Steampunk Street VI - Mesa Second Friday
GEARING UP FOR STEAMPUNK STREET VI
by Hal C F Astell
Local steampunks have a lot to look forward to right now. DarkCon in January has added a whole swathe of steampunk programming and Wild Wild West Con, now in the hands of Jason and Diana, the directors of the Arizona Steampunk Society, will take over Old Tucson Studios once more in March for their third extravaganza. To warm us up for both of them, the valley's most glorious free event is back in November for Steampunk Street VI.
Steampunk Street is a bi-annual takeover of Mesa's Second Friday event, in which steampunks from all over Arizona descend on the town to show you things, sell you things and open your eyes to what the genre is all about. If you have the slightest interest in what steampunk is, it's your cheapest and most accessible gateway drug. Just find your way to Main Street in Mesa, park for free and immerse yourself in an experience brought to you by a Who's Who of local steampunk talent.
It's my guess that many of these folk got their first real glimpse of the magnificence of steampunk at one of these events. Certainly I did, back at the first Steampunk Street in October 2010.
I knew what steampunk was, as I'd read some of the science fiction novels which formed the foundation to the genre, which found its name in a letter from author K W Jeter to the magazine, Locus. He was searching for a term to describe the wildly imaginative adventures he and a pair of fellow authors, James Blaylock and Tim Powers, had been setting in the Victorian era, and he suggested 'steam-punks' as a tongue in cheek variant of the then-thriving cyberpunk. It immediately stuck.
While there was already steampunk in my head, it was Steampunk Street where I really experienced the scene for the first time. Bob and Debbie Leeper were a few years ahead of me. Having first experienced its early days as an aesthetic at the San Diego Comic-Con around 2006, this was how they would bring it to the valley. Bob and Debbie are local legends whose names are always followed by those in the know with a whispered coda: 'of Evermore Nevermore'.
Evermore Nevermore was less a store and more a cabinet of curiosities, bursting with the creativity of local artists. Beyond spearheading a brief renaissance of culture in downtown Mesa, it was also the clear hub of the Second Friday wheel while it was open. That was never more apparent than during Steampunk Streets when the packed store more closely resembled a lunatic asylum with art.
It's the reason we first travelled to Mesa and it was why we came back every second Friday for a couple of years, all the while ignoring the much closer First Friday event that's mere walking distance from my office in downtown Phoenix. I made sure to take my sister and her family there when they flew out from England in 2011. However, since its closure at the end of that year (and the almost simultaneous loss of the Royale on the other side of Main Street), we find that we hardly ever go to Mesa any more.
Bob and Debbie's first steampunk event was the Steampunk Spectacular that they hosted in the small room at the back of Evermore Nevermore in February 2010, usually a home to book signings and art exhibits. This was when many locals were introduced to the goggles and gears look of steampunk and discovered that behind that look is an ethos, a return to a Victorian pride in hand built creation, where even the merely functional could still look like art and last forever.
The Steampunk Spectacular was such a success that they soon planned another, but it had clearly outgrown the store and had to spread its wings over Main Street. So, after convincing the Mesa Arts Council that 'there was nothing really punk about steampunk', it became part of the existing Second Friday art walk event, initially as just a stretch of sidewalk outside the store during a wider science fiction event. They named it, perhaps inevitably, Steampunk Street.
Six months later, when Steampunk Street II arrived in April 2011, it was still supposedly just part of Second Sci-Fi Friday, but it had clearly and emphatically taken over the event. Googling back for details, I found a pertinent quote from Daniel Davis of Steam Crow, who has been a regular fixture since the beginning: 'I think there's only about 10 percent sci-fi here,' he told the New Times, 'and the rest is steampunk.' He wasn't kidding. Steampunk was everywhere the eye could see and it was gorgeous.
Bob remembers Steampunk Street II with as much fondness as I do. It was a magic time for the genre locally and the event had an optimistic feel that was matched only by its subject matter, as steampunk is a very optimistic genre, rooted in Jules Verne's belief that science and technology were making everything possible.
