Today’s article is part of a series called “My First Steampunk”. To learn more about the series – and apply to be featured – scroll to the bottom of this article.
Love, like steampunk itself, is not a static thing. It grows and changes over time, as the object of love also grows and changes. If you’re lucky, the love grows more beautiful instead of fading.
My friends Will and Jason liked steampunk, way back when we were all in our twenties. It was a natural obsession for two history nerds. They danced historic dances and started shaving with straight razors after seeing the 2007 Sweeney Todd movie. Both men had sideburns (and, I presume, a steady hand). Because of Will and Jason I was vaguely aware of the steampunk scene: clothes and cogs and marvellous machines.
Then one day, Will steampunked a teddy bear. It was so cute, and fascinating, and maybe a little macabre. Above all, it worked. The bear had been adapted into steampunk, but it looked like it had always been that way.
Steampunk has an extraordinary flexibility, which is part of what makes it endlessly fascinating. I’ve seen steampunk Disney princesses, steampunk Captain Americas, steampunk Wonder Women, steampunk wheelchairs and nerf guns and motorbikes. Steampunk cosplay can link to any character, or to no character at all. No single steampunk character has burned itself into the public imagination in a genre-defining way, which means there is plenty of creative room. It also means my own original characters are the first steampunks many of my readers encounter.
I started toying with the idea of writing a steampunk novel. For all steampunk’s flexibility, I would need to learn a great deal about history, and technology, and the genre as a whole. I could break rules willy-nilly, but only if I knew when and why I was doing so. For a long time, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I liked the idea of writing steampunk set in Australia for the simple reason that relatively few people set fantasy stories in my own home country. Besides, it wasn’t a big jump from the traditional ‘source’ of steampunk in Victorian England. In the 1800s many Australian-born children of British parents still considered the UK to be their home, even though they had never seen it.
Then one day, talking about possible story details with Will, he pointed out the importance of water for steam-based technology. At the time we were in the middle of yet another Australian drought. The thought of drought + gold rush + bushrangers + steam made everything click to me, and I decided that day that I really would write an Australian steampunk trilogy.
I’ve read dozens of steampunk novels and non-fiction books since then, and traveled to steampunk fairs and fan conventions. Over and over again I find that history is more eccentric and delightful than anything I can invent, and I’ve grown to love steampunk more and more.
The process of research never ends. I walk a zigzagging line between fact, fiction, and fantasy in my novels, stealing real-life characters from history and trying not to anger their descendants. Since I began the Antipodean Queen trilogy I discovered the wild world of digital interactive fiction and amused myself by writing a linked steampunk tale in every new IF engine I learned to use, from Twine to ChoiceScript (this story takes place during Book 3, so there is a risk of spoilers). The biggest and best is “And Their Souls Were Eaten” which is a spoiler-free prequel set in 1836 Europe with a completely different magical problem. I threw historical characters into the story with enthusiasm as I discovered an amazing range of real history that was too fascinating not to share. That story is available via the Tin Man Games serial story hub app “Choices That Matter” on iOS and Google Play.
I have plans to write more stories, set in different places and featuring some familiar and some different characters. Right now I have my eye on Hong Kong, and my to-read pile is defying all logic by growing bigger with every book I read.
The book trailer for Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass is here.
About the Author
Felicity Banks is an Australian writer of steampunk and fantasy books including interactive fiction (digital Choose Your Own Adventure stories). Her debut novel, Heart of Brass, is the beginning of the Antipodean Queen steampunk fantasy trilogy and is available in print and digital formats anywhere in the world. The sequel, Silver and Stone, is available now through Odyssey Books.
About the Series
“My First Steampunk” is a celebration of the many different paths into the steampunk community. Once a month (this will be the third Tuesday of the month starting January 2018) a guest contributor takes over the Steampunk Cavaliers blog and shares how they fell in love with this amazing genre and community. If you’re a steampunk creator of any kind–author, artist, cosplayer–and you want to share how YOU fell in love with steampunk, email email@example.com for detailed guidelines on how to submit YOUR story.
When I was a kid, back in the long ago, I would scour the elementary school library for any and every book on aircraft. One of my third-grade art projects featured a construction-paper airplane with a proper airfoil. In other words, I was into flying machines of every variety in a very serious way. However, nothing quite filled my nerdy heart like airships.
Let’s face it, while airplanes are remarkable machines, the experience of traveling in those fixed-wing speedsters of the skies isn’t that much different than traveling by bus. There’s something about the idea of traveling in a machine more akin to a floating hotel that sounds simply spectacular. It’s no wonder they are a staple of the steampunk universe.
