Clockwork Alchemy – Better Late than Never

Kory Doyle, the face of the con, dapper as ever.

Okay, so I’m months late in posting this, but you know how it is… You come home from a con and you’re too excited to sit down and write anything. By the time you’ve settled back in to your home life, the experience feels kind of stale so you’re reluctant to write about it. Eventually you come to the conclusion that you need to write about it, even though the news is embarrassingly old. So here we are, and here it is: My review of Clockwork Alchemy, a brand spanking new con put on by the Steam Federation under the auspices of FanimeCon during Memorial Day weekend. Before I begin, let me make a quick disclaimer… I helped put this con together, so the information you’re about to receive is probably biased. I’ll try to remain objective, but nevertheless… Take the squee with a grain of salt, eh?

So, yeah. This Memorial Day, we took over the San Jose Doubletree and used it to host a brand new con called Clockwork Alchemy. We had some mishaps and technical difficulties, mostly to do with registration and programming guides, but considering that we did a year’s worth of work in five months I think it went pretty well. We even managed to win over the hearts and minds of a large East Indian family who inadvertently held a wedding during the con (they reserved the space before we did, so we sort of organized the con around them)!

I think I’ll start by talking about the musical entertainment, since that was probably our biggest victory. We managed to provide live entertainment during all three nights of the convention, which is somewhat of a rare feat in the steampunk community. On Friday night there was a (family friendly) cabaret performance featuring music from Unwoman (our musical guest of honor) and a guest appearance by an eccentric Bay Area group called Corpus Callosum. On Saturday we had a concert featuring an east coast steampunk group called Not Waving But Drowning, along with Unextraordinary Gentlemen (from LA), The Hobo Gobbelens (from Oakland), and San Francisco’s own Vernian Process. I wasn’t there for the show, but someone told me that Vernian Process covered “Sabotage” and now I’m jealous as all hell. On Sunday we held a seven-hour ball which included a live performance by Lee Presson and the Nails. In other words, we had so much going on most people forgot to ask where the room parties were located. Not bad for our first year in business.

Guerrilla cello outside the vendor room.

We had a lot going on during the day as well. In addition to the usual panel discussions (including a panel on the science of absinthe, hosted by yours truly) we had a number of hands-on workshops, interactive events such as airship races and an electronic fox hunt, a tea room (adjacent to a table top gaming parlor), and a steampunk film festival hosted by the folks who put on GEARcon. One of the best films they showed was a short work called Doctor Glamour, which is not exactly what it sounds like but it’s pretty close. Picture the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with about a tenth of the budget, better makeup (though the soundtrack leave something to be desired), and a heavy duty steampunk theme. It’s pretty amazing. You should definitely check it out (http://doctorglamour.com/). We also had bellydancing and guerrilla musical performances by the Hobo Gobbelins and Unwoman (fun fact: Unwoman can be bribed with gluten free snacks!).

Holy shit, snowglobes!

Last but not least, there was the art gallery and vending space. The art gallery was a little more sparse than it should have been (which was my bad, since I was the one in charge of it), but Gene Forrer provided us with some amazing backdrop panels and I was able to borrow some badass kinetic displays from Stephen McConnel, Jakob Tittiger, and Ilana Murray. I also got to use some original paintings from Sidney Eileen, along with the epic kimono she wore to last year’s Nova Albion. All in all, I think most people were so entranced by all the bright lights and spinning things they didn’t notice that the walls were mostly bare. At least, that’s what I hope happened. Next year will be better. I promise. On the bright side, while the gallery wasn’t all it could have been, the vendor space was stuffed to bursting with awesome goodies… All of which were handmade. What started as an attempt to circumvent one of the more ludicrous rules set down by the hotel unions turned into a wonderful display of creativity on the part of the steampunk community. We had everything from goggles to corsets to books to paintings to chain mail flowers to spats to fucking SNOWGLOBES. We had steampunk snowglobes, people. Handmade. Snowglobes. With Tesla coils in them. It was amazing.

And that’s about all there is to say. Clockwork Alchemy wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but then again no con ever is. I don’t know if I feel this way because I played a role in its creation, but I can honestly tell you it was the best con I’ve ever been to. We’re doing it again next year, and with any luck it’ll be even better. You should come join us!

