AMBER LOVE 19-MAY-2014 I was fortunate to attend the world’s largest steampunk festival, the STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR, which was held in Somerset, NJ. One day of rain kicked it off but then there were two days of perfect spring weather for the event that had indoor and outdoor activities. This VODKA O’CLOCK special episode includes a reading by O.M. Grey and samples of the musical performances.
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What I needed to grapple with was that I couldn’t keep seeing the same performers every year and needed to be exposed to as much as possible. That’s hard to do when you know you like something. For example, I know I love seeing HVBRIS the fire performers but I missed them this year. I had very little “down time” and still managed to miss things. I only caught the final song by Unwoman when she was under the Midway main tent, likewise for Frenchy & the Punk. That packed schedule gave me the opportunities to see and meet all sorts of talented people like author O.M. Grey, bands like Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, Steam Powered Giraffe, This Way to the Egress, and The Waysties. Last year, I couldn’t get into the tent for Steam Powered Giraffe; this year I waited in line for an hour and got to a spot about halfway from the stage. I have to say after a great 35 or so minutes, my feet were hurting so bad that I chose to vacate my spot and head back to my room. They were great as they always are but I needed to sit and the SPG show was seatless.
One of the highlights for me was getting to see some burlesque. There’s always a lot of it at SPWF but because of conflicting awesome things to do, I wasn’t sure I’d see any this year. I was so thrilled that I did get to fit in some time for the Smoke & Mirrors Burlesque troupe. They were by far, the best burlesque dancers I have ever seen. I’ll make a post of just the pictures from their show. Mind you, they aren’t good pictures. I was in low light and using my cell phone and have no idea which settings to pick for that but I still took a lot of shots anyway.
Traveling solo meant I was pretty damn lonely while surrounded by a few thousand people. I took a lot of selfies and at times asked strangers to take a couple pictures of me so that I had something to remember my weekend and what outfits I wore. Luckily, when I got to see the smiling face of the Rev. Voice, Jamie Hatton, I always get a few seconds of relief. My breathing calms down and my damn endorphins can take a break. One familiar face makes a world of difference.
Then, who do I spot in front of me strolling into the Embassy Suites? None other than Jackie and James Hannon, two members of the local 501st / Star Wars troupe. They were in civvies for a change and James joked about how out of place he felt dressed down. But not to worry, there actually are people who attend SPWF without dressing up. But, I do think it would perfectly fine and in fact, well-received if the Kilted Stormtroopers came out to next year’s SPWF. They’ll fit right in. Plus, I did spot several Boba Fett references in the vendor areas. Boba Fett Fez. Boba Fett top hat. The Mandalorians definitely have steampunk appeal. There were other 501st members in steampunk personas that we met at the This Way to the Egress concert. Several other superhero cosplay friends were there too and we basically had an unintentional Superhero Weekend Reunion at SPWF.
At one of the panels, the show’s producer Jeff Mach had explained that how he feels insecurities and alienation; he even said the reason he appears in tshirts rather than an elaborate costume is so that people know they can be themselves to attend. You don’t need to be an airship captain or clockwork girl. Jeff is the figurehead of the steampunk shows and if someone that connected can experience detachment, it brings up the question, “Why do we play in the steampunk world?” I’ve seen people online say that they feel steampunk is too elitist and full of hipsters. I’ve seen people that I consider the best at superhero costuming hate on steampunk. My personal experience is that every subculture I’ve infiltrated has a share of elitists that aren’t welcoming; but you can look past them if you’re introduced to the right people or the right elements (e.g., accessible books, non-judgmental costuming, music that appeals to you). I can get through life in comics the best but I have bare minimal exposure to the industries like video games, adult entertainment, or steampunk. I’ve openly said how isolated it can feel being among so many thousands of people and feeling like the cheese that stands alone. Part of the mission of these particular steampunk shows is that everyone is given a chance to feel welcome (creeps are escorted out). If you are someone who has suffered with an identity crisis either with gender or sexual orientation or if you just feel you’re a weirdo without friends, these are the shows that will have something for you. There will be panels of speakers who are experienced in the ways of breaking through barriers. Get to them and listen. Learn. And when you’re ready, maybe you’ll even feel okay going up to people and getting to know them.
This was the first year that I actually had the means to get a hotel room. I’m not too far but when exhausted and drinking, an hour drive is too much in the middle of the night. I thought getting a room one exit away from the show was a reasonable and responsible thing to do this year. Then I only had two drinks all weekend and was back in my room before midnight Friday and Saturday. I really could have saved the money for New York’s Special Edition instead and driven back home. Friday night I was feeling a bit dizzy and avoided parties and drinking. It’s probably allergies as I’ve heard dizzy complaints from fellow sufferers.
