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A Visit to AfroComicCon

Panels, cosplay, and artist tables were among the highlights at this geekfest near Oakland

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A presentation by Jaymee Goh on “Steampunk for People of Color” was among the highlights at AfroComicCon, held last month in Emeryville, California. The city is near Oakland, within shouting distance of The Steampunk Explorer’s global headquarters, so I decided to pay a visit.

Goh is a science fiction author and editor who has written and spoken extensively on cultural diversity in steampunk. Most steampunk, she said, can be defined by a formula that combines “technofantasy” with alternate history and neo-Victorian elements. But with its focus on the British empire, this definition excludes other cultures, she said. Instead, she proposed a broader definition that replaces “Neo-Victorian” with “Neo-Retrofuturism” rooted in the 19th century.

Jaymee Goh

This opens the genre to stories told from the point of view of people in Asia, Africa, and other places that were colonized by Europeans. One prominent example: Everfair, by Nisi Shawl, an acclaimed 2016 novel set in an alternate-world African Congo of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And another: N.K. Jemisin’s “The Effluent Engine,” a steampunk/alt-history novelette about a woman from Haiti on a mission in New Orleans.

Goh also pointed to the art of James Ng, whose “Imperial Steam and Light” series envisions a historical China that was not colonized by the British and had its own Industrial Revolution. The signature piece is the Imperial Airship, an airborne version of a Chinese palace.

She offered some suggestions for people who want to create such works. For example, consider the raw materials and technologies that would have been available in a region. Consider the aesthetic concerns. If the region had not been colonized, what other conflicts might have occurred? If the story is about anti-colonial resistance, what technologies would the colonizer be vulnerable to, or unaware of, or dismissed as “folksy”?

Goh discussed many of these issues in her “Silver Goggles” blog, which was most active between 2010 and 2015. She’s also the co-editor of The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, and appeared in Vintage Tomorrows, a documentary about steampunk. She recently received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California Riverside, and works as an editor for Tachyon Publications in San Francisco.

Other programming

AfroComicCon also offered presentations on other topics in geek culture, with a focus on communities of color. They included sessions on filmmaking, screenwriting, cosplay, gaming, martial arts, comic book illustration, and the business aspects of creative work.

Steampunk Woman

Guests included Boots Riley, writer and director of Sorry to Bother You, a critically acclaimed comedy-drama set in an alternate-world Oakland.

Rodney Barnes, co-executive producer of American Gods on Starz, participated in a panel on role models in TV, film and animation.

Actor Rico E. Anderson led a panel on “The Real Supermen” and participated in a session about the entertainment industry. He has a long list of acting credits, mostly on TV, including appearances on S.W.A.T., The Orville, and Criminal Minds.

Milestone Comics co-founder Michael Davis delivered the keynote.

Aside from Goh’s presentation, I spent most of my time meeting the artists and writers who had tables at the event. I encountered a few steampunk fans, as well as folks who were unfamiliar with the genre and seemed to be interested in learning more.

This being a comic con, many attendees showed up in costume, including a few (such as yours truly) in steampunk garb.

Most of the programming happened on Saturday, Oct. 20, but the event also included a Mini Film Festival on Oct. 19 and a Free Youth Community Day on Oct. 21.

You can meet the artists and see the cosplayers in the photo gallery below.


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