What does it mean to be “into” Steampunk? I mean REALLY into Steampunk. I ‘ve always thought the aesthetic looked cool and it’s a great setting for sci-fi or fantasy, but I haven’t ever felt the need to don goggles and a top hat or make my own Tesla coil.
At least I hadn’t until last weekend.
Most of you have never heard of Anachrocon, but you probably have heard of Dragon*Con. Or at least you have some vague idea of what a Con is from the movie Trekkies. AnachroCon is kind of like that, but without William Shatner. No celebrities, just people who consider themselves “Steampunks, Neo-Victorians, Retro-Futurists, Historical Re-enactors, Time Travelers, and general students of history.”
I decided I didn’t want to just go as a spectator; I wanted to be a real part of the Con and that meant going in costume. No girl wants to hang out with the guy in jeans and a knit shirt while she’s rocking a corset, mechanical wings, and a vaccuum tube powered laser rifle. Obviously, I had to fix my style, pronto.
It’s the accessories that make the outfit, and in Steampunk that accessory is your pair of goggles. But why does everyone wear goggles? Has no one invented the windshield in this pretend universe? Is retro-future London still so filled with smog you need eye protection at all times? Do all those exposed gears have the habit of kicking out oil at just the wrong time? I decided to start my interviews with the vendors as I did my shopping.
Universally, everyone said that goggles were not a necessity in their worlds of shared imagination; you only wore them if your profession or activities required it. For example, Captain Bill Bill of Venusian Airship Pirate Trading Company only wears goggles because he is an airship pilot and weaponsmith.
No one in his world needs to protect their eyes from pollution, or even oil, because it’s the world of Jules Verne and martian technology has given us clean energy. And for the ladies considering goggles for occasional gunplay, he can recommend a parasol pistol instead, guaranteed to shield against splatter.
Next were my favorite vendors, M and K of Frenzy Universe. They have a whimsical take on Steampunk (Their logo is a bath tub blimp, after all.) and a circus themed product line. They assured me that their world, the Frenzy Universe, was not some dark, sooty place that required constant eye protection. And it wasn’t all sepia tones either. People just think of the Victorians that way because of the old photos left behind, but their world was one of bright colors. That was especially true if you were a circus performer.
Most of the merchandise in their booth wasn’t finished product, but the parts you might need to make something Steampunk; they had small pieces of leather, vacuum tubes, gears, and jewelry you might combine into something larger.
M and K explained to me that Steampunk was about using your imagination, creating something, and then coming together to share it. They had both left soul sucking corporate jobs and now do nothing but run their business and travel the country, meeting people and selling their own creations. It’s a lot of work and not much profit but they love it.
Crafting did seem to be the common thread that brought all of these people together, and it’s what made their guest of honor, Thomas Willeford, slightly famous. Ostensibly, he is known for making the mechanical arm worn by Nathan Fillion in the show “Castle”, but he is also the creator of the first (publicly sold) Steampunk vibrator, Lady Clankington’s Little Death Ray.
Being the expert he was, I had to get his opinion on goggles. He doesn’t see them as a real necessity, but believes they are the “designer shoe” of the culture. It’s that one high dollar accessory you always have on to let people know that you’re a person of status.
Now it’s the second day of the Con and I finally have my outfit together. I’ve got the sexiest leather jacket ever made, something from Pendragon Costumes that looks like a cross between Mad Max and the Rocketeer. Under that I’ve got my pirate outfit from halloween, including brown leather boots that match the jacket. I had to skip the hat. My head is gigantic and the only thing I found that fit was a top hat the size of a laundry hamper. Not the look I was going for. I opted instead to just wrap a pair of goggles around my forehead.
At this point I feel comfortable enough to start meeting the general population. I continued with my goggle theory icebreaker, but I was more interested in finding out what being Steampunk meant to everyone.
For instance, why are four young girls, two of them still in highschool, into this scene?
It starts with anime. Ever heard of Harajuku? Do a google search for Harajuku fashion. These girls grew up in a korean community where dressing up as characters was fairly common, at least if you were going to an anime con.
One day they saw one of their male friends looking ridiculous. Apparently, he was trying to do Steampunk and failed miserably. After that the girls did their own research and fell in love with the genre. Now they prefer it to Harajuku influenced fashion because the rules are flexible, allowing them more creativity in designing outfits.
I also spoke to a LARPer. That’s Live Action Role Playing gamers. Ever see the movie Role Models? In this game, however, you don’t run around in the woods in armor swinging foam swords at each other. You wear Steampunk garb and fire Nerf darts. The girl said she was into Steampunk because she was bored of medieval based LARPs.
That makes a lot of sense to me. Honestly, middle earth is getting old. We still need fantasy novels, but I don’t think we can relate to a world without technology anymore. Victorian England seems like a far better template than Camelot for exploring human nature at this point in our evolution.
I walked around some more, found the free food, and listened in on a few panels. While I’m sure everyone was knowledgeable, I didn’t catch any gifted speakers.
I also got to fill out a police report while wearing my costume. Apparently, some local drove through the parking lot and decided that the eight year old DV camera in my passenger seat looked like a shiny new hit of crack and decided to bust out my window. Hurray for Holiday Inn parking lots with no security cameras.
Now it’s 8 ‘o clock on Saturday night. The vendors are closing up shop and all we have left tonight is music and drinking. There was supposed to be a fashion show but everyone decided to gather around the Tesla coil instead. M of Frenzy Universe even managed to get a picture of the spark as Thomas Willeford shocked someone.
As I mingled about looking for interesting people, M introduced me to a novelist couple, Nick Valentino and Elizabeth Darvill. Elizabeth writes paranormal erotic fiction. Her latest books have a steampunk setting but still remain paranormal: her protagonist is a succubus.
Nick Valentino wrote a steampunk adventure novel titled Thomas Riley. We talked a bit about what it takes to get published and he said the process wasn’t too difficult for him. Maybe publishers also think steampunk is the new middle earth. If so, we can expect to see genre to grow steadily over the next few years.
As the night progressed, Thomas Willeford became an even more interesting character. He told us a story about how a tiger bit him on the ass during a photo shoot and followed it with the origin of the Butt Rogers Uranium Pistol. He then noticed another man with a Little Death Ray holstered at his hip and immediately proposed a duel.
The men stood back to back, pistols drawn. Two women sat in chairs set out ten paces in each direction. They walked, extended their pistols and pulled the triggers. Thankfully, it wasn’t really a duel to “the little death” so it ended when one of the girls faked a moan. It wasn’t Thomas’s girl so the other man won the duel.
At this point I was satisfied. I had a good outfit for Dragon*Con, connected with some cool people, and got the over all con experience. I went home to get some sleep and dream Steampunk dreams.
(Pictures from our gallery by our newest addition Ashley Staley)
 While William Shatner surely exists in all timelines, he rarely makes appearances in the 19th century.