Steampunk: The Second Decade
Greetings to fans of Steampunk old and new! This is the third installment of a series exploring the history of the Steampunk genre in honor of its “31st birthday” on April 27. As part of the 30th birthday festivities in 2017, I coordinated and contributed to a collaborative Steampunk novel called Army of Brass. You can pre-order now at a mere $.99 as our “gift” on this most hallowed of days and it will be delivered on Friday.
In the first post in this series, I talked about adaptations of Victorian works as examples of Steampunk before the word “Steampunk” came into being. If you want to know more about that momentous occasion and the first ten years of amazing books, check out part 2. Now, we embark on the decade spanning the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s in which Steampunk branched out from literature and found a home in fashion and graphic novels. Plus we see the birth of the first online forums for connecting Steampunk fans.
Steampunk jumped from the pages of books into the realm of wearable art sometime in the mid- to late-1990s. Fashion student and member of the fashionable set, Kit Stolen, is one well-known example. He wore distressed Victorian style clothes paired with his own unique hair creations (called “falls”) and caused quite a sensation. Large-scale events wouldn’t show up in earnest for a few years yet, but daring creators like Stolen paved the way for the rest of us to enjoy our corsets and top hats later on.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
In 1999, writer Alan Moore (The Watchmen) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill paired up to create the first LoEG graphic novels. The story is set in 1898 in the aftermath of the events of Dracula. Mina Harker is recruited by Campion Bond (a predecessor of James Bond) to lead a unique group of “extraordinary” literary figures. She recruits the likes of Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Captain Nemo to join her to fight Fu Manchu in the first collection. Volume II centers on the events of War of the Worlds.
This two-volume collection of comics is brimming with literary characters and settings from the 19th century. And much in the same vein as the first Steampunk books, this series definitely has a dark side. The 2003 film by the same name, however, was pitched as more of a family affair. Sean Connery plays Quatermain and as the one with the star power, he ended up totally usurping Mina as the leader of the group. They also added a big role for Tom Sawyer as a CIA agent. Many fans of comics hated the movie because it shed all of its darkness, and film critics didn’t love it either. Still, it’s a fun homage to the literature of the steam era.
Wild Wild West Movie (1999)
This is another movie that checks several Steampunk boxes but ran into problems with fans. This reimagining of the 1960s Western-spy crossover as an adventure comedy rubbed many the wrong way. The franchise centers on James West, a sheriff who works for Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, Will Smith, who played West, was one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, and Kevin Kline was on a similar hot streak when he played West’s sidekick. It culminates in a mad scientist on a rampage in his giant mechanical spider. I personally loved this movie when I first saw it. Then again, I’d never seen the original so I wasn’t suffering from any dashed expectations. The movie is definitely a comedy, so I can see why someone looking for James Bond in the Wild West could be disappointed. (But still, giant mechanical spider = awesome. Am I right?)
Girl Genius (2001-Present)
The husband and wife team of Phil and Kaja Foglio created this series in 2001. It straddles the line between Steampunk and gaslamp fantasy, a term that Kaja Foglio created to describe the series as it straddles the line between sci-fi and fantasy. It’s about Agatha Clay, a harried science student in a semi-Victorian setting and carries the tagline “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” It started off as a black and white print book, added color in issue 3, and jumped to the web in 2005. You can read the entire series from the beginning and it is still updated every week.
Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc (2001)
In the original French, this film is called simply Vidoqc because this name is famous in their history. Eugene Francois Vidoqc was a real police investigator in the first half of the 19th century and is largely recognized as the “father of forensic science.” His methods were so advanced, in fact, that people thought he dabbled in the occult. This association is the inspiration behind the film, which is both gritty and beautiful. The structure is unusual and non-linear, and among my favorite films of all time.
The Amazing Screw-on Head (2002)
Dark Horse comics later released this dark comedy by Mike Mignola (Hellboy) about a secret agent working in Abraham Lincoln’s service in 2002. True to his name, Screw-on Head has a removable head that can be installed in a number of bodies with different capabilities. A few years later, the SyFy channel released the pilot for an animated series. Unfortunately, despite the voice talent of Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, and Patton Oswalt, it never made it past the first episode.
The Five Fists of Science (2006)
Dark Horse published another Steampunk gem with Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla in the starring roles. This is a tight little book that doesn’t waste any words, which means that all of the front-pages are more than just prologue. If you pick this one up (and I recommend you do), make sure you check out the short biographies of the real people involved, as well as the letter shared between Twain and Tesla that inspired this story full of giant robots and Lovecraftian beasties.
Steampunk Hits the Web
In 2006, the first dedicated Steampunk forum was established. Though the creator no longer plays an active role or updates it regularly, you can still visit “Brass Goggles.” This was an important step in the evolution of Steampunk as a community rather than a string of independent people. People could swap tips about making props and costumes, recommend books, and plan get-togethers in a streamlined way.
