Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Out and About: Teslacon II- Madison, WI

Ooh, shiny.

Sometimes Miss Kagashi gets out of her tiny student apartment and occasionally, it's for something supremely awesome. The kind of awesome that provides fodder for late nights with friends for years to come. The kind of awesome where you're relating the story with the same people who were THERE, IN IT- and everyone's still in stitches:

Oh yeah, Teslacon II did that.

But first, a bit of background.

A splendid homage to Verne and LXG's Captain Nemo that I saw. (Photo by Kordite, who I hope won't beat me with a tire iron for using his photos)

Two years ago myself and Aaron Egan, the steampunk chef (often mistaken as my boyfriend, husband, or brother- awkwardly sometimes all three) were panelists on the costuming track for Windycon in Chicago. We were given an invitation earlier that weekend to a room party called "the Teslacon Holiday Soiree". Other than getting my photo taken, I don't remember the party much, to be honest (only one glass of wine in me). Instead I remember doing some in-character banter with a jovial gent with a walrus mustache named Lord Bobbins, which led to the delighted man leading us out to the hallway to drop character entirely. Much steampunk and Star Wars geekery was had. But amongst this he told us that the IAPS were perfect for his event coming up in November 2010...

About the Con- a Backstage Perspective
First thing you learn about Eric Larson/Lord Bobbins: the man keeps his promises. He created Teslacon which is, as far as I'm concerned, the first successfully immersive steampunk event. The convention has its own plot, canon, and the guests are swept into it in a way that the only limit is how far they feel comfortable taking it. The congoer is no mere badgeholder, they are an honored guest (with a passport instead of that gaudy badge) and shown the utmost hospitality. Instead of a blank-walled hotel with bad contemporary art, the event space is transformed with period advertisements, portraits of royalty and characters, and propaganda posters that only aid in the simulation of an airship or submarine.

Aethersharks were swimming about the corridors. Thankfully I don't think anyone's ankles were savaged. (Photo- Kordite)

Even for me, an active participant in the plot and panelist, this isn't a convention- it's a vacation. A lot of it is how well-organized things are. Panel slots are an hour and a half long, which allows an ample Q&A period and spare time for setup. Communication amongst convention personnel is consistent and up to date (very rare, I assure you) and it's rare that an issue goes unresolved for more than half an hour. The other great thing is how open-minded Eric and his staff are. If you have an idea to make the convention better, or a concept for a party they will not only listen- but if it's a rational and good idea, they'll make it happen. Extended tea room hours, more tea room personnel, souvenir postcards and luggage stickers, and more organized schedules are a result of actual guest suggestions from Teslacon I.

Also there's the Tea Lady, who should be canonized in my opinion. This delightful woman runs the tea room (an unlimited weekend pass for a mere $10!) and cheerily caters on guests in a way that makes even the sourest of souls fill with warm whimsy. I've decided that I'm going to make her a present for next year. You should too. Because she's the damned Tea Lady and if anyone has an issue with her, I will throw hands.

I was in the Nativepunk for half of Saturday. Harness by Steampunk Leather (Photo- Alexa Black)

What I was up to:
I met Eric a year before I started the blog, so he knows me best as my irascible Prussian persona, Kapitan von Grelle. As such, myself and the IAPS are there more for interactive and hospitality purposes than as panelists- not to say we don't do them. On Friday Aaron had his Steampunk Cookery panel, in which he whipped up a batch of chicken curry and made the entire convention population sore at him for making the hallways smell of stewing meat and garlic. Later on in the day, myself and trowel-jockey Jade Luiz conducted a civilized Temperance Party where we held a screening of a fairly raunchy movie. (Blogger's note: By the way, the sleeper hit of the beverage board at this party was homemade ginger ale, made with ginger syrup. The recipe can be found here for the curious.)

Saturday was the big one though: The Multiculturalism Panel. I was honored enough to sit on this discussion with Aaron, Jade, and our special guest Tony Ballard-Smoot (AKA Captain Legrange of the Airship Archon). We discussed why multiculturalism can and should be incorporated into steampunk, how a multicultural ensemble can be sensibly and sensitively done, and why history is really a fertile ground for imagining a more cosmopolitan future-past. I even feel we did a good job honestly talking about a few elephants in the room like cultural appropriation and racial perception. The other panelists felt very satisfied and encouraged as well- we took many (some of them your!) questions and comments.

