The Fantastical Mr Flip’s Carnival of Wonders and Curiosities 2013

Recently, I was invited to attend a local steampunk event, The Fantastical Mr Flip’s Carnival of Wonders and Curiosities 2013 in Bellingham, Washington, organized by Aron Beattiger and Karina Cooper.

This event is dedicated to Caleb “Flip” Kors, a budding local circus and street performer who died at age 10 while practicing. Donations from the event were part of a scholarship fund named for Caleb which provides opportunities for children ages 9-11 who live in Whatcom county to pursue the performing arts.

 

While there are multiple news reports about Caleb, steampunk author Cooper shares Caleb’s connection to the local steampunk community:

 

We first met Caleb at a steampunk event held in our local bookstore, Village Books. Small for his age, he stood in a room full of “giants” sporting a vintage gas mask and props he made himself, completely at ease. His father remained close, wearing casual clothes and keeping an eye on his boy, but otherwise allowed Caleb to mingle, charm, and finagle his way into all our hearts.

 

He became the youngest member of our Steampunk Society.

A skilled performer, he was a common sight amidst the talented members of the Bellingham Circus Guild. His stage name was Flip, and it was an apt name. He was charming, witty, and fearless. When he walked into the room, it was as if he brought the sunlight with him—standing in his presence was enough to remind anyone about the good things in life. He was that kind of boy. The one where they say that he “lights up a room”. He was a shooting star, and we miss him.

 

The open space of the Square was filled with attendees enjoying the sun and light waterfront breeze, ringed with a wide variety of vendors and wares. In the spirit of Caleb’s performances, the day was filled with music by The Penny Stinkers, Faerabella and the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. Exquisite belly dancing was performed by Tempest.

 

It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends and meet new people, especially those from the Bellingham Steampunk Society, who were helping run the event. par for the course of steampunk events, there were great people, great conversations, and a whole lot of fun.

 

During the afternoon, Village Books hosted author readings by Bernadette Pajer (Professor Bradshaw mystery series); Karina Cooper (St. Croix Chronicles), J. Cunningham (Secrets: Clockwork Series Volume 1), and Phil and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius).

Bernadette’s mysteries are set in turn of the century Seattle, “in the time of Tesla”, where Professor Bradshaw is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington. All three books in the series thus far have earned the Washington Academy of Sciences Seal-of-Approval for Science. While some may not call these steampunk stories, the time period, the technology, the actual real science, and the intrigue will make these of interest to the readers in our community.

Event co-organizer, Karina Cooper, talked about her St. Croix series, including the soon to be released The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway  and Corroded. Karina’s steampunk novels follow Cherry St, Croix, an unconventional Society lady by day in the gleaming heights of Victorian London, and by night a formidable adversary in a world of deception. If you like a strong female lead, the trials of a dual life, and a bit mystery+paranormal, this series will make for an enjoyable read.

J. Cunningham presented his steampunk novel, Secrets, following a tyrant king, and ambassador and servant, clockwork soldiers and airships. As a decorated veteran with thirty years of storytelling experience, J. presents this story of greed, betrayal, and murder. If those things whet your steampunk literary appetite, this book should be on your reading list.

The afternoon wrapped up with Phil and Kaja, giving a bit of Q&A after reading a passage from the next Agatha Heterodyne novel, which is the text version of their weekly web comic series and graphic novels, Girl Genius. I’ve been following this comic for years, and have found it to be fun and funny. If you enjoy the lighter side of storytelling, the adventures of Agatha and her friends would be a great way to fill your time.

As usual for a steampunk event, aside from the great music, performances, and readings, it’s all about the people in our community. There was laughter and smiles, new friendships and old, and a remembrance for Caleb, who brought us all together this day. That’s what our community is about, helping each other in so many ways and just being there for each other.

 

Please share your local and regional experiences below, and have a great day!

 

Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Eric Larson – Part Two

Welcome back to our interview with Eric Larson, the creator and host of the extraordinary steampunk convention, Teslacon.

