Supporting Steampunk

As another year wanes to a close, we often cannot help but to look back in review before stepping into the next adventure coming our way. With Teslacon and its review still fresh in mind, there are two ideas which stand out to describe what has been and what is coming up – the effect of steampunk, and supporting steampunk.

First, the effect of steampunk. Our community, our fandom, is all about people. We are a giant global family, complete with charismatic cousins and the crazy aunts and uncles. It’s a wild ride sometimes, there’s drama waiting around the corner, the occasional duels at dawn followed, usually, by drinks at the tavern, but in the end, we are all in this together to create an amazing, wonderful, fun experience where we smile and laugh and sing and dance.

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For Teslacon, my friend and fellow Fan Guest of Honor, steampunk author Karina Cooper, and I were on the same flight, and it’s so rewarding when something like a convention, and the travel to get there, is a shared experience. Events in our lives are generally more fun when shared, and is a great way to learn more about others, and connect. Conventions can be like family reunions, too. It’s not just getting to see current friends in person again and catch up, it’s a way to meet new people and make strong connections with others.

In addition to events, we connect with each other online, in social media, forums, and blogs. Internet searches bring a world of creativity right to us, to inspire and motivate us. New friends are just an email, a tweet, or a comment, away.

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In addition to our typical politeness and general willingness to share information and talk, and talk and talk, we are there to really help each other. Not just with a loose button or bit of emergency repair sewing, or even the how-to instructions about something, we are there for each other as people. Sometimes, our smallest actions make the biggest differences to others and we should never forget that. At a convention and just in the community, a simple hello, a compliment on someone’s outfit, can mean a great deal to someone.

During this last year, I heard several stories from fellow steampunks, and shared my own, about how being part of the community affected, and even changed, lives. One person commented on how getting involved helped he and his daughter reconnect through a common interest; people in their teens and twenties shared how steampunk helped them learn more about themselves and others, and find a happier place and path in the world. Steampunk brought some people together, and even kept relationships together.

My own story starts with the death of my partner by suicide. His alcoholism killed him in the end, and the overwhelming grief I felt at his loss remains the most traumatic event of my life. The future we had planned together was suddenly, instantly, gone. Everything changed in that moment, and the world I knew ended. Whatever one might think about losing a partner or spouse is only the palest shadow of what it really feels like.

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While it seems like I was on autopilot most of the time that first year, going to work and taking care of my dogs, the rest of my life just stopped. Greif swamped every other aspect of my life and sucked the energy out of everything. Watching my life was like watching TV, caught up in the story at any given moment but still disconnected from it. Food had no taste, behavior was only routine, and the world seemed to have no substance. A year’s worth of memories are just static, like the old analog tv and radio stations with no signal.

After that first year, I slowly re-engaged with my various interests. There was a bit more reading, a few more movies, a bit more landscaping, and certainly more dinners out with friends. It was about that time when my periodic internet searches for steampunk started turning up more results. There were more crafts, more DIY. There were amazing creations by Jake Von Slatt and the late Richard Nagy. There were some stories, and then music. And finally, there was a local convention, Steamcon.

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It was practically in my backyard and I couldn’t not go. It was a great experience on so many levels and was the next step of my involvement in the burgeoning community. Soon after that, I started this blog, interviewing people, going to more conventions, and generally getting back out in the world in a meaningful way.

So, thank you, all of you who make up our community – everyone I’ve met out and about, those who have emailed, and those I haven’t met yet. Each of you have an impact on someone every day, whether you ever know it or not, so please keep being the wonderful steampunk that you are. You matter, and you matter to me.

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Which leads us to the second idea, supporting steampunk. As Eric Larson reminded the attendees of Teslacon this year, steampunk is our fandom, our community. We make it ourselves. It continues because we continue, because we support the idea of steampunk in some, many, most, or all of its expressions. Steampunk as a whole endures because of our interest and our actions. Without us, there would be no steampunk, no community.

If we want our community to not just continue as is, but to grow and thrive, then we need to continue our support in all the ways we can, according to our interest and abilities.

When we ‘like’, comment on and pass along a blog, we support that writer and let them know we want more. When we buy that book, cd or art print, we do the same for authors (and their publishers!), musicians and artists. When we buy anything, we support a vendor and their livelihood, and in so doing, make it possible for them to do more for us, too.

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When we attend conventions and events, there we really shine in our support, especially for and to each other. People outside the community see that, too, and for some, it will draw them in to join us.

Our community is made better and stronger by each other, and for each other.

With each action, we support each other, we support the community, and we support the idea of steampunk, and even what it means to be a steampunk.