There was little doubt that I would include an airship in my first steampunk story, but I had to think about how a steampunk airship would actually work. The story was aimed toward middle-grade readers and the airship is merely a backdrop for a small part of it, so I had no intention to include lots of details, but I wanted what did show up to make at least some sense.
The first item to figure out was what type of airship it would be. Airships basically fall into three categories: blimps which hold their shape purely with air pressure, semi-rigid airships which also hold their shape with air pressure and include some metal structure to distribute forces, and rigid airships whose shape is defined by its metal structure (sometimes called Zeppelins even though the Zeppelin company wasn’t the only manufacturer of such machines). Weight is everything with airships so the less of that heavy structure the better. However, as size increases more structure is needed to deal with the loads the airship has to carry. This means that when we look toward history, all the truly large airships have been of the rigid variety. If large airships were produced today, advances in engineering would likely result in the use of a semi-rigid design to reduce weight. My airship needed to be big, so a rigid design was the only possible choice.
That led me to the tricky part. How do you propel a huge airship? In the real world, airships were powered with internal combustion engines rather than the external combustion engines that powered the age of steam. External combustion means burning fuel to heat water in a boiler to produce the steam pressure that powers the engine. That means a heavy engine and plenty of hot flame. Heavy is always bad in an airship and flames… well, everyone knows about the Hindenburg.
As far as weight goes, I think it means that steampunk airships need to be big. A huge airship can carry enough lifting gas to support the structure needed for a powerful steam engine and boilers. The airship would need to carry water as well, but that is historically the case anyhow. In order to control altitude an airship needs to be able to change either the amount of lifting gas or its weight by adding or removing ballast and that ballast was generally water. Removing water for an airship is easy enough, you just release it. Adding water is less obvious, but it can be added by capturing engine exhaust and condensing the steam in the exhaust back into water. A lot of engine exhaust is water vapor. The United States Navy had some large airships for a short period of time (like the USS Macon that served as a flying aircraft carrier) and they relied on capturing water from exhaust to manage altitude. So a steam-powered cousin of those big U.S. Navy airships would probably be larger and slower to carry the same load, but it seems plausible.
Now about the whole flame thing. The best lifting gas for an airship is hydrogen–it’s the lightest element after all. Unfortunately, hydrogen really likes to burn which makes the airship a fireball waiting to happen. There’s a reason that the big airships that used hydrogen for lift mounted their engines outside of the hull.
Well, the obvious solution is to use helium–the second lightest element–as the lifting gas. Unlike hydrogen, helium doesn’t burn and is quite effective at smothering fires. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with helium. Now, helium is about twice as heavy as hydrogen for a given volume, but that’s less of an issue then you might think. Lift in an airship is produced by displacing air and air is so much heavier than either helium or hydrogen that the difference between the two doesn’t have a huge impact. The real problem with helium is the supply. Hydrogen is easy to produce from water so there’s no problem filling the vast volume of an airship. In fact, hydrogen airships would just vent off hydrogen as it consumed fuel and became lighter during a journey. Nobody had to worry about replacing that hydrogen before the next trip. Helium, on the other hand, can’t be produced unless you happen to have a fusion reactor handy. The only significant source of helium is as a by-product of drilling for natural gas. In current times, there’s actually a fair amount of concern about the helium supply. There might not be a lot of airships around, but helium is an important coolant for superconductors.
The infamous Hindenburg was originally intended to use helium rather than hydrogen, but the Germans didn’t have access to enough of it. They also considered surrounding a central section of hydrogen gasbags with helium, but the supply was too short to make that work as well. When the U.S. Navy deployed its large airships, helium was used since the United States had a much greater helium supply than Germany. Maybe the Germans couldn’t make the idea of a hybrid airship work because of their helium shortage, but the idea could work for my imagined steampunk vessel.
With a hybrid design, my airship started to make sense. It would be bulky and slow compared to its real-world counterparts, but using helium to provide a protective layer around its dangerous load of hydrogen meant that the flame and boilers could be used with a plausible degree of safety. Even if hydrogen leaks, it goes up keeping it away from the engine mounted below.
Carrying all that hydrogen meant that it doesn’t even need to carry a separate supply of fuel. It can burn its hydrogen to heat the boilers and power the ship. As I mentioned earlier, Airships normally carried water for ballast and the steam from powering the engines can be captured or released to help control altitude. Since most of the lifting gas would be hydrogen, I can better hand-wave around where all the helium comes from to support fleets of such machines.
With a bit of thought and research, I felt I could justify my steampunk airship. That’s a very good thing since airships are awesome.
This month I’d actually like to review a book I read several months ago, Cog and the Steel Tower. The lovely W.E. Larson sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and after several months of thought, I’m ready to share that review with the world.
Let’s start with the blurb!