Read Part One here.

 

Airship Ambassador: Continuing our discussion about the convention’s storyline and themes, can you tell us more about the new trips…even a hint at what is planned?

Eric Larson: Well, for starters now we will be in a new story cycle. So the next 2 cons will be far more story centric. The Journey to the Center of the Earth will be a big production. Sound efx In the halls,decorations throughout and everything else thrown in for good measure. Dinosaur noises and many other strange unearthly sounds will waft through the halls. Strange plants and fauna will be everywhere. We will start from a different view though, and people will find out how at this years event.

I can tell you this –we do use the drill and we do go through layers of lava-rock-ice-crystals and more. We also use other machines that will amaze people again and also be tied into merchandise and design of the convention. Also the science factor of steam and diesel goes way up for this next one…you will believe the technology is really working. We also introduce a new “punk” to TeslaCon. One that will have repercussions for themes to come. Many people will be very excited by this, because I did not think it would work. Now it will.

 

I am also planning on making part of the story for anyone over 40 more fun by putting in our childhood cartoons. I won’t say which ones, but you will get the jokes and they will be funny…very funny.

 

Proctocus and everyone returns…in a way that even surprised me when I thought of it.

 

The one following that Bobbins decides to take a Holiday…somewhere he has never been. That is when all the “cogs” hit the fan. This one will be the funniest and most lively of all the cons I think. It blends history and steampunk with other elements of time and technology. For once you will see Bobbins as himself, without all the ship people around, just being Hastings. Very slapstick and fun…and serious at the same time.

 

I plan on using many steampunk celebrities in the films…so it will be doubly fun and the audience will have a time rooting for their favorites. If the story goes the way I want, it will be a classic 60’s/70’s film and TV sitcom style story…just more steampunk though. I really want people to just cut loose and have fun. Many more sight gags at this one and more direct involvement with the audience. My costumes will undergo a whole new design, and be even more ridiculous also.

 

My big issue is keeping this stuff fresh and new. Yes some other cons have done a storyline similar to one of these…but nobody will have the story we will. I promise the fans that they will have an adventure, and I mean it. Just think of a closing film where for over 14 minutes it is NON stop action and comedy…combined with steam celebs acting in various parts. That is what makes TeslaCon so unique, the ability to make something old new again, and make it fresh without knowing how it will end.

 

The second year I left the audience crying because my wife had been stolen off my ship. People actually got upset and did not know what to think, or do. They had never had an experience like that before. So these new ones will be special to them and me. It means making the characters an integral part of the story and also the lives of the members at the con.

 

I really want the fans to realize we are trying to provide the very best adventure and story we can, while making the weekend an immersion event the whole family can enjoy. We are like Disney World in a way, just in a more steampunky way. I often say we are not overly edgy or completely expected…we blend the best of all words to create the world we know and love, and I throw in some funny parts for good measure.

 

The best job in the world is creating this stuff. Watching my staff’s faces when I explain the next trip. They get so excited and really feel part of the story, that is what makes it so special for me. Without my staff and crew it would be just another con. I consider myself very lucky to have such talented people and supporters working with and for me as we move forward in this fandom. They also love playing in my “sandbox”…and I love sharing my toys.

 

 

AA: The view from the front of the house is always amazing and entertaining. Can you pull the curtain back a little and share what happens behind the scenes to make it all possible?

EL: Insanity! Yes even TeslaCon goes bonkers once in a while. I am not perfect, I make mistakes and we all go crazy.

The best thing is prepping for decorating, all the printing and stuff. This year I have several amazing folks working already on things. Terri Gower is the biggest help, she will be in charge of much of the printed-cut material. Think laser cut menus, invites, place cards, decorations…she is doing it all. Also some new things from some very talented designers and engineers. You really have to think “Imaginers” at Disney World, that is what you will find at TeslaCon. One device is for the Ball on Saturday night. No bands, no live music…but a whole new way to deliver a real ball atmosphere that nobody has ever seen.

