(Featured image: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences authors meet up in 2016 in Oamaru, New Zealand.)
Steampunk Cons Are Not Dead
In the last month, the Steampunk fandom has experienced a major shake-up in the northeastern convention market in the U.S. As most readers here already know, Steampunk World’s Fair imploded among many accusations. Its future is murky at best, and details surrounding the con are changing almost hourly. They are not the first convention to close up shop, for whatever reasons.
Owning and operating conventions is hard work in any event or genre. Having participated in all aspects of various cons, as an attendee, a vendor, an entertainer, a volunteer, and an organizer, I can tell you that things go wrong and often do. It rains, snows, is too hot or cold at some outdoor events. Technology fails, whether a sound system goes awry for the main event, or not enough wi-fi or cell phone towers to support several thousands of attendees. Featured entertainers get sick or miss their flights or get stuck in a whole different country due to weather. As conventions continue to grow in popularity, the scope of possible problems and liability get larger.
This is not unique to steampunk. Growing pains happen to all kinds of events. San Diego Comic Con, for example has grown large enough to “price out”, ironically, its oldest vendors, the comic book folk.
In another growth aspect, social media has been both a blessing and a curse to the Steampunk community. While helping it evolve as a true fictional genre with an immensely creative fandom, it has also been a source of rumors and infighting. Some of these interactions are warranted and some are not.
Which brings me to this; despite rumors to the contrary, fear not convention goers, there are plenty of other events to attend. After reading pages of victim posts, social media rants, and podcasts regarding Steampunk World’s Fair, I was particularly struck by many posts claiming distress at “there’s no place else to go”. What?
No one “owns” steampunk. There is no president, no king or queen. Well, perhaps Queen Victoria for inspiration. And President Lincoln for those Civil War enthusiasts. And don’t forget, the Steampunk movement is worldwide. If you search Facebook Groups, you’re going to find pages and groups in Puerto Rico, Italy, Brazil, the U.K., Australia, Japan, and Canada. Even Russia has a group of dedicated fans. New Zealand has one of the biggest conventions on the planet.
Steampunk conventions dead? Ladies and gentlemen, let’s take a peek at a few of the larger events:
International Steampunk Symposium-April showers bring about 1,000 con goers to Cincinnati, Ohio. Aloysius Fox and a dedicated staff have run the International Steampunk Symposium since 2012. Note that the Symposium supports the community by partnering with NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) to bring awareness of mental health issues. Two things to know about this year’s event: 1) The theme is “Heroes and Villains” and most urgently, 2) The Symposium is offering HALF PRICE TICKETS to the Symposium to those who lost out on the debacle with Steampunk World’s Fair. (Certain restrictions apply) Find out more.
Big River Steampunk Festival-Held in historic Hannibal, Missouri, two hours north of St. Louis, this con has exploded to over 12,000+ attendees in just four years. Over fifty vendors line the streets where Mark Twain strolled over a hundred years ago. The Festival has FREE admission, however, there are charges for premium events such as Hot Air Balloon Rides, Afternoon Tea, and the Time Travelers Ball. The event supports the non-profit Hannibal History Museum. Find out more.
Teslacon-In late November each year, the town of Middleton, Wisconsin fills up with an average of 1600 enthusiastic steampunk folk for an immersive convention experience. Lord Bobbins has headed up an impressive themed convention for over eight years. This event has a history of exploring the world, but for the coming year guests travel back to the UK for “The Battle of Britain, The Aether War Chronicles.” Sherlock Holmes and other guests will explore new mysteries, ghosts, and the old world beliefs. Find out more.
Wild Wild West Con- Over 5000 steampunk snowbirds step back in time to Tuscon, Arizona to enjoy one of the first cons of the year. Since 2011, this immersive convention has taken place within Old Tuscon. This famous movie studio and amusement park has featured in over 300 movies and TV shows. WWWC is a proud supporter of Kids Need to Read which provides books to underfunded schools and libraries, and literacy programs. Details on 2019’s convention coming soon.
Didn’t see an event in your corner of the world? Again, the above is just a sampling of other events in the U.S. Airship Ambassador has a listing of many more global conventions, events, and much more steampunk information on his webpage.
At this beginning of this piece I gave examples of how cons fail. I would like to end this on a good note. Last year I was at a large outdoor con as a vendor. On the last day, we had a terrible wind storm. The con staff allowed us to close up if we wanted to. A good gesture, considering our contracts said otherwise. The double booth tent next to mine, completely blew over, scattering merchandise everywhere. No less than twenty people, including other vendors, guests, and convention staff rushed in to assist with clean up. Let’s be that kind of community, one that helps out when there’s trouble, that shares accurate information, and choices.
Victoria L. Szulc is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer that has three pieces on display in “Steampunk III” at Soulard Art Gallery, in St. Louis, MO, and is working her fourth Steampunk novel, Lafayette to London. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com