Eric encouraged and challenged us to bring two people, just two, to any steampunk event anywhere in the whole world in February and June. It’s a show of support, and quite a bit of enthusiastic sharing, for something we already enjoy so much.

I encourage you to support steampunk – the people, the community, and the idea – all year long. Make some noise, build some buzz! Try to do something each day; it doesn’t have to be big and extravagant, just something to show your interest and support. Let people know that you appreciate what they do, and also share what you are interested in. One small action each day by each of us will create a huge positive impact to our community and beyond.

Repeating myself, please continue to be the great and wonderful steampunk that you are. Your actions and support have an impact on someone else every day.

landing-aurelia    KC_Gilded  1930a_Hunchback  Clockwork Scarab FC_hires  RBEW_CvrImg  Lantern City

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Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Tribute to Richard Nagy

It is with sadness, and no small amount of personal regret, that I and our steampunk community learned of the passing of steampunk artist and maker, Richard Nagy, from a car accident.

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For many, Rich, possibly better known as “Datamancer“, and his amazing work were their first visual and tactile experience with steampunk. His fully functional keyboards and computers were among those founding moments in the mid and late 2000s when steampunk began to really grow from its literary roots.

 

Whether it was a laptop case modification, a keyboard, The Clacker, or The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine, Rich’s creativity grabbed our collective interest and imagination. He brought steampunk computers from the stories and novels into our real world, and in doing so, shaped an aesthetic we have come to expect.

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His work was elegant, practical, functional, and as important, it conveyed an idea, a feeling, a willing suspension of disbelief coupled with profound imagination. For some of us, it wasn’t just that we wanted his keyboards and his computers, nor just that we wanted to be or become steampunks, it was that we *knew* we were steampunks, and in that moment we could easily, clearly, and confidently see ourselves in our beloved future-that-never-was owning and using such devices as part of our everyday world. It was Rich who made us believe.

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By all accounts, Rich was kind, patient, and generously shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. For those in the community who didn’t know him long nor well, he still left us with a gift – he inspired us.

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It would take the rest of our days to recount all the stories and comments of how he affected people and their lives. From enticing them with his handiwork, to opening a gateway into the community, to encouraging people to express their own creativity in ways they hadn’t considered, Rich left people with a motivation, a drive, to participate and be engaged – in some way, in any way, in something, especially in themselves.

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Our community is a little poorer for his passing. We won’t be able to see amazing new creations from his workshop, and he will certainly be missed, but we can ensure that he and his work are not lost or forgotten. Each of us in our own way can remember his tremendous contribution and impact, to our community, and to us as individuals. Each day, we can pass along the excitement and interest he engendered within us to similarly make someone else’s day, perhaps their life, better. That can be our best way to remember Richard “Doc” Nagy.

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Please also read these tributes to Rich and his work:

The Maker Movement Loses its Datamancer by Gareth Branwyn

Richard Nagy a.k.a. Datamancer has passed into the Æther by Marcus Rauchfuss

 

His wife, Kim, has posted the information regarding services for Rich.

Richard “Doc” Nagy

A Celebration of Life

Saturday, November 30, 2013

3pm – 6pm

McAuley and Wallace Mortuary

902 N. Harbor Blvd.

Fullerton, CA 92832

(714) 525-4721

 

 

Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 12:04 am  Comments (8)  
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Interview with Ariane Wolfe – Part 1

Ariane Wolf and Mark Anderson are the co-chairs of Nova Albion, the steampunk convention which takes place in the San Francisco, CA area. I first met Ariane in March 2010 when I attended the convention, and consequently, had a chance to meet many new people and make some new friends.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Ariane, that you for joining us for this interview. Let’s start with the basics – how do you describe steampunk

Ariane Wolfe: More than anything else, I think, I see Steampunk as an aesthetic, based on (or in) the premise of scientific and mechanical advances and the look-and-feel of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Steampunk “is” so many different things, and I like seeing the varied interpretations that people bring to it, rather than trying to pigeon-hole it. In other words, to me it’s not always steam-driven vehicles, bustle dresses, brass appointments and goggles (though I love all those things!)… and it doesn’t have to be set in London or even specifically during the latter half of the 19th century. It’s more like a lens that I look through or a filter that I can apply to stories, clothing, characters, a living environment, etc.

The other huge component to me is the “DIY” slant – the shift towards creating things you need or want around you, or buying hand-crafted goods from real people who put time, effort and love into what they’re doing, rather than impersonal corporate conglomerates that create cookie-cutter items. I’m not really a Maker myself – I admire greatly folks who can make something amazing from very little! My little piece of that is being able to sometimes take existing items… such as clothing or knick-knacks I find at thrift shops – and make them into something new and wonderful. It’s a very satisfying feeling.

