Steampunk fans from across Alaska were present at Steamcon in Seattle, WA, a steampunk-only convention whose sold-out halls led as an example of the growing popularity of the genre. Since 2007 web searches for the term steampunk have sky rocketed according to Google Trends. The New York Times wrote an article on it in 2008 and as the fashion, art and music industries take notice of it so should Alaskans as the fandom makes its way into the state.
The term “steampunk” developed in the 1980s from the literary genre of cyberpunk. Yet the term “punk” would be misleading as some works lack the dystopian elements associated with it. As a genre, steampunk covers many ideas and holds a loose definition as a Victorian era themed work originating in science fiction with possible elements of fantasy or alternate-history, though what makes something “steampunk” is more complicated.
Several panels at the convention attempted to better define what steampunk entails as did the over 1,300 attendees, many of whom wore costumes designed in the fashion. For some the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Vern are often credited as inspiration for the technology and setting of steampunk stories. Yet, other fans may have never read these novels.
In some cases the literary connection may go altogether unnoticed as steampunk ideas have expanded into fashion, art, design, and is currently developing as a genre of music.
“About five years ago we were trying to figure out what all the different styles, aesthetics and lyrical content had in common and what we came across was it fit this literary style of steampunk,” Capt. Robert of Abney Park, leader of a Seattle-based steampunk band who played at the convention‘s concert, said. “We’ve seen a lot of other subcultures come up like, industrial and gothic and we thought what if we could do that?” he said.
As it relates to steampunk fashion, goggles would seem a staple of the genre and were certainly present at the convention both in use and on sale in the merchant’s area. Yet there are those such as Joshua Book, a convention staff member, who feel as if “just adding goggles to an outfit does not make it steam punk.“ Though he was quick to add, “But don’t be afraid to use goggles, just make sure the rest of the outfit fits the genre.”
Once someone new to steampunk has had the chance to take it all in, what Steamcon had accomplished becomes more impressive than the time travelers, dirigible pilots and steam engineers walking around the convention halls. As a metropolis, it is not unexpected to receive large numbers at any event in Seattle, but as a Vice Chair of the convention Diana Vick points out, “Steampunk is a very specific genre and holding a convention that is strictly one genre is kind of risky.”
This concern was the least of their worries as the convention hit max capacity for fire codes and they were forced to turn convention hopefuls away. They also drew fans from across the world to include parts of Europe, Australia and at least three Alaskans from the Anchorage area, though official numbers are unknown. An impressive feat even for Seattle given the turnout for a first time convention is only expected to be 400 attendees. In comparison, the UAA anime convention, Senshi Con reaches at most 1,200 and has been occurring annually since 2005.
When asked what advice she had for steampunk fans in Alaska, Vick suggests, “One of the things that Seattle did that helped us really well is we started gathering every week. It started out with only a few people and now we get 30-40 people who show up on a regular basis, they talk, we do creative things, tell each other where to find costumes and have swap meets.”
Though how popular the genre is in Alaska is currently unknown, it can be expected to grow in the coming years and sci-fi and anime conventions should expect to see this. Even if a steampunk-only convention never occurs in the state, local fans can be reassured they will be able to find fellow steamrats, a term used in Seattle for steampunk fans, at next year’s Steamcon. No specific date has been decided but tickets have already been sold and the theme Weird Weird West has been hinted at, giving further credibility that for now, steampunk is here to stay.