Running A Convention: Stage 2: Financing Your Adventure

“How do I fund my convention?” This is definitely the most common question I receive from potential con directors. Typically, they are hoping I will give them an easy answer–go get a loan from such and such bank. Make it 15,000, and mortgage your house to get it. If you talk to this particular book vendor they will give you loads of money. Here’s the magic.

Unfortunately for all of you, there isn’t actually an easy button. But there are some very straightforward principles that will keep you out of trouble and out of debt. If you can’t follow these, you might want to reconsider running a convention before it ruins your personal financial life.

First of all, let’s clarify. AnomalyCon was started on $147. That broke down to $50 for an LLC, $25 to start a bank account, and the rest was for web domains (and I think we had to pay a couple bucks for some modules for our website). $147 out of pocket. The rest paid for itself.

To do that, you’re going to need some integrity, a website, a business bank account, a paypal account, a business plan (see previous chapters), and a ticket pricing schedule.

And a return policy. This is the most important. Since this is your first year event, you need the website to have information about your plans, and a way to take money. Have a cart with tickets, but make sure that the disclaimer says the tickets will be refunded in case of event cancellation. This is where your integrity comes in.

Now, notice I did NOT say you need a hotel. I didn’t mention location at all, actually. Since this is your first year event, I’m going to advise that your nearest college and cozy up with a member of a student organization. Make friends, then negotiate the use of rooms for the student rate. It might be a weird space, but it will be close to free. In most cases you don’t even have to pay until it’s almost time for the event. AnomalyCon didn’t nail down our space until we’d been taking vendor registrations for a couple of months. Thank goodness, because we needed a bigger space than we had initially scoped.

Now, here’s the key. Go steal vendors from other events.
What I mean by that is–attend other conventions. Find out who’s local. Meet the vendors and talk to them about how they are doing at the show they are at, and whether they’d be interested in a startup show. Charge them maybe $50 for a table, and explain what you’re doing to get attendees. They get the same refund policy in case of cancellation.

If you do it right, the vendors pay for your event space. Your job is to make sure there are enough attendees to make it worth it for them.

Do NOT promise guests that you’ll “pay them if the show does well.” Bad BAD precedent to set, and also without integrity. It’s better to find locals willing to perform/appear for the sake of a first year event than to lie to guests.

Most importantly, budget as though almost no one is going to attend, but plan as though you’ll have great attendance.

Wednesday: Steampunk World And Anime

I could’ve sworn I had covered this topic before, but since I can’t find the post in my archives, we’ll revisit. Since it’s September 11 and the country is likely to be rife with mournful posts about something that happened many years ago, I’ll revisit even older times–the world that Never Was.

Since Hayao Miyazaki has finally chosen to retire, and Nan Desu Kan (Denver’s major anime convention) starts here on Thursday, I’ve been spending time contemplating how I went from an anime enthusiast to a Steampunk enthusiast. The leap is easier than you might think, especially inj Miyazaki’s realm of “what ifs.”

Take Princess Mononoke, one of Miyazaki’s premier works. The biggest message from this film is the battle between advancing technology and the magic and simplicity of the forest. The message pervades in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind as well, and where the former focuses on interesting weapons, the latter surrounds forms of transportation as well.  In both of these films (although I am listing them in reverse chronological order), the most important thing is for people to flex their ingenuity and discover new and better ways to make their lives work through technology–but they most also learn how to live with the world they have, and not destroy the earth with their hunger for progress.

If we move on, Miyazaki’s film Porco Rosso came sandwiched between the other two, and is really more Dieselpunk than Steampunk–but with an anime about goggles, flying machines and battles in the sky, who can argue the appeal? His film Castle in the Sky came right after Nausicaa, and is really a legendary search for ancient advanced technology–a Steampunk Atlantis (speaking of which, the Disney movie Atlantis is certainly Steampunk as well). Howl’s Moving Castle is also technology-laden and anti-war, but with the idea that technology and magic are inexplicably intertwined. I love this take on things because the Victorians were weirdly obsessed with the unexplained–and for them, science WAS magic.