Thirteen-year-old Cog loved getting her hands greasy in her Uncle’s workshop and building the occasional mud-cannon before the return of her mother knocked her life completely off its rails. Before long she’s stowing away on a royal airship and tricking her way into a dream apprenticeship with the Queen’s master engineer by pretending to be a boy. But her situation takes a dangerous turn when she discovers a plot to assassinate the Queen and throw the kingdom into war.
If she can keep her identity a secret despite her best friend developing a crush on her alter ego, unravel the deadly conspiracy, and keep the demanding master engineer happy, then maybe she can have the future she’s always wanted. Keeping hidden identities and saving kingdoms may not be the same as fixing a steam wagon or an auto-mechanical potion mixer, but Cog has a set of precision screwdrivers and she isn’t afraid to use them.
Follow Cog’s rollicking adventure as she uses her wits and ingenuity to find friendship, trust, and justice in a colorful but sometimes unforgiving steampunk world full of mechanical mayhem.
Cog and the Steel Towerfeatures several of my favourite steampunk tropes: the tomboyish girl tinkerer, the young woman who wants to avoid arranged marriage at all costs, airship stowaways, and educational apprenticeships that serve as the perfect way to show off all the steampunk-y goodness in the author’s world.
All of these tropes combined to make Cog and the Steel Tower a fun, often rambunctious adventure. If you’re looking for a light read to take your mind off all the awfulness in the world, Cog and the Steel Tower is perfect.
That said, I personally found Cog and the Steel Tower disappointing. Its use of archetypes and familiar tropes was brilliant, but it missed several opportunities to deeply explore and challenge those tropes. Cog herself–and, we later find out, the Queen–challenges the awful restrictions on women, but fails to actually create change. She becomes an exception, rather than a reason for a new rule.
I’ve written before about how I long to see more punk in steampunk, and Cog and the Steel Tower was very much the opposite. Cog did rig up awesome devices from found parts in a very punk way, but that was about it. Her only reason to challenge or even question the strict gender and class rules of her world was because she personally wanted to be an engineer and wasn’t allowed. And the Queen, who challenged gender norms to get into her position, has failed to champion other women’s rights.
This is at least partially because Cog and the Steel Tower is middle grade, and people assume kids aren’t interested in the deeper political realities of Victorian-based worlds. I think this does a massive disservice to kids, who are quite capable of understanding and tackling those challenges. It assumes they can’t think deeper rather than encouraging them to develop those thinking skills. And I think we need to do better by our kids.
But it does also bring up another problem I’ve had recently: virtually all the steampunk I’ve found has either been middle grade or YA. Where are all the adult protagonists? Specifically, where are all the adult woman who have already–and permanently–rejected their roles in their society and built new ones? Are we to assume that all these badass little girls grow up to be perfect Victorian women? Based on the lack of badass woman role models in these books, I’m pretty sure those are the assumptions.
So, my review in one sentence: Cog and the Steel Towerwas a lot of fun, but it brought my biggest issues with the steampunk genre as a whole to the forefront in a big way. To be honest, it’s kind of put me off the genre for a little while. But I know steampunk can do much better, and I’m excited to find stories that break the mold.
Does Cog and the Steel Tower sound awesome to you? Do you know any steampunk books that really challenge the tropes I talk about here? Please let me know in the comments section below!
I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in the power of a single moment to drastically change the trajectory of a person’s life.
I was back in my native Minnesota for a visit, and a friend happened to have a show the same weekend. I always thought of her as a singer. But she’d recently started to perform with a burlesque troupe. Or, what she said was more accurately described as “nerd-lesque.” In addition to the sexy strip teases, the performers usually chose something from geek or pop culture to integrate into the act.
That month, they’d chosen steampunk as their theme. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I can’t remember now exactly how my friend defined it for me, but I do remember that when she told me about steampunk I thought, “Wow! All those things that I love have a name?”
My buddy decked me out in a corset and a pair of goggles, and we headed to the show. Much to my embarrassment, halfway through the evening one of the stage hands pointed out to me that I had somehow managed to put my corset on upside down! She got me straightened out (pun intended) with a quick “corset 101” lesson, and now I always know to look for the garter rings if I’m not sure which way is up.
It turns out that steampunk and burlesque are a great pairing because the steam era saw a heyday for the art form. The performers did a combination of traditional burlesque, like a feathery fan number, as well as some geekier reinterpretations of pop songs with a steampunk spin.
The night was fully of spunk and silliness, and as I delved into steampunk in the ensuing weeks, I found out that these were crucial ingredients to what made steampunk, steampunk. The aesthetic, with its leather, lace, and mixed metals, certainly caught my attention. But I think what really reeled me in was the whimsy.
