Steampunks and The Furry Fandom

steampowergirl_by_psychochris20
Glue some ears on her and call her Furry?

The Furry Fandom and Steampunks.  On the surface, these two groups/sub-cultures/what-have-you would seem to be very far apart, but I think they have more in common than there appears to be on the surface.

First, there is the Furry Fandom (AKA ‘Furries’ for short): these are people that enjoy works of art and fiction that feature animals with human-like qualities, such as the ability to talk and walk upright.  There really isn’t a hard-and-fast rule as to what makes a character ‘furry,’ as far as I can tell.  For example, both Mickey Mouse and Mrs. Frisby (that is, the one from the book) would be considered ‘furry.’

Next, we have the Steampunks, who combine Victorian era aesthetics and dress with fantastic accessories and weapons, asking what if the scientists and engineers of the day had found a way to power everything either with steam or some new form of energy.  Think Victorian-era dress accentuated with leather, brass, gadgets of all types and for better or for worse, gears.

I have had exposure to both groups, having attended the first two Aetherfests in San Antonio as well as Furry Fiesta in Dallas this past February.  In doing so, I noticed a few similarities between the two groups:

The first, and probably the best thing that separates these groups from ‘traditional’ comic book, sci-fi and anime fans, in my opinion, is that they are both very creative.  Members of both groups choose to create their own characters and personas.

In the case of steampunk, it is almost a necessity as there is not very much in the way of established material.  While there are a few folks that take existing characters and reinterpret them in the ‘steampunk’ aesthetic, such as Steampunk Boba Fett, they are in the minority.  Instead, most steampunks will create a character, usually with an honorific or military title added to the name.  Groups will sometimes refer to themselves as being part of an “airship crew.”

Insofar as the furries are concerned, you are not going to find very many folks dressed up as Bugs Bunny or Baloo at a furry convention.  Instead, just like the steampunks, people will make up their own characters, often referred to as ‘fursonas.’  While many furs wear ears and tails at conventions, the apex of adopting a fursona is represented by the ‘fursuiters.’  Fursuiters dress up in costumes to fully take on the appearance of a character.  The effort required to create a fursuit, to say nothing of putting one on, is impressive.  Indeed, at Furry Fiesta I witnessed a wide variety of species represented.  They also come in many different styles, from the cartoony to the more realistic.

Or glue some gears on him and call him Steampunk?
Or glue some gears on him and call him Steampunk?

Secondly, both groups appear to be more receptive to writers.  Writers are virtually nonexistent in most fan groups save for science fiction.  Heck, I can count the number of writers that I’ve seen at conventions on one hand.  Thus, I was encouraged to see a few writers with tables at Furry Fiesta and Aetherfest.  Both conventions even held panels that were involved writers: meetups, discussions of the craft and even story readings.  As a writer myself, I find it very encouraging and hope to have a table at a future event.

Both groups also attract older crowds, at least from what I have observed.  The Anthropomorphic Research Project believes that there is “…evidence to suggest that there is a significant proportion of furries over the age of 25 (upwards of 30%)”  I don’t know that anyone has done a survey of Steampunks, but most of the attendees I saw at Aetherfest appeared to be at least college-age or older.  Being just south of 40 myself, I was relieved to not find any teenagers running amok at Aetherfest and just a few at Furry Fiesta.

Finally, both groups like to prefix everything with their descriptor: if you are a furry, then everything starts with ‘furry’ and if you are a Steampunk, everything starts with ‘steam.’  😉  Okay, I’m just being silly now.

Despite being somewhat ‘on the fringe’ (or perhaps because they are on the fringe) both the Steampunks and the Furry Fandom have quite a few things in common.  I’ve enjoyed taking part in activities held by both groups, and I look forward to continuing to do so in the future…just gimmie some glue, some gears, and some ears!  🙂

Artwork “SteamPowerGirl” by Chris Holm, used with permission.

Photo taken by me, so nyeah

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RANDOMIZER’S REACTION: AetherFest 2012

For more info on Steampunk and Aetherfest, visit the San Antonio Neo-Victorian Association’s website!

