Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, contacted me about her senior project: a film about steampunk, steamfunk, and the role of African Diaspora in these subcultures. The final result is her animated short “Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy” which I’m happy to share here. Also featuring the wonderful Balogun Ojetade speaking about steamfunk!
The inspiration for Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy derived from an event inspiration board that I came across online. The board, which featured an intriguing medley of metals, vintage artifacts, and African jewelry, was entitled “Afro-Steampunk,” and its description read, “If Erykah Badu and Sherlock Holmes had a wedding.” The visual juxtaposition of these unexpected sources of inspiration led me to delve into more research on the concept of Afro-Steampunk to see if this striking aesthetic could be found elsewhere. My search exposed me not only to more fascinating representations of Black and African aesthetics coalescing with the steampunk genre, but also to a unique set of politics and critiques associated with them.
Closing Credits Music produced by Briaan L. Barron
Maurice Grunbaum, left, with a fellow steampunk. Photo courtesy of Bernard Rousseau.
Striking. Powerful. Imposing. These are some of the words that come to mind when viewing a costume piece by Maurice Grunbaum. Maurice, an artist based in Paris, is well-known in the French alt and cosplay community for his amazing detailed costume and prop work, and images of his outfits have circulated throughout the steampunk aethernetz. I first noticed him in group shots with other steampunks of color (he’s the masked gentleman on the right).
On his Facebook, you can find detailed cosplays from Bioshock, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and other steampunk-inspired sources. On the rise nationally in France, his art was included in the exhibition “Future Perfect: Retrofuturism/ Steampunk/ Archeomodernism” («Futur Antérieur: Rétrofuturisme/ Steampunk/ Archéomodernisme») at the Agnes B. Galerie in Paris (watch the museum trailer below for a clip of Maurice talking about steampunk).
When I read his interview included in the exhibit’s catalog, I was blown away by his articulate passion for everything steampunk and his need to broaden the definition of steampunk to include influences outside the Victorian and the French «La Belle Époque». So with a little help from a French friend-of-the-blog, I was able to get an interview with Maurice.
Poster for the Steampunk Garden, Episode 4: Celtic Fantasy
Meeting representatives from international communities is always one of the great pleasures of running this blog, and recently, Luke Chaos stopped by my Inbox to introduce the Tokyo Inventors Society and the seasonal event that they run: Steam Garden. How can I describe the event? On their website, their 4th Steam Garden event reveals that they are extremely interested in exploring different alternate histories while retaining a sense of high adventure:
It is now clear that the time-travelers are leaping across parallel worlds, where history is different every time. Somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, they arrive in a world where the Celts survived the Roman Empire, in their secret druidic villages. After a disastrous “steam war” during the industrial revolution, Europe goes dark and the Celts reclaim the British Isles, ruling from New Dublin. Here, the airship has to make a forced landing!
Don’t believe me? Well, check out their video trailer to boot.
I got to chatting with Luke and his partner-in-crime Kenny Creation about the steampunk and how the Tokyo Inventors Society see things from the land of the rising sun….
Photo credit by Anna Fischer
Wilhemina Frame posts the second half of our interview at the Steampunk Chronicle
WF: That brings up to me the whole Victorian concept of Orientalism, which was an art concept, a popular fashion concept, and a fascination that was held in the Victorian period especially in England but in Europe in general. Orientalism as I interpret it now, and this is my own personal interpretation, goes back to the concept of “The Other”. It has no foundation in reality. In Steampunk, if people are using that, but not being “travelers”, and they’re not trying to present an accurate viewpoint of a certain culture at that time — but they are referencing the historical aesthetics of Orientalism — how do you feel about that?
DP: (Laughs) Sorry, I’m laughing because you just asked a very long version of “Is this offensive if I do X, Y or Z?”
Part 1 can be read here. Part 2 is now live.
Steampunk has been hitting books, films, video games, and RPGs for the last few years – but can it finally work on the small screen today? We have had steampunk shows in the past (many point to the 1960s television-run ofWild Wild West as an example), shows that have steampunk elements to them (like the Chinese-tinged space western Firefly, the props in Warehouse 13, or the last couple of seasons of Doctor Who), and the occasional brass & cog cameo episodes in TV series of other genres (such as the episode “Punked” in season 3 of Castle or that terribly mediocre one from NCIS). We’ve seen steampunk done great, done haphazardly, or done, well, blah. So far, though, according to community consensus, nothing on current television has ever been done 100% right.
Meet the creative team behind Lantern City, then, a group of people who are serious about “doing it right.”
[Read "Bruce Boxleitner’s Lantern City is Steampunk TV with a Can-Do, Fan-Fueled Attitude" on Tor.com]
The Crystal Herbalist by James Ng
Four years ago, James Ng was a digital artist with an interesting project that caught the eye of the steampunk community. His “Imperial Steamworks” series recreated an alternate world where the Qing dynasty was the leader of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. We featured him once on Tor back in 2009, and since then, James, who spends most of his time between Hong Kong and Vancouver, has been successful both in the art world and in the science fiction/fantasy community. His work has been featured in multiple magazines like OnSpec and Spectrum 18, books including The Steampunk Bible and Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism, and art festivals in cities such as Moscow, Vancouver, Seattle, and Sydney.