It took me a few years before I really took any steps to join the steampunk world. Between my first foray and 2013 when I started my first steampunk website, a lot changed. I won’t go into the details, but when I got to the other side of the tunnel, I found that I needed some magic infused back in my life.
Steampunk served as a gateway to get me thinking in a more creative and hopeful way than I had in years. But most importantly, it got me writing again. The look of the fashions and gizmos, but also the themes of the genre, captured my imagination and soon I found I couldn’t keep the words off the page.
And even two novels and over 500 articles later, I see no reason to stop.
About the Author
Phoebe is the pen name of a Steampunk-loving vagabond and aspiring novelist. She spends the majority of her time doing research for her novels about a relapsed con woman in gas lamp America, or writing articles for the Steampunk Journal. In her free time, she enjoys playing tabletop games and watching aggressively bad movies with her husband and tiny dog, and tearing the films to pieces with snarky commentary a la MST3K. (Though admittedly, the dog doesn’t add much in that department. His comedic timing is rubbish.)
I’m not a newcomer to steampunk, though nor have I been here from the start. I can remember with clarity what drew me to the community/genre/lifestyle that is steampunk. It was a book. The cover read Soulless and from page one I was hooked on this hungry heroine and the world that Gail Carriger had built from the familiar London streets. I was reminded of Dianna Wynne Jones with a dash of Terry Pratchett, and I was in love. From there, it was only an internet search away from this term I’d never heard before.
Now, as a teen I was a goth, and there is that old standby that steampunk is what happens when goths wear brown but I don’t hold to that logic. steampunk is a community that envelopes aspects of goth, and the two intermingle though do not always overlap. Discovering a community that combined my love of history, costuming and literature was…like coming home. It was like I’d always been searching for this ephemeral thing and here it was, right in front of me.
My roommate and I discovered there were a few steampunk groups nearby (Airships) and went to a couple of meet and greets, but it was not until we went to our first convention that I would say I had my first proper introduction to the community at large. It was the inaugural Steampunk Symposium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Held in a hotel that had many of recalling moments of The Shining, the atmosphere was actually rather perfect. It was cold enough that all those layers of pseudo-Victorian costume weren’t unbearable.
I attended every panel I could fit into my schedule, though now they all sort of blur together. That first convention was exhausting. I really wasn’t well prepared for it, as my only previous experience with convention going was a few hours here and there, not a full weekend. I remember best sitting in the various lobbies and hallways and just talking to other people. It’d been a long time since I had felt so comfortable talking to strangers. But if there was a single person responsible for pulling me into the community to stay, well, I know exactly who that is and I met her for the first time at that convention.
The amazing Leanna Renee Hieber, who truly changed my life’s trajectory. Fantastically theatrical, Leanna’s reading of her novel reminded me even more of what it was that I loved so much about writing. And with every year I attended the convention, I got to know Leanna a bit better. I got to see her triumphant republication of Strangely Beautiful. She encouraged my writing. I was also incredibly fortunate to connect with Emily P. Bush, author of the Steampunk children’s book hit SteamDuck. I have her to thank for pushing me to take my writing further in her writing workshops.
Thanks to them, I am now part of the team (with Sophia Beaumont) leading the literary track for Steampunk Symposium next year. Something I never could have considered happening. I get to be the person helping newcomers to the steampunk world. I get to be the person pushing writers further. I’ve come such a long way from the day I picked up Soulless. Since the day I stepped into that probably haunted hotel for my first real steampunk convention. I will never regret taking those steps. In steampunk, I found new friends. I found a community to work with. I found the stories of my heart all over again.
About the Author
Ash is an artist, author and cat mother currently residing in the Heartland. She spent her college years tromping about in tombs and museums, though that passion didn’t play out. When not writing or plotting new ways to torment her characters, she can generally be found attempting to garden.
I am a relative newcomer to the world of Steampunk, having recently made the jump from Victorian Magician to Steampunk Author (it’s a long story and one for another day). As part of my initiation I attended the New Zealand Steampunk Festival, the largest such event in the southern hemisphere. While wandering the streets of Oamaru’s Victorian quarter, surrounded by a dashing and eclectically dressed mixture of likeminded souls, I had a certain epiphany. The majority of the costumes I saw, while wonderful, had little similarity with those in the fictional Steampunk worlds we read and write about.
In cosplay, the starting point for the costume is a character from a book, film or comic-book but in Steampunk, this is not the case. I initially wondered if that is because we don’t have enough readily available or easily identifiable Steampunk heroines and heroes to ape. There may be an element of this but I feel the reasons go deeper.