AA: Before we talk about Nova Albion specifically, what keeps you busy when you aren’t organizing steampunk events?

AW: By day – well, by weekday, anyway – I’m a mild-mannered Business Manager in San Francisco. I also co-run the Clockwork Salon Society, the little non-profit that produces Nova Albion, with my sweetie (and Co-Chair and VP), Mark Anderson. The nonprofit work runs into the evenings and weekends, and at the moment most of that time is spent doing character research and costuming, and getting ready for the Dickens Christmas Fair.

AA: So, you are already pretty busy! Putting on any event takes so much time and energy – what motivated you to organize and run a steampunk event?

AW: We have this group of friends who try to get together nearly every Friday night to wind down the week, share food and enjoy each other’s company. On one of these Friday nights around April or May 2008, a few of them starting talking about steampunk and how they didn’t think there had ever been a dedicated steampunk convention. The more they talked, the more they decided there really should be one – and that if someone would put it together, they would go. I was working with a business partner who was looking for some sort of event to back – so I came to him with my friends’ idea of creating a steampunk con. He had been a fan of the original Wild, Wild West series and immediately thought it was a great idea. We started poking around on the web, and they had been right – we couldn’t find evidence of one dedicated steampunk event anywhere at that point – inside the U.S. or out. So… we said why not! I went back to the group and told them we were actually going to do it… and a bunch of them volunteered on the spot! Five months later, after much tearing out of hair and bemoaning of our fate…  after talking to bunches of steampunk enthusiasts, gathering more volunteers, booking speakers, hotel, performers and vendors… we made it happen. The Exhibition has gone through some refining and re-shaping in the ensuing couple of years… we learn more with each event we do, and I feel it’s really, well… gained steam.

Mark Anderson: A few things; there was the initial push, which was more social than anything else, and then the deeper idea of creating an educational tool based in the Steampunk aesthetic.

AA: As the social get-togethers led to an idea which led to a convention, what previous experiences helped prepare you to put on a convention?

AW:

MA: We both have experience in going to conventions from rather young ages on, and at Renaissance Faires. A lot of what we’re trying to do with the Exhibition is taking the best of both worlds and combining them in ways that’ll surprise the most experienced attendee.

AA: What qualities did you find served you well to put on that first convention?

AW: Some of the same skills that one needs as a cat wrangler; patience, passion, creativity, and the ability to look at the big picture. In the professional world, I have worked as an Executive Assistant, a Project Manager and Business Manager… all useful places to have a background in. My partner in crime has experience in Sales and Marketing, mostly in the publishing industry and has directed groups at the Renaissance Faires. You have to be willing to wear a lot of different hats and to work off-the-cuff a lot of the time.

AA: Trying to be all things to all people is pretty challenging! What was your biggest obstacle in trying to get things done?

AW: Heh.. time! There are definitely not enough hours in a day, days in a week or weeks in a month, for me. The rest is pretty much logistics – getting it all together, being able to decide what you’re going to do way in advance, and making it happen. We have an awesome group of volunteers, though – like I said, most of them have been doing this with me since the beginning, and they’re just a hugely talented and dedicated team of folks. There’s no way one or two people can make something like this happen – it takes a real concerted effort, and having people who love it enough to volunteer what spare time they have (and then a lot that they don’t) to bring it to life.

We’re also in the midst of getting our 501(c)(3) designation, so at the moment there’s a good deal of paperwork, and being sure we’ll be able to bring in enough money to do everything we want to.

AA: With all those challenges, and stress, what keeps you going? What are the rewards?

MA: Oh, like most people organizing Steampunk events, we’re in it for the money. (Yeah – That sound you hear is all the other event organizers laughing their brasses off).

We’re part of the community here in California and at the end of the day, we want to put something up there that makes the people we love happy; we want to surprise people, have them walk away with a great experience they didn’t expect, something they’ll talk about for years to come. But, again, mostly it’s the money.

AW: Looking around and realizing that we’d made it happen… we’d gone from, “Hey, why don’t we do this?” to seeing over a thousand people of varying ages, walks of life, genders, ethnicities… milling around a hotel dressed in neo-Victorian clothing replete with goggles and ray guns, talking excitedly about the fascinating demonstration or the great speaker they just heard… that was just amazing to me. Then seeing how many steampunk events have sprung up since then, and knowing I did my part in bringing it about… that’s pretty cool. It makes me feel good, and want to do more of it.