We will have special machines in the halls for various reasons, huge displays on the history of steampunk devices thru the Civil War and some added fun stuff just for Halloween. Actually some of the surprises my own staff does not know about- so for me it makes it extra fun.
I do most of it up to about 2 months prior, Yes it’s insane work, but I have a look and feel that I like to create, I want my vision to stand out the way I intended it.  It may seem odd but being a designer and artist I understand why Disney did what he did…and it worked. I do have helpers, I need them badly but in the whole scheme of things I tend to do much myself upfront to make sure it has a tone and look people have come to expect. I worked on Star Wars for three years, so I know a thing or two about cohesive design.

AA: One of my favorite memories is seeing you and your first grandson walking together, both sporting the Bobbins mustache. What are some of your most rewarding and challenging moments of the last few conventions?

EL: I like to think there are memories that will never fade, they are now part of me. That one was great, he hated the “Moosestache” as he put it. Learning divination from a good friend, the dinners have always been fun. Bobbins at a 7 course meal is great.

The balls have always been special, since I created the Choo-Choo dance, I feel I brought some life back into these style of events.

My most heartwarming memory happened last year. A woman approached me and introduced herself. She was from California and worked for Disney Inc. She was so excited and bubbly. She mentioned my speech at opening ceremonies (another highlight for me) and told me she thought she was sitting in front of Disney herself. Evidently they show management old Disney talks and literally have him speaking to them about various issues.

She said it was like I had channeled him during one of those talks. That actually made me tear up- she hugged me and thanked me for the experience. I think a big one was when I walked out on stage and 1400 people stood and applauded. I know they are excited to see the character, but it is humbling to realize the excitement in the room. They know at that moment the con truly starts, and that they are in for one hell of a ride…I cannot bottle that feeling but if I could I would drink form it every day.

To be truthful I have so many memories but I do have a few that are quite special and lovely to remember.

 

AA: There is some pretty impressive artwork and videos leading up to the convention. Who does all of that work?

EL: I work with various artists and designers. I have a staff of about 4 now that create all the videos and films. It takes time. By the time your readers see this we will have been working on year 5 for about 3 months. The pre-viz alone takes a while. The efx are always fun and yet rewarding to see completed. The sub attack year two is still a highlight.

My business partner in all of this is also an artist and contributes heavily. Bryan creates many of the posters and such you see in the halls. This year he has created portraits of the main characters that will be on display…it’s weird to see Bobbins as “Bobbins, but it does add to the overall feeling. By making the artwork so vivid and real I think it enhances the look and ambience of the convention. The mere fact that we have ads for soap and hair products in the bathrooms makes me laugh, but it is also realistic for the times.

The SIlverstar players make up the crew, the Stafford Society makes up background characters and security. We are also very lucky to have ships such as the Archon and IAPS as formal presenters and participants at the con. These groups and more have given us their talents and ideas to help make this convention what it is.

 

AA: There are quite a few extra special touches done for the attendees. From the room signs, posters and special gifts, like a china place setting and special tea cups, for the Balmoral and Grand Royale ticket holders. How do you make all of that happen?

EL: This will sound weird, but I just do. I think one of the profound quotes I have ever heard was from Irvin Kirshner director of “The Empire Strikes Back”. Someone asked him once why he became a director, he said “ You wake up one morning and say I am a director…and you go direct!” That pretty much is my mantra. I have an idea, and I just do it. In truth it may take several people with wild imaginations to help it come true, but that is the fun.

I guess I am a maker in a sense. Instead of clothing or jewelry I create a world. Last year we  sold evil potions by Dr. Proctocus. I thought it would enhance his standing in the “evil” community. We bottled about 20 items. Fairy farts, dragon drool and such. Nonsense items that are used in the art of dark steam magic. Well they all sold, people loved them. So this year we doubled the amount.

I tend to create from a feeling. I read all the time. Three hours a day at least I pour over sites and read comments. I try to get a sense of what people like at the moment. I then use that to create an idea I turn in something- something tangible.

