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]
Steampunk Panda as the Imperial Sheriff
I have been aware of Steampunk for some time but it was not until the tail end of the summer of 2011 that I decided to take a closer look and learn more about Steampunk. As I delved into the culture I noticed how it was very Victorian, based in the 19th century British culture. That was understandable seeing how it was based off of many early literatures that were set in those areas. However, the world does not revolve around one geographical location or ethnic background for that matter, and while life progresses in one location it invariably continues on elsewhere.
So for Steampunk to be only Victorian or only British I found that rather stifling and ethnocentric, which from what I had started to learn of the subculture was not what it wanted to do, but rather be an inviting and accepting one. Perhaps it was the fact that people were uncertain of how to approach other ethnicities with the Steampunk culture without being offensive. Especially in a time period where racism was not only prevalent but well practiced.
Being new to Steampunk and wanting to take my own twist to it I looked at my own heritage of Chinese culture and doing some cursory research as to what was going on in China during the 19th century. It was the time of the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, and in America the railroads were being laid down by my ancestors. It was a time period I was somewhat familiar with albeit slightly romanticized and dramatized from all the Hong Kong and Chinese cinemas I watched growing up as a child. Still the clothes and some of the basics of the culture at the time were there.
James Ng’s Imperial Sheriff
As I researched further into Steampunk to find connections to Asian culture I looked to see if others had gone down this path before me. It would seem that for the most part when looking for Asian and Steampunk on the internet more often than not it was found that Asians were in a European/British style outfit or even perhaps a person wearing a kimono with a corset over it. This does not detract from the fact that even during that time period there were indeed many Asians who wore European/British stylings back then as Western culture was placing its influence over the native Asian culture. What it did was inspire me to find a way to express what it would have been like in Asia without the western influence.
It would be during my research that I would happen upon an artist who would be my catalyst and inspiration towards my goal of expressing a truly Asian themed Steampunk outfit. James Ng and his Imperial Steamworks series is truly awe inspiring and a solid foundation for which Asian Steampunk can develop from. It was the discovery of his work that allowed me to feel not alone in the ideas and concept of Asian Steampunk and legitimized for me this evolutionary path for it, and that I hope to see this path flourish by spreading it any way I could.
With his permission I took it upon myself to bring one of his creations to life, his Imperial Sheriff.