Saturday, July 30, 2011

Con Report: Growing Pains in Whitelandia - PDXGearCon July 22-24

Because let's face it, Portland is pretty white. A couple of people asked me for numbers for how many visible people of colour I saw all weekend, and I counted the following:

4 black men - Tony Hicks of Tinplate Studios; a dapper gentleman I didn't get the name of; a goth at the Saturday concert; and a man who came by with his wife and her two sisters.

5 Asians - Said wife and two sisters (I'm guessing East Asian; the two sisters were in lolita gear); my cousin Andrea (yep, that fab Azn rocking the boat - on her head - is related to me); and Brad working for LastWear.

ETA: I should also add Peter Zarate of Vernian Process on this list. Very remiss of me to have forgotten! I have no idea what he identifies though. 

There was also another man who mentioned in passing that he didn't identify as white but I didn't get the details. I never do unless they're volunteered. It's not good of me, because it does mean I overlook a lot of invisible racial minorities, but I hate poking into people's ish without permission.

The lack of POC, though, is not my problem, it's Portland's. (Although I AM curious as to the final count of people who registered to attend.) PDXGearCon, however, had other problems besides the need to colour up. 

And holy crap did it have problems. The website was down for a really long time earlier, and I almost thought that the con wasn't going to happen because there was so much radio silence on what, exactly, was going to happen.

Con chair Stephen was really accommodating to me for all my ideas, but programs are nice. Very nice. Mostly because I wanted to know what my schedule was so I could be sure to make the most of my con experience, seeing as I'm so rarely out to the West Coast. The day after I arrived in Portland, which would be the Wednesday right before the convention, I received an email asking if I still wanted any workshops in! What! I can't even respond to that. 

And I didn't know if I had a projector! And I didn't know who to talk to, besides the con chair, and you know, I hate that. The con chair shouldn't be taking so much onto hirself, no matter what. But it worried me enough that my first words to Stephen, ever, offline, were, "So do I have a projector?"

Not only that, but programs for Friday and Saturday weren't even available until the day of itself. Sunday's program was at least available the night before. At least. Still, this is something that should have been set in place weeks before.

Now onto the good stuff, with pictures even.

The site chosen for the convention, however, is a darling, darling, delicious hotel. Although it's not great in terms of food, there was at least some fast food nearby. It's a bit confusing at first, with two hallways (Belmont and Windsor) which loop around a courtyard. There were no vendor rooms, which is nice at first because most vendor rooms I've seen tend to be really crowded (and I always get a skin-crawly feel of consumerism in them) but it must have been really annoying for the vendors to have to keep their stock away every night.

In the Belmont hallway from the steps leading in

The other side of the Belmont hallway from the steps leading in
Tony Hicks of Tinplate Studios with his display of grotesque mantelpieces

A shot of the vendors in the Windsor hallway, with Erica Unwoman Mulkey in its midst
An insta-bustle vendor

I bought a lovely brass train musicbox from this gorgeous family.
It plays "I've Been Working On The Railroad".
A little slowly, but I like it. The slowness has a melancholy to it that makes me think of the Chinese railroad workers.
That, coupled with the recycled, reshaped brass, makes my purchase damned worthwhile.
Nonetheless, despite all hiccups, I think it's safe to say that at least from the attendee point of view, the con went really smoothly. I took things VERY easily this convention, and skipped out on panels I would ordinarily attempt to attend, such as the What Is Steampunk panel headed by Diana Vicks.

Despite the lack of paneling I did, the program offerings were really awesome: readings by various authors (holy awesome author lineup!), workshops on crafts (my cousin attended several sewing lectures led by Andie Letourneau, and I looked in a few times and was both weirded out at the classroom-like setup and impressed by how really absorbed everybody was in the subject matter), and of course, awesome performances. I missed Friday night's shows featuring Vagabond Opera, because I was hosting a little wine and cheese, but the next night's offerings, with Veronique Chevalier and circus acts and Vernian Process was excellent. Vernian Process performed with a new member this time, Martha, and she had a couple of songs with Unwoman, which were fabulous. (I missed Unwoman's solo performances earlier in the day. If I make it out to SteamCon this will not happen.)

Have I mentioned the impressive guest list? Cherie Priest, Margaret Killjoy, M.K. Hobson, Devon Monk, Andrew Mayer as a few of the people off the top of my head.

MK Hobson, Devon Monk and Cherie Priest at the Pacific Northwest Regional Steampunk panel

GearCon also saw the introduction of the Vulcania Volunteers onto the steampunk scene! These fine fellows are a little group of artists working on models and reproductions of the Nautilus, and Mikel Sauve presented a workshop on making models. I understand they will be at SteamCon, which is quite perfect, considering SteamCon III's theme.

Wayne Orlicki beside a Vulcania Volunteers display
Mikel Sauve beside a modded scooter out in the courtyard

This is a GPS

This is the emergency brake
Besides these nifty people, there were also various folks present, and I was really happy to have had the chance to hang out with a lot of people this time around rather than hustling around like at last Steampunk World's Fair. 