This Week in Comics! (3-14-12)

The beginning of a new series with the end of another this week, let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (3-7-12)

This week we got a large haul, with a new comic (which I don’t think I’ll be continuing with). Anyways, let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (2-29-12)

This week is a tiny haul of just three comics and two of them are Kirkman titles, let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (2-22-12)

Some of these feel like I just read the last issue yesterday and others I know feel like it’s been too long since I’ve seen them. Let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (2-15-12)

This week starts with some negative reviews but then we pick up the pace, do what I did and persevere! Let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (2-8-12)

So it’s a much smaller haul this week with just five books but one of these is a new one, so let’s get to it!

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This Week in Comics! (2-1-12, 1-25-12, & Backlog)

Sorry for missing last week, my computer broke down. Now it’s up and running and we got a bunch of stuff from this week, last, and some other things I’ve wanted to get to but missed out on, so let’s get to it!

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ABCs of the Edwardian Ball

When it rains it pours, and it seems to be pouring in my little world. I mean literally, folks… It’s been raining quite heavily in San Francisco. I also mean figuratively, though, for no sooner did I finish writing up my experience on the Queen Mary than I got dragged off to another steamy adventure: the Edwardian Ball and World’s Fair. Granted, the Edwardian Ball is not officially steampunk. That said, there was enough steampunk content available that I feel the event deserves a writeup.

For those who are not familiar with the Edwardian Ball and World’s Fair, I’ll give you a brief summary here. The World’s Fair is an evening of cabaret performances in a carnival environment which is constructed inside San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom. The Edwardian Ball is an evening of waltzing where everyone is expected to dress period and dance to their hearts’ content while the Vau de Vire society puts on a play based on a story written by Edward Gorey. The story changes every year. Apparently this year it was The Iron Tonic. Now, I’m not really in the mood to write out a long review and I wanted to do something Edward Gorey would be proud of. So instead of writing in the traditional format, I’m going to give you an alphabet. I hope you enjoy it.

A is for Absinthe, which went down like wine.

Dolls.

Dolls.

B is for Bicycles, ridden by all.

C is for Chap Hop, twas simply divine.

D is for dozens and dozens of Dolls.

E is for Eye Candy, always a treat.

F is for Friends, of whom there were lots.

G is for Games, some of which were quite neat.

H is for Hijinks, and devious plots.

I for Illustrations that livened the place.

J is for Jewelry, which filled vendors’ stalls.

K is for Kingfish, who hosted with grace.

L is for Lovers who kissed near the walls.

M is for Malvoye who read peoples’ thoughts.

N is for Nickels, made out of wood.

At Opera Scura good things could be bought.

P  is for Puppets, who were awfully good.

Malvoye the Mentalist.

Malvoye the Mentalist.

Q is for Quenching one’s thirst for the odd.

R is for Ribbons, which carried a dame.

S is for Shovelman, impressive mod.

T for Trapeze artists, excellent aim.

U is for Unwoman, sadly absent.

V is for Vau de Vire, wonderful mimes.

W is for Worms, and down whose throats they went.

X  is for Xylophone… Not there this time.

Y is for You, who should witness delight.

Z  is for ZZZZZZZZZ at the end of the night.

Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium: All Aboard the Queen Mary!

The Queen Mary, in all her splendor

The Queen Mary, in all her splendor

Last weekend several hundred steampunks converged on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, to attend the very first Steampunk Symposium, hosted by Her Royal Majesty Victoria, the Queen of Steam. I was one of those fortunate enough to participate in the event, and as usual I’ve brought back scads of information, gossip, and advice for those who might want to attend the event next year.

First off, let me just say that the Queen Mary is, hands down, the best venue I’ve ever seen for a steampunk convention. It’s not ideal for those who are claustrophobic since everything is a little bit cramped, but I was really happy with the atmosphere. We got to sleep in staterooms that had most of their original fixtures, and the whole ship was wonderfully elegant. Granted, there were a bunch of tourists running around and that kind of spoiled the illusion, but everyone was friendly and the staff adored us.

An added bonus to the Queen Mary is that the ship’s bowels have been retrofitted to accommodate curious tourists. The engine room is a particular treat for steampunks, sporting loads of interesting control panels and gears the size of dining room tables. The Scorpion, a retired Soviet submarine that’s currently docked next to the Queen Mary, is even more fun to explore. The submarine tour comes free with the VIP convention package, but it’s well worth your money even if you buy it separately. I would recommend taking the tour on your own, though, rather than going with the guided tour offered by the convention staff. Cheesy Russian narration piping through the sub’s intercom on a constant loop is all the schtick you really need.

