This week, we are talking with Diana Vick, co-chair of the Steamcon convention in Seattle, Washington, which is where I (and most of the other 1350 other attendees) first met her. Since then, I’ve gotten to know her through the local steampunk meet-ups in Seattle, and the Steamcon II organizational meetings.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Diana, thank you for making time for this interview and sharing your stories. Starting with our usual first question, how do you describe steampunk?
Diana Vick: Steampunk is Victorian science fiction at its core. Essentially it began as a literary genre. Science fiction based in the Victorian era. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Later writers wrote with perfect 20/20 hindsight about what the Victorians might have envisioned as the future, using things we have now with Victorian aesthetics and sensibilities. This retro-futurism is a fascinating way to re-envision the past. Taken into other eras, it is often mistaken for steampunk, but in actuality retro-futurism is the umbrella under which steampunk, dieselpunk and many other genres reside. Due to some misapprehension or mislabeling, steampunk is the term often applied to anything not modern looking that is gritty and mechanical. When I speak about steampunk I mean the genre, and the art, music, fashion and culture that have sprung from it.
AA: Having attended other conventions over the years and being a project manager, I have an idea of the work and details that go into producing a convention. Some people might consider it an insane, masochistic undertaking – what motivated you to produce a steampunk event?
DV: I love to dress up and I wanted to create events that encourage other people to do so. I really had no idea that steampunk would be quite this successful in that regard, but I’m quite happy that it is. Steamcon was the most impressively dressed up convention I have ever seen. I felt very successful in that regard. Steampunk is a very interesting genre to play in and I think people really enjoy the fact that making your own concepts and characters is encouraged.
AA: I would agree that steampunk conventions, more so than many other conventions, lend themselves to and encourage costuming and cosplay. Steamcon and other conventions this last year were a great place to see people’s creativity take form. What can you tell us about some of the great outfits you wore not only to Steamcon, but also to the Victoria Steam Expo and the World Steam Expo?
DV: I consider myself an A&E costumer. I assemble and embellish. I do not sew, other than the occasional hem and button replacement, so I rely on my shopping skills. I hunt through thrift stores and track down pieces and then embellish them. I love finding just the right pieces to make up an outfit. My fabric teapot purse was a big hit. Steampunk has inspired me to learn a lot about modification, modding as it’s called of props for outfits. Weapons, jewelry and even goggles. I’m pretty much self taught. And now I teach others. To my great dismay, Fedex lost my favorite mod, the Suffragette along with the Bulbous Overthruster and parts of Big Baby, when I shipped them back from The World Steam Expo. It’s made me very hesitant to take as much with me to the next conventions, which is an unfortunate turn.
AA: In setting about to create Steamcon, how did previous experiences prepare you for this role?
DV: I’ve been attending science fiction/fantasy conventions for over 25 years, and that gave me some ideas of what would make a good convention. I was an administrative assistant and an office temp for a long time. Those roles helped me think on my feet, and improve my communication and organizational skills. Also, being an artist helps me with the vision of the project.
AA: Steamcon was very successful by all standards for any convention, and even more as it was a first time convention. What are the qualities a person needs as an event producer?
DV: Patience. Persistence. Nothing happens overnight and nothing ever goes quite the way you plan, but if you can see it through, the results can be wonderful.
AA: During the planning and execution stages, what are some challenges of producing a convention?
DV: Since you are relying on volunteers, it’s hard to be sure people are going to do a good job, show up, etc. You have to have a good crew but finding them is the hard part. As far as I can tell, we’ve lucked into a lot of very talented people. Also, my husband and I have a unique division of labor. I am the visionary and he is the logistics. I am the big picture and he is the details. My job starts out huge and gets smaller as the con approaches and his is the other way around. So by the time the con arrives, I am done and he is going full steam, as it were. It works well for us, but I imagine it’s a bit unorthodox for most people.
AA: Looking back on all of that hard work, what are the rewards of producing this event, what do you look forward to for Steamcon II?
DV: I love seeing everyone dressed up of course. Seeing people having a good time is the best reward.
AA: Do you talk with other convention organizers to trade ideas?
DV: Yes. There are a couple people I talk with and I often get email questions from potential con runners often.
AA: In talking with them, what are some common questions that everyone has to resolve? What kinds of unique situations have come up among the various conventions?
DV:The first thing to discern is whether they are having a convention with the same sort of framework as ours. I have talked to many people planning festivals or other types of events, and I am really not versed in those types of events. So, if they are having an event like ours, then the first major obstacle is getting space. If you want a particular weekend, you may need to reserve it two years in advance. Also, you need to look at other events in your area and make sure it’s a good time to hold your event. People only have so much money and time to devote to events.
AA: With 25 years of convention attendance and now producing your own, what are some key factors in producing a successful convention?
DV: I feel that you really need to be doing it for love of the genre. I love steampunk and want to see it flourish. Beyond that I think that focus and a clear vision of what you want are key. I work hard to keep Steamcon focused and on topic.
AA: Speaking of being focused, there was a CNN article about ComiCon and how it has changed, and some would say lost focus, from its beginnings as a comic book convention to be much more of a mainstream and pop culture media convention. What was your overall vision for Steamcon?
DV: I envisioned the steampunk convention that I wanted to attend and then worked to make it happen. I scouted a hotel that had some elements of steampunk in the décor since a truly Victorian hotel wouldn’t have the function space we needed. I picked guests that would be entertaining. I and my staff strive to keep our convention true to steampunk, the literary genre. It could easily get diluted and I think that would be a shame.
AA: There’s a lot of work that goes into a convention – how long is the planning stage?
DV: 18 months for the first one, then pretty much 12 months after that. We let most of the crew have a month off, but we are pretty much always working on the next one. The chair, the hotel liaison and I were still hard at work setting up a venue for year three, soon after the first one was over. It eats your life. You’ll be grocery shopping and think of a great idea or remember something that needs to be done. It’s almost always on my mind in some way.
AA: There are always a million details to keep track of during the planning, from making sure tech equipment is in each room to having a garbage can at the registration table. What were some of the more interesting details that came to you in the middle of the night, kept you awake in the first place, or came up at the last minute because no one thought of them?
DV:The things you just mentioned are outside my purview. I do big picture, before the convention things. Things like creating ad materials. Creating convention merchandise. Creating an overall look for the con that is within the genre of steampunk and this year the theme of the weird west. Ideas will come to me in the middle of the night and in the morning I have something new to work on.
End of Part 1
Join us next week for the conclusion of our interview with Diana Vick, co-chair of the Steamcon convention in Seattle.
Click here to read the rest of the interview