“Steampunk is what happened when Goths discovered the color brown.”
– Jes Nevins (Author, Librarian, comic book geek extraordinaire)
During the course of my research, I came across the above-mentioned quote. Often, I would laugh to myself thinking about what a misnomer it is. Simply put, Steampunk is just so much more than what Nevins makes it sounds like. It works on the basis of this simple question – what would the world be like if the future happened sooner? Originally a subgenre in literary fiction, Steampunk has now permeated into other fields such as fashion, art, design, architecture, comics and even movies.
So how did Steampunk come about? Well, its earliest examples can be seen in predominantly in works such as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, H.G. Well’s The Time Machine and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Apart from being science fiction novels, all these stories have been sent in the Victorian Era with technology far advanced of its time. For instance, Frankenstein’s monster came during the early 1800s and Captain Nemo of Nautilus ventured 20,000 leagues into the Atlantic Ocean at a time when submarines were still hand-propelled.
Besides, bizarre gadgets and over-the-top inventions, Steampunk also involved a lot of instances where steam-powered machinery is widely used. Ever seen the Will Smith and Kevin Kline movie The Wild Wild West ? This movie is classic Steampunk. From the villainous Dr. Loveless’ wheelchair to his giant, hydraulic, mechanical death-machine spider is all steam-powered. The movie also features other gadgetry such as nitroglycerine-powered bicycles, spring-loaded notebooks, bulletproof chainmail, flying machines and tanks.
Other examples of Steampunk movies or movies that have prominent ‘steamy elements’ are The Golden Compass (spacedust, cowboy aeronaut),The Prestige (teleportation device) Van Helsing (gas-powered crossbow) A Series of Unfortunate Events and Sherlock Holmes (Gothic Neo-Victorian themes). Steampunk movies are widely popular even though most people know nothing about this fantastic genre. These movies are filled with lighter-than-air ships, mad scientists, gaslight and mechanical computers amongst other inventions.
When it comes to comics, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a perfect example. Originally thought of as Justice League of Victorian England, author Allan Moore manages to incorporate characters who ARE the very essence of Steampunk – Captain Nemo, Dr.Jekyll, The Invisible Man and Professor Moriarty (arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes). Other steampunk comics would be Gotham by Gaslight (Batman during the early 19th century), JLA: Age of Wonder (Superman works with Thomas Edison and Nikolai Telsa during the Industrial Revolution) and The Transformers: Evolutions (The Autobots and Decepticons battle it out during the industrial age, with appearances by personalities such as Mark Twain and Jules Verne).
The diverse nature of steampunk can also be seen in the fields of art, design and fashion. By remixing styles from the Victorian Era, Goth, gypsy, and industrial fetish, Steampunk fashion is reminiscent of the early 1800s. Gowns, corsets, petticoats, vests and military-style jackets are accompanied with accessories of that time. These include timepieces, parasols, goggles and leather helmets. Modern accessories like cell phones or music players can be found in Steampunk outfits, after being modified to give them the appearance of Victorian-made objects.
Steampunk enthusiasts have redesigned objects such as doorbells, clocks, computer keyboards and even electric guitars using design elements and materials from the Victorian Age such as polished brass, metal gears, iron, wood and leather.
The goal of Steampunk is to marry the sensibilities of Emily Bronte to the all-out rebellious attitude of a time-travelling Johnny Rotten.
– Jean Campbell
Because, of its growing popularity, Steampunk is slowly turning into a lifestyle for many. It envisions a mantra of ‘tomorrow as it used to be’. To a large extent, steampunk is a rebellion against the modern-day plastic and disposable way of life. Although, many say that it focuses on the best of the past and quietly sweeps the bad (slavery, child labor, the black plague and bad sanitation) under the rug.
In a world filled with war and strife, Steampunk manages to move seamlessly between two worlds. It embodies the best of the yesteryears and brings it to our current time – the self-reliance, the make-it-yourself attitude and the sense of wonderment for technology that many of us have lost because of our overexposure to it.