A quick Wikipedia, ahem, I mean Encyclopedia Britannica, search of the word punk divulged the following – One of Punk’s main tenets was a rejection of mainstream, corporate mass culture and its values. So, do Steampunks adhere to the values of Punk and reject the mainstream? I guess we probably do, but not for political reasons like Punk. Also, I dare say that if a fictional Steampunk world ever gained the popularity of Harry Potter our ranks would be swelled by characters from that world, and not necessarily the worse off for it.
One of the initial fashion statements of Punk was the rejection of fussy and elaborate clothing. However, over time the addition of non-functional adornments, safety pins, chains, padlocks and studded leather became common place. Many of the costumes at the Steampunk festival were similarly embellished with clocks, tea-cups, keys, tentacles and myriad cogs, springs and mechanical parts, all of which served no purpose other than in decoration. In fact, much of the decoration rendered the costumes almost completely impractical, not that the Victorian crinoline, corset or bustle were ever designed with comfort or functionality in mind.
I have no doubt that I am less widely read in the Steampunk genre than many of you. However, in the Steampunk stories I have delved into, although corsets, goggles and bowler hats are very much in evidence, the adornments are not. So, what has brought about this disparity between the Steampunk Fact of the costumes we wear and the Steampunk Fiction we read? And does it matter? I have no idea. Please feel free to enlighten me as to your thoughts on the issue below.
About the Author
Gareth Ward, a.k.a. The Great Wardini is a magician, hypnotist, storyteller, bookseller and author. He has worked as a Royal Marine Commando, Police Officer, Evil Magician and Zombie. He basically likes jobs where you get to wear really cool hats – as writer and compere of Napier City’s inaugural Steampunk murder mystery evening he wore a rather splendid bowler.
His first novel ,The Traitor and the Thief, a rip-roaring young adult Steampunk adventure, won the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Award.
One of the best things about being a Cosplayer is getting to do cool things with amazing people! A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in the steampunk section of the fashion show at Anime North and I had a blast!
These kinds of events are always exciting for both participants and audience members because you get to see the costumes people are most proud of, and the characters they’ve created! Each of the participants wore something that exemplified their passion for their art, and each was the product of hard work and diligent care.
As a general review, the event was well run and well attended. Instructions for where to go, what to do and when to do it were provided in detail well in advance, and upon arrival it was easy to tell that the organizers had put a lot of thought and effort into creating something that would run smoothly. Being part of it was fun, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
The part I’m most excited to share with you is, of course, the costumes! It was really neat to see the variety of costumes the participants wore, and the different ways they each expressed themselves through steampunk. One participant was wearing a dress inspired by a character from her favourite steampunk novel, and another did a stunning version of Wonder Woman. Several of the participants incorporated their cultures as well. There was a gentleman who included traditional Indian garments into his outfit and a woman who adorned herself with a variety of Persian prints. Others created their own characters like a wind up doll and a circus ringleader.
Each of these costumes was beautiful and unique, and it was really cool to learn about how each one was put together. Some of the cosplayers had made their entire outfits from scratch, and others had created a steampunk character by combining clothing they already had with some unique steampunk touches. There were several people who wore a mixture of items they found pre-made and things they had made themselves. While some of the participants showed some fantastic sewing skills, seeing the costumes at an event like this is a great reminder that you don’t need to be able to sew to create a great steampunk outfit.
The showpiece that wrapped our section was a full steampunk suit made of various tubes and mechanisms. Instead of sewing, this cosplayer had spent months collecting various objects and garments from thrift shops, and then tearing them into parts, painting them, and putting them together into various contraptions on his suit, and he had even created a stunning weapon for his character to carry.
In addition to meeting these artists and learning about the works they created, it was a treat to see how each person showed off their character and their hard work on stage. The wind up doll danced, the ring leader cracked his whip and the steam suited cosplayer crept around the stage with his gun in hand.
This was a great event and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to meet more steampunk cosplayers, and learn about their individual takes on this genre.
Amanda Groulx is an avid fan of many genres whose favourite way of showing her passion is through cosplay. She loves to spend time working on new pieces with her friends, and is part of an award winning group of costumers. When she’s not participating in Fandoms, Amanda is employed in Broadcasting and enjoys cooking and writing. You can find Amanda’s cosplay on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/modernmythscosplay/
Once upon a time, I wrote a story for an anthology of steampunk stories. For the sake of decorum, I won’t name it or go into too much detail, but its theme was essentially multicultural steampunk stories. When it came out I realised I was amongst a table of contents of almost exclusively white writer, and one amongst a set of stories featuring almost exclusively western protagonists having a grand old time exploring exotic new worlds. This did not go unnoticed. I was tacitly part of this, of course; my story didn’t break that mould, and so it was one of the earlier moments in my writing career (an overstatement if ever there was one, but let’s go with it) when I realised how narrow my particular storytelling sights were, and consciously course-corrected.
