Friday, April 6, 2012

Steampunk POC: Tony Ballard aka Captain Antony LaGrange (Black)

Captain LaGrange,
by Manko Photography
It's that time of month ago, and you know what time it is: Time for another awesome steampunk POC interview! This year we head a little west of the Appalachians to Ohio, home state of the Airship Archon crew. Airship Archon is led by Captain Antony LaGrange, nom-de-plume for Tony Ballard-Smoot (just one letter short of "smooth"). A maker, a model, a cosplayer, and steampunker to the core, Tony has been heading Airship Archon since founding it in 2008.

How did you first get into steampunk? What was your first impression of it?

I was first introduced to Steampunk in 2008 at a event we had here in Columbus called Gothcoming. It was Steampunk-themed and promised to be a good sized event. AT first I was skeptical having only seen pictures on the internet but about a month before the actual event I was at Dragon*Con and got to see Steampunk in the flesh. Groups like Outland Armour, Penny Dreadful Productions and Abney Park really showed the heart of Steampunk. After seeing the aesthetic and innovation of the Steampunk movement I was hooked.

How do you do steampunk? Or how do you steampunk or how do you participate in steampunk? Or what steampunk media do you do (lit, fashion, events)?

I run the Columbus Ohio group the Airship Archon, I try to promote and inspire the Steampunk community through photography, modeling, fashion and a slew of other things. I’m also a panelist at multiple conventions talking and leading discussions on various topics. I Steampunk through the way I act, dress and live.

Since you steampunk in daily life ITSELF, how does this go down? What does it mean to act, dress and live steampunk beyond roleplaying, conventions, steampunk meetups and the like? How does your philosophy of steampunk being more than gears, and more about making things beautiful, apply to the rest of your life?

My wardrobe has taken a drastic change since Steampunk. What used to be only t-shirts, hoodies and jeans is now also filled with ties, vests and button downs. My girlfriend and I have even included the Steampunk aesthetic into the decoration of our home. From the artwork on the walls to the steamer trunk coffee table it has become a part of my everyday living.

The growth of steampunk means a proliferation of different kinds of styles, such as Wild West, Neo-Victorian, Airship Pirate, etc. Do you have a particular steampunk "style" you indulge in the most?

I have to say the “Weird West” is probably the style I wear the most. A lot of my photos and attire are inspired by more a more western look. Even my personas back-story has Captain LaGrange emerging from the wild west as a former U.S. Marshal turned privateer.

Captain LaGrange, Privateer
Tell us a bit about Airship Archon!

The Archon is the Columbus, Ohio based Steampunk group. We have about 125 members on paper with about 30 full time members and 20 or so part time members. We have seamstresses, leather workers, artists and even a published author in the lovely Sarah Hans. We are are all people who love the Steampunk subculture and the company of our fellow shipmates. We try to have at least one monthly meet-up whether it’s a picnic, movie outing or, probably the crew's favorite, a Build Day. A build day is when every gets together for a skills exchange and workshop. Everyone brings a project to work on and if they need help they can draw from the talents of the other crew members.

Airship Archon is a fairly large group! What skills do you need to wrangle this many people together into a cohesive whole?

Patience and a lot of help lol. The group helps keep itself running by offer suggestions for outings, photo shoots and meet-ups. Everyone has a say in what happens and can offer up ideas on how to make the group stronger.

What is the steampunk POC visibility rate like in the Ohio scene you occupy? High, just about right, needs more work?

I would have to say it need more work. The POC rate here is very low even with all the exposure we have had over the last few years. Ohio is very much a college state and with that you get a demographic of people who really love sports. Sometimes alternative communities and lifestyles just let lost in the sea of football fans or the mobs of tailgaters. Then again some people still stick to racial stereo types to define who they should be and what they should like, It’s a sad inevitability.

Tell us your general *feelings* about steampunk. What do you think of the existing / canon literature? The fashions? The communities that have sprung up around them?

I personally love it! Some people think it’s a passing fad and will die out soon but I think it’s going to keep getting bigger and better. We started as a small movement and have grown into a amazing community full of people from all walks of life. We have started to gather media attention with fashion, music, movies and most of all books. The literature has riveted me since I first read Cherie Priests “Boneshaker” with her works quickly being added to my favorites. The fashions are well thought out and innovative with amazing accessories like the works of Ian of Skynz n Hydez or wonderful dresses and vest by people like Heather Luca, Megan Maude or Samantha Rei. Steampunk is doing something fantastic that a lot of other movements have not done, create a community. You have a lot of scenes out there the goth scene, punk scene, hipster scene but none of that have evolved into an actual community or family.

 What do you think are the major flaws of steampunk (whether as a genre, aesthetic, community)?

The major flaw I see is the people just trying to capitalize of the movement. It’s been stated in other interviews and even in song people glue some gears to something and call it Steampunk. That is not what it’s about, it’s about creating and modifying and making things beautiful again. Look at the works by people like Jake Von Slatt or Thomas Willieford they are wonderfully designed with amazing artistic talent. But you will always have those people just trying to make a quick buck of something.

For all the flaws, what makes steampunk compelling?

The diversity and the sheer amazing amount of talent in the community, Steampunk has captured the hearts of some of the friendliest and Gifted people in the world. It is full of makers, modders, painters, sewers, gadgeteers and fashion designers. The people are simply amazing.

Jump the Gun, starring Captain LaGrange
by Rob Manko
There are some excellent pictures of you out there on the interwebz. Do you have a favorite? My favorite one of you is where you're leaping over a railing, like whoa. So many steampunk shots are so poised and posed, or corny, it's cool to see a well done action shot!

That is actually my favorite shot as well. I have worked with quite a few photographers and that is my number favorite right now. It was shot by my good friend Rob Manko of Manko Photography; It was a spur of the moment thing we had just been shooting at some nearby train tracks when I came up with the idea. I took about 12 tries to get everything to come together but it was worth it.

At TeslaCon, you sat on a panel on steampunk multiculturalism. I've seen a vid of it, and it appears that you were the only dark-skinned POC on that there table. Do you think steampunk runs the risk of white-washing?

I don’t think so, although it may not be wholly apparent there are quite a few people of color in the Steampunk community. I will say it’s not a bustling cornucopia of multiculturalism but there is a bit of diversity. People from all around the world from Russia to Brazil and even Japan have embraced the Steampunk culture. I feel that much like the Anime community Steampunk is more open to people of many different races, genders and nationalities.

What are the salient points about the observations you made about race in the Black Rage skit that you hope the audience took away from it?

Mostly what I want people to take from it is to not take things too seriously and enjoy yourself. We are all a part of this community to learn, grow and share, whether you have been in it for years or a few months. Have fun with this and try to have fun in anything you do.

Are your non-steampunk friends and family weirded out by all this stuff?

Lol not really I’ve been costuming for a long time. I started with cosplaying my favorite anime characters like Vash The Stampede and Kakashi Hatake. To my favorite sci-fi shows and video games like Stargate and Resident Evil. Compared to some of the other stuff I’ve done Steampunk is pretty normal.

What would you say to other POC who have an interest in steampunk?

Don’t be afraid of what people say or think, do what you want and have fun with it!

Captain LaGrange can be found on DeviantArt and Model Mayhem, where he showcases his work as a model. He will be at the Steampunk Empire Symposium, World Steam Expo, Dragon*Con, and TeslaCon 3.  

1 comment:

  1. As a POC, nerd, and Steampunk enthusiast, I found this to be highly inspiring and amazing. I agree that the more we just get out there and do what we love, the more people we'll attract and inspire. Well done!!