I almost felt obligated to attend the new Steampunk con “AetherFest” after giving them crap on this very blog a few weeks ago. Honestly, though, I would have attended regardless just to satisfy my curiosity. When my friend Chris Holm asked me to help him out at his table and with his panel (as the “guest editor” of his new comic “Steam Pets”), it was an easy “yes.”
Unfortunately, “help out” also means “don’t get to see much of anything,” so I know there was lots of cool stuff I didn’t get to experience. I spent most of the event at Chris’ table over in the game room along with a few other vendors. Mutual friend Jackie Naehrig joined us on Saturday and we had a fun time hanging around and marveling at the attendees, many wearing appropriate attire and accoutrements.
Chris and Jackie dressed up, so I felt just a little bit embarrassed sitting next to them sporting a T-shirt and blue jean shorts on Saturday. I improvised a little something on Sunday, though. I put on some slacks, a button down shirt, dusted off a flat cap and stopped to get a set of suspenders on the way back to the St. Anthony Hotel. I have to admit, it felt neat, like I should have also been carrying a giant wrench or an oil can or something. I thought looked like the guy in the boiler room as opposed to all the captains, pilots and proper ladies walking about. Upon seeing my outfit, though, Chris said I looked like “Professor Layton’s hat boy.” Jerk.
The only panel I attended was one that I was a part of. I sat with Chris on his “Intro to Drawing and Comic-Making” panel where we talked about making “Steam Pets” and our experiences with First Storm Manga with a small spirited group. I wandered around for a bit and checked out the other dealer area and the “museum,” where they had quite a few neat items on display and for sale. It was all very nice and being at the historic St. Anthony Hotel (built in 1909) added greatly to the ambiance. Judging from the pictures I’ve seen on Facebook, the events they held on the evenings of Friday and Saturday appear to have been very entertaining. The misgivings I had previously about “steam-snobs” were unfounded, and I must say that looking the part does add to the fun of being there.
While I had fun at Aetherfest and have been hearing good things from people that were there, there are some things that they need to work on. Let me start by acknowledging that some of these things cannot be helped (particularly where the hotel is concerned) but you have to take the bad with the good, so here we go.
Split Vendor Area Is a Bother – Having two separate areas for vendors is never a good thing (see also: MizuumiCon 2011) and it would benefit all involved if the organizers could try to have all them in one area next time. I’m not familiar enough with the layout of the St. Anthony to know if that is possible, but if it is, it should be considered.
“Third Floor: Hosiery, Lingerie, and Panels!” – The majority of the panels were held on the third floor, which was kind of lousy, but I have to let it slide because it is a consequence of the way the St. Anthony was built. The fact that the program sometimes said “Third Floor” and “Third Room,” however, was not.
Needs Improvement, See Me After Class – Now that I have had an opportunity to look it over a bit closer, I’d say whomever edited the program was asleep at the airship wheel.
Promotion – I think the organizers missed out on prime opportunities to promote their event at either Mizuumi-con (which may or may not have been full) or at ChimaeraCon. I did see flyers at ChimaeraCon, but they did not have a lot of information about the event. I would strongly recommend the Aetherfest folks consider requesting a Con Alley table at San Japan 4TW in August.
Website – For the love of Tesla, lads, get a webhost or something. It’s not that expensive, and you can even get a free one from Google. Not everyone is on Facebook (yet) and while Tumblr does look nice, I shouldn’t have to go to some skeevy download site with pop-up ads just to see your schedule and program. In addition, if you have your own host, you can put up picture galleries, forums and other things to attract interest.
Despite the quibbles I just mentioned, I thought AetherFest was a good con. As was expected for a first-time event, the crowd was small, but those who made it out had a good time. Those of us who are “steam-newbies” got to check out some cool stuff and learn a little something about this fascinating world called “Steampunk.” I am confident that I will be returning next year. Who knows, I may even sport a waist coat or a bowler hat or maybe just a really big wrench.
Good show, fellows!