I’ve always adored steampunk. The combination of Victorian manners and gentility mixed with the wild absurdities of futurism and sci-fi (and more than a hefty dose of the gothic for good measure) has always ticked the boxes to me, and as somebody who marvels at other people’s ingenuity, the wealth of creative wonders (in clothing, in machinery, in art, in fiction) that comes from those involved in the steampunk community never fails to stagger me.
The appeal of Steampunk has always struck me as its ability to be escapist fantasy. More so than any other genre I think steampunk has the capacity to vanish inside it, reinvent yourself as a person out of time, free from the pressures of the modern world. And this is wonderful in many ways, but it can also a dangerous path to tread. After all, the roots of steampunk fiction is in the pastiching of colonialist literature, and there is a fine line between parody and propagating. Which was why, when I seized up on Clockwork Cairo’s theme of Egyptian steampunk, I knew I wanted to take a different approach.
Clockwork Cairo still has a generous handful of the good old steampunk usuals: we’ve got well-heeled detectives chasing artefacts around London; we’ve got airship pirates navigating the treacherous sands; we’ve got adventurers lost amongst the foreign alleyways of cities. But that wasn’t where I started when I began work on Clockwork Cairo.
Where I started was with writers who were telling stories about people more often overlooked. You can find many of them in the book, but if you haven’t encountered them before, run, don’t walk, to the work of Nisi Shawl (Everfair is a spectacular piece of steampunk literature that challenges so many of the preconceptions of what Steampunk is), to K. Tempest Bradford (who is frankly one of the most kickass writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with), to P. Djeli Clark (whose A Dead Djinn In Cairo might have been the finest story to appear on Tor.com last year), to Milton Davis (who at this point is practically synonymous with the steamfunk genre as well as the editor of the brilliant Steamfunk anthology), to the anthologies Steampunk World (edited by Sarah Hans), The Sea Is Ours (edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng) and, and, and… and I am barely touching the surface.
We should always be telling these stories, and people should always be reading them. My writers took the kernel of the idea – the vivid, dramatic world of Egyptian history – and invested it with a wealth of insight, of drama, of tenderness, and of excitement. Steampunk is a genre with worlds upon worlds within it, and it’s been a joy to explore a tiny corner of it. Hopefully you’ll find the same joy in reading it.
Clockwork Cairois out June 1st from Twopenny Books, edited by Matthew Bright and featuring stories by Gail Carriger, P. Djeli Clark, Sarah Caulfield, Jonathan Green, Tiffany Trent, Zan Lee, Chaz Brenchley, David Barnett, Nisi Shawl, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, George Mann, Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine, Matthew Bright, Rod Duncan, Christopher Parvin, M.J. Lyons, Anne Jensen, John Moralee, E. Catherine Tobler and K. Tempest Bradford.
A few years ago I had lunch with a coworker who is now a dear friend. Steampunk and costuming came up in the conversation, and I clearly remember her telling me that she’d been collecting pieces, but couldn’t dress up in steampunk because she didn’t have any goggles yet.
I remember how surprised I was by the concept that you “must” have certain things in order to participate, and we ended up having a great conversation about building our own unique characters who fit into what we wanted to wear or what we had.
For people who are new to costuming fitting into an expectation or a certain character profile can be staggering. If you’ve been to a convention you’ve seen that irritating but vocal minority of fans who enjoy picking apart costumes. I’ve overheard things like “Your cape isn’t the right shade of red” and “your hair isn’t blonde enough to be that character.” While most people in the cosplay community are not like that at all, it only takes one jerk to intimidate a new or an aspiring costumer into feeling insecure.
I think one of the coolest things about steampunk, and steampunk costuming is that there is no true right or wrong. Imitating a specific comic or movie means that the character you’re cosplaying has already been designed by someone else. In steampunk you have the freedom to make your own character, and dress that character however you like. What is steampunk cannon? It’s a genre that’s been inspired so by many different authors and artists, and new steampunk material is being written, drawn and filmed every day. Each of these steampunk inspirations is different, and have their own versions of the world. With that in mind, there’s no way to do it wrong, just an unlimited number of ways to do it your way.
If you want to wear a classy skirt and military jacket, do it. Think of a character who might need to use both. If you want to incorporate something a little more modern into your outfit, do it. You’re from a world that’s more technologically advanced, or you’re a character who can travel through time or dimensions. If you want to wear a tutu, do it. A steampunk ballerina would be beautiful.
It’s all about creating a costume that works for YOU, and that you feel comfortable in. In an environment based on fiction, there’s no way your story can be wrong.
