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Steampunk convention at Old Tucson draws wild sights, elaborate costumes, friends for life

Steampunk convention at Old Tucson draws wild sights, elaborate costumes, friends for life

The gunslinging and saloon dancing at Old Tucson might look a little more anachronistic this weekend as the ninth annual Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention gets underway.

Thousands are expected to visit the longtime theme park for the event, some from as far away as Germany and New Zealand, to share their affection for steampunk, the science fiction subgenre that combines Old West and Victorian history and culture with futuristic steam-powered technology.

Jason Drotman, owner of the convention, said the con has gone from a couple hundred attendees when it first started to one of the largest events of its kind in the country.

“There is no other place quite like Old Tucson, nothing as grand or historic, to host an event like this,” Drotman said. “People love the feel of it all.”

The idea for the steampunk convention initially emerged from meetings held by the Arizona Steampunk Society in Phoenix more than a decade ago. Drotman, who was at those original meetings and still lives in Phoenix, said the majority of his team now resides in Tucson, as do many of the attendees.

Tucsonan Cassandra Sparrold Shute, 37, has been coming to Wild Wild West Con since Year 2.

Up to that point, Sparrold had not given steampunk much thought. A friend invited her to the convention.

She considered herself more of a Victorian goth girl; a regular attendee of goth-friendly clubs in Tucson, such as Fineline on West Drachman Street and Club Asylum on East Congress.

Sparrold, who works as a middle school teacher and has served in several positions with Wild Wild West Con, was immediately smitten with what the steampunk convention had to offer.

“It was a natural transition for me,” she said.

Sparrold said one of the major draws was the costume play. Sparrold tries to dress as a different original character each year. Last year, she carried a black umbrella, wore iridescent wings and a light blue and green skirt and called herself the Fairy Goth-mother.

“I roamed the park giving sometimes sunny, but snarky pieces of advice,” she said. “A lot of the people who attend the convention have the fact that they are makers in common. That provides a significant bond.”

Sparrold said it took her some time to transition from the all-black goth aesthetic, but these days, she enjoys a little bit of color in her wardrobe.

“I’m still drawn to the monochromatic look, but sometimes pink can be fun,” she said.

Sparrold said the steampunk community is a tight community. She considers many of the attendees of Wild Wild West Con friends for life.

“The convention is a really great place to meet with people who have a lot of these same interests,” Sparrold said. “We have this philosophy that we are fun, we are entertaining, we are weird. Everyone should come join us.”

STEAMPUNK 101

Thinking about attending this year’s Wild Wild West Con? Here is what you can expect:

Lots of costumes

It doesn’t take long at the Wild Wild West convention to realize that the steampunk community is a creative community.

Many of the participants will be decked out in elaborate Victorian and Western garb with steampunk elements attached — things like fanciful goggles and wild, steam-powered weaponry.

“People take it to an extreme level,” Drotman said. “We have participants coming in whose full-time jobs consist of making steampunk props, equipment and gear.”

Drotman said you don’t need to be an expert costume designer to attend the event.

“We have people who spend 200 hours on incredibly elaborate costumes and others who assemble something from items they pick up at Savers,” he said. “All levels are welcome.”

Workshops

Not feeling your costume? Attend a workshop or two to up your game for next year. Wild Wild West Con will teach you how to create a wide array of steampunk-inspired attire and accessories, including “steamy” hair clips, steampunk nail art, top hats, ear cuffs and eye patches.

Panels

Several of the buildings at Old Tucson during Wild Wild West, including the chapel and the courthouse, will be transformed into classrooms for a wide range of panels to be held throughout the weekend.

Like any good convention, be it for comics, gaming or steampunk, the panels are designed to be both creative and informative.

There will be discussions about Victorian spiritualism, the art of robbing a bank in the Old West, prop-building, and one called “The Pinkertons, The World’s First Private Detective Agency.”

Entertainment

The convention is going all out in the music department this year, flying the neo-steampunk metal band Poison Garden all the way from Italy for a concert on Saturday night. Led by Madame Anais Noir, the band delights with guitar-driven melodies and steampunk themes.

Poison Garden will be joined by the outfit known as Marquis of Vaudeville, a band known for its theatrical flair and originality.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@tucson.com or 573-4679

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