Following up a successful panel at WonderCon, I thought I would do a quick write-up of what Steampunk is and provide some resources for those of you looking to get more involved.
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Steampunk isn’t always easy to define, but here’s a few things that might be helpful to know:
-Steampunk does not mean just painting something brown and gluing some gears on it as hilariously sung in this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFCuE5rHbPA
-Steampunk can be defined several ways, but I think the perfect catch-all description is “Victorian-era science fiction.”
*Just to help clarify, the Victorian-era time is the period spanning the reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities, creativity and scientific and technological innovation. Many Steampunks have chosen to extend their interests beyond England (particularly to the American Old West), so we use the term Victorian-era vs. just Victorian to cover this.
To get into more detail, here are a few more detailed definitions of steampunk:
1) Steampunk is science fiction written during the Victorian era. Some well-known examples include HG Wells’ The Time Machine, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Robert L. Stevenson’s the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
2) Steampunk is a subgenre of modern science fiction often set during the Victorian time period and which usually features steam-powered, mechanized machinery rather than electronic technology.
3) Steampunk is speculative fiction that envisions an alternate Earth where we now use Victorian steam-powered technology.
4) Steampunk is an aesthetic often characterized by materials like copper, leather, gears and clockwork.
Steampunk first began to take form in the 1980s literature scene. KW Jeter (who first coined the term steampunk), James P. Blaylock, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Tim Powers were all large players in the field.
Today, there are countless steampunk book series out there and several anthologies of short stories have also been published. Even the comics and graphic novel publishers have gotten into the game since the aesthetics of steampunk lend themselves so very well to the visual artform of the media.
There are too many authors to individually list here, but if you do a search on Amazon for steampunk or use this Wikipedia link, you’ll find many titles that you can and should read.
I think many people are first exposed to steampunk through fashion. If you attend conventions, you’ll often see countless cosplayers dapperly dressed and strolling the exhibit halls. Booths selling hats, corsets, accessories and more have popped up at most conventions I’ve been too and several big-name websites now exist to cater to the steampunk crowd. The steampunk aesthetic has become so popular, you can even see it on the runways in New York, Paris and Milan. If you’re just starting out, it might be useful to get a basic idea of what people wore during the Victorian-era. Here is a very helpful timeline of women’s silhouettes during this time.
As you can see, styles changed drastically during those 65-years, so you can have plenty of options to choose from. Gentlemen’s styles didn’t change quite as much, but a quick google search will show you all sorts of styles of hats, cravats, vests and facial hair. These are all good ways to reflect your personal style.
Here are just a few of my favorite steampunk fashion sites, including a shameless plug for my own Etsy shop. On that note, there are countless small artisans selling steampunk items on both Etsy.com and Artfire.com, so please support them whenever you can:
Baron Andrew VonFogel of the League of S.T.E.A.M. very kindly put together a very nice list of TV shows, movies, short films and video games that all have some important steampunk elements to them. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a place to get started if you want to start consuming all of the fun steampunk entertainment content out there.
Movies, TV, Video Games and webseries:
-20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Film, 1954)
-Around the World in 80 Days (Film, 2004)
-Around the World in 80 Days (Film, 1956)
-Back to the Future Part III (Film, 1990)
-Castle in the Sky (Film, 1986)
-City of Lost Children / La cité des enfants perdus (Film, 1995)
-Cowboys & Aliens (Film, 2011)
-Howl’s Moving Castle (Film, 2004)
-Hugo (Film, 2011)
-Jonah Hex (Film, 2010)
-Journey to the Center of the Earth (Film, 1959)
-Sherlock Holmes (Film, 2009 & 2011)
-Steamboy (Film, 2004)
-The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Film, 2003)
-The Prestige (Film, 2006)
-The Time Machine (Film, 1960)
-The Time Machine (Film, 2002)
-Wild Wild West (Film, 1999)
-The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (TV, 1993-1994)
-The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (TV, 2000)
-The Wild Wild West (TV, 1965-1969)
-A Gentlemen’s Duel (Short, 2006)
-A Trip to the Moon (Short, 1902)
-The Amazing Screw-On Head (Short, 2006)
-The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (Short, 2005)
-Bioshock: Infinite (VG, 2012)
-Myst series (VG, 1993-2005)
-The League of S.T.E.A.M. (Webseries, 2010)
-Alkaline Trio “Help Me” (2008)
-David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj “Turn Me On” (2012)
-Justin Bieber “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (2011)
-Panic! at the Disco “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” (2011)
-The Smashing Pumpkins Tonight, Tonight (1996)
There is also a thriving community of steampunk live performers such as Abney Park, Vernian Process, Veronique Chevalier, Unwoman, Steampowered Giraffe, Jon Magnificent, the League of S.T.E.A.M and much, much more. If you ever get a chance to see any of their live shows, please check them out.
Art, Technology and the Builder Community:
Having no technical skills myself, I am always amazed by the incredible work put out by steampunk artists and builders. The creations they come up with are breathtaking and I so admire those who can create such magic with their hands. Do a google search for steampunk gadgets, art or creations and you will see countless examples of these works. There are a few books out there as well that are anthologies of art and creations, one that gives you a step-by-step guide to creating some of your own gadgets and one that covers the whole genre and more:
*Here’s a link to a great article from GD Falksen on steampunk*
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Well, I hope this information was helpful to some of you and will start you on the path of the Steampunk. For those of you in the Southern California area, please join the SoCal Steam group on yahoo. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/socalsteam/ You’ll find listings for events in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles here.
For those of you living in LA and Orange County, please join The Manticore Society on Facebook. We organize quite a few events in the area and we’d love to see you soon.
Best of luck everyone and thanks for stopping by!