HVG: What is it in steampunk that appeals
to you the most?
Doc: Steampunk has recently grown into
a rather complex subculture addressing and combining many different
sets of interests. Some people are interested in the costuming
and historical reenactment aspect, some are fascinated by the
literature, others are more interested in the music, customs,
or history of the Victorian Era. I'm a craftsman, a tinkerer,
a fabricator, and a “contraptor”,
if you will, so I tend to be more focused on steampunk as a fabrication
and design aesthetic. I think the modern technology that we rely
upon so much has become soulless, disposable, and focused entirely
on function with little regard to form. Its tactile romance and
overall charm has become obsolete in this age of mass-production
and throw-away gadgets. I try to capture the spirit of a time
when you bought a product because it lasted. While some ‘steampunks'
focus on actual, era-specific technologies like steam power,
I tend to be more on the “retrofuturist” side of things so I
take modern devices and imbue them with the same sense of craftsmanship
and permanence as something constructed in the Victorian age.
I try to build things you can use today, but with the soul of
One charming aspect of Victorian-era technology was its pure,
unabashed optimism. The human race was so entertained by its
own cleverness and thought themselves the masters of all they
surveyed. Every problem could seemingly be solved with some overly-complex
cluster of brass clockworks and whirring gizmos and we looked
to the future with a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity.
It's a refreshing break from the dismal, dystopian outlook of
most modern sci-fi, whose theme always seems to be “ok, how is
our technology going to destroy us THIS time?”
HVG: What do you think about the recent interest towards steampunk in both
subcultures (from Goths to SL) and the mainstream media?
Doc: I have mixed feelings about it.
Having lived through the punk scene and witnessed the perversion
and subsequent demise of it and a few other subcultures, I
can't help but remain a bit cynical about the exposure steampunk
has received lately. On one hand, it's cool to have something
I'm interested in become more readily available, but on the
other, whenever a subculture grows too quickly, its core principles
tend to get blurred and lost in the shuffle as scenesters pour
in looking for “the next
big thing”. Steampunk is an odd subculture in the way that it
wasn't born from a musical scene or an existing fashion scene.
It was primarily a literary and film genre, then bloomed into
a culture via internet blogs and forums where it acquired a rather
thick DIY ethic. Your average steampunk enthusiast would much
rather stitch their own dress or topcoat from a pattern than
buy one from a chain store. They would rather customize a device
to their liking rather than buy one off-the-shelf in a faux retro
style. You can disguise plastic as much as you want, but it's
still plastic. Steampunk respects the permanence of wood, the
glimmer of brass, and the sturdiness of bolts and rivets. I would
worry that an influx of casual “fair-weather fans” would dilute
our very unique and beautiful ethic and turn it into yet another
shallow, passing fashion trend.
HVG: What is your next project? Also, what is the weirdest request that you
have received from potential clients?
Doc: Right now I'm in the process of
moving from New Jersey to California in search of a warmer
climate, more receptive audience, and a better workspace. Once
I get settled I'd like to start construction on a series of
full desktop suites with matching, themed computers, keyboards,
monitors, mice (mouses?), scanners, printers, etc. I think
they would make for very interesting pieces of functional art
for a company to have in their front office or showroom.
I haven't gotten too many “weird” requests from people just yet, but the types
of offers I've received have started becoming more interesting. Just recently
I got a request from a PC hardware designer to help “steampunk” a design they
had for some computer internals. I've also received a few requests to use my
artwork as props in movies which is fun because I already wanted to try my
hand at films and propmaking.
HVG: Just to please the business readers, what financial potentials do you
see in steampunk?
Doc: I think steampunk or “retro-Victorian” styling
could have potential as a technological design aesthetic. The
rumors around the water cooler are already saying that a few
of the large computer companies are already planning to release
a few retro designs. I think it would probably appeal to the
older generations but the younger folks would probably keep
to the DIY ethic and design their own machines.
HVG: What about inspiration and current activity, is steampunk more European
or more American?
Doc: I'd say it's a pretty even split.
The “Steampunk canon” respects
the Royal Academy Mad Scientist and the European Gentleman Experimenter
just as much as the Wild West Steam Engine Tycoon or the Industrious
American Inventor (Tesla/Edison,etc). As for the geographical
orientation of the current enthusiasts, it's quite international.
The recent boom in interest is due in large part to the Internet
and blog-savvy tech-sector folks, so it's becoming a household
word in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, and who knows…maybe
even Africa and Antarctica.
HVG: In your opinion (and based on your very own personal favourites), which
books and movies should our readers be aware of? Also, who are the top artists
and figureheads of the steampunk movement that are noteworthy?
Doc: The works of Jules Vern and HG Wells
are great. The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William
Gibson is a great steampunk book by two major cyberpunk authors,
The works of H.P. Lovecraft are some of my personal favorites
and a great example of “occult” Victoriana.
There aren't very many good, modern steampunk movies, but I suppose
the movies Hellboy and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could
be given as examples of the aesthetic.
Some of my favorite modern steampunk
mods would be Jake von Slatt's keyboard and LCD mods (www.steampunkworkshop.com),
Jake “of all Trades” Hildebrandt and his marvelous Telecalculograph
computer and “the bug” mouse (jakeofalltrades.wordpress.com),
The creepy Lovecraftian prop kits of Alex CF (www.manydeadthings.tk),
The Penny Fakething and other creations of Johnny Payphone (Johnnypayphone.net),
and the steam robots of Crab-fu ( www.crab-fu.com ).
There are too many great builders and mods out there to list
fully, but a thorough browsing of the Brass Goggles Blog ( www.brassgoggles.co.uk ),
run by the lovely Tinkergirl, will show you hundreds of great
HVG: Although you're designing mostly steampunk machines, what's your opinion
on steampunk fashion? What are the most characteristic traits and what's
the best piece of steampunk fashion you've seen?
Doc: I quite enjoy the fashion of
the Victorian age, or more specifically, the social and cultural
customs of which the fashion was a reflection. There's something
romantic about an age of polite decorum where you didn't leave
your house without a suit and tie