And Then Came the Music
And don’t forget, Army of Brass comes out tomorrow! 21 international writers came together to create this tale of giant automatons, fearless airship captains, and deadly conspiracies.
Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!
Not sure if it’s for you? Read a review, take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1 or read another exclusive excerpt. You can also get to know the character Captain Jack Davenport a little bit better with his interview on Blake & Wight. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and Collaborative Writing Challenge veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.
Speaking of giveaways, you can enter to win ebooks from the CWC writers.
and if you want to read the other posts in this series you can find them here:
Note from Penny: Thankyou so much to Phoebe for this awesome guest post which forms part of the Army of Brass blog tour. Regular readers may have noticed the Abney Park album featured on the panel in the music section and recall that this blog is temporarily boycotting Abney Park because of Robert Brown’s antiziganistic remarks and behaviour (until such a time as we can speak to him personally and see what he has to say for himself) However we have allowed this one exception so as not to ruin Phoebe’s wonderful guest post (Coz we iz nice like that innit?) and not at all used it exploitatively to draw attention to this issue we’re passionate about… a-hem… 😉
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s delightfully delinquent and ruthlessly rebellious parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a rancid, mouldering pumpkin shell , hollowed out and fooling nobody as to its suitability to house an Octopus and his Very Quiet Gentleman Friend, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
So It’s HALLOWEEN / SAMHAIN / ALL HALLOWS whatever you wish to dub it 😀 and we are obviously going potty for Gena Rumple’s Steampunk Pumpkins (again!) …
And to add to the festive feeling here in the parlour we are enjoying some spooktacular tea of our own evil Tea-Punk devising. We call it ‘Fire and Spice’ and you can make it in your own parlour like this:
2 tbsp of pureed pumpkin (you can by this in a can or make your own)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pinch of cloves
1 tbsp grated root ginger
Seeds from 1 pod of vanilla
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or dried chillies if your aunt is visiting)
Soft light brown sugar to taste
Creamer of your choice (we’re using condensed milk because we have no sense of propriety)
4 – 6 tsp of your favourite black tea (we are using Lapsang but Darjeeling or Oolong would work as well. We cannot bring ourselves to recommend Assam, but perhaps you are made of stronger mettle than we..)
Put all your ingredients into a jug (except the creamer of course) and give it all a good mix before pouring the lot into your fabulous teapot and filling said pot with boiling water. Leave it alone for about 5 mins while you settle down with a good book. Strain through your usual straining equipment into your gold gilt edged teacup (and now you can cream-up to your heart’s content) and enjoy!
Now you may have noticed we are a little late rising in the parlour this morning, that is because last night we visited something called a ‘motion picture show’ at The Garish. Of course the thing is bound to be outlawed soon and so we wanted to at least have seen one before they are forced underground like everything else that is jolly around here (except Peril of course, he is by no means jolly and yet very underground..)
So we do not have a book to recommend to you this morning but rather a ‘motion picture’ and it is this…
We cannot express adequately the rapture this film induced – Mr Darcy’s coat alone was worth the entrance fee. Admitedly the acting from the younger ‘stars’ was somewhat vacant, to the extent that at one point Max was forced to stand on a chair and cry “Act More Pant Less!” at the lead…which ended in us both being ejected from the theatre and forced to re-enter by a side door wearing fake moustaches and capes so as to avoid attention. (We were later told that the actress couldn’t have heard us anyway so the whole escapade was futile.) But, panting aside, the brighter stars in the supporting roles carried the whole thing admirably, the concept was so adorable and the strength of the feminine characters who effortlessly sat beside the male – not competing, just comfortably equal to – combined with the fabulous saqueal-worthy costuming (did we mention the coat?) and Lady Catherine’s re-imagining as an eye-patch sporting Misstress of the Blade… all made for an excellent evening all round.
So excellent a evening in fact that we completely forgot the Lacaster Curfew and had to run for our lives (not an easy thing when one is an octopus full of absinth) from the flesh eating Liver Birds which Lord Ashton employs to keep the streets free of vagrants. We made it back by the skin of our tail coats but now we are utterly exhausted so we will just sling our tentacles up here on the table and see what our Oracular Cephalopterois has to show us this morning…
Hm, listening to ghosts eh? Well if it’s ghosts they want to listen to they should go and visit our own Perilous Wight in his lovely library on Friday, now there’s a ghost that won’t stop talking even when we ask him politely…
As for Max and myself we are going to prepare some trick…I mean treats, of course… for any urchins silly enough to knock on the parlour door in the next 24 hours but we will be back tomorrow with something completely different so, until then
Be always, Utterly Yourself.