Amanda Groulx is an avid fan of many genres whose favourite way of showing her passion is through cosplay. She loves to spend time working on new pieces with her friends, and is part of an award winning group of costumers. When she’s not participating in Fandoms, Amanda is employed in Broadcasting and enjoys cooking and writing. You can find Amanda’s cosplay on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/modernmythscosplay/
I’ve mentioned before that I am obsessed with steampunk anime and JRPGs, so I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover DreamersEcho, a comic that combines steampunk, anime, and JRPG storytelling. Unfortunately I’m still on a self-inflicted Kickstarter ban(my credit card was starting to get angry at me), but I reached out to creator Jet Falco and was lucky enough to secure an interview. I hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I did!
Welcome to the Steampunk Cavaliers, Jet! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Thanks for having me on Steampunk Cavaliers, Dianna!
Name’s JetFalco. I’m mainly an artist, writer, and musician, though I’ve been known to dabble in the worlds of cosplaying, video production, and most recently, 3D printing! I’ve found a few ways to intertwine some of those random skills into a little adventure comic inspired by steampunk and Japanese role-playing games. I’m pleased to present to you the very first. . .
Can you tell us a bit more about the characters of DreamersEcho?
The characters are where the roots of this adventure take hold. Allow me to introduce you to a young man named Falco, and his two friends, Roz and Wulfi. They’ve been hard at work in hopes of finding a decent job in their hometown, the cliffside port town of Lufe Cape. Falco studied as a shipbuilder’s apprentice while serving the remainder of a work sentence in the mines. Roz and Wulfi are both training to enter the town Guard. All three young adults are gearing up for a big day tomorrow, when the graduation trials will decide if they’re cut out for the occupations they desire.
Falco, Roz, and Wulfi have stuck together since they were kids.
Falco can tend to be a bit forgetful and sleepy. It’s tough work balancing academy studies, serving at the mines, and sleepless nights putting together his airship for the trials. There’s one thing he can’t stand: failure. Since before he can remember, it’s like life is just a setup for one failure after another. At least he has friends to keep him sane.
Roymund Wulfiore, or Wulfi for short, is the son of the Admiral of the Guard, which pretty much guarantees a spot after the trials. His “silver spoon” makes him a pretty carefree guy, and maybe he tends to drink a bit much if the occasion calls for it. He’s known to make rash decisions and can turn into quite the mess from time to time. But he always stands up for his friends. He’s known Falco and Roz since day one of academy.
Roz, short for Rosalyn, has always been a fighter. She finds it hard to trust the men in town. Rumor has it, there’s a reason why she wears belts around her arms instead of the academy-standard training gauntlets. Some say it has a connection to her distrust of men. Regardless, Roz isn’t gonna tell you. She’s about as distant as a girl can get. It doesn’t help that Wulfi has been crushin’ hard on her since they were kids.
Seated at the center of our tale, they’ll soon find that the graduation trials and their futures may be put on hold as they’re forced to embark on an epic adventure. A great deal of supporting and antagonizing characters soon find their way into the cast, each establishing their own deep connections with these three.
What part of the story came to you first?
As a young writer, I fell for the classic formula, “kid wakes up, problem hits, adventure begins,” but it was long overdue for a good, healthy twist! Lost in thought for many nights, I designed characters, plotted out the world, but I hit a wall. I just couldn’t pen a script with a twist I felt was worthy. So I took some classic advice my parents gave me and I slept on it… and wouldn’t ya know, the twist came to me as I woke from a dream. Almost as if this “kid woke up, problem hit hard, adventure began.” The irony never sleeps in my house.
I thought, what if the twist is the world itself? What if the entire thing was just a dream? Of course the first thought that follows is the classic “it was all a dream” trope, sure. Then why not take it a step further? And by further… I mean take it a step back. Confused yet? Well it’s all revealed and explained in the prologue/Chapter Zero, in which existence itself is realized to be nothing more than a dream, and our main guy finally gets his second chance after the biggest failure of a lifetime. I mean that quite literally. The biggest failure of a LIFETIME. You’ll see.
How long did it take you to get from original idea to finished script for Volume 1?
The answer is quite simple: 15 years. That first inkling that birthed DreamersEcho came from a much younger me. I wasn’t always the fancy cosplaying-youtubing-fool JetFalco you see nowadays. The concept stage started in 7th and 8th grade. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had penciled a rough Chapter 1, got feedback from my peers, and a second draft of that chapter came out 2 years after that! A decade of growing passed, and DE took a backseat for quite some time. But as anyone will tell you, you never forget your first. DE was always in my mind, and I was always jotting down ideas and penciling new characters and designs. The finished script of Volume 1 finally made its way onto my laptop screen in late 2015!
At what point did you decide to give DreamersEcho a soundtrack?