Mrs. Sullivan, founder of the Rose City Steampunks
Phineas Von Stitch of Out From Behind the Curtain , found on both the Steampunk Empire and Facebook
Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil talking to cultural historian James Carrott
James Carrott was out and about doing some final research touches for the book and documentary Vintage Tomorrows, and since the camera crew is based in Portland, we somehow managed to wrangle some time for an interview. Martha Swetkoff, whom I met at Nova Albion and Steampunk World's Fair, was also out and about collecting material for her documentary on Maker culture, and got me and Magpie to have a conversation with each other. 

I like taking pictures of people taking pictures of me.
This would be Glen Bledsoe, who is also an itinerant sleight-of-hand magician.
My panels were fairly well-attended. I'd say about thirty for Steam Around the World, and I counted another thirty for the Envisioning a Better Steam Society roundtable. Stephen was very kind and gave me two hours each, which I find is just about perfect for such panels, especially since they have such complicated topics. Thanks everybody for coming out and being patient! That was an interesting range of topics we covered, moving from overt/covert bigotry, to definitions of technology and progress, to science fundamentalists. It was so fun, despite folks having to step out before it ended because there were so many other cool panels, and of course a ballroom dancing lesson, although I'd initially planned to kick everyone out after the one-and-a-half hour mark, we went the full two hours anyway.

And I felt bad about that because the vendors had been waiting for about an hour to get into the room so they could store stuff. Meep!

Here are some more pictures from the convention:

Mikel Sauve of the Vulcania Volunteers talking to Erica Unwoman Mulkey

A closer look at Tony Hicks' shelf of curiousities


Brad Russell rocking a non-Victorian look. And Filipino self.
Didn't get this dude's name, but I liked the way this traveler's outfit was put together.
Jeanette Ng might well call this ricepunk, but I could see it more as silkpunk.
My cousin Andrea earlier in the day before her full Marie Antoinette costume.
Because nothing says steampunk like wearing your underwear on the outside.
Did I mention she made this outfit herself?
Yeah, my family is full of cool people.

Myself with the lovely Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil

So I did do the groupie thing and got a picture with awesome musicians: Josh Pfeiffer and Erica Mulkey.
You shush your envious selves.
Handsome dapper gentlemen of Out from Behind the Curtain
Since I took it so darn easy in terms of con stuff, I did do a lot of non-con things! I managed to do the following:

- Get out to one of Phineas' little Out get-togethers in the hotel lounge. Have I mentioned how lovely Phineas is? No? Well, he is. 

- Host a little wine-and-cheese in the hotel room I shared with Kevin Steil. Martha, Andrea and Jaime provided some foods, like chips, and pita breads, and cheeses. I particularly liked the lavender-flavoured goat cheese. Andrea and Kevin also provided some libations, and I bought in two bottles of ice wine from Canada. It was very cosy and well-attended, and I'm looking forward to hosting another such tiny party like it in the future. Do you know how nifty it is to have famous people like Erica and Cherie chilling out in your room? I do now.

- Hang out after the Saturday night show with various folks. And then with Peter and Martin (and other company) of Vernian Process after the show on Saturday at one of Portland's late-night foodcarts, courtesy of Andrea and Jaime.

- Nap in that courtyard, on Sunday afternoon. 

So, despite the smallness of the con, and some unfortunate incidents, GearCon was lovely. Again, thanks, Stephen, for helping me get out there and inviting me; thanks Kevin for letting me room with him; and thanks audience members for being patient and coming out! Hope to see you next year!


  1. It was so nice to meet you Jha! Just to "up" Portland's POC quotient a bit, I'd like to add that I am Native American; an enrolled member of my tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in California; my family is Southern Pomo. I also work in the Native community here in Portland.

    Hope to see you at next year's GEARCon!

    Mrs. Sullivan
    Rose City Steampunks, Local 23

  2. I bounced over here from RCSP message board. People really did have a wonderful time at GEAR Con. But I think everyone managed to miss a panel or three due to the lack of programming info. At the end of the con, there was a post-con critique meeting, and those that attended gave it to the committee with both barrels, bemoaning all the things they did wrong, and praising all the things they did right. Chairman Stephen did, indeed, do too much of everything, and promises that won't happen next year. He even appointed a programming person right then and there for next year. They're looking for a new site for next year as well, as there were not only some behind-the-scenes hitches with the hotel, but next year they won't be opposite two other major conventions so they expect attendance to go way up, which the hotel couldn't handle.

    I believe there would have been more people of all races if they had been able to get more word out that the convention was happening.

  3. Hello Mrs. Sullivan! That IS indeed really good to hear! I'm so happy to know that!

    Lois: I missed that panel because I was pretty sure I wouldn't have anything to say besides a lot of complaints, because other than complaints, I had a great time. And more importantly I think, I feel I can trust the con com to do better next year. Looking forward to it =)