The silver lining is that I basically spent around $230 to have a very comfortable king size bed and a wonderful shower. Unfortunately, neither were shared with anyone. And yes, I did invite someone and was rejected again so I don’t want to hear crap about men get rejected by women all the time. However, being alone allowed me the opportunity to shoot a whole lot of sexy photos using the time lapse and self timer settings; yes, they’ll get posted sometime but likely most of them will be in an exclusive password section. I spent Friday night there and slept really well. Saturday, I didn’t sleep particularly late but later than normal. I enjoyed that shower and even let myself enjoy it further by filling the tub. I could have simply lingered and relaxed but no. I put myself to work. I dried off and fetched my cell phone from the room and managed to carefully prop it up on hand towel on the ledge of the tub. I’m always extremely worried that I’ll drop the phone in water or the toilet or the shower. This was really tempting fate. I discovered that the camera settings have not the self timer which I finally got used to but there’s also a time lapse. That’s really handy when your hands are wet (and busy). Even though at this time of the morning I was still feeling dizzy and had a headache, I knew I had to take advantage of the situation. I don’t get alone time often. It’s, in fact, pretty damn rare which is why I had to abandon so many plans of adding adult content to the site (along with the financial mess of it all).
After I had a little fun in the bathtub, my head was really feeling funky. No drugs. No booze. Not even coffee by this point. I specify that because it was a steampunk con and I’m pretty sure the delightful dancing I saw at a couple of the concerts had a little extra inspiration, if you know what I mean. My usually terrible memory bank recalled something PolyWeekly Podcast host Cunning Minx had said about her convention routine; she always takes the time for decompressing with a hot shower or bath and then she lies naked on the bed for a while. I was alone so that’s exactly what I did. It took a lot longer than I thought for my body to stop feeling overheated and my head to be less funky. The cool of the air conditioner worked perfectly in time. Even though I’m slightly regretting my decision to stay in a hotel for financial reasons, it was a good move for other reasons. I slept the best I have in ages and I had a lot of fun making some new photosets.
One of the reasons I love to talk to people about comic books is that I can explain there really are comics for everyone. The steampunk crowd is no different. There are steampunk genre comics usually about Victorian gothic horror. Steampunk as it is accepted already includes science fiction. Sprinkle that with some vampires and notable historic figures and you have a solid understanding of what to expect from a lot of steampunk comics.
At the SPWF, Michelle Roberts, the Queen of the Red Fork Empire, gave a talk about steampunk comics. She was kind enough to have a few sheets of recommendations for the audience. Naturally one of the first comics mentioned is Foglio Studios’ GIRL GENIUS which is available as a free webcomic but also comes in printed trade paperback collections. She had some good things to say about Antarctic Press and Aspen. She raved about Avatar, specifically Warren Ellis since their other creators are not steampunk authors. Of the direct market comics, Michelle had strong recommendations for LADY MECHANIKA by Joe Benitez but the problem is inconsistency in delivering issues on any respectable schedule. She let it be heard that she finds DC more suitable for incorporating steampunk than Marvel. Michelle also emphasized that because steampunk is niche, you should keep your eyes on the Kickstarter market where comics are looking for funding outside the direct market. One such book was WESTWARD by Ken Krekeler.
Michelle’s discussion was casual – even a bit too casual at times when her cell phone wouldn’t stop interrupting her so she actually answered it – but it wasn’t like it was supposed to be a university class. It was fun and there were good visuals projected plus her own giant stack of trades for people to look through. I particular liked how she organized her handouts. The comic titles were listed in different categories: “Straight Up Steampunk,” “Victoriana/Historical,” “Wild West, Dieselpunk, Art Deco, Spacepunk,” “Beyond Victoriana,” “Science, Fantasy and Gothic,” and “Webcomics.”
Just like with other comic genres, steampunk comics have their share of content that is either intentional parodies or simply not good. Michelle pointed out some examples where the art was great but the storytelling failed or when there’s a great cover that has no connection to the book it’s on. Her choice for Worst Comic Ever Made goes to Chris Bachalo’s STEAMPUNK: MANIMATRON and STEAMPUNK: DRAMA OBSCURA.
As far as current 2014 titles which are coming out respectably on time and by popular creators, Dynamite Comics is publishing LEGENDERRY: A STEAMPUNK ADVENTURE by Bill Willingham (known for FABLES) with art by Sergio Fernandez Davila. This title takes the lineup of Dynamite’s popular characters and gives them a crossover: Vampirella, Red Sonja, the Green Hornet, and more. Dynamite keeps with their tradition of offering a lot of variant covers too if you’re into the collectability part. Michelle described LEGENDERRY as, “heavy on the T&A but promising.”
I cut out of Michelle’s lecture a few minutes early to make my way elsewhere but one thing I wanted to point out to her was that I don’t believe the comics she calls “hard to find” are impossible to get. She was only presenting comics that are printed or webcomics but failed to discuss digital comic marketplaces like Comixology. Dynamite comics aren’t rare, in my opinion, unless you’re hunting for a specific cover. However, if you really can’t find what you’re looking for at a local comic shop or don’t have a local comic shop, that doesn’t mean you can’t read the story.
Author O.M. Grey gave a reading of her short story A CLOCKWORK HEART. The tale is about three female friends in Victorian England. Penny’s father is an inventor. Penny learns that her nanny has a clockwork heart. She also learns that her nanny, Eleanor, has a surprising origin and an even worse fate.
Grey took a page from the Bride of Frankenstein in showing how a steamborg person can still have a range of emotions. Eleanor’s heartbreak becomes the reason that young Penny has vowed to never marry while her best friends are spending their days looking for proper husbands.
Grey currently has four novels out, lots of short stories and she’s an avid blogger which is how she came across my radar. She talks openly about being a sexual assault survivor and advocates for victims’ rights socially.
You can hear most of her reading on this episode of VODKA O’CLOCK along with samples of the live musical performances.