Events are home

There’s a 3D computer graphics of a cyborg woman with a headdress in science fiction stylesimple goal I have for every Jeff Mach Event: I make weekend-long homes for unusual people.

What does that mean?

The second martial arts school I attended was literally in the back of an alley, up a long flight of stairs. And leading to the school door, there was a pair of signs. The first was a standard martial-arts school notice, “Please remove shoes”. This simple act gave a physical reminder that I was leaving one place—“the street”—and stepping into a different world, with different rules.

The second was at the top of the stairs. “You are entering a traditional karate dojo. Please act accordingly”.

How did one “act accordingly”? I knew many common rules and practices—I also knew that every school I had seen had its own style, rules, approach. What was proper in one school might be utterly wrong in another.

Yet the practical value of that sign was enormous. It always gave me pause, called to my mind all of my associations with training grounds, what I learned there, and who and what those things made me. “Act accordingly”: know what you have come to do, know what you are doing, at least in your own mind. Or, at the barest minimum, recognize in your gut that you’ve come to a place where things are different. Don’t just take that difference passively, when it enters your space; make it a part of your consciousness.

And thus. And so.

You’ve entered our world, a place where we belong, a place where we are not the outsiders, a place where what we do matters, is meaningful, is real, and we are NOT the only ones who know it.

Steampunk, Rocky Horror, Renaissance Faires, Geeky spaces; it doesn’t matter.

Leave the outside world for outsiders.
We bring our homes with us, inside us, we foster them with love and passion.  We’re different–not better, just not the same–and sometimes, we realize: we are not alone.

And that place?  That place is home.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.  

Cosplay is not consent

It’s probable that if you’ve hung around fandom, science fiction, or 

To my surprise, this is one of the more controversial memes I’ve ever made. Even now.

like-minded communities – like the Steampunk universe – you’ve heard the phrase  “Cosplay is not consent”.  If you haven’t, I can give you a thumbnail definition: If one dresses as some sort of fandom or fantasy character with what is considered to be sex appeal or sexy look, this is in no way, shape, or form consent to touch that person.  Neither is it permission to interfere with them without asking, or generally disrespect them as a human being simply because they’re wearing cosplay. And that holds true regardless of the nature of the character, or how revealing or hypothetically seductive that cosplay might be.

I hear: “If they didn’t want to be treated as sex objects, they wouldn’t do sexy cosplays”.  There are plenty of reasons for cosplays, and being what you perceive as sexy doesn’t necessarily happen because they want to be  sexual, especially with you.  I mean, when you cosplay a villain, is it because you plan to undertake a life of crime?  Does that make it okay for cops to arrest you because you look like a famous fictional murderer?  Of course not.

There are people who feel that making a public appearance makes you into public property. And it is true that certain kinds of celebrity, and certain public roles, might change some of how society might be allowed to view you. I do not know to what extent we really deserve to know the deep inside secrets of movie stars, or rock musicians, but it has certainly been part of the tradition of both of those industries for many years that those professionals get a lot of publicity and a lot of attention, and they reap both the benefits and the detriments.

The challenge is that cosplayers are not generally professionals, and even those who are remain a very small group of people who all came out of the fandom world with the same goals and motivations as the rest of us: to show our love for things Fannish, nerdy, and interesting, and to pay tribute to our favorite artists and characters.

And they deserve what the rest of us deserve: respect, sometimes admiration,  camaraderie, and basic human decency.

Honestly, with or without cosplay, someone being or acting or dressing in a manner that you consider to be sexy does not mean that you own that person’s sexuality or identity. Acting as if you did is disrespectful. It’s flat-out harassment, sometimes in a matter which is literally illegal. And then there’s this:

The more you disrespect sexy cosplay and costuming, the more you discourage it from happening. If you’re someone who likes those things and appreciates them, and wants to see more of them, then you owe people, not unpleasant experiences, but gratitude and appropriate behavior. You need to, for your own damn self interest, treat those people well and politely, or you will do one of two things:

Either you will reduce the number of people who participate in those cosplays you love so much, because the price of dealing with you and people like you is just too high a cost to bear…

Or, increasingly, you will get kicked out, or at least get a warning from event security. Because I will tell you a single simple Awful Truth: the vast majority of fandom, regardless of gender or identity or politics, simply does not want to be around a person who can’t treat others like adult human beings deserving of basic human respect.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.  