And then this happened:

If it's not obvious by the fact that Steampunk Fett is still alive and well kicking ass, taking bounties, and eating Moon Pies- this was scripted. John Strangeway's been wanting to do this for some time, and a panel with myself and Tony Ballard-Smoot provided the optimum opportunity to live out his nerdy, nerdy Kevin Smith fanboy dreams. We scripted everything out, but poor Tony had 11 panels to do that weekend so he had to ad lib most of his lines- the important ones are there though. We joke that he's so laid back that he's incapable of black rage. Really it's more black enthusiasm. Bless him, though.

After a brief moment of hi-fivving and making sure John wasn't actually dead (where the hell is PDP going to find another PR person as hammy as him?), Jade and I ran upstairs to gather supplies for our co-ed grooming panel with the IAPS boys. We did so heaving a sigh of relief that we weren't tarred and feathered on our way through the lobby (I hold no such expectations for the internet). Grooming panel went fairly well, albeit rushed because the boys demonstrated a full straight-razor shave and Ozzy had to circulate around the room to allow the ladies in attendance to... ahem... inspect his face.

Tony, Von Grelle (me), and Jade. I have slight velociraptor arms. I don't know why. (Photo by zanierlong)

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Teslacon list of Epic:
- Meeting the Man who is to be the primary plot, and therefore my character's antagonist next year. Little did many convention guests know, but the evil Dr. Proctocus was out and about the WHOLE WEEKEND disguised in plainclothes with a gasmask and as the Aquillan ambassador. His actor not only wanted to get a feel for the convention, but scope out the characters present so he can be a better villain next year. I approve, not only for this method, but also because he's quite a looker. (To his real-life new bride: Kudos ma'am, kudos)

- The Costuming Level is Magnificent. I've heard it said on a few reviews that Teslacon is one of the better-dressed steampunk conventions. That's absolutely true. People really try to make an effort not only to come up with eye-catching and innovative stuff, but also cater to the year's theme (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in this case). I didn't see a single person at the formal ball who didn't try to clean themselves up. Furthermore, people dressed in otherwise plain or lower-class outfits weren't looked down upon. Teslacon is an event where the more historically accurate clothes horse can rub elbows with the casual hobbyist in a gasmask and harness.

Some people really took the underwater theme to heart, like this fine lady. (Photo- zanierlong)

- The Art Direction. I work as a visual artist, so I appreciate the care that goes into art direction. That awful Last Airbender movie? Yeah, it was pretty bad- but BOY was it pretty as it failed (an under-appreciated soundtrack, too). Unlike most conventions, Teslacon has an established look. Eric Larson has a professional background in art, so he's taken great pains to set the aesthetic for his con, down to its distinctive font, custom-composed music, and even sound effects to play in the hallways. This all culminates in his plot events. Teslacon is the only steampunk events with fully-rendered title sequences, which really set the mood in opening ceremonies with its triumphant soundtrack and a list of all of the guests and airship crews in attendance. There was also a submarine battle, and a final, dramatic climax in which the vile Dr. Proctocus appeared on the "telemonitor" to inform Bobbins that he's kidnapped his wife in order to blackmail the lord into handing over a secret device. Really this was a pre-filmed video, but Eric timed it out just right so that it really felt like the conversation was happening.

- Old-Fashioned Manners. On personal principle, I like offering hospitality to guests. Come to my house, I'll offer you what tea and food I have. It makes sense. Sadly the modern world is predominately lacking this, but Teslacon brings out the best in a lot of people's manners. Doors are held open, pleases and thank yous are uttered, BATHS ARE TAKEN. (Seriously, this was the most funkless convention I've ever been to. Deodorant, sweet deodorant!) This even extends to the hotel. My companion Jade flew into Madison from Boston and arrived before my convoy from Detroit had shown up. The Sheraton didn't have a shuttle, but they offered Jade a complimentary cab ride to and from the airport. It also doesn't hurt that there's free wifi, which is pretty rare for a nicer chain hotel.

- The Outfits at the Multiculturalism Panel. Listen folks, here's a secret: I'm happy that people even show up to my panels and workshops. But nothing made me more flabbergasted and gobsmacked than seeing a full room positively studded with fantastic multicultural steampunk outfits. Sure, several people that I knew turned out such as the Staubitzes in their Turkoman-inspired outfits and fellow IAPS-member Kristina DiGiacomo in her Plains-Victorian hybrid, but there were so many of you that I hadn't had the honor of meeting yet who looked positively dazzling. Thank you so much! You've made this blogger ecstatic.

