American Southwest Boom in Steampunk

Steampunk has been a minor attraction at anime conventions in the American Southwest at best but that is all changing now. In the last twelve months, twelve new and different steampunk events have been announced in the region.

The incredible growth of steampunk conventions in the United States and especially the South is the fastest and most pervasive change in convention fandom I have ever seen. Why is this happening?

Small start in 2010

There were smaller steampunk events in the past at local nightclubs, but the first large specifically steampunk event in the South Central United States appears to have been The Green Steam Circus in May 2010. It had musical performances by local Texas steampunk and dieselpunk band White Ghost Shivers, the world renowned steampunk band Abney Park, and assorted other musicians played there.

The circus part related to several acts such as balancing, juggling, blockhead and self-piercing acts, as well as burlesque and an assortment of other forms of entertainment as well as vendors.

The circus was poorly advertised, unfortunately. The organizers wanted to be “green” and not print any flyers or paper ads and relied exclusively on the Internet and word of mouth, which did not work well for a new event.

It was also set in an outdoor venue on a weekend that had heavy rain predicted, so attendance was poor in spite of an excellent event!

Picking up steam in 2011

There have been nine brand new steampunk events start up in the last year and will be three more new ones next year.

  • Clockwork Wonderland, an all-steampunk evening event presented by the popular steampunk and dieselpunk band Marquis of Vaudville started off an incredible explosion of all steampunk events in January of last year.
  • It was followed by Wild Wild West Con in Arizona (March 4-6, 2011).
  • Next came Oklahoma Steampunk Expo, the first three-day steampunk convention in the South Central area (Oklahoma City, April 15-17, 2011).
  • Aetherfest in San Antonio in early May was the first three-day event in Texas.
  • After that came the Difference Engine Summer event on June 4 in Fort Worth.

Smaller evening-only events included Firewater (July 19) in Dallas, the Autumnal Equinox Masquerade Ball (October 1) in Dallas and several other smaller events in Central and South Texas cities in 2011.

2010 boom

2012 has brought in three new steampunk conventions and promises at least two more.

  • It started out with the Difference Engine Convention and New Year’s Eve Ball.
  • It was followed three weeks later by another new three-day, all-steampunk convention called Clockwork Con.
  • That was followed a week later by another Marquis of Vaudville event in Dallas called Gadgets and Gobstoppers, which reportedly sold out a large live show venue with a capacity of 800.
  • Twisted Gears also just presented the first steampunk convention for Houston on February 25.
  • The Nightmare Machine, a paranormal-themed steampunk event, debuted in Jefferson, Texas on March 30 of this year.
  • Finally, there is one new event scheduled in October in Oklahoma City under the overtly steamy, but hard to pronounce, name of Octopodicon.

After that the cycle will repeat, it seems, at least with the events that survive this difficult economy and extremely full convention schedule for this part of the country.

What’s next?

Some of the biggest obstacles they face are communicating with one another and avoiding scheduling too close to other events (especially megalithic anime conventions like A-kon).

Most of them also face the banes of any first time con in that they have little money, little public awareness of their existence and little experience in running a convention.

We will just have to wait and see which events grow and which survive. In any case, it’s pretty certain that the convention scene will change and evolve, as it always has, though this has certainly been the biggest surge of changes I am aware of in any single year.

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