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Steampunk Fun in Burlingame

Clockwork Alchemy debuts at a new time and place

Friday, March 30, 2018

Airship captains, mad scientists and other sundry characters gathered for a weekend of steampunk cheer as Clockwork Alchemy invaded the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport hotel, March 23-25, 2018, in Burlingame, Calif. Previously held on Memorial Day weekend in conjunction with FanimeCon in San Jose, the event was on its own this year with programming that included music, workshops, cosplay, authors, an art exhibition and lots more.

The new location was bigger than last year's, and whereas previous events drew some crossover attendance from the anime convention, this one was 100 percent steampunk. Overall attendance was down compared with 2017, but the organizers are hopeful that the numbers will improve once more people become aware of the change. It certainly felt like a big event, with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Here's my report, or you can skip to the bottom for a photo gallery.

Steampunk Creations

One perennial highlight is the Artist's Gallery, and this year it had more elbow room for whimsical gadgets, costumes, artwork and more.

Prof. Flockmocker

Here you could find Prof. Phineas J. Flockmocker III F.H.S.G. (Former High School Graduate) making his Clockwork Alchemy debut. Known for his appearances at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, he was touting his Steam Powered Flying Conveyance — and his plans to fly to the moon. "I'm going for the cheese," he said.

One wall of the gallery was lined with models and illustrations depicting scenes from "Timeless," the first in a new book series by Artist Guest of Honor Armand Baltazar. The book describes a world transformed by a Time Collision, which rearranges time and space so that people and creatures from different eras are forced to co-exist. He's inked a six-book deal with HarperCollins, and 20th Century Fox has acquired the movie rights, with Ridley Scott serving as executive producer and Carlos Saldanha ("Ice Age" and "Rio") set to direct.

Armand kindly spent some time with me discussing his work (on his birthday, no less), and I'll be sharing his story in a future article.

Another highlight was Saturday's fashion show, where designers modeled their inventive creations in keeping with a travel theme. You can find these and other cosplay shenanigans in "The Clockwork Runway," elsewhere on this website.

Panels and Workshops

Clockwork Alchemy also had a full schedule of educational panels and how-to workshops. One of the most prolific presenters was Programming Guest of Honor Matt Yang King, an actor/writer/producer/director whose series "The World of Steam" is under development with the Jim Henson Company. In multiple sessions, he shared his wisdom about screenwriting, directing, acting and even crowdfunding. One practical tip from "Creating Your Own Series": Set your steampunk tale in the outdoors, because it's easier to secure shooting locations.

Skull

I made three presentations, of which the two-hour "Steampunk Travel Guide" drew the biggest audience. Some folks offered helpful suggestions for places I should add to The Steampunk Explorer, and a few shared their experiences visiting attractions seen in the slide show.

The only downside: I didn't get to see "Victorian Gothic Rap," which was scheduled at the same time.

Saturday's presentation on "Victorian Graphic Design" drew a small but engaged audience. For Sunday's session on "Steampunk Web Design," I expected an audience of novices. Instead, three experienced web designers showed up, so we skipped the basics and had a nice geek-to-geeks discussion. I've posted a page with links to places and resources mentioned in all three sessions.

Many workshops focused on craft-making techniques, such as "Victorian Art of Crochet," "Make Your Own Leather Goggles," and "Build a Sonic Screwdriver." Others were geared for writers: "Creating Magic Systems for Fantasy," "Science of Airships," "Pace Like Joss Whedon," and more.

Musical Guests

Live music was a big part of the festivities. The Aural Alchemy concert on Friday night featured Strangely Doesburg, Unwoman, Dogwood and Johnstone, and headliners The Velveteen Band. The main event on Saturday was Emperor Norton's Ball, with Diego's Umbrella and Lee Presson ("The John Waters of Jazz") serving up the tunes.

Author's Alley

Throughout the weekend, performers offered musical entertainment in the expanded Author's Alley. Seen here are Aaron J. Shay, Sarah Shay, and Bellow.wing.

As for the authors themselves, many from last year's event were back, and they were joined by new faces such as Sumiko Saulson and Kale Lawrence.

These were just some of the highlights. As before, the Artist's Bazaar offered a cornucopia of handcrafted wares from steampunk vendors. In the War Room, attendees learned the fine points of battling zombies, airship pirates and other miscreants. Also returning from last year were the Game Room, Alchemist Tea Parlor, Telegraph Office and Splendid Teapot Racing.

Given the wide range and high quality of the programming, what's most striking about Clockwork Alchemy is that it's organized and staffed entirely by volunteers.

They Don't Know What They're Missing

Charlie Wong, who handles marketing for the event, said a drop-off in attendance was expected. "As with most conventions, if you change location and date you can expect a loss of attendance the first year," he said.

He added that many past FanimeCon attendees probably weren't aware that the time and place had changed. The organizers will be on hand at the 2018 FanimeCon to publicize next year's event, which is set for March 22-24, 2019.

I liked the new dates, since they free up my time to visit BayCon as well as FanimeCon on Memorial Day weekend.

You can find some visual highlights in the gallery below. For more pics (and videos), see the Fans of Clockwork Alchemy Facebook page. Also check out my coverage from 2016 and 2017.

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