Travelogue from Steamcon V
Steampunk can mean different things to different folks. Some call it an aesthetic. Some say it happened when goths discovered the color brown. Some deem it a celebration of retro-futurism or claim it to be an alternate universe. Some slap some gears on a corset and call it good. However you engage with steampunk, you can find others of your ilk at Steamcon. The theme for Steamcon V was “Around the World” and the crowd truly embraced the spirit of global travel with costuming from many cultures and locales, plus themed vendors and art exhibition.
October 25-27, 2013
Steamcon V included nods to great adventure tale Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne that chronicles the journey of Phileas Fog and his manservant, Passpartout, who travel around the globe in 80 days. It is not just a clever title. The organizers of Steamcon took inspiration from the text and included a Passpartout Cabaret (he was an accomplished performer), a whist tutorial (Fogg’s card game played to pass the time), and a passport you could get stamped around the con (that mimics Fogg’s stops at passport offices to prove he did actually travel the globe).
Steamcon is always a visual treat, if you are into the aesthetic—and indeed I am. Some attendees took the travel theme literally and devised costumes that were hot air balloons or airships or crew members. (By the way, there are no hot air balloons in the novel, just trains, ships, a sled, and an elephant to get around.) Others delved into what Victorian era English folks would see as exotic locales or far off destinations. There were many kimono and sari inspired designs. The expeditionary garb has been a constant at Steamcon through the years. I saw more of that at Steamcon V. I noticed a growing trend toward steamed-out comic book characters. Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, and Iron Man all made appearances. Costumes were more varied and colorful than ever before.
Now for a brief word on cultural appropriation: I did not interview people about their costumes regarding any sort of inspiration, appropriation, or ethical costuming practices. The pictures included with this post are of folks that were kind enough to allow me capture their likenesses. If you are interested in finding out more about cultural appropriation in steampunk or exploring the problematic issues of glorifying an age of privilege and British colonialism, there are blogs for you. I recommend starting with Silver Goggles and Beyond Victoriana.
Generally, I like attending panels at most cons. I always find something interesting and educational at Steamcon. This year my favorite panels were Women Explorers: No Place for a Lady, Why are Cephlapods Steampunk, and Iron Maidens: Women of Bare Knuckle Fighting. I was disappointed not to make it into Meijipunk Fashion in Period Sources—but that room was standing room only and really stuffy so maybe not so bad to have missed it after all. Post-con my notebook is full of names to research like explorers Isabelle Eberhart, Gertude Bell, and Mary Kingsley or pugilists Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes, Hattie Stewart, or Cecil Richards. Some remarkable women in that list! Geez, I have some reading to do.
It is the art exhibition and the vendor room that took up most of my time, and finances, at Steamcon V. If you haven’t tried B. Fuller’s Mortar and Pestle teas or tisanes you are missing out. I haven’t tasted a blend that wasn’t delicious and restorative. They embraced the around the world theme by selling a variety-pack of teas in various envelopes made to look like Victorian-era correspondence. Cephalopods are always a popular motif and a mythical and mysterious creature to those who traveled the Victorian-era seas. You can’t open a parasol in the vendor room without casting a shadow on some great cephalopod jewelry. In the art exhibition, Camryn Forrest Designs displayed a selection steamy snow globes. No cephalopods, but an awesome warrior rhino—who now adorns by shelf.
Steamcon V was an extraordinary assemblage of fans and Victorian aficionados. So it is with regret that I read the letter from the organizers indicating there might not be a Steamcon VI or another Steamcon period. If you are interested in keeping the steam alive in the Seattle-area, please consider attending the general meeting on January 12, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. at the Lake City Library and volunteering some time. Your Steamcon needs you!