Heroes and Villains in Cincinnati
A report and photo gallery from the 2018 International Steampunk Symposium
The International Steampunk Symposium has been running steadily since 2012, and it's become one of the major steampunk events in the Midwest. I first attended in 2017, and it turned around my profound and broad dislike of the genre and culture. This year, it had a "Superheroes Vs. Villains" theme. It was held April 27-29 at the Ramada Plaza Cincinnati Sharonville Hotel.
What makes a con are the people, and thanks to the hard work of the organizers and guests, this one is a caring, inclusive, and welcoming event, built on a sense of interactivity and participation.
One staple is the Steampunk Olympiad, a series of competitions that never fails to entertain. Nerf gun duels not only tested the skill of the duelists, but also the craftsmanship of the gun modders. This year featured a young lass who went by Murder Child and straight up wrecked the other participants.
The croquet competition redefined what constitutes a mallet, resulting in oversized hammers, evil minion eels and even a chair being used. There were also teapot races and a Heroes Vs. Villains scavenger hunt. None of this, though, quite matched the airship races, where the competition included an inflated shark that flailed its way through the crowd.
Panel discussions are kind of the bread and butter of this type of gathering. I dug Diane Pho's "Envisioning a Better Steam Society" roundtable, dealing with social, political and personal issues in steampunk and the wider world. She did a marvelous job of setting up a comfortable environment where honesty and curiosity were encouraged. It helped that she handed most of the discussion over to the audience, instead of keeping it centered on her and her opinions.
The workshops and demonstrations were standout experiences. I’m not skilled or knowledgeable in areas like leatherworking, metalworking, sewing or even mixology, despite how much I enjoy the products of these skills. However, the workshops were detailed and approachable. Everything was broken down with a notable lack of jargon and presented in a way that made the audience feel comfortable despite skill level or confidence. Even the writing track, a field in which I feel well-versed, held new ideas and approaches while still being useful to beginners.
Cosplay is why most of us go to an event like this, and there wasn’t much room for disappointment. There were steampunk spins on traditional favorites, like Batgirl and Ursula and Deadpool, alongside the traditional lace and corseting.
I particularly dug the gold and white Hogwarts and Azkaban ensembles put together by the venerable Airship Ashanti crew for opening night. There were a few perfectly cute automaton pets, as well as someone who tricked out their actual dog in a way that was supremely adorable. The Steampunk Prince (as in the musician) was a walking dance party.
V is for Villains and DJ Vourteque were the major musical acts, though I must admit to being old enough to be a bit tired by the time they rolled around. I was pleasantly surprised by Cincy locals Automaton, as I was not aware that Steampunk Power Metal was a thing, any more than I was aware that I quite enjoy this thing.
I also enjoyed the reading/performance of Chasing the Ghost, a short play by guest Ashley Lauren Rogers. It used an odd premise, about a person haunted by a ghost that tickles their feet, to deal with difficult topics of misogyny, verbal violence and the feeling of guiltlessness that plagues Internet culture. It is rare to laugh so heartily while feeling sick to one’s stomach.
See the gallery below for photos from the event. Next year's Symposium is already scheduled for March 29-31, with a "Steamtastic Beasts" theme.
Anton Cancre is a freelance writer in Cincinnati.
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