How to Start a Steampunk Group . . .

Aloysius Fox circa 2008

Aloysius Fox – July 3rd, 2008

Back in May of 2008, I first learned of Steampunk as a community after reading an article in the New York Times. Prior to that I had been fully aware of the term “Steampunk,” was fully familiar with it as a literary sub-genre, and fully appreciated the tropes of the aesthetic, but the notion that people would rally around it as a fashion and lifestyle was exactly the thing for which I’d been searching! Only the month before, a friend and I were talking of forming a group of chaps who would dress in tuxedos and formal dress to go out on the town and make a jolly spectacle of ourselves . . . we were going to be called “The Queen City Dandies.” One of Cincinnati’s nicknames is the Queen City after being a 19th century hub for steamboats, often called Queens of the River, but I digress . . . so, the summer of 2008 I researched the topic of Steampunk with a thirst, and desired to find fellow Steampunks in the Cincinnati area; I hoped to join an established group and hang out with like minded chaps and ladies . . . much to my disappointment none existed, so I started one, and YOU can too!

2008.10 Salon

October 15th, 2008 – The very first Cincinnati Steampunk Salon.

October 15th, 2008 saw a gathering of six self-proclaimed Steampunks from Cincinnati, and witnessed the formation of the League of Cincinnati Steampunks. Fast forward to six years later and Cincinnati now has the internationally recognized Steampunk Symposium convention, and the monthly Cincinnati Steampunk Salons are regularly attended by over a hundred people. Many marvel at the success of the Cincinnati Steampunk Scene, it has placed itself firmly on the map, and wonder just how it happened. Based on our experiences here are a few tips as to how you might be able to form an Airship or Steampunk Group in your area and grow your own local Steampunk Scene . . .

05.2014 Salon

May 4th, 2014 – Our new home at Molly Malone’s.

The Core Group & The Group’s Name

Gothcoming 2008Surely you know at least one other person who shares your Steampunk interest? There might be some lonely weeks ahead in which people may not show up to the events you try to set up, and you’re going to need a handful of people to keep you company and prevent you from looking like the only eccentric in the place. If you can get a handful of Steampunk enthusiasts to dress up with you and venture into the public sphere, then this is a good place to start, you’ve found your core group.

The core group are the folks who are going to help you figure out a lot of the following tips and guidelines. One of the first things that you are going to decide is a name for the group, and how the group is organized. Many groups form themselves as Airships and structure the group as a crew; the leader is the captain, then comes your first mate, and so forth. You might have a variety of characters aboard the airship who’s titles vary depending on his or her interests and persona, for example someone fond of cooking may elect to be the airship’s cook, or someone good a modding foam dart guns might be the security chief. Of course you don’t have to be an airship, many groups are societies, leagues, clans, etc. That’s the great thing about Steampunk, there are no hard and fastened rules.

The name of the group is important as this is the primary thing that brands the group to others who may wish to join, and to the rest of the Steampunk community. Your group’s name allows others to recognize you as a bunch of Steampunks. My recommendation is find a name that has somewhat of a local flair and identifies with your city, that will help people who are looking for a local group to find you. In 2008 we decided to be called The League of Cincinnati Steampunks partly as homage to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the graphic novels, NOT the movie), but mostly because the last two words spelt out exactly what we were. Our group started as a sort of faux secret society, a sort of quirky adventurers’ club, and we felt more urban than airship. Later the League has become the umbrella under which we now have a handful of other Cincinnati based airships and groups.

Same Time, Same Place

League 680To grow the group the best thing to do is be consistent. Pick a public place where you can meet at least once a month, and pick a date on which the group will always meet. The League of Cincinnati Steampunks has had several meeting places over its six years, but the spot where we remained the most was Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati until this year we finally outgrew it and moved to Molly Malone’s just across the river in Covington, Kentucky (anything inside the 275 highway loop is still considered pretty much Cincinnati). From our first meeting in October 2008 it was decided that the group would meet on the first Saturday of the month; the more consistent you can get, the more that people know when and where to show up.

At some point the gatherings became known as Steampunk Salons and since then this term has spread to other group’s monthly meetings. Regardless of the group’s name, this is a good opportunity to brand the event with the specific “on the nose” information needed to draw others, for example “Airship Vesper presents the [name of city] Steampunk Salon.” It’ll be up to the Core Group to decide where you’ll meet, whether this is family friendly or just adult, but I highly recommend that it be in a public place; you need to be seen and recognized as your town’s Steampunk group to attract others and field questions from interested onlookers.

A bar with historic decor, a good kitchen, and decent parking is perhaps the best place to meet. Generally speaking it is best to keep the Salon as an 18+ event, HOWEVER, you can also run family friendly events at some other time in the month as an addition, but the Salon is your primary “meet and greet” for getting people involved in the group. Make sure that you have a couple of “ambassadors” who will greet newcomers and introduce them to people in the group; it’s a tough thing entering a new group, and it’s all too easy for the group to seem like an exclusive clique.

Social Media & Branding

Airship Passepartout LogoEven if the internet is not in keeping with the Steampunk aesthetic you absolutely need a social media presence to reach people, and more important be found by people going a Google search of “[city] steampunk.” This might be the primary job of your “communications officer” to set up pages on various sites; many groups have their own website. Social media such as Facebook or The Steampunk Empire are also a good places to organize and post event pages for upcoming events such as your next Steampunk Salon.

Early on, it is good to have a branding image for the group, and the best way to start is to design a logo. Your logo will work best if it fits in square dimensions, such as Dayton, Ohio’s Airship Passepartout (featured to the right). Your logo will most likely be the profile picture for the group’s pages in various social media, and those tend to be square, it’s that simple, plus these dimensions make for a great pin design later when the group has grown large enough to justify ordering merchandize. Banner designs are another thing to have; these will go across the top of your social media pages, plus at some point you may wish to have a large banner printed for when you are out in public.

Getting Out There

Corn Island TableFor people to join your Steampunk group they need to know that you exist, and it will take more than just social media. One of the best places to start is local fandom conventions regardless of the genre (everyone loves Steampunk). Many conventions will allow fan group tables for you to promote your group. Fill your tables with shiny things to show off, hang that banner you had made, and HAVE FLYERS that you can hand out to all the people who stop at your table.

Based on experience, business cards make great flyers. They are cheap, and people tend to keep them rather than just fold them up and throw them away later. We recommend that you have your logo on the front of the card, and on the back have a few details about the group and a URL of where to get more information. Of course you can have other posters and flyers of other sizes, but business cards are cheap and very effective.

Local festivals and parades are other avenues for you to promote your group; these events love the flair that Steampunks bring to the occasion and most of the time you will be very welcomed. Make sure that you have your banner and flyers ready. Before long, when you become recognized as the local Steampunk group, local organizations and establishments may well seek you out to provide support and atmosphere for various Victorian events that they are putting together.

We at the Pandora Society wish you luck, and oodles of fun with your endeavor to form a Steampunk group, and we would like to hear how it goes and encourage you to become one of our Steampunk Salon Reporters.

Remember, the main thing is to be constant, don’t give up, the group will grow, and make sure that it’s fun; if it’s not fun then you’re doing it wrong 🙂




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