Creating the art we have up is always the most fun. This year we will be offering a collection of Cabinet Cards-old photo’s just for Halloween. Each one is lovingly made macabre by yours truly so you can decorate for the season. I love taking the images and making them unique to a theme. Our old travel posters will return also. We have so many new attendee’s I thought they might enjoy them. The best part is when I travel and see these items framed in peoples houses. It gives me a kick.

AA: NOW let’s talk about the Steampunk Chronicle’s Readers Choice Awards. Teslacon won four of those awards, voted on by people from around the world. Aside from being ecstatically happy, what is the message, and importance, that you take away from that?

EL: I think the message is clear. Be yourself and be something unique. 50,000 people went to the voting pages, I can’t even imagine that. The biggest thing is that we only have had total up to 1400 people attending.  I can never thank everyone enough for the honor you have given me and the crew. I was shocked to see two characters that I created up for awards…that means they have become part of a SP lexicon. Both actors where completely surprised by it as well, and had fun poking at each other during the voting.

What is important to me is that our message, our way of doing an event is making people take notice. I love going to conventions, but after a while you have to ask yourself…what made this different? At times I cannot say because even though I had a good time, I don’t feel it was special. I think the difference is we try every time to make our event special-someway-somehow.

I don’t feel like we can rest on our laurels either. People gave us a tremendous gift, but now we have to keep it going and do better than the last time. I am never content in saying…”we are perfect” we aren’t, far from it. We make mistakes and have our moments as well, but what we do and how we do it I think resonates with the fans. It makes me think what I am doing somehow matters and that people are watching and listening, and hopefully having fun while doing it.

I have people come up every year and hug me, kiss me saying thanks. It means so much to them, and they are always so happy attending. I just truly want to make an experience for the fans that makes them believe in their fandom and how wonderful a mind of creativity can be.

AA:  Are there new characters coming in future conventions?

EL: Oh yes. Many new characters, some out of books and some from films. I think the most fun is taking a well known character and making it work within our realm of creativity. Year 5 will showcase how insane things can get, but it will be fun for all. The creation of new characters is fun all the time. But for anyone who grew up in the 70’s…next year will have you in stitches.

 

AA: Final thoughts to share?

EL: In the end I want people to know they have a place where they can truly bring their steampunk persona to life. TeslaCon is an event, an experience and the more people realize that the better. Every year I hear stories from fans, and what it means to them. I know in some way what I do is just host a convention, but to our fans it means I am a creator a worlds for people to play in and enjoy. It never gets dull and never fails to amaze me.

 

It’s going to be a big year for Teslacon! Thanks, Eric, for joining us to share more about what’s coming up.

Check out the latest news, and get your tickets, at http://teslacon.com/

Published in: on July 21, 2013 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Eric Larson – Part One

This week we are talking with Eric Larson, the creator and host of the extraordinary steampunk convention, Teslacon.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Eric, thanks for being here this week and sharing more about Teslacon.

Eric Larson: Thanks Ambassador. I am happy to be here and talk to your readers. I hope I can bring some insight to the convention and answer a few questions for all your readers. I think right now it’s important to let people know more about us, with the whole Steampunk movement going more “mainstream” I think a lot of people would like to know about who we are and what it is we actually do.

AA: Gosh, where to start in talking about your convention? It would be easy to leap right into winning four awards in the Steampunk Chronicle’s Readers Choice Awards for 2013, but let’s start at the beginning. What in the Great Gears possessed you to create and run a steampunk convention?

EL: I wanted to do something new, something untried. I had always loved this “stuff” we call steampunk. I never knew the name though, like most people 6 years ago.

The test run was at WindyCon 5 years ago- basically let’s see if people would like this idea.  Well they did, and the idea became reality. I never wanted to do a “normal” convention, they get to dull and predictable. I wanted to supercharge the whole thing, make it exciting and grand.

I have run now a total of 22 conventions, so that was the easy part. Running a con like Disney World was going to be different. The experience is in the details, and that is how I have always planned it. The small things. The signage, the designs etc. I wanted people to feel that they are now in a different world and time. To be truthful I never thought it would get this popular.