The best compliment I can give to AetherFest is that I should have set aside more time for it.  Unfortunately, I ended up being a very busy nerd that weekend (to say nothing of stupid work on Friday) and thus, could I only make it out on Saturday.  I had a good time, though.  Like last year, (actually, like most of these things) I spent a significant time hanging out at my friend Chris Holm’s table, shooting the breeze and watching the festivities unfold before us.

Unlike last year, I did not try to dress the part.  I really should put an outfit together, or at least jazz up the half-baked one I currently have.  The opportunity was certainly there at Aetherfest, because there were a good number of vendors and dealers there selling all sorts of clothing and accessories.  The spirit was there, but alas, the funds were not.  Indeed, I felt just a slight twinge of guilt over besmirching the proceedings with my uncouth presence.

Aetherfest was greatly improved over last year, not that there was too much wrong with the event itself.  There were more vendors, some of which were put in the main area, and the panels were held in bigger rooms that were located on the first floor, so they were easy to find and could accommodate more attendees.  I attended a panel on the history of burlesque and learned some interesting things in addition to being entertained by the presenters and their tales.  While I did not attend any of the main events, I heard lots of good things about them.

In conclusion, Aetherfest appears to have fixed the little issues that I had with it the first time around and ended up being a really good event, at least from my limited perspective.  I really need to just go ‘whole hog’ next year; take some time off from work, get a proper outfit together and take in all that Aetherfest has to offer.

Now to find some glue and some gears.  😉

Aetherfest: The Unconventional Convention

Aetherfest attendees
Come one, come all!

While there are lots of things to like about fan conventions like the upcoming Texas ComicCon and San Japan, there are a lot of things not to like about them, too: crowded hallways, long lines, overexcited sugar-and-energy-drink-fueled teens running around everywhere and the eventual feeling of ‘been there, done that.’

If you’re tired of the same old convention scene and want to check out something different, I strongly suggest dropping by Aetherfest in San Antonio this weekend.  “Texas’ First Steampunk Convention” is taking place at the St. Anthony Hotel and will feature a host of activities, vendors and guests for all to enjoy.  For the uninitiated, “steampunk” is an odd mash-up of speculative fiction, science fiction, alternate history, and fantasy…set in Victorian times.  That’s the best way I can put it, you just have to see it.

Based on my experience attending last year, Aetherfest is very different than your typical fan convention.  The Steampunk audience slants a bit older, so there aren’t as many hyperactive kids running around, the con organizers are capping attendance at 500 in order to prevent overcrowding, and as there is no truly ‘definitive’ Steampunk work of fiction, just about everything that will be presented there will be original.  In fact, I can say with confidence that you will see many things that you have not seen before at Aetherfest.

In addition, the St. Anthony Hotel fits the aesthetic perfectly, you will feel as if you have stepped into another place and time at Aetherfest.  A more civilized time where lords and ladies spoke proper English, paraded around in elaborate outfits, and exotic devices bought to life by the not-quite-understood power of aether were in abundance.

One-day passes can be purchased for $30 or a weekend pass is $60.  For more details go to http://facebook.com/aetherfest or http://www.sanvaonline.com/aetherfest

I look forward to making your acquaintance there!

My 2012 Con Schedule!

Doing my thing at San Japan 4TW
Never forget your sanitizer!

Here is my con schedule for 2012.  Frankly, I’m surprised I never did this here before.  Unlike previous years, I won’t be ‘working’ at very many of these.

Ikkicon, Dec 30-Jan 1, Austin, Texas

Technically, this New Year’s Eve con is the first con of the year as well as the last one of last year, so there.  I’ve already done a writeup on it, so there isn’t much else.

Furry Fiesta, Feb 24-26, Dallas, Texas

Going to try something new this year.  Furry Fiesta will be my first-ever furry convention.  It will be interesting to see how similar and different this will be from all the other cons I’ve ever attended.

Mizuumi-con, March 31, San Antonio, Texas

Mizuumi con was one of the first anime cons I ever attended, and is a great place for newbies to dip their toes into the multicolored pool that is anime and manga.  At $15, its inexpensive to go to and the kids out at Our Lady of the Lake University make for a pretty enthusiastic crowd.