Three Great Steampunk Webcomics

The total number of incredible Steampunk webcomics is, of course, “Lots”.  Webcomics and Steampunk, in many ways, grew up together, and it’s not surprising that some of the oldest and flat-out best webcomic tales are of Steampunk universes and spirit.

Here are a few for you to consider:

1. Girl Genius. Girl Genius is perhaps the best-known of all Steampunk webcomics. With its gloriously splashy, colorful Style and its long-running, intricate-but-never-frustrating plots, it’s been delighting us for longer than most people have even known the world “Steampunk”.

There’s a particular bonus gem here, too – sure, the concepts are fascinating, the plots are intricate, the dialogue brilliant and witty.  But even with all that, it took me two or three readthroughs to really appreciate just how much information and invention is packed into each, not to mention each comic arc,  Girl Genius isn’t simply a great webcomic; it follows that old Walt Disney concept “Be better than you need to be”.

Check out the comic.  If you take a careful look, you will notice that in almost every panel there is some new bit of Steampunk inventiveness, whether it’s in the dialogue or in the art or in the ideas. It is a world of such a Steampunk immersion that what might, in other places, stand out and pop and make you stare–happens in pretty much every single panel, until you’re overflowing with Steamy goodness.  What might be a game-changer elsewhere is background or filler in this comic. Girl Genius is full of hidden gems, and even if you’ve already read it, I recommend reading it again, with a careful eye towards seeing just how much they pack into everything they do.

2.  Boston Metaphysical Society. This tightly-plotted, articulate, and lovingly illustrated comic does that thing which Steampunk often attempts and seldom does well: it creates its own characters, and has them interact with notable and favorite hereoes of Steampunk, even including Nikola Tesla–and integrates them seamlessly.  It’s like watching a movie full of brilliant young actors, with a great script, and then suddenly seeing Bill Murray walk in and do something brilliant, but not world-changing or plot-destroying.  You recognize the archetype’s power, but it always enhances, it never dominates.

All too often, we see this in a sort of Mary Sue universe wherein the famous characters end up being essentially invulnerable due to the plot armor of our affection.  (Woe betide the Steampunk writer who kills off Mr. Tesla without good reason!)  Boston metaphysical has a different take. While those characters are not infrequently in fully mortal peril, none of the characters are not superheroes. They are very smart people with advanced minds, tackling powerful but not invincible forces.  And that means that every comic packs suspense, possibility, and intrigue.  You never really know what will happen, and when the plot does unfold, you’re left deeply satisfied.  

3. Scenes from a Multiverse. I know what you’re saying. If you know this comic, you know that it is not Steampunk, and you know that I have left out many other comics which certainly are very very clearly traditionally Steampunk. Why am I highlighting “From A Multiverse”?

It is because, while the setting and design of that comic is not specifically Steampunk themed, John Rosenberg plays with a vast whimsical universe where just about anything can happen.  And then he tightens that focus so that each comic is an individual set up of some sort of unusual extrapolation of reality, taken to the next level for comedic and intriguing effect. It’s incredible – and absolutely, completely in keeping with the spirit of our wild, yet mannerly, Steampunk culture.

If you are looking for a mind-expanding but completely coherent, splendidly and gorgeously (if simply) drawn comic, then this is a brain explosion of potentiality. I recommend every Steampunk read it and have their minds just a little bit blown.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.  

Three ways to make any Convention or Festival experience better.

I’ve been running conventions, festivals, and events for well over two decades now. There have been tremendous changes within that time, unsurprisingly – for example,  quite relevant to my own life and career, it’s not like the3D computer graphics of a lady with fantasy clothing and weaponsre were really any Steampunk events 20 years ago.  Not anywhere in the entire world.

But there are a few principles which I can say have remained quite constant. I thought I would share three of them with you now.

