘlbe.

Elbe Spurling

Elbe Spurling, January 2015
Birth name Brendan Powell Smith
Born September 7, 1973 (age 41)
Occupation Author, Artist
Medium LEGO illustration
Books
Music
Websites
Genre Religion, History
Notable works The Brick Bible
The Brick Bible for Kids
Revolution!
in betwɘen
My Name Is Banacek
BRAD: the game
Publisher(s) Skyhorse Publishing, Sky Pony Press, Quirk Books
Nationality American
Alma mater Boston University
Home town Norwood, Massachusetts
Years active 1997 - present
Early Life


Elbe Spurling was born in 1973 in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts named Norwood, where she grew up in poor area of town known as "the projects". Spurling's favorite toy as a child was LEGO, though she was, by her own estimation, not a building prodigy in her youth. She was raised as a Protestant Christian in the Episcopal Church where her mother was a Sunday School teacher for several years. At age 13, Spurling entered a phase of her life where she consciously tried to prepare for adulthood by weaning herself off of childhood toys and ways of thinking. Taking a critical look at her own beliefs and behaviors, Spurling's newfound skeptical outlook was eventually applied to her religious beliefs, and she soon found herself the only atheist in a family, community, and society full of believers. This caused her to become curious why others kept on believing, and began a lifelong fascination with religion.

Spurling graduated from Norwood Senior High School in 1991 and went on to get a degree in Philosophy & Religion from Boston University, studying under professors including atheist author Michael Martin and ancient Christianity author Paula Fredriksen. While at college, Spurling drew a comic strip called The Second Coming under the pen name "The Reverend" which ran in Boston's third largest daily paper, The Daily Free Press from 1992 to 1995. The experience of reading through the entire Bible for the first time during college had a major effect on Spurling who found it to be nothing like the dry theological treatise she expected. Its vivid drama, lurid stories, and surprising characterizations of God led Spurling to realize that most people don't actually read the Bible, and it prompted her belief that it would be a better thing if people were more familiar with its content.

In 1997, Spurling moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Having developed an irreverent and absurdist writing style in high school and college, Spurling was excited by the creative possibilities of the world wide web. Her first project was a sprawling text-based choose-your-own-adventure very loosely based on Spurling's own family members, called BRAD: the game. The player gets to live out a day in the life of Spurling's weird uncle Brad, and the game features hundreds of different endings as well as a difficult-to-find, impossible-to-beat Hard Mode. The game became a cult hit, especially at many college campuses.

Career


Spurling got back into building with LEGO at the end of the 90s, buying up used lots on eBay and shopping discount stores. After tackling some building challenges like an 8-foot tall skyscraper and a Roman colosseum, Spurling had the idea to try out building some scenes from the Bible in LEGO. As she worked on the Garden of Eden, and designed minifigure versions of Adam, Eve, and God, Spurling began to realize that LEGO could be a compelling storytelling medium. Not knowing where it might lead, she built and photographed six stories from the beginning of the book of Genesis and but them online in October of 2001 on a website she called The Brick Testament. The text accompanying each illustration was a direct quote from the Bible, in keeping with Spurling's goal that people become better acquainted with the Bible's content as it was written. The website was an instant hit with 20,000 site visits in the first week. The positive reception encouraged Spurling to create more illustrations, delving into the New Testament's Gospels as well as continuing through Genesis. By early 2002 the site's illustrations had been featured in the UK's Independent on Sunday and SPIN magazine. As Spurling continued to add illustrated Bible stories to the website, its popularity increased, bolstered by continued media interest including Spurling's LEGO rendition of The Last Supper being featured in Time magazine.

That same year, Spurling worked with Quirk Books to release The Brick Testament: Stories from the Book of Genesis, which was successful enough to prompt follow-up books in 2004 and 2005. The Brick Testament website continued to receive regular updates throughout the first decade of the 2000s, with Spurling illustrating Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings in the Old Testament and the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and Revelation in the New Testament. Spurling says her biggest creative challenge was illustrating the wild visual imagery of Revelation, but that it was also the most rewarding to pull off.

At the start of the 2010s, Spurling began working with Skyhorse Publishing who wanted to publish the entire Brick Testament in a single volume. When this was shown to be unfeasible, the plan instead became to release the Old Testament as one book. The fall 2011 release The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament became Skyhorse Publishing's best selling book. It was followed a year later with a New Testament volume that included 200 new illustrations created especially for the book. These two books were combined with a bonus poster for release as a hardcover box set in 2013.

The release of the Old Testament book stirred some controversy. Despite showing strong sales, in November 2011, retailer Sam's Club pulled the book from its shelves after complaints that the book contained material inappropriate for children. Since there was clearly a significant amount of parents interested in LEGO-illustrated Bible storybooks aimed at younger children, Spurling and Skyhorse Publishing decided to launch a new series called The Brick Bible for Kids. With six book releases since 2012, this series has established itself as a popular counterpart to original Brick Bible series which was intended for older children, teens, and adults. There are now more than 300,000 Brick Bible books in print.

Spurling decided in 2013 to explore using her LEGO illustrating and storytelling on some other non-religious topics that have long fascinated her. In fall of that year, she released her first history book, Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents. She followed this up with a second book in The Brick Chronicle series called Revolution! which tells the stories of The American Revolution and The French Revolution.

Though illustrating for books takes up the vast majority of Spurling's time spent with LEGO, she has occasionally taken on small LEGO side projects, including the creation of the popular LEGO pain assessment tool and Beauty Tips for Male LEGO Executives (a response to LEGO including beauty tips aimed at 5 to 12 year old girls in their LEGO Friends line of toy sets.