I got the opportunity to touch base with James about his newest works and picked his brain for his thoughts about how his time with the steampunk community has influenced his artwork, and new turns he is taking professionally and artistically.
[Read "Crystal Herbalists & Zombie-Fighting Exorcists" on Tor.com]
Science fiction and fantasy writer Nisi Shawl is best known for her short stories, such as the ones contained in Tiptree award winning Filter House. But Shawl’s recently turned her attention to steampunk and is currently working on a steampunk novel, Everfair, set in the Belgian Congo.
She says of it, “Everfair was a dare I gave myself. In 2009 I attended World Fantasy and was assigned to appear on the ‘Why Steampunk Now?’ panel with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Michael Swanwick, Liz Gorinsky, and Deborah Biancotti. Which got me wondering how come I didn’t much care for the stuff. I’ve loved reading early British fiction for decades, and old metal implements get me all moist, so steampunk ought to have been my speculative subgenre of choice, right? But the pro-colonialism, the implicit—and sometimes explicit—backing of Britain’s Victorian Empire? That, I simply could not stomach. Though I searched, I found very few examples of what Doselle Young calls ‘cotton gin punk,’ but the intersection of people of color and industrial technology seemed a natural one to me. So during the panel, after pointing out some ways to make the subgenre more inclusive, I announced to everyone in the room that I was going to write a steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo. Swanwick rolled his eyes and grimaced, whereupon I added ‘and I will make you beg to read it!’”
[Read "Nisi Shawl’s Everfair: Into the Heart of Steampunk" by Cat Rambo on Tor.com]
A quick note before I fly off to Atlanta for Dragon*Con: Wilhelmina Frame and I sat down for a long Skype interview about the role of politics in steampunk fashion and art. Below is a snippet from our interview, but you can read Part 1 of 2 here on the Steampunk Chronicle.
WF: I want to focus specifically on the United States, because I think there are different things going on depending on the locality of the players. How do you think the American Steampunk scene is interpreting Neo-Victorianism in reference to these concepts?
DP: It’s very interesting that you say American Steam because I also think that there are a lot of Steampunk observers who think that Steampunk is exactly the same; that the scene has the same ideas and groups all over the world, which I definitely don’t agree with.
WF: Nor do I.
DP: Exactly. Whenever I write about Steampunk I specifically say, “I’m writing with a North American focus or particularly an American focus.” It’s so easy, especially because of the internet and how quickly information can spread, to make assumptions about a global community just from one person talking from one particular standpoint. What I think is very interesting about American Steampunk first of all is that the Steampunk subculture started off as a subculture in North America and not in the UK. I’m sure there are Victorianists in the UK and that there certainly was a proto-Steampunk scene there that existed contemporary to whenever American Steam started. But I think that particularly in America, it had influenced the formation of a subculture in a dramatically different way than it has in the UK and that perspective is the one that has been popularized in the media.
American culture has a long fascination with Anglophilia so it’s not surprising that we’re all into the Victorians. Also, because American culture has a long-standing fascination, there has always been a British “Other” versus the American identity. Whether it’s the bad guy from Die Hard or The Beatles or those people who called us “Those Damn Yankees!” America has always had this interesting self-reflexive relationship with itself that is connected with the fascination of England and English culture. American Steampunk, on one hand, does have that Anglophilia obsession. With the growth of the Steampunk community, what Steampunk has been doing as a general trend, is turning away from Victorian England, and becoming more focused on what is important in local culture. This is not just for Americans but also for Canadians, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other European countries. Of course, there is still a fascination with Victorian England but people more and more are becoming more interested in their own culture and in what was happening during the nineteenth century for them.
Dragon*Con Preview: Politics and Fashion with Alt. History Track Guest, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker (Pt. 1)
Overland Magazine Click to visit their website.
Today I got my contributor’s copy of Overland, Australia’s oldest progressive literary magazine. The editor had asked me to write about the state of politics in the steampunk movement, and I threw in my two bits and thensome. You can read it in their current print issue or on their website online. Here’s a snippet to get those gears turning:
Steampunks tend not to idealise the past, despite being fascinated by this conflicted history. Just as cyberpunk – the sci-fi term that inspired Jeter’s ‘steampunk’ – involved conflict with shady multinational corporations and the authoritative state in a techno-infused future, today’s steampunk community flips the bird at Victorian norms, dismantling history and exposing it as the construct that it is.
“Leftist Constructs: The Radicalism of Steampunk” – Read the whole article here.
Overland’s blog editor Rachel Liebhaber also wanted to ask me some questions about steampunk subculture, why I think it’s gaining popularity, and other tidbits in addition to the article. So I answered them as a website exclusive in “Writing Steampunk.”
Check them both out, and let me know what you think!
Earlier last month, I checked out the newest music video from PROPS!, a hip-hop artist based in Seattle and enjoyed his use of the steampunk aesthetic. More than “insert gears here,” it told an engaging storyline, featured local talent, and the song itself — about romantic longing and loss — seems more appropriate for a steampunk music video than, say, an autotuned command to “turn me on.” I had the opportunity to interview both PROPS! and the director of the music video Paul Maupoux, both relative newcomers to the scene, about the experience filming “The Taste of Heaven.”