AA: Being part of that growing community, do you talk with other convention organizers to trade ideas

MA: Somewhat and, happily, increasingly. There is an increasing amount of coordination between the various events, starting with a lovely passport stamp project that seems to be getting off the ground with the Steampunk Worlds Fair folks . Who knows where that’ll go in the future – it sounds like a great idea, and we were happy to join in.

AW: One of the things I’ve done in the past, and that we’ll continue to do, is offer comp passes to other Steampunk event organizers. The best case is when we can do an exchange – they come to our event free to see how we do it, and when we can, we go to theirs.  We have also invited other steampunk promoters to advertise their upcoming events through links on our website, ads in the printed programs or by bringing literature to hand out a Nova Albion. Not everyone likes to play nice with others or to offer a professional courtesy… but most of the event organizers we’ve spoken with have been very open to the idea and several have taken us up on it. I think there are a LOT of steampunks out there, and they like to be part of a larger community – online sites like the Steampunk Empire are proof of that. Folks want to be able to go to various events, in different areas; as long as we as promoters are conscious and respectful of our neighbors and are careful not to schedule a new event on top of one that’s already happening nearby, I feel like it’s all good.

AA: That’s really great to work with other conventions and work towards a community of event organizers. What are some of the factors which contribute to a successful convention?

AW: I think the first thing, for us, is to get beyond treating it like a traditional convention. We realized after 2008 that what we wanted to create for people was much more interesting than that… it was more a reflection (if a small one), of the old World Expositions and Exhibitions in the 19th and early 20th centuries; something more participatory and exciting. I think even the presentations and panels have to be lively, have to engage the attendees; It can’t just be a passive experience. You also need to pay attention to what your target audience wants, and provide that – you can’t get stuck on trying to forward your own agenda, especially with a group as literate and savvy as the steampunk community.

MA: Ultimately, a convention or an exhibition is a reflection of the community that holds and attends it. In our case, being in the SF Bay Area, we have a delightful surplus of passionate people with decades of experience in both traditional Science Fiction/Fantasy Conventions, Living History Faires (including both the original Renaissance Faires and Dickens Christmas Fairs), and mostly recently, the Burning Man/Maker Fair movement, which gives us the maker tracks we introduced in 2010.

One of the challenges of organizing such a beast is letting the creativity and passion of each volunteer impact and change the finished product. Along the way, it’s a little scary, to be honest, but you get this sublime grace with the finished product, more of a chorus than a solo, if you will.

AA: As a reflection, then, of the people in the community and the varied interests among literature, fashion and art, what was your overall vision for the Nova Albion Exhibition?

AW: The Big Picture is having a place where the steampunk and Sci-fi/fantasy communities can come gather, meet up, hear wonderful speakers, trade ideas… maybe collaborate on writing or projects, get feed back… and over all of it, learn new things. Our non-profit charter is educational, and from the start we’ve had the plan to address that aspect of it more and more with each successive year. For 2011 we’re really excited to be working on a Teachers’ Guide to using Steampunk elements for high school, college and middle school English, History and Science curriculum. We’re planning to have at least a first draft done in time for teachers to bring their students to the Exhibition, where they’ll have a short docent-led tour and a set of activity choices their students can participate in, to earn school credit. We’ll be offering a student discount as well… whatever we can do to make it easier for teachers to utilize what we have for various courses they’re teaching. We really gather in a wealth of talent in our Speakers, Makers and luminaries from the steampunk world… and we want to share that with as many people as we can.

AA: That sounds like a great opportunity to bring in new people and increase exposure for steampunk on several levels. How long does it take to plan something like that, and a whole convention?

MA: Oh, you start thinking about the next event before the current one goes on. For instance, before we opened the doors of the 2010 Exhibition, we realized that there were many places we could go with the theme. Ariane started in 2008 with a western Steampunk event and 2010 was very much just bringing together everything we learned and making it work; as we got to the start date, there were all these ideas for how a Steampunk world would translate to other cultures, starting with Asia.

For 2012, we’re going to try something a little different, looking at a broader period than what people traditionally think of as Steampunk. We want to expand the focus of the Exhibition both earlier in time (Isaac Newton, for instance, spent half his life working on alchemy – who knows where that could have gone if things were a little different), and later, through the middle of the 20th Century, to what people are calling Dieselpunk. We’re still working through everything, but we can tell you, it’s going to be a great deal of fun.

This is a good place to take a break. Join us next time for the conclusion of our interview with Ariane Wolfe and Mark Anderson, co-chairs of the Nova Albion convention.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

 

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 10:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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