by Karina Montgomery, contributing writer
Out in the blazing Arizona spring sun and dust-choked desert winds lies Old Tucson Studios. Over the past 75 years, 300 movies have shot old west scenes here, and for its third year, the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention takes over one weekend for some western-flavored steampunk fun. This March 7-9, 2014, we were first-time attendees (and panelists) at the Wild Wild West Con 3, and thrilled to transport to the wild west that never was, where Abe Lincoln’s robotically preserved brain twinkles merrily next to Airship Isabella’s motley-but-sexy crew; where Steampunk Boba Fett dunks his flowery cookie in his cup of tea while Victoria and Otto meets Victoria and Otto beside a T.A.R.D.I.S. Leather corsets, brass blunderbusses, steaming boilers, shiny medals, and a plethora of parasols adorn the most warm and friendly people you could ever hope to meet.
If you’ve never been to a steampunk convention, you might not know about the faire-like atmosphere and casual egalitarianism amongst guests and artists. The easiest icebreaker in the world is to ask about that cool thing someone is wearing or carrying. If you haven’t been to one, you probably also have a functioning savings account – WWWC’s vendor barn (and supplemental tents) was the most tempting array of goodies I have seen in my six-con experience. The vast majority of items are hand-crafted (or vintage) and all of them are unique and creative. And the barn has a bar!
Steampunk cons are wonderful because of how accessible the talent is – WWWC had a bevy of special guests who were all thrilled to be meeting and making new fans or just shooting the breeze. By the end of such an intimate and immersive experience, everyone feels like a friend. Who might you meet on the dusty streets of Old Tucson? Sarah Hunter (aka NSFW Lady Clankington), NSFW model Kato, Thomas Willeford, Muffy Morrigan, David Lee Summers, author David Grasse, Eddie Louise, John Floyd the Gentleman Robot, Steampunk Boba Fett (John Strangeway), Poplock Holmes, Steam Powered Giraffe, Brian Kesinger, or Professor Elemental. And anyone who just came for fun, like the League of S.T.E.A.M.!
WWWC has affordable pass prices, for which you get up to 3 full days of 10am – 6pm programming; you can buy tickets for additional evening activities which include a Friday night ball (Dyno Staats, Nathaniel Johnstone, Osiris Belly Dance) and a Saturday night concert (The Cog Is Dead, Steam Powered Giraffe, Professor Elemental). Even if you only do the daytime activities, the choices are so vast and so many unexpected incidental diversions pop up everywhere you look, you’ll need those few extra hours to recover each night!
In the Aristocrat Lounge, premium ticketholders get extra perks, such as dance lessons, teas, private meet and greets, and games, as well as their goodie bags and other bonuses. It never felt like a verboten space, however, as the tea duels were also held there and were open for anyone to watch (or duel!).
The park itself is isolated from modern noise or light pollution, and I don’t think I saw a plane in the sky the whole time. Sure, inside there are electric lights and margarita machines, but overall you really feel like you’ve dropped into a different world. The “regular folks” touring the park felt strange and foreign after you’ve been chatting to the girl with the mechanical octopus on her shoulder. Most of the main buildings used for panels and activities feel like what they are – the saloon, courthouse, chapel, sheriff’s office and you find yourself pulled into that era (with all the modern benefits of lip balm & sunscreen). As Professor Elemental has said, “It’s hard to become immersed in the future that never was when you’re standing in the lobby of a Holiday Inn.” It’s a unique experience and one not to be missed.
As a convention, atmosphere is really only gravy. The panels presented were diverse and interesting (if I may say so myself) and offered something for everyone; authors, makers, cosplayers, gamers, tea duelists, historians, fans, musicians, actors, and villains could sweat over a tempting cornucopia of choices. As I perused my well-worn program in writing this, I was reminded of panels I regretted missing – too much conflicting awesomeness! It’s a good problem to have and one I have only experienced to this degree at San Diego Comic Con. I learned to care for feathers and vintage gloves, the ins and outs of Victorian undergarments, I discussed steampunk public relations and watched the Hot Potato School of Writing, and missed three times as many other things. Check out the program online to see what I am talking about.
This year was themed Land vs. Sea, and special guest and artistic style-maker of the steampunk movement Brian Kesinger provided artwork accordingly (see again the program guide). As always, he was completely adorable and charming and handed out Otto temporary tattoos at his signing booth. The L.O.S.E.R.s (The League Of Supremely Evil Revolutionaries) turned this theme into their popular scavenger hunt format, in which you find clues from the LOSERs and ultimately a password to declare your allegiance – Sea was triumphant this weekend!
Between the park closing hour of 6pm and the concert start of 7:30 Saturday, a group enjoyed a tailgate out by the Observation Deck, which had been claimed in the name of the Republic of Texas by The Texan, a formidable tea duelist and excellent grillmaster. Basking in the spectacular sunset and cooling air, his foes The Judge and The Prussian put down the war-biscuit and enjoyed some beers together as friends. I must confess, I missed as much of the convention as I did due to the endless hilarity that is tea dueling. I will submit a separate post on this marvelous and whimsical sport but let it be known that these titans (and fellow finalist Cassandra) gave us a tremendous show at the Sunday finals, as did our hosts, the Grand Arbiter and Madam Askew and their crew.
This convention is simply a terrific experience. Diana Given, Jason Drotman, and their crew of the Arizona Steampunk Society have done a phenomenal job. It doesn’t just rest on its atmospheric laurels. The website is informative and full of useful information. They offer group rates at nice but not crazy expensive hotels (one of which hosted a free mixer the Thursday before it started), plenty of food options, great perks for volunteers, and good signage. Sunday there was an unfortunate and unexpected schedule re-arranging, as occasionally happens, but it was swiftly dealt with and clearly communicated among the staff. The booked talent was a great fit (I’m not 100% sold on the models but they were popular!) and they were all very friendly and sociable. You could buy a photo op with most of the special guests and get a nice print and a quiet moment to tell them how much you love their work, way off in the back of the vendor barn. Very personal! You could even wear the mechanical arm that Thomas Willeford made for Nathan Fillion for the steampunk episode of Castle. Yes, we still remember!
Dusty, dehydrated, broke, and exhausted, as we set off on the long drive back to San Diego, we couldn’t wait to do it again next year. WWWC is definitely worth the trip.