In April of 2015, Spurling announced that her next major LEGO-illustration project will be called The Brick Book of Mormon in which she will present the history and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She hopes the project will appeal to Mormons and curious non-Mormons alike.

Published Books

Cover
Title
Release Date
ISBN
Joseph and the Colorful Coat: The Brick Bible for Kids
April 2015
1632204096
Revolution!: The Brick Chronicle of the American Revolution and the Inspiring Fight for Liberty and Equality that Shook the World
November 2014
1629144614
The Brick Bible Presents Brick Genesis
October 2014
1629147680
The Brick Bible Presents Brick Exodus
October 2014
1629147672
Daniel in the Lions' Den: The Brick Bible for Kids
September 2014
1629146056
Jonah and the Whale: The Brick Bible for Kids
April 2014
1628735899
Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents
November 2013
1620879980
The Brick Bible: The Complete Set
September 2013
1620879824
David and Goliath: The Brick Bible for Kids
September 2013
1620879824
The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids
November 2012
1620871734
The Brick Bible: The New Testament
October 2012
1620871726
Noah's Ark: The Brick Bible for Kids
May 2012
1616087374
The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament
October 2011
1616084219
The Brick Testament: The Ten Commandments
March 2005
1594740445
The Brick Testament: The Story of Christmas
September 2004
1594740127
The Brick Testament: Stories from the Book of Genesis
October 2003
1931686459

Music Releases


Elbe Spurling wrote and recorded two lo-fi bedroom solo albums in 1998 and 1999 under her birth name, Brendan Powell Smith. Then in 2001, she joined forces with Lila Tene as The Human Heads for a single album. Putting aside music to focus on her career as an author/illustrator, it was not until late 2014 that Spurling released an EP of new material under the artist name ɘlbe, inspired by a new personal relationship and her experience transitioning from male to female. A seamless series of accompanying music videos for the EP was released in early 2015.

Cover
Artist
Title
Release Date
ɘlbe
in betwɘen
November 2014
The Human Heads
here come the heads
February 2001
Brendan Powell Smith
LIFE & DEATH
November 1999
Brendan Powell Smith
IDEAS FOR SONGS
October 1998

Other Creative Projects


Just before moving to the West Coast, Spurling wrote and starred in Vendetta: A Christmas Story. Imagined as the Christmas episode of a gratuitously violent 80s buddy cop TV show, it was filmed over the course of three weeks in Spurling's home town of Norwood, MA, as well as nearby Walpole, Sharon, and Boston, MA. Part one of the two-part feature It was edited in spring 1997 and eventually aired on San Francisco public access TV. In 2000, Vendetta: A Christmas Story was nominated for a FiFi award, and director and co-star Jonathan Field was flown to Lille, France for the award event. Editing of part two of the feature was completed by Spurling in 2001, and the full episode was made available online and as a free DVD giveaway.

In summer of 2009, Spurling re-watched all 16 episodes of the 1972-1974 mystery TV program Banacek, and then set about creating a video that captured each instance of the characters on the show saying the name of the main character, Banacek. The clips were then ordered by themes to create the ten minute video My Name Is Banacek, a pioneering work in a genre that would come to be known as the supercut.

In 2004 Spurling created a party game in which she prepared hundreds of images of celebrities artistically disguised using Photoshop's various filters, effects, and other tools. At a party, attendees would be divided into two teams that would compete to successfully recognize the celebrity first. For each round, Spurling prepared three unique artistically distorted images of the celebrity, starting with a nearly-impossible-to-recognize image and getting progressively more recognizable. In 2009, Spurling collaborated with Jonathan Field to create Celebrity Guess Who, an online version of the game that could be played by single players competing against the clock for a high score.

As a birthday present for her girlfriend in early 2008, Spurling created Barfield Loses His Lunch, a collection of 64 comic strips that form an increasing increasingly bizarre and twisted parody of Garfield, created by remixing and reworking art and dialogue from original Garfield comic strips.

On New Year's Eve of 2006, a propos of nothing, Spurling released an in-depth "countdown" style look at The Best Metal Album Titles of 2006. Following a revelatory experience in 2009, Spurling created the website Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Watching Roadhouse. A visit to Portland, OR, was the inspiration for Spurling's 2006 website creation: Punching Cats.

From 1999 to 2011 Spurling faithfully kept readers informed about news and entertainment on her personal website TheReverend.com. These articles have been archived for future generations to pour through at TheReverend.com archives.


External Links

Elbe Spurling
Books for Older Children, Teens, and Adults
The Brick Testament: Stories from the Book of Genesis (2003) • The Brick Testament: The Story of Christmas (2004) • The Brick Testament: The Ten Commandments (2005) • The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament (2011) • The Brick Bible: The New Testament (2012) • The Brick Bible: The Complete Set (2013) • The Brick Bible Presents Brick Genesis (2014) • The Brick Bible Presents Brick Exodus (2014) •
Bible Books for Children
Noah's Ark: The Brick Bible for Kids (2012) • The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids (2012) • David and Goliath: The Brick Bible for Kids (2013) • Jonah and the Whale: The Brick Bible for Kids (2014) • Daniel in the Lions' Den: The Brick Bible for Kids (2014) • Joseph and the Colorful Coat: The Brick Bible for Kids (2015)
History Books
Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents (2013) • Revolution!: The Brick Chronicle of the American Revolution and the Inspiring Fight for Liberty and Equality that Shook the World (2014)

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