What is Steampunk? In this installment of “Brooke’s Society,” our fashion reporter Brooke Bolek, with photographer Isaac Cox, explain it all for you — from the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention at Old Tucson Studios.
By Brooke Bolek
And Isaac Cox
Arizona Sonora News Service
TUCSON — Tea duels, guitars made out of shovels, and armbands that can warp you back in time are all the norm, as was on display at the big Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention at Old Tucson Studios during the second week in March.
If you have never heard of steampunk, or witnessed men draped in leather and copper with a full face of makeup, then this anachronistic sense of the 19th century will no doubt leave you with more than a few questions.
Steampunk presents a fanciful, fashionable alternative history of the 19th century Western and Victorian era, with a touch of science fiction and futuristic steam-powered machinery. Fans inspired by steampunk art, comics, movies and novels create their own characters and spent months or even years crafting their costumes and accessories for America’s only steampunk convention based in an old western town.
These men and woman don’t mind the heat as much as they love showing off their creativity. One attendee, Arcko Bancroft, lugged a huge copper cannon wearing leather gloves that he had fashioned for his particular costume.
“We like to think of everything as a work in progress,” Bancroft said. “This piece is completely scrap-made in six months. Give or take.”
Among the one hundred workshops and events held at the three-day convention, people attended panels featuring steampunk fashion models, mustache tips and tricks lessons, steampunk weapon-crafting and a series of exciting tea duels. Tea-dueling is a Victorian-flavored sport of very competitive tea-drinking. For the rules, see this link.
Any steampunk fan will tell you that a tea duel is one of the most dangerous events at the convention. Those who are brave enough and willing to chance an exploding teapot during the battle, sign the dueling list to be randomly matched with an opponent. When the battle begins, the two steampunk characters carefully choose their shortbread cookie from the dueling tray and raise it in the air for the audience to see and, of course, for added dramatic effect. Then both opponents simultaneously dunk their cookies in a cup of hot tea for five seconds and hold them up at eye level. Whichever cookie crumbles first determines the loser, however if the winner’s cookie crumbles before he/she can eat it, no winner is declared.
Among many steampunk musical artists, Steam Powered Giraffe headlined the convention on the opening Saturday, taking the audience into the fantasy world. Steam Powered Giraffe is one of the better-known bands in the steampunk world, recognized for their theatrical robot pantomiming and folk-rock music. Beginning their modest roots street performing in San Diego in 2008, the band has since put out four albums and traveled around the world.
“It wasn’t intentionally steampunk, it just happened to be steampunk just because the characters were antique robots,” said Christopher Bunny “Rabbit” Bennett, band member of Steam Powered Giraffe.
You might be surprised to find out that the characters behind the face-paint and body armor are your everyday average Janes and Joes. The convention gives fans a chance to trade tips, show off their costumes, meet artists of all forms and live in an immersive steampunk environment that can’t be matched in the United States.
“When I started out I was so passionate about it, so excited. It’s been actually fun having more and more responsibility on it,” said Diana Given, director of Arizona Steampunk Society and also a high school geometry teacher. “You find the things you’re really good at. Its been really interesting learning about myself too.”