Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Con Report: Comicpalooza 2013

I'm still recovering from this con (since I picked up a case of con crud), but it was totally worth it.

This year there was a big effort to promote and include steampunk at Comicpalooza.  Credit for that goes to the tireless J.R. Warren, who spent all year organizing a steampunk presence for this large comic con. 

My booth
One of the things that was introduced was a "Steampunk Alley" within the Artists Alley section.  Steam Ingenious had a booth in Steampunk Alley and we had a very successful weekend, sales-wise.  Steampunk Alley included both artists selling their wares and fan groups promoting their organizations.

There are a few ways this idea could be improved in the future, namely by making it a more defined area.  It wasn't really so much an alley as part of a row and then some more tables around the corner and a couple more within sight.  There was also no signage or other way for anyone to tell they were in Steampunk Alley other than "hey, there are a lot of steampunks here."  Having some nice signs at the entrance and exit of the row would be nice, as well as having a more cohesive space.  Also on the map the area was marked with the word "Harbor" and some gears.  I understand the intent, but seriously, it needed to say "Steampunk Alley" so people would understand what that meant.

There was also a real traffic flow problem in artist alley in general.  The crowds were easily half what they were in the dealer's area on the far side of the convention center.  It was nice having some extra space between each table.  I greatly appreciate it.  But having to walk 1/4 mile to get from the dealer's area to the artist area was way too much.   The total lack of signs didn't help.   The space was also so huge that the convention felt very underattended, even though it had higher attendance numbers than any I've been at in the last year.

There were a large number of steampunk panels on a wide variety of topics on the schedule, which I know was also at least partly thanks to J.R.   I wasn't able to attend many of them due to having to work my table, but I did get to a few.  I understand that some of the panels didn't have great attendance, most likely due to the fact that they were located very far from the main con floor and the panel rooms were also almost impossible to find.   They were located on the third floor of the convention center, in a MAZE of hallways and rooms.  I'm totally unclear on why the five panel rooms were so spread out among all the rooms up there, so that you really needed a GPS and a lot of luck to find them.  This needed better planning, better maps, MORE SIGNS, and more staff in the area helping to direct people.

It also didn't help that for several hours on Saturday, at the busiest time of the con there was a
Methodist graduation ceremony taking place in the middle of the panel rooms and they blocked off the main thoroughfare to con attendees.  There was one person telling you to "go around"  which mean go through the rabbit warren of halls with no guidance and no signs to help you get around the graduation.  Well I did go around and I still ended up walking into the middle of the graduation because I didn't see any other way to get where I was going.

But back to the steampunk panels.  As I said the variety of topics was awesome.  I heard good things about many of the panels.  I know some of them were presented by someone else at the last minute, so there was some difficulty there.  My favorite panel was the Steampunk Media Panel with all of the bands.  It was really entertaining and there were some great stories about how the bands got together and evolved over time.  There was even a great discussion of media piracy with reasoned debate on both sides of the issue and good points all around.  Oh, and I'm waiting for that all-Labyrinth covers steampunk album, guys.

The highlight of the weekend for steampunks was the Steampunk Ball on Saturday night.  The band line-up was amazing: Frenchy and the Punk, Professor Elemental, Marquis of Vaudeville, and Abney Park.  It was scheduled from 8-12 and I knew I would be exhausted by vending all day but I was determined to attend and enjoy, since seeing great bands is my favorite thing to do at cons.  Unfortunately, the doors didn't open until 8:45 and the first band didn't go on for quite a while after that.  I know there were some technical difficulties, but when you're having a late show after a whole day of con I think it's important to start on time.  I know one friend of mine just wanted to see one band because she had to leave soon, but that didn't work out because there was such a delay.   I suspect a few people showed up at the scheduled time and when they saw nothing much going on, left for other entertainments.

The bands themselves were amazing.  I've seen Marquis of Vaudeville and Abney Park multiple times,
Frenchy and the Punk

but had never seen Professor Elemental live and hadn't heard Frenchy and the Punk at all.  Frenchy and the Punk were first up and they had the crowd really fired up with their Punk Cabaret style.  I think they made a lot of fans, myself included.   Professor Elemental snuck a few songs in between bands, although he wasn't originally on the schedule.  He was lots of fun and the crowd was jumping around and having a great time.

Marquis of Vaudeville put on a great show.  Every time I see them I enjoy them more, I think.  I also have to say that their cd is really, really great and has become one of my favorites, so if you haven't heard them you should pick it up.  They brought a real dense rock experience to the evening.  Also they do the best cover of The Cure I've ever heard with the song "Burn" from The Crow.  (And The Cure is my favorite all-time band, so I should know.)

I have a couple of complaints on the Ball in general.  It was in the ballroom of the attached hotel, and it was a beautiful space, especially with a bunch of gorgeously dressed steampunks in it.  But it was pretty far from the rest of the convention activities and there needed to be more advertising to make sure people were aware of when and where it was.

A family of well-dressed steampunks at the Ball.
There was also a real problem with the sound, which is so often the case at conventions.  Hotel ballrooms aren't made for rock concerts and the sound engineers don't ever seem to know what they're doing.  The sound was far too loud and was reverberating in an unpleasant way throughout the room.  The bands were drowning themselves out in places.   I know several people left because they couldn't take the volume level or they got migraines.  I've been to lots and lots of rock shows, including the loudest punk shows in the grottiest clubs, and I found it unpleasant to sit through at times.

Finally there needed to be more chairs.  There were about 20? chairs in the room, along the edges and people were rushing for them and guarding them fiercely.  Much as we would all like to spend 4 hours of the Ball jumping up and down and dancing, most of us don't have that ability.  In my case, it's due to my disability, and I spent the whole night seated, at first on my seat-cane that I carry with me and then on a chair I managed to snag.  But after a day of con, with a steampunk crowd that tends to be older, there needed to be more chairs.  I would recommend generally having several rows of chairs at the back of the room.  There was plenty of room for dancing at the front.   The drink options available were limited and extremely expensive,
which was a bit annoying.  I paid $4 for a bottle of water because I didn't want a $9.50 glass of cheap wine.

I think all of these things led to the crowd dwindling as the evening went on.  Abney Park didn't take the stage until after midnight and the crowd was much reduced from what it had been earlier.  And those that were remaining were noticeably less energetic.  No more jumping up and down.  Personally I was really sad to have to leave a few songs into their set.  I hit the wall of exhaustion in a way I haven't for years.  After 17 hours of working and socializing, I had to leave.  I was having problems walking out of there, I was so tired.   And both my husband and I were starving, having eaten only a little bit of the convention center food 6 hours earlier.   Dear Comicpalooza: FOOD TRUCKS!

So if you noticed all the steampunks dragging ass on Sunday, you know why.  We might as well have had a steampunk zombie day on Sunday.  We were pretty much already in character.

All of this being said, it was a really good event.  Like I said, my booth was quite successful and I met a lot of new steampunks who were excited about the community and the genre.  The attendees, vendors, and panelists were top notch.  I applaud J.R. and everyone else who helped make this year's Comicpalooza a steampunk-friendly event.  I'm looking forward to doing it again!


  1. The next Steampunk event at Comicpalooza will be fantabulous, as I know what changes need to be made. Thanks to all who came out and had a wonderful time. Keep an eye out in the next few months for updates.

    1. Yeah, don't take the constructive criticism as ingratitude, because it was a very successful event. Thanks for everything!