See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery, "The League of S.T.E.A.M. Prepares for San Diego Comic-Con."
In 2008, Robin Blackburn decided to make a ghost costume to wear to the annual masquerade Labyrinth of Jareth. She wanted her husband, Nick Baumann, to make a ghost costume as well. Instead, he chose to dress as a "Victorian-era ghostbuster." They got some friends to join them, went to the ball and the costumes were a hit. By the time Labyrinth of Jareth rolled around the following year, The League of S.T.E.A.M. had evolved into a bona fide group of performers.
We've been on the trail of the League, a motley crew of steampunks ghost and monster hunters, since we first met several members at Malediction Society's Steampunk Ball in 2009. That year, they returned to LOJ with a zombie butler and a variety of fantastic heroes in tow. Not long after that, they took the lead at San Diego Comic-Con's steampunk panel and then made their public performance debut aboard the Queen Mary for Pyrate Daze.
"We realized that we were inadvertently becoming an entertainment group and we might want to try doing that professionally," says Andrew Fogel, Art and Media Director for The League of S.T.E.A.M. who performs as Baron von Fogel, of their beginnings.
Soon there was an interactive art show at Renee's Courtyard Cafe in Santa Monica, as well as other venues across Los Angeles, and lots of convention appearances. Now, after a successful first season of their web series Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M. and a new podcast, the League is returning for its third trip to San Diego Comic-Con. This time, they have a booth.
"We've done conventions, but it's traditionally in the artist alley style," says Sheyne Fleischer, who handles event coordination and promotions for the League. This time, the 12-person group has a 10 x 10 space meant to showcase their wares. It's a good move for the performers, costumers and prop designers as SDCC has become an important convention for them. Thanks to a previous appearance at the convention, they were brought on board to add a steampunk edge to Panic! At the Disco's video "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" as well as the band's recent North American tour.
This year, the League will have an interactive display of DIY props, with new gear appearing each day. The members will be selling replicas of their popular punchy fist as well as small jars of ectoplasm and "vampire ashes." This is all in addition to the posters, buttons and t-shirts you would expect to find at a merch booth.
The highlight of the booth, though, is the new DVD release of the first season of Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M. The release features a cover by Claire Hummel, whose "Historical Disney Princess" art has become quite popular online, as well as new videos, bonus features and commentary and a 3D animated menu.
Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M. has become of a focus of the group since the premiere episode, "Monkey Business," appeared in late 2009.
"I think that when we first started, we were mainly focused on live performance," says Fogel. "Starting in November of 2009, we realized that we have these characters, these costumes and we need to reach a broader audience, that's not just limited to where we can perform geographically."
"Monkey Business" features the band of paranormal explorers on the hunt for ghost monkeys. It was initially conceived by League member James Lavrakas after the group had been talking about making some sort of video for a few months.
"He has this great can-do attitude," says Blackburn.
They shot the video in about five hours, Fogel says, and most of the dialog is ad-libbed. "Monkey Business" was a success. So they continued making short, slapstick films. Amongst them are "New Moon Vampire Hunt," where they head to a Burbank movie theater for the opening of New Moon in search for vampires as young girls scream that they "got the story wrong."
"Those were real reactions," says Blackburn of the guerilla vampire short.
There's also "Zed's Clutter Calamity," which might be useful if you ever need to train a zombie butler, the holiday special "The Fright Before Christmas" and their most-viewed clip, "Fool's Gold," where they battle a leprechaun. With the final episode of the season, "Full Moon Fiasco," ending as a cliffhanger, the League is currently developing season 2. They've turned to Kickstarter to help raise the $10,000 needed for new equipment and production costs.
As the group had anticipated, Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M. has helped spread the knowledge of their work far outside of Los Angeles. Episodes have appeared in several film festivals, including one at Dragon*Con last year and have found fans across the world. Someone even added Russian subtitles to a few of the clips.
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There's an official League of S.T.E.A.M. fan club now, too. It's called the Jr. League W.A.T.C.H., which costs $10 to join and gives fans opportunities to check out exclusive content and receive benefits and League events.
"The Jr. League W.A.T.C.H. is more or less the civilian side, the Neighborhood Watch or Boy Scouts of the League of S.T.E.A.M.," says Fleischer, explaining that W.A.T.C.H. members are supposed to "observe monsters and other supernatural hot spots" and alert the League.
What sorts of spirits and ghouls will the League spot in San Diego this year? Stop by Booth #607 or follow @LeaguefoSTEAM on Twitter to find out.
For more from San Diego Comic-Con, follow @lizohanesian and @ShannonCottrell on Twitter.