This was my second year at San Diego Comic Con tabling with a small press, and there’s a lot about it I enjoy. I love meeting illustrators and artists. I love paying six dollars for nachos. I love watching losers in expensive costumes wait in line for hours on end, only to not be admitted to the crummy The Walking Dead panel they flew from Cleveland to attend.
I do not love, and could never love, the subculture that has given hordes of mouthbreathers an excuse to leave their wretched homes—the steampunks.
Two hours into tabling this past Saturday, we’d easily come into direct contact with at least 400 steampunks and passed by hundreds more before The Steampunk Family, the nuclear American mother, father and two children, descended upon us. My colleagues didn’t react to this hideous display, either because it’s par for the course at the largest gathering of mouth-breathers with disposable income on the planet or, as I suspect, because they harbor their own perverse steampunk aspirations. In case you have avoided the culture thus far, the group as follows:
“Steampunk is modern technology—iPads, computers, robotics, air travel—powered by steam and set in the 1800’s.”
Or, why? To paraphrase: Do you ever wish there was a time where there was slavery and iPads? Do you ever find yourself yearning for the discomfort and oppression of nineteenth century clothing because admitting you’re a leather daddy to your children is too embarrassing? Do you, for lack of a better phrase, suck profoundly? Consider steampunk culture.
Back to The Steampunk Family. I spotted them passing our table just as my shift manning said table had ended. I abandoned all aspirations of halfheartedly attending the nearby panel on “How to Turn Your Childhood Trauma into a Shitty Webcomic No One Will Look At,” or whatever it was I was going to do. This was my chance to try to figure out exactly what it was about the steampunks I was missing and, in failing to do so, a great opportunity to kill four at once.
I never learned the names of the Steampunk Family, but here are how I will identify them through our journey:
Parthenia “Mommy” Leathervest, although I’m sure she’d prefer to go by Parthenia Leathervest or some other moronic name pulled from a masturbatory Neil Gaiman fan fiction.
Cornelius “Daddy” Leathervest, who I’m assuming is a Barnes and Noble security guard named Danny but refers to himself as an “iPad blacksmith” and is illegal levels of horny more often than not.
Theodosia and Quartermain, their children—one a girl around five, one baby boy in a carriage made up to look like a 19th century guillotine.
I follow the Leathervests out of the small press section and down past what can loosely be identified as Twin Peaks Tower. Cornelius says that he wishes they had had time to stand in line for the panel yesterday but someone was sleepy, then casting a spiteful look at his own baby. Parthenia slips Theodosia a juicebox, which would not have flown in the 19th century, but whatever. It’s easy to tail them because their monstrosity of a stroller, which they call a “pram” because they are terrible, causes other losers to scatter in whatever direction it’s pointed.
During this long trek from small press to the steampunk haven known as “artist’s row,” I receive a crash course in why this obnoxious culture, which has spawned a number of festivals and gatherings across the world, persists. The Steampunk Family is not received by Comic=Con with deep concern, nor shouts of “Get a life!”, nor attempts to place them under citizen’s arrest. What they receive is encouragement. The Leathervests pose smugly for no fewer than nine amateur and professional photographers on their way to artist’s row to blow their disposable income on a gigantic etching of a gear making out with a pair of suede pants, or whatever it is those perverts draw in their spare time. After the sixth or so picture, Cornelius gestures to his own hideous vest.
“Told you it was worth springing for,” he tells his beloved Parthenia. Did they meet through steampunk events, or did they turn to the culture as a last-ditch effort when they were turned away from the Magic card mouthbreathers for being too much of a drag? I would ask them, but I don’t talk to losers. I only follow them around by myself at a massive event where I have no friends of my own.
Parthenia punches him in the shoulder playfully. “Cheeky,” she says.
Eventually, in spite of Theodosia’s protests to stop at the Spongebob pineapple play-space, they reach their sinister destination. While Artists’ Alley is populated with professionals from across the board, from comics proper to indie illustrators turning their childhood comics into a crummy zine no one will read (I have done this), the steampunk community is disproportionately represented. It’s here where our Steampunk Family, the Leathervest clan, runs into a second Steampunk Family, who I will refer to as Bartholomew and Agatha Robotarms because they both have fucking robot arms.
To my delight, Cornelius Leathervest appears to be very jealous of robot arms of the Robotarms clan, and expresses as much by berating his wife Parthenia.
“I was saying, like, yeah, it takes a while to put on in the morning but, like, zamn, yeah,” he stutters to the Robotarms, who admire their stupid robot arms as he speaks. “They look great. Have you worn them to cons before?” The Robotarms nod placidly, and the two couples exchange anecdotes of other steampunk gatherings they’ve attended at the same time.
Parthenia finally speaks up after chasing Theodosia back to the table. “It’s crazy we haven’t met already,” she tells the Robotarms. “But, you know, the community is so huge.”
“I want Spongebob,” poor Theodosia screeches. I feel for young Theodosia, and regret that she is being given no choice but to go full Wuornos in her twenties after this terrible upbringing. Parthenia attempts to entertain her small daughter by adjusting the leather shoulder pads she’s wearing, but to no avail. Quartermain the baby, to his credit, has been bored to sleep.
Cornelius passes several monkey skulls or however the fuck these monsters pay for things to the vendor and is handed a poster tube of a pre-ordered item. Theodosia is positively feral at this point, and I wonder when the last time her ugly parents fed her was. The Leathervests bid farewell to the Robotarms and assure Theodosia that they will bring her back to Spongebob’s pineapple.
“Not too long,” Cornelius mutters to Parthenia. Right, because we would not want the grown man in the period leather daddy costume to be embarrassed.
Several posed photographs later, Theodosia takes off full-speed toward the pineapple, struggling beneath her 4,000 petticoats. She is surrounded by other carefully observed children swathed in more breathable superhero costumes and playclothes—children who are not wearing a belt of functionless gears just so that their parents never need to develop a personality. Parthenia and Cornelius peek into the poster tube at what I can only assume is a drawing of an octopus driving a unicycle with a bronzed erection purchased with the unsuspecting Quartermain’s college fund. Theodosia tires herself out quickly, possibly because her outfit weighs twice what she does.
“Hungry, honey?” Cornelius asks, gesturing to the nearest concession stand. Why does he want to leave the pineapple so badly? I would have asked him, but I do not speak to perverts. I merely follow them and their families around large events undetected. I follow them to the concession line.
This marks my only physical interaction with the Steampunk Family, in which I tried to pass Theodosia to stand in the adjacent line and became entangled in her belt of tiny gears. Parthenia, an idiot, notices me, a stalker, for the first time and laughs.
“That’s Comic-Con for you, huh?” she laughs as Theodosia and I disconnect and return to our separate lives.
The Leathervests will go out to the lobby with their expensive nachos and plant picnic style while Cornelius blathers on about where they parked their Prius, a clear betrayal of the steampunk code but at this point, none of us care. They fraternize with several other Steampunk Families and an hour after spotting them the first time, I follow them out into the San Diego heat. Somehow, they do not melt. I head back inside, already late for the “How to Corner a B-List Celebrity While Dressed Exactly Like Them And Force Them to Take a Picture With You Under Severe Duress” panel.
Steampunks are just like us, but much, much worse. I have to remember to bring my antique, steam-powered harpoon gun next year and save us once and for all.
Jamie Loftus is a comedian and writer. You can find her some of the time, most days at @hamburgerphone or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.