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AA: Madison, Wisconsin, while a growing college and capitol town, isn’t exactly in the center of commerce and transportation like Milwaukee or Chicago, Illinois. What expectations did you have at the beginning and what challenges do you face now because of location?

EL: 400 people tops, I figured a two year run and that would be it. It never was a thought we would hit 1400 people and be where we are now. The local fans are great, but our numbers are small. This just happens to be where I live and work. Plus it helps having relationships with good hotels that back you and work with you. I had done over 11 conventions in Madison by the time TeslaCon 1 came around, so I knew how the town worked.

AA: It takes me two airline flights and a shuttle ride to get to Teslacon, and I know of other friends who drive for 24 hours to get there. What do you think is the appeal for people from around the country to make such an effort to get to Teslacon?

EL: Immersion. I don’t take this question lightly, I know it is the core of what makes us tick.

Like many people, I have been to a number of conventions, over 120 in the last 33 years. I have seen the big and small, good and bad. The one thing that never stops is the anticipation, the expectation of excitement. I wanted people to have that again but in a new way.

When you arrived at TeslaCon 1, we had sounds of a train station going. Over 8 speakers all with varied sounds, layered and harmonized with the action around you. We had over 200 people in line and even though it took an hour that year to get everyone checked in nobody really complained;-they loved it. Most people said they felt like they had been transported back in time. That was the idea, so I stuck with it.

We also have tried pre-arrival announcements. When you drove up for TC2 you started a 15 minute audio of me telling you what to expect with sounds and music. By the time you arrive as the message ended you literally stepped right into the hotel and the world we created.

Don’t get me wrong it takes time and creativity, but it’s not hard. You just have to focus on what is the most important thing. Mine is creating an experience that you cannot get anywhere else.

Another draw I believe are the wonderful people who I employ. The magic and fun they bring is beyond anything else. They are talented and gifted, but also care about your experience at the event. I like to think of them as my Mickey’s and Minnie’s. They are the front line folk who create the atmosphere for my guests.

AA: Teslacon, unlike most or all other steampunk conventions, not only has a theme each year but there is an immersive storyline and character performances. From our previous conversations, you’ve mentioned that you pretty much had the whole multi-year story arc laid out before the first convention. I know what kind of scary creative tornado you have for a mind, but would you share the ideas and themes behind where Teslacon has been so far, and what’s coming up this year?

EL: Let’s start with the first-TC1. That was a story about Lord Bobbins, with a fast dirigible and a villain who is unseen trying to destroy it. The second year we travel to China to pick up an artifact, while on our travels in a special submarine we are attacked and the villain is seen for the first time. At TC3 we meet the villain and we have what you would call is an adventure in space as we travel to the moon, to basically leave the villain there.

From that point of view, he has hounded me and the world for three long years. Europe, Asia and Africa have seen a horrible war (The Aether Wars) and we have finally stopped a mad man from dominating the world. Now for TC4 we will have a huge peace conference and bring all peoples together to discuss and talk. Don’t think the bad guys won’t try something though.

There are new villains and new issues that arise. New and exciting things that happen and even more history and immersion that takes place. “In a nutshell.”

AA: What should attendees expect at this Congress of Steam? Is it all ‘very serious business’, fist pounding debates, and pistols at dawn, or is some or all of it still part of an ongoing storyline?

EL: Directly after TC3 everyone thought I was out to change Steampunk. For some reason, people gave me the powers to somehow change things in fandom…well I don’t work like that. I read the most bizarre stuff and had to ask folk’s…were you in the room when I decided what to do? Because that is not happening. Seriously weird things where brought up and talked about- ALL FALSE. I know where much of this crap originates, and I think most people are aware of it also and are tired of it by now. What I don’t understand are people desires to always rain on other peoples parades, it really shows a lack of creativity and immature thoughts on their part.