Sadly I didn't get this woman's name at the panel, but her Metis outfit was fantastic. (Photo by Kelly Datillo)

In Which Names are Uttered and Links are Spammed...
I had a lot of great times that really shouldn't be discussed at length due to their personal nature (what happens in a hotel room shared between several actors, an archaeologist, the First Lady of Detroit burlesque and cabaret, and Steampunk Fett stays the hell there) or because they're off-topic (our raucous Saturday-night drinking party went off delightfully well!), but know that they were filled with laughs between dear friends and new acquaintances. Speaking of new contacts- I met a few folks on the road such as Aloysius Fox from Steampunk Empire, Kevin from Airship Ambassador, Calamity Dawn from the Airship Passpartout, and Diana Pho from Tor/Beyond Victoriana and her partner Lucretia (who gave a fellow a thorough walloping in one of our party games).

I also had a grand time with some older chums (not saying you're all old...) like those mischievous Ace of Spades, the crew of the Airship Archon, Rory Silverstein, Steampunk Chicago, and Zebulon V. Pike (alias Kevin Geiselman, who graciously brings us gifts of root beer. They say he actually has eyes under his sunglasses. I know this to be a wanton lie.) Anthony Canney from House of Canney was up from Atlanta as well and showing off his luxurious designs in the fashion show.

In space, no one can hear me mock goggles.
Bam! Zoom! Straight to the Moon!
Teslacon 3 (Nov 30 - Dec 2, 2012) has Bobbins and company taking a voyage to the moon! Just think! Minuets on the moon! Fanciful steampunk space suits! CHEESE TASTINGS! And of course, the epic conclusion of the struggle against the forces of Proctocus.

If you want to be there for this galactic gala, be sure to get your tickets as soon as they go on sale December 10th (if you'd like a special Platinum membership, hold on until January). Like all incarnations of Teslacon, ticket numbers are FIXED, so don't dilly-dally! Join us, it's bound to be out of this world! (LET'S GO TO SPACE!)


  1. Thank you for being you, dragging your people there and having such a good time while making others HAVE a good time. Thank you for the Hot Chocolate on Friday and We will see each other on the landing pad next year!


  2. I was sitting with the lovely lady in the Metis outfit in the lobby waiting for check in and she was so nervous that people would criticize her costumes. I tried to reassure her that no ones costumes were criticized and that I never thought of Native American style steampunk. Then over the course of the weekend she opened like a flower and joined in to so many things. I have a feeling that not only did she have a blast, but that she learned that TeslaCon is really like a big family.

  3. and because of your grooming panel, I now own a boars hair brush and my hair has never been so shiny!

  4. To be fair, the ladies had requested to inspect my face. I was simply obliging my audience.

    Also: space!

  5. I would never beat you with a tire iron for using my photos. Certainly because I post them online under a Creative Commons/non-commercial/attribution license.

  6. Oh your costumes were beyond adorable! I wish the one I'd take of you in nativepunk had turned out better (yay for Alexa Black taking up the slack!) I also wish I'd caught your panels--I heard nothing but rave reviews from other con-goers.

    I'm glad you put my photos to good use and thanks for the credit. Can't wait to see what you come up with for a space suit next year!


  7. The Native American lady is Moondancer Drake of Milwaukee, who is studying prop design at UWM and is also a published author.
    Mary Prince of the North

  8. Yep, that is me :) Shadow is right, I was very nervous since this was my first steampunk con, but I had a great time at Teslacon and plan to ad it to my regular yearly cons to attend. Next year I'll be coming with my then 13 year old son :) I myself enjoyed the curry smell (yummmm) and enjoyed the panels I went to immensely, especially the surprise ending to the multicultural panel. Now if I can just shake this flu I'l get my own con repost up like I promised. It was great meeting you and all the other folks that made me feel so welcome this year.

  9. Loved the panel, was terrified at the ending (Mr. B. Fett nearly fell on my foot). I follow your blog and also Silver Goggles, where I try to learn to not be so Faily, and also to Shut Up when necessary. You don't remember me, but I was wearing 19th century Egyptian garb on Friday and my husband wore a blue caftan. Nice to see you in Madison.

  10. This convention was so much damn fun. The multicultural costumes got a kick in the pants this year due to the presence of Nemo-derivatives, but it was excellent to see the variety, and I believe the panel went well.

    Next year, we'll talk even more about more specifics and stuff.

    (And we're totally married, clearly.)

  11. i realize this has nothing whatsoever to do with teslacon (fabulous pictures, BTW!!), but my computer won't let me get it to you any other way.
    just wanted to make sure you'd seen this; the freer sackler gallery is doing a photo exhibit on china's empress dowager. there are multiple pics online, and they're FABULOUS!!!!

    -oonagh rabenwald

  12. You said a very nice thing about me. The First Lady of Detroit burlesque and cabaret! Can I use your quote in my press kit? [I'm not kidding right now]

    Also, this was an amazing depiction of an incredibly entertaining weekend.
    [How often does this bacon cure work?
    How infrequently?

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