Miyazaki had this to say:
“To be born means being compelled to choose an era, a place, a life. To exist here, now, means to lost the possibility of being countless other potential selves.. Yet once being born there is no turning back. And I think that’s exactly why the fantasy worlds of cartoon movies so strongly represent our hopes and yearnings. They illustrate a world of lost possibilities for us.”
― Hayao MiyazakiStarting Point: 1979-1996

But Miyazaki isn’t the only anime director to obsess over concepts embodied by much of Steampunk. Another great series to look into is called Last Exile. It is best characterized by the fact that warfare in this series involves two propeller-driven airships lining up side by side, the hatches being opened, and men in 19th century uniforms firing at each other from steam-powered rifles. As if that’s not enough, almost the entire series occurs in the air.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is another great tale, based very loosely off of the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. VERY loosely. The premise is that a girl born of Atlanteans–who were really aliens with superior technology–is running from villains who want to capture her and her blue water pendant, which allows her to enter Atlantis–assuming she could remember why she was being chased, of course. She is accompanied by a young French lad who is bound and determined to invent a real flying machine, and his ingenuity often gets them into trouble.  The costumes are great, some of the series is very entertaining, and it’s a fresh perspective on 20,000 Leagues.

No list of Steampunk animes is complete without Steamboy, although it’s not my favorite film. The movie was basically Steampunk encapsulated, but I felt the plot was stiff and anticlimactic until the very end. However, the animation is beautiful, and certainly worth watching once.

Lastly, Fullmetal Alchemist has robots, alchemists, the personification of the 7 Deadly Sins, and a fine line between science and magic that makes it a great choice–not to mention awesome costumes and a few episodes that conveniently slip into the “alternate dimension” of Victorian Earth. Yes, this is a Steampunk series worth watching from start to finish.

With so many series personifying Steampunk, I’m surprised the obsession in Japan has not been more complete. Groups like Strange Artifact and the Tokyo Inventors Society are looking to change that.

If you are planning to attend NDK, remember that the Colorado Steampunks have a Steampunk Photo Shoot scheduled at 1pm at the flagpole. They’ll also be playing Emma: A Victorian Romance and it looks like an interesting series. Don’t miss it!

Steampunk World: Tea Dueling

Since the Denver County Fair is coming up this weekend and the Colorado Steampunks and AnomalyCon will be represented there, I thought I’d talk about Tea Dueling.

The first known instances of Tea Dueling in the US occurred in 2012 within a couple of weeks of each other–one of which was at AnomalyCon 2012, courtesy of the patronage of BB Blackdog. It was a raging success and has spread like wildfire, leading to the formation of the American Tea Dueling Society. Some argue that it should be spelled “Duelling” as in the British spelling, but for the sake of my spell check I am ignoring the anglophiles.

Usually when we discuss tea dueling, the first image that comes to mind is that of two gentlemen duking it out over a tea table with foils–or holding tea in one hand and a dueling cane in the other. While this might be an entertaining development of Bartitsu, it’s not quite what we have in mind.

Thanks to Susan Rahmsdorff’s diligence and a little help from Dryad Tea, AnomalyCon and the Colorado Steampunks are keeping tea dueling alive and well in the Denver Metro Area.

Here are a couple of videos from AnomalyCon 2013’s competition:

And the finals:

In 2014 we expect to have proper double-elimination and a very standardized tournament. With cookies. Of course.

Basically, the rules are as follows:
Two duelists sit across from each other at a table, each with a cup of tea and a biscuit (or cookie).
On the count they dip their cookies in the tea, and then it’s a game to stare each other down until one lifts out his biscuit and tries to eat it. The winner is the one who both holds his biscuit in the longest AND gets the entire biscuit into his mouth without it breaking.
This is a serious sport. Only the most elegant and graceful gentlemen and ladies can compete with a straight face. Better yet, it is a duel fought without violence. Maybe.

Those who would like to see or participate in a live demonstration and tea dueling competition should join us on Sunday at 3pm at the Denver County Fair! Badges for the entire weekend are only $10, and we also will be putting on a fashion show on Saturday at 5pm. Join us all weekend for shenanigans, new interesting swag and a good old fashioned time. Also probably pie.