This is the moment that Bob is most proud of. He told me that 'it seemed like the planets were converging', that 'there was electricity in the air.' The latter may sound like a cliché but I agree with him. In fact I don't think I've been anywhere where it was less true; it really did feel like Nicola Tesla might have been charging the aether from that little back room at Evermore Nevermore.
Thinking about today's flourishing local scene, almost everyone who is anyone was there at Steampunk Street II. Katherine Stewart and her Mantecoza team were there, back when that was just a web series and not a feature film in the final stages of post-production. Sharon Skinner was running a steampunk fashion show at the 101 Gallery; now she's the author of a steampunk novel, The Chronicles of Tavara Tinker: Le Tour de Paris. The Arizona Steampunk Society was there in force, its membership burgeoning after the first Steampunk Street and boosted once more by the second. It was at their booth that I saw WOD columnist Michael Bradley's steampunk novel, The Time Travellers Club and the Ghost Ship, which I promptly bought at Evermore Nevermore.
We befriended many vendors at the original Steampunk Street and revisiting with them at the follow-up made us feel like we were part of this increasingly cohesive community where everyone knows everyone else. We look forward to seeing them all again at Steampunk Street VI and meeting more, as the list only grows with each successive event. It was Shelly Brooks of Mystic Pieces who, at the first Steampunk Street, told us about the TV show Castle and the Punked episode they were about to screen with Nola Yergen, local costuming genius, on screen. We met Keith Decesare, painter of the most exquisite steampunk ladies, at one of the early Steampunk Streets. I later commissioned him to create the cover for my second book and he did an amazing job.
Anyone who has cast more than a fleeting glance at the local steampunk scene knows who I haven't mentioned yet. If Bob and Debbie Leeper are the brain of Steampunk Street, the Brose Brothers are its heart. If Steampunk Street is the local gateway drug to steampunk, the Brose Brothers are a dance with the green fairy.
These amazing gentlemen, a set of fraternal triplets, were the point at which my better half and I found ourselves completely sold on steampunk. Sure, we liked it beforehand but we caught the bug right there in their tent at the original Steampunk Street. Much of what we've been doing over the last couple of years can be traced back to that moment where we were drawn in by their creativity and bowled over by their passion. Now my lass hosts steampunk fashion shows and costume contests at local cons and they've never missed a single line up.
Bob and Debbie were introduced to Mitch, Casey and Ben Brose shortly after Evermore Nevermore opened. 'Those guys were there from day one,' he told me, 'helping to promote the show and showing people what the steampunk genre was all about.' The New Times paid attention and formally acknowledged their influence on the local scene by putting them on their cover for an article on the genre just after the first Steampunk Street. Bob suggests that 'the steampunk movement couldn't ask for better ambassadors than the Brose Brothers' and he's absolutely right. Go see them at Steampunk Street VI and you'll be hooked too.
It's strange to realise that many of the beautiful strangers I goggled at in amazement (pun firmly intended) back at those early Steampunk Street events are now firm friends. Google gifts me with a whole slew of recognisable faces which I didn't know at the time but seem to have known forever now. Perhaps most amazing is that it's only been three years. The local scene is thriving, with steampunk societies in what seems like every town in Arizona. The Arizona Steampunk Society, based here in the valley, host something every month.
Whether your top hat already has goggles on it or whether you're just intrigued by what I've mentioned here, the place to be next Second Friday is Main Street in Mesa for Steampunk Street VI. The construction on Main Street is done for the season and the weather should be perfect for an awesome evening show. That's Friday, 8th November and it starts at six. It's free and that includes the parking. Come in your best steampunk attire; take part in the costume contest or just check out the many artisans. By the next Steampunk Street you'll be part of the community too.
Hal C F Astell writes reviews of films from the 1900s to the 2010s at Apocalypse Later, with a focus on what most critics don't cover. He is the author of two books, Huh? An A-Z of Why Classic American Bad Movies Were Made and Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana. Both are available at Amazon.