Aetherfest, May 4-6, San Antonio, Texas

Set in the beautiful St. Anthony hotel in downtown San Antonio and put together by the San Antonio Neo-Victorian Association, Aetherfest is a three-day steampunk convention that truly stands out with its costumes.  Steampunk attracts a slightly older crowd, so those looking for an alternative to the manic pace of other cons will find plenty to like here. Dress-up is encouraged, but not necessary, or to borrow the words of a certain Mr. Collins, there is ‘no jacket required.’

Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), June 5-7, Los Angeles, California

Of all the cons on this list, this will be one of the few that I will be ‘working’ at.  E3 is the Big One as far as videogame conventions are concerned, and I will be going there in my capacity as Editor of Original-Gamer.com to check out new games and talk to people and write.  It is an industry-only event, so not everyone can go.

Texas Comic Con, June 22-24, San Antonio, Texas

If anime isn’t quite your thing and you want to get your hero on, Texas Comic Con is the place to do it.  In addition to the loads of comic book, action figure and pop culture dealers there are a host of artists, independent publishers, and fan groups ranging from Whovians to Sith to Ghostbusters.  Guest of Honor Larry Hama and Lou Ferrigno are but a few of the names showing up to this one.

San Japan, August 10-12, San Antonio, Texas

Easily and consistently one of the best conventions I have been too, San Japan Mach 5 is upping the ante this year as they are moving into the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center this year.  The already-biggest fan con in San Antonio is about to get bigger, which should mean even MORE fun stuff to do.  Sadly, I may be ‘working’ at this one as well for Original-Gamer.com, but we shall see.

RealmsCon, Oct 12-14, Corpus Christi. Texas

RealmsCon is currently (as far as I know) Corpus Christi’s only anime and pop culture convention.  While it is a 3-day affair, my experience is that you can go and see everything in one day.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad convention, just a smaller one.

There may be a few other events I go to, but this is what I have planned for so far for the year.  ‘Working’ or not, this year should be fun on a bun!

Aetherfest I

Some Aetherfest attendees in their Sunday best
Quite dashing, really!

I almost felt obligated to attend the new Steampunk con “AetherFest” after giving them crap on this very blog a few weeks ago. Honestly, though, I would have attended regardless just to satisfy my curiosity.  When my friend Chris Holm asked me to help him out at his table and with his panel (as the “guest editor” of his new comic “Steam Pets”), it was an easy “yes.”

Unfortunately, “help out” also means “don’t get to see much of anything,” so I know there was lots of cool stuff I didn’t get to experience.  I spent most of the event at Chris’ table over in the game room along with a few other vendors.  Mutual friend Jackie Naehrig joined us on Saturday and we had a fun time hanging around and marveling at the attendees, many wearing appropriate attire and accoutrements.

Chris and Jackie dressed up, so I felt just a little bit embarrassed sitting next to them sporting a T-shirt and blue jean shorts on Saturday.  I improvised a little something on Sunday, though.  I put on some slacks, a button down shirt, dusted off a flat cap and stopped to get a set of suspenders on the way back to the St. Anthony Hotel.  I have to admit, it felt neat, like I should have also been carrying a giant wrench or an oil can or something.  I thought looked like the guy in the boiler room as opposed to all the captains, pilots and proper ladies walking about.  Upon seeing my outfit, though, Chris said I looked like “Professor Layton’s hat boy.” Jerk.

The only panel I attended was one that I was a part of.  I sat with Chris on his “Intro to Drawing and Comic-Making” panel where we talked about making “Steam Pets” and our experiences with First Storm Manga with a small spirited group.  I wandered around for a bit and checked out the other dealer area and the “museum,” where they had quite a few neat items on display and for sale.  It was all very nice and being at the historic St. Anthony Hotel (built in 1909) added greatly to the ambiance.  Judging from the pictures I’ve seen on Facebook, the events they held on the evenings of Friday and Saturday appear to have been very entertaining.  The misgivings I had previously about “steam-snobs” were unfounded, and I must say that looking the part does add to the fun of being there.