Top 10 Steampunk Travel Destinations: #10: Berlin

For the next few weeks we’ll be doing things a little differently. I’ll still be posting my usual relationship/business/recipe sort of blogs on Monday and Wednesday, but in addition I will be posting some “Top Ten” lists in Steampunk and Victorian topics. These will be cross-posted to the AnomalyCon media outlets, so welcome to those of you from those outlets!

Today we’re covering #10 on our list: Berlin.

Berlin has a rich history, not the least of which is scattered with the technological advances of several wars. The German crowd has also latched on to Steampunk (Just ask BB Blackdog).

With all of the destruction during WWII, many buildings have been partially rebuilt. You can check out this walking tour company for a good list of architectural marvels from days gone by.

This really cool site has an archive of old city maps by year–you can use these to plan to visit wonders that are still where they once stood.

The Technikmuseum has a history of technology and lots of cool aeronautical devices on display. This is one of the largest museums in the world and has an entire array of planes, trains, and other science gadgets.

The Museum Island has three of Berlin’s most famous museums, as well as a nice walk with coffee houses etc.

Rotes Rathaus is another good choice–what is exploration without a clock tower?

You can’t miss “The Museum,” which is the largest collection of aeronautical devices in the world–including zeppelins.

If you get the chance, visit EuroSteamCon while you’re there!

You should check out this Steampunk Bar while you are in the city.

If you are really interested in Berlin but can’t afford to get there, try taking a virtual tour with these resources:
The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Arounder Berlin
360 Berlin

Stay tuned on Monday for #9, as well as the usual post!

Looking for the rest?

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Wednesday: Phoenix Comicon Convention Report

So, for the next couple of weeks–due to my adventures coming up–Wednesday will be devoted to convention reports.

This past weekend I was at Phoenix Comicon, which is both reportedly the only Comic Con that drops a C, and also reportedly was rather small until only a couple of years ago. This year there were around 46,000 people (their count) turning the styles to make it in. At those kinds of numbers they couldn’t really even keep track of whether people had badges in the panel rooms, so who knows how many actually paid to get in.

Based on the sheer amount of (redundant, in a lot of cases) programming, we only had a few things we specifically wanted to see. We drove the 13 hours overnight starting Thursday around 5pm. On Friday we met up with the Arizona Steampunks at their Steampunk 101 panel. We hadn’t slept yet, so I probably hallucinated about half of that panel, but it gave me some diabolical mod plans for later this year.

We spoke with Jason and Dianne(sp) about doing a sistership with the Wild Wild West Con–we tend to have more guests than they do, and we have different philosophies, but I think our audiences would appreciate each other.

On Friday afternoon I got to hear Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from ST:TOS) speak. She’s a hilarious spitfire even at 83. One person asked her a question about her stance on gay marriage. I admired her ability to answer in such a way that everyone would believe she agreed with them regardless of their stance–one can’t be too careful I suppose. I know from following Takei that she’s actually very supportive of equality. Makes sense, she WAS the first Black Woman on television.

I do contend that “first interracial kiss” with Kirk though. I just rewatched TOS and she kissed Spock in episode 3 (might have been episode 2), before she even officially met the captain.

Friday night we managed to pass out for like 9 hours, thank goodness. Saturday morning was quieter than I expected, but still hectic.

On Saturday Afternoon I was at an Author Chair Dancing event. It was supposed to be like Twitter live–Delilah S. Dawson, Sam Sykes, John Scalzi, Kevin Hearne and Leanne Renee Hieber. It was a hilariously good time. I finally got to meet Delilah by harassing her at her table later.

This year the PCC folks were hosting the bulk of the Babylon 5 cast for the Bab5 20th anniversary. I’ve met Claudia Christian before, and technically Robin Atkin Downes and Pat Tallman as well (previous Starfests when Bab5 was still running). It was still really cool to see most of the cast on stage Saturday night.

Sunday was quieter. We were mostly just interested in seeing the Lantern City preview panel. Unfortunately, Bruce Boxleitner couldn’t make it. We also found out it won’t be premiering for a couple more years. But the panel was still awesome.

