It appears that steampunk has moved from the literary into films, clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, and rock bands. On www.steampunk-music.com, bands from The Aeronauts and The Clockwork Dolls to Pocketwatch and The Unextraordinary Gentlemen are listed, among hundreds. Associations, clubs, websites, and events are built around steampunk. Maker fairs and DIY (Do-It-Yourself) folks follow steampunk themes. Annual conventions (called cons) are held around the world from Boston MA and Kissimmee FL to Galveston TX, to Minneapolis MN, San Diego CA and Portland OR, as well as Tokyo, Japan; Stade, Germany; and New South Wales Australia. There’s one down the road in January in Long Beach CA: Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium. In Surrey, Great Britain, there’s The Surrey Steampunk Convivial VI; the Alaska Steamposium Festival; and the Stonefield Wild West Steamposium Festival in Cassville, WI. There are hundreds more!
In 2010 and 2011, organizers in Santa Rosa CA conducted The Great West End and Railroad Square Handcar Regatta. Think: Renaissance Faire meets Mad Max meets Jane Austen, with Victorian ladies strolling the streets and fantastical steamer-constructed handcars moving along the railroad tracks, the crowd cheering for their favorites. The closed off streets were filled with creatively designed booths of crafts and food, handmade steamer clothing and jewelry, and unidentifiable but apparently utilitarian geegaws. The Handcar Regatta was a welcome novelty and unusual spectacle for the uninformed, one that lasted but two years, perhaps due to the refurbishment of the tracks for the arrival of the Smart Train.
To my astonishment, I found that the ultimate crafter website Etsy has multiple pages of steampunk clothing, gear, home decor items, shoes, and paraphernalia that non-steamers probably cannot even identify. (Go to www.etsy.com and search for steampunk clothing, jewelry, costumes, cosplay–costume play–etc.) Not only can one buy these items already made, but there are many DIY websites that provide directions on how to make these things. Having recently seen a poster of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, I have decided that she might be considered steampunkish in her cape, boots, tinted glasses, and top hat with feathers.
Rick Klaw, writing in Steampunk, edited by the Vandermeers, says the oldest movie with recognized steampunk elements is the French 14-minute animated short, “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (The Voyage to the Moon). That was back in 1902! So, does that prove that steampunk actually moved from films into books rather than the reverse? Since that little movie is so obscure, I would suggest that the novels and short stories came first.
One of the earliest modern movies often referenced as a precursor to steampunk is Disney’s 1954 production of Jules Verne’s book “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” which takes place in 1868 Victorian seafaring times. Captain Nemo’s one-eyed sea monster is actually a beautifully polished bronze submarine steaming on and under the seas to thwart evil. In 1954, however, there was little steampunk as we’ve come to know it today, perhaps only cyberpunk or sci fi. But the submarine, outfitted with multitudes of gears and cogs, tubes and other gadgets, established itself as a model for the imaginative machinery to come in the next few decades.
It seems that steampunk, although it coalesced in the 1960s and 1970s, is not universally recognized or understood today, despite elements of it having appeared in literature and movies for years. It is not a way of life, a cult, a religion, or a movement but perhaps a subculture of the merged literary genres of science fiction and fantasy. The website Rotten Tomatoes, a movie critiquing site, does not recognize steampunk. If you do a search on Netflix for steampunk movies, you get zero. The Internet movie database imdb.com (http://www.imdb.com/list/ls059908237/), does in fact have several articles on the genre. Also, if you Google “steampunk”, bingo! The list of books, movies, clothing and other accoutrements is endless.
I hope my blogs about Steampunk will inspire Redwood Writers’ members and others in the California Writers Club to submit pieces to the Steampunk Writing Contest that kicks off in May 2016. Stay tuned!
Part III: More about Steampunk books and movies.