1. What you get out of it is always going to be, in part, up to you. I think we have all had the experience of someone who goes into a film or play determined to hate it, and while it is sometimes possible for the medium to win that person over, most often it is a self-fulfilling prophecy:  they do, indeed, hate it. In a similar fashion, an event can win you over even if you’re going in with an attitude of negativity. But it certainly is not likely that if you’re determined to be unhappy, you will be unhappy, and if you’re determined to be happy, you will enjoy yourself.

2.  Dress, first and foremost, for yourself. A lot of people put a great deal of thought, and sometimes a great deal of worry, into what they will wear to a fandom event or a  subcultural festival. That’s quite understandable; clothing is a language, and it does do a lot of speaking for us. But there is a really simple key to this: dress any way which helps you feel like you are where you want to be, doing what you want to do. Everything else after that becomes easy.

3 . And finally, remember this: the rules they told you about socialization when you are in kindergarten seem childish because they were enacted for and by children, and given to you for reasons that might have seemed arbitrary or overly simple even as a child. This is because we tend to instruct children in social mores in terms which rightly seem insipid or insufficiently justified when we look at them as adults.  That is NOT because they’re not helpful rules So when you say things like  

“ Be nice to others if you want them to be nice to you”,  it sounds like a platitude or a threat,  instead of what actually is: a perfectly rational and sensible transaction. But use those rules.  Use them as an adult. In essence, recognize that if you are in a place where everyone is there to have a good time, your actions matter.  Actions which facilitate other people (and you!) having a good time, actions which show an awareness of other people’s wants and needs and general personhood–those things will will tend to increase the level of everyone’s happiness. And actions you take which disregard those things unnecessarily, whether it be needless meanness or selfishness or aggressiveness… well, not only will you have a worse time, but so will everyone else.

These are three Simple Rules, but I think you will find them highly applicable, and while they’re quite obvious, people do not always use them, and they really should.   I would like to see more people giving this simple philosophy a try. I believe the results would be quite lovely.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.  

Steampunk as a cultural force

It's a door.“My parents became cyberpunks and all they left me was this dark future.”

– R. Talsorian Games’ “Cyberpunk”

Culture is a technology; it’s a massive, crowdsourced technology.  All culture is that way; but Steampunk is a unique tool, and we have the opportunity to use it in unique ways.

Regardless of its scale, culture is a thing whose emergence and evolution are part of a feedback loop of human behaviors – culture influences how we act, how we act influences how we codify our responses to each other, and our responses to each other influence what becomes a part of our culture.

Steampunk is a silly culture based on a ridiculous patently untrue presence – however you define Steampunk, it is a part of a consciously imaginary 19th century.  We know Steampunk takes place in the past but didn’t actually happen.  We know it isn’t, in that sense, “real”.  (And sure, I know I just wrote that Steampunk is real, and why that’s important.  And that’s actually part of what brought to mind how important it is that Steampunk isn’t real.)

Here’s the thing: most human cultures are larger than we can control.  Most smaller cultural movements that seek to create better worlds try to do that by changing the larger culture through politics and influence, and that has a tremendous weight of responsibility behind it.  Be it the French Revolution or the Hippie movement, trying to say, “Everything is wrong, and we’ll make it right” is a big, dangerous, difficult thing to do.

Steampunk doesn’t do that.  Steampunk says, “Let go and be ridiculous”.  But it’s not a one-off.  You’re not laughing at a comedy and going back to being serious, or getting drunk and messing about and then getting sober, or throwing a party and then going back to the regular world.  Steampunk gives you a reason to let go and be ridiculous at lots of different times, in lots of different places.

And the thing about Steampunk is that it’s not passive, it’s active.  We’re creating Steampunk.  We’re creating it every day – whether we’re making Steampunk art, or listening to some music and appreciating it, or reading this article and (hopefully) taking a few minutes out of your regular world to mull over this alternative, nonexistent-yet-fascinating, deeply more whimsical world.

Steampunk gives us a platform for building unique interactions with other human beings in social contexts, both in person and from afar.  And it’s a tool that lets us do so in a way which can’t  be too serious – because Steampunk, even dark, serious Steampunk, is never too far from its close relative, patently absurd Steampunk.

Steampunk is a cultural tool that lets the world be a slightly more ludicrous place.  And sometimes, that is a very deeply needful thing.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.