So let’s set the record straight…The Congress is a storyline. Simple and plain. The story centers around Lord Bobbins, Dr. Todd (Queen Victoria’s doctor) and Nikola Tesla; we travel to Oslo, Norway to a peace conference, where we have invited the world to sit, discuss and talk about the future and what the power of steam means. Of course there will be problems because we have 3 new villains. All trying for the grand prize of being the most terrible- what ensues is nothing short of drama, comedy and a lot of immersionable fun.

In truth I want to bring fans from around the world together and talk. Find common interests and create new dialogues and talks with fans. We need to talk more, argue less and become a more tight knit community. Yes there will be discussions on issues and talks and I hope a new good old fashioned debate or two on some fun subjects.

I think people need to see beyond the “trip” idea and realize that this too can be an adventure. Just the idea of meeting new people and finding new friends is a grand idea in my book. Do we always need to go to the moon? NO, but I always promise a unique and exciting weekend.

I want this year to be about the fans- their hopes and dreams. Where they want their fandom to go and how they see it in 5 years. The only way we can do this is by talking and getting to know one another better. I put a call out last year to all convention heads. We will be having a summit at the con. Most of the North American convention chairs and their seconds will be in attendance to discuss things, and I hope bring new light to many issues fans have talked about. I want to see better cons, and more input from the fans. My fondest wish is we walk away with new ideas and work together as a fandom more.

This is what the whole idea is about- creating dialogue and friendships. I personally don’t think that is a bad idea.

AA: How might someone prepare for this year’s events?

EL:  Start by buying a ticket, they are limited as usual and we always sell out early. There are plenty of rooms available in the 5 hotels, but the main hotel is sold out. We have transport for those who need it. Bring lots of finery and be prepared to spend time meeting new friends and seeing old friends you saw last time. We will have the schedule out earlier this year, so everyone can see it up front.

AA: Last year, on the last day of the convention, there was the usual pre-registration opportunity to sign up for this year. I leapt at that chance, and so did a few hundred other people. Aside from getting a ticket soon before they all sell out, what should a first time attendee know about the convention, and what shouldn’t they miss?

EL: We sold over 560 tickets in 2 days and by the end had presold 650 total. Yes, they go fast! There are a few fun things we have to offer though. The tea room run by the TeslaCon “Tea Lady” is an event all to itself. It was created as a space to relax and enjoy the Victorian art of tea drinking. The cost is $10, but allows you to come in and drink as much tea as you want all weekend-we also give you period style snacks as well.

We also have the dinners, the grand 5-7 course meals prepared by the head chef. They too are immersive and part of the weekend storyline. They will be posted soon on the site- tickets again are extra. We sell out of those as well.

This year we will be doing a huge theme on the American Civil War and how it fits into our current 1880’s time line. We basically show and explain how this conflict that lasts almost 15 years…started the steam revolution. The way we do it will be new and very untried before. I hope everyone will take time to see it.

AA: Alright, you’ve take people up in an airship, under the oceans (with a stop for an old fashioned Victorian mummy unwrapping), and last year managed to crash land the whole contingent on the moon. After this year’s Congress wraps up, how should people pack for their trip in 2014, and beyond??

EL: Hahahah the 50 million dollar question. Ok- here you go. I will tell you and your readers up front right now.

Year 1- The Dirigible Incident

Year 2- 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Aether

Year 3- A Trip to the Moon

Year 4- The Congress of Steam

Year 5- Journey to the Center of the Earth

Year 6- The Wild Weird West…TeslaCon Syle

Year 7- A Crononauts Holiday*/ The Night Circus*/ Evil Genius Class Reunion* (not sure yet)

Year 8- Murder on the Orient Express (The last convention)

*Not finalized yet.

Mind you the year 6 and 7 are still being developed, but I have a good idea where the story will go and what will happen.

We’ll take a break here in talking with Eric and pick up next time where he’ll tell us more about the upcoming conventions, and a peek behind the curtain into what it takes to create the Teslacon experience.

Check out the latest news, and get your tickets, at http://teslacon.com/

Read Part Two here.

Published in: on July 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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