Steampunks taking over the engine room

Steampunks taking over the engine room

Speaking of the VIP package, I thought it was pretty well done for a first year con. The full package was about $600 with tax. This included a four day convention badge, three nights in a stateroom, tickets to every paid event at the con, and a packet of specialty drink tickets. I think the drink tickets were a good idea in theory, but this year they were only valid for some kind of purple thing called Amethyst Mist that tasted like grape Sweet Tarts. Granted, the dry ice capsules were a nice touch, but I don’t think even the biggest girl-drink-drunk wanted to down more than one of those cocktails. At one point I spoke with one of the event coordinators and learned that Amethyst Mist was the least vile concoction they could think of. Next year, I would suggest that the mixologists develop a small menu of simpler drinks instead of trying to impress everyone with one big fruity creation.

As far as ticketed events went, there were seven total: Dinner theatre with Steam Powered Giraffe, a DJ dance with Lee Presson and the Nails, a midnight ghost tour, the Queen’s Couture luncheon and fashion show, the Masquerade Ball and midnight buffet featuring Jon Magnificent, the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, and the guided submarine tour. The food was catered and it wasn’t very good, but most of the performances were enjoyable. The two notable exceptions were the ghost tour, which might have been really spooky had the convention not decided to hire extra steampunks to create unnecessary ambiance; and Jon Magnificent’s show, which was… Well, it wasn’t exactly magnificent. As far as I can tell, Jon and his group are essentially a mediocre cover band that took the “Put a Gear on It” video seriously. At one point I almost had to physically restrain one of my friends to keep him from rushing the stage as Jon butchered his favorite songs one by one. Zeppelin, Floyd, Bowie, Rush… No one was spared. When the buffet opened, concert attendees cleared the dance floor with the speed and efficiency of very genteel rats, abandoning ship in an orderly single-file line. Jon kept playing, but no one stayed to listen.

Rabbit of Steam Powered Giraffe shows off his duds at the Queen's Couture Luncheon

Rabbit of Steam Powered Giraffe shows off his duds at the Queen's Couture Luncheon

Enough with the bitching. Highlights of the weekend’s entertainment included the always fabulous Unwoman, who played most of her sets in one of the side parlors but still managed to put on an amazing show; Steam Powered Giraffe, who provided an impressive display of humans pretending to be robots pretending to be humans; and Dino Staats, a mad scientist-magician who… Well, at one point he pretended to pull his brain out through his nose using a crochet hook. Many of Dino’s tricks fell into the category of optical illusions and body manipulation techniques, but he and his assistant showed an admirable respect for the science behind these tricks and had their tongues are persistently stored in their cheeks. As such, their performances were always a pleasure to watch.

Aside from the paid entertainment, there was a commendable selection of activities available throughout each day of the con. In the future I would like to see more options in the evening as well as during the day, but for a first-year con I thought they did a fine job. “The Magnificent Market of Marvelous, Curious, and Miraculous Contraptions” offered periodic sessions of a fully interactive LARP throughout the con, including scavenger hunts and a knighting ceremony performed by Queen Victoria herself. I only attended one of the sessions, but was highly impressed by the creativity and comeraderie demonstrated by the game’s creators and participants. Nicely done, guys!

The Steampunk Symposium also provided a satisfying, though somewhat typical, series of panels on topics ranging from history to fashion to shiny brass techy bits. My personal favorite was the Quack Medicine panel, hosted by the Steam Federation’s own illustrious founder, Gene Forrer. The panel started out the way you’d expect it to, but eventually devolved into a slideshow of objects Victorian men liked to put in their rectums. Hilarity ensued.

And I think that’s pretty much everything you need to know about what happened this year. The Steampunk Symposium was far from perfect, but then so is every convention during its first year. The organizers recently put a survey up on their website, and considering the type of feedback they’ve asked for I’m pretty confident that next year’s con will be even more fun than this one. There’s also the fact that they’re trying to arrange for actual airship rides next year, which makes me very happy. If you can obtain some time off next January and have the means to get to Long Beach, I think you should give it a shot. I certainly intend to. I mean, c’mon… Airship rides. Really. How can you say no?