While I had fun at Aetherfest and have been hearing good things from people that were there, there are some things that they need to work on.  Let me start by acknowledging that some of these things cannot be helped (particularly where the hotel is concerned) but you have to take the bad with the good, so here we go.

Split Vendor Area Is a Bother – Having two separate areas for vendors is never a good thing (see also: MizuumiCon 2011) and it would benefit all involved if the organizers could try to have all them in one area next time.  I’m not familiar enough with the layout of the St. Anthony to know if that is possible, but if it is, it should be considered.

“Third Floor: Hosiery, Lingerie, and Panels!” – The majority of the panels were held on the third floor, which was kind of lousy, but I have to let it slide because it is a consequence of the way the St. Anthony was built.  The fact that the program sometimes said “Third Floor” and “Third Room,” however, was not.

Needs Improvement, See Me After Class – Now that I have had an opportunity to look it over a bit closer, I’d say whomever edited the program was asleep at the airship wheel.

Promotion – I think the organizers missed out on prime opportunities to promote their event at either Mizuumi-con (which may or may not have been full) or at ChimaeraCon. I did see flyers at ChimaeraCon, but they did not have a lot of information about the event.  I would strongly recommend the Aetherfest folks consider requesting a Con Alley table at San Japan 4TW in August.

Website – For the love of Tesla, lads, get a webhost or something. It’s not that expensive, and you can even get a free one from Google. Not everyone is on Facebook (yet) and while Tumblr does look nice, I shouldn’t have to go to some skeevy download site with pop-up ads just to see your schedule and program.  In addition, if you have your own host, you can put up picture galleries, forums and other things to attract interest.

Despite the quibbles I just mentioned, I thought AetherFest was a good con.  As was expected for a first-time event, the crowd was small, but those who made it out had a good time.  Those of us who are “steam-newbies” got to check out some cool stuff and learn a little something about this fascinating world called “Steampunk.”  I am confident that I will be returning next year.  Who knows, I may even sport a waist coat or a bowler hat or maybe just a really big wrench.

Good show, fellows!

Steam-Punks

UPDATE: Dress-up is not required, so come one and all!

When I first heard about the upcoming San Antonio Steampunk convention Ætherfest a few weeks ago, I was excited.  I noticed that Steampunk had been gaining a larger and larger presence at anime conventions, and it was good to see that they were going to try their own thing.  Having more geek conventions in San Antonio is also a Good Thing and I was looking forward to supporting these guys and learning more about what the whole Steampunk scene was about.  Thus, I went to the Ætherfest webpage to read up on it.  It featured the usual parade of guests, events, and dealers, and everything appeared to be business as usual until I got to the FAQ, which included this little tidbit of info at the bottom of the page:

 

I have to dress up, don't I?
Appropriately enough, this made me steamed

After reading that, I don’t feel like attending Ætherfest anymore.  The paragraph above does not make me feel welcome as a guest.  One of the points of a convention is to get folks that aren’t into your particular flavor of geekdom to see what it is all about in the hopes that they embrace it, or at least understand what its really about.  Telling people that they might not be welcome because they aren’t dressed up is sending the wrong kind of message to your potential attendees.  Yes, it does say: “we’ll try our best not to look peeved,” but that isn’t entirely reassuring.  Indeed, the thought of spending a day being looked down upon by a bunch of self-important nerds in costumes and opera glasses is not my idea of a fun time.

If this message was intended to be delivered “in character” then okay, fine, I get the joke.  That said, lots of other people will not, and when you’re starting a new convention, you don’t want to give people a reason not to attend.  Admittedly, I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I hope somebody sees the point I’m trying to make.

If Ætherfest is supposed to only be for hardcore Steampunk fans (steam-core? steam-elite?), then okay fine, do what you like.  If, on the other hand, you are looking to get as many people to show up as possible and grow your fanbase, then this is not the way to do it.

Come on guys, we’re better than this!

UPDATE: Apparently some of the Aetherfest folks read the post.  They agreed that their wording does come off as a tad ‘elitist’ but their intention was to poke fun at other cons where dress up is required, which is what I had guessed.  They have posted the following disclaimer on their homepage and look forward to seeing everybody there for a jolly good time!

Well played, fellows!