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Steampunk's not dead

In which our hero attends a convention
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  March 31, 2011

 steampunk convention

Two hours after listening to a talking ape named Rupert Cornelius swat down inane inquiries from a panel of probable drama-club alumni, I watched a guy shove a needle through his face. Later, I was almost mowed over by Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, who had opted to forego the "stationary" aspect of their title on this occasion.

These experiences were typical fare at the Steampunk Industrial Revolution convention last weekend at Nashua, New Hampshire's Holiday Inn, where a collective urge to glorify the past was, for a change, used for good instead of evil.

Nostalgia gets a bad rap due to boring people who, out of some sad narcissism, prop up their late-teens-to-early-20s years as more interesting and exciting than they really were. But what if history could be more interesting and exciting than what really happened? Whether aware of it or not, steampunk devotees cultivate a sort of hyper-nostalgia. No one literally remembers Victorian London, so why shouldn't steampunks re-enact it as a time when standard household appliances included laser guns and time machines, pirates could be regal instead of scummy, robots could have emotional problems, and . . . Cobra Commander was there?

"Steampunk is about taking something that doesn't happen anymore, and remaking it in a way so people today can embrace it," explained head of programming Ashley Rogers. This unconventional convention was conceived last year when seasoned organizer Lisa Sussenberger (of Another Anime Con) tapped accredited steampunker Rogers to round up acts for a New England gathering.

"We're doing really well for our first time, but it's not Dragon Con or San Diego Comic-Con, where there are a billion people," she said. "The attendance is small enough to cater to each individual, but big enough so we're keeping busy."

Yup. The event seemingly validated all possible variations of steampunk's somewhat nebulous definition. For some, like the craftsmen whose handiwork was displayed in the lobby, steampunk means tricking out modern gadgets so they appear plucked from a 19th-century sci-fi novel. For the vendors who hawked their wares out of their hotel rooms, it's anachronistic fashion and art. For others, steampunk means telling everyone their name is "Baron Von Something" and feigning a hyperbolic English accent and bemused, dull surprise about this, "the future," while wearing a top hat and goggles.

Our presence was limited to Saturday night, so we never found out whodunit at the Murder Mystery Dinner, and missed Friday's Queen of Steam pageant. We certainly caught some memorable musical acts, such as Boston's own anachrontastic Mighty Tiny. But it was tireless masochist and sometime fire-breather Wyck who stole the show by plunging a needle through both sides of his mouth and making a fishy-face, thereby vanquishing the Honor Amongst Thieves troupe in the Freak Off competition. During their losing effort, HAT had executed a stunt involving two beds of nails, a pile of broken glass, and three human bodies — but when it comes to eliciting groans of discomfort, the most effective route is also the most direct.

"The needle to the face. . . yes, it hurts. It gets the shock-value reaction," Wyck said later. "But I pride myself in taking something grotesque and making it funny."

After Wyck's victory, audience members were invited to fasten cash tips onto Wyck and HAT member Hamburger James via staple gun. Rumor has it that someone earlier had thrown down a fifty for the privilege of stapling Wyck's sack to his inner thigh.

Quoth the human pincushion, "Believe it or not, it's not that bad. It's only skin, man."

>> PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Steampunk Industrial Revolution convention in Nashua <<

Related: Photos: Steampunk Industrial Revolution Convention, Interview: Sarah Silverman, Finding the fairest food: Sampling falafel, deep-fried Oreos, bacon puffs, and more at Fryeburg, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , New Hampshire, Nashua, Steampunk,  More more >
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