I’ve always been fascinated with creating. I started comics in 2nd grade. Music quickly took hold in middle school. Before I knew it, I found myself becoming somewhat of a singer/songwriter, forging acoustic rock and techno beats like any other weird kid in the nineties/early 2000s. But the eternal tug-of-war with my first love was always there. With the launch of the DE Vol. I Kickstarter, I finally wed the two in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do. Had I known that my two loves were courting each other behind my back, I would’ve done this way earlier. LOL.
When I started the volume you see now, I listened to epic orchestral soundtracks to keep my pen hand motivated. It’s truly amazing how the right music can take anything you’re doing and ascend it to new heights, creating a brand new experience in the process. I definitely think DE deserves that same experience. Now I’m working with a couple of friends to produce a fantastic set of tracks to help create an atmosphere to bring your reading experience to the next level.
Your art style is obviously heavily influenced by JRPGs. What are some of your favourites?
Most adventure-style games in general, always continue to leave an imprint on my creation process. I can’t go without saying the biggest ones out there: Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda have definitely come up in conversations with fans of DE, with the former being a huge influence. Final Fantasy has elements of steampunk: huge airships and weapons with pipes and steam and the like, but I find its execution is quite unique: it manages to create an epic adventure without actually feeling a full-fledged steampunk adventure. The steam influence is there, but it manages to create something completely new from it all… and that’s kind of the direction I’m taking my story. I believe steampunk to be one of the most exciting and extraordinary styles and it’s always an honor to try an incorporate it into my work in any way I can.
A few others that left their mark on my work: Chrono Cross/Chrono Trigger which give kind of a “futuristic-calypso-steam” vibe, WildARMs which is more of a western-steam tone, and a newer one called I am Setsuna, which has one of the most unique art/play styles I’ve seen yet. Just to name a few! It’s always interesting to see the different crossroads of style JRPGs try out. What can I say? I love me some good adventure! Other than JRPGs, what are some of your biggest artistic influences?
Many have said my style is a great blend between American and anime, and I really can’t argue! It didn’t stop with games. I’ll have a little fun with this and try to name a western influence for every Japanese one:
Ghibli/Miyazaki adventure films hold a spot in my heart. The art of the late great Michael Turner always hits a home run. He created one of my favorite adventure comics of all time, Soulfire. Akira Toriyama is his anime counterpart for me. I’ll always love his character design and stories in things like Chrono Trigger and DragonBall. I grew up in The Matrix generation, so I’m one of those kids who’ll always wonder if life is a computer program (lol), but like those kids, I always find it’s a great source of inspiration. Steins;Gate is an anime I cannot stop thinking about. It’s weaving, almost migraine-inducing plotlines always boggle me and tempt me to make my story as complex! I seem to find myself drawn to comedies as well, but not like you’d expect. A few examples from each side of the world: the American cartoon Clarence has me rofl’ing and the anime Prison School had me in tears. I try to incorporate a little light-hearted joke or two in my stories. A good example of style of comedy I aim for is found in my favorite cartoon of all time, Over the Garden Wall. To top it all off, I’d say Tolkien and the epic scale of Lord of the Rings can never cease to inspire and amaze me. Come to think of it if Clarence and Lord of the Rings had a baby, it would be Over the Garden Wall. So much great inspiration out there!
DreamersEcho is funding on Kickstarter right now. After the Kickstarter, what are your next steps?
Whew, great question. One thing they never tell ya is how draining running a Kickstarter campaign can be! I never thought I would be doing so much work! In fact, just this past weekend, I finished the art for the book cover, and I’m collaborating with an extremely skilled map artist to help me flesh out the world of DreamersEcho once and for all! It’s gonna look superb. Both the color cover and the map will be available as posters for fundraising rewards!
So to answer your question, I have no doubt working on the rewards will take a bit of time. I still meet weekly with my music collaborators on the soundtrack as each song is churned out, and I continue to write new melodies and beats every day. The soundtrack alone is definitely going to be worth the wait.
And after all the Kickstarter odds and ends get wrapped up, I’ll hopefully have Volume 2 started and available to read! I’m really excited for this volume. Volume 1 was just the kick-off; it got things started, the world introduced, and teased the reader enough. Volume 2 is going to be much more exciting, to say the beast. Oop. Did I say beast? Oh, it would seem that I did… Oh well, leave it. It’s the perfect hint at where Volume 2 is headed. 😉
Sounds like an exciting, if exhausting, time lies ahead! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us! How can readers support DreamersEcho?
I am truly honored to have the DreamersEcho: Volume 1 SoundComic featured on Steampunk Cavaliers. People can support DreamersEcho AND get a whole bunch of awesome rewards by backing the Kickstarter campaign. We’re already halfway to funding and thrilled to see the outpouring of support for this project. Thank you so much!