I also attended a panel by the Apocalypse Girls on “con saturation.” Apparently Arizona has dozens of cons as opposed to Denver’s 8 or 9 cons. The giant nature of PCC (due in part to San Diego Comic Con influence, I am sure) has also made it difficult for many people to really get to know the less huge authors/artists/etc. The twitter flurry afterward from some of my favorite web comic artists somewhat follows the same thoughts.

Ultimately, I hope AnomalyCon can draw big crowds some day…but it’s important for us to keep our perspective and maintain our “for the people” attitude.

Friday: Steampunk World!

This weekend the team at AnomalyCon headquarters is headed over to Phoenix Comicon to check out some new guest options, see the cast of Babylon 5 for their 20th anniversary, and meet the crew of the Wild Wild West convention down in AZ.

The PCC website has a rather convoluted schedule that categorizes half of their programming as Steampunk–including Author chair dancing, AMVs, and a bunch of other random stuff. This leads us to an argument that has frequently occurred surrounding AnomalyCon: What IS Steampunk?

Well, as Regretsy likes to point out, it certainly is not this: Indian Squaw Loincloth Skirt. Yep. With computer parts. We actually had a “Native American Steampunk” with a headdress show up to AC this year. I’m not sure how I felt about that.

AnomalyCon/Victorian Productions define Steampunk as “A concept that embodies the idea that steam-powered or kinetic energy exists with advanced or alternate technology in a time outside of its own. It encompasses the aesthetic other than the modern, the idea that the common man can create technology using the objects around him, and a bit of the fantastical unknown.”

We’re not sticklers. Victorian Science Fiction just doesn’t cover enough ground. That’s why our 2013 theme was “All Things Punk.” We had a great time with it.

Separately, though, we are looking forward to establishing relationships with some other conventions. Denver Comic Con is talking  about having us come in and run Steampunk paneling all weekend next year. And while I can’t promise there will be no author chair dancing, I CAN promise that the Steampunk portion of our programming will be at least as much fun as it is at Starfest and MileHiCon.

In other news… Steampunk Legos are COMING. Which means the lego contest at AnomalyCon this year is going to be even more amazing.

And finally…though this may not be news to you, the African Martial Arts in the Victorian era were pretty awesome. See this article.

Stay Steamy, my dears–and check out the guests we have already announced for AnomalyCon!

Wednesday: Adventures in Conventioning (And Earl Grey Cupcakes)

We’re back and all refreshed (finally) from running Denver’s ragingly successful Steampunk/Science Fiction/Alternate History convention!

I had the opportunity to meet a multitude of wonderful, talented people–including such greats as Gail Carriger, Selena (S.J.) Chambers, Jon Magnificent, Trae Dorn, and so many guests I don’t have room to list them all. The energy and transparency of everyone involved was exhilarating. We’ve had a wonderful time together, and now my head is already churning with thoughts of those new ideas to come.

In that light, it appears that we have decided to host a Cupcake War at the next AnomalyCon. With that in mind, here I share the recipe for the cupcakes we used for the AnomalyCon tea this year!

(Original credit to honeyandjam.com recipe from which we snagged the idea):

Earl Grey Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Earl Grey Frosting

This version makes roughly 30 cupcakes:

For the cupcakes:

1 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups of flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 bags of earl grey, just the leaves
2 tsp vanilla

For the frosting

We cheated and used 1/2 can whipped cream cheese frosting
A few drops (2-3) purple food coloring
3 bags earl grey (just the leaves)
1 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either fill a pan with cupcake liners or use the self-supporting silicon or aluminum cupcake liners (we prefer the latter). Cream butter on high with standing or hand mixer. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporate completely. In separate bowl combine tea leaves, flour, salt and baking powder. Mix half of dry mixture into butter, then all of milk, then finally the rest of the dry mixture. Mix thoroughly until combined well.
Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full of batter. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until tops are beginning to lightly brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing.

For the icing, beat whipped cream cheese frosting with earl grey leaves and food coloring. Either spread on completely cooled cupcakes or add 1tsp milk to make the frosting a piping consistency.
If you don’t like the light texture of the earl grey leaves, run them through a food processor before adding to the other ingredients.

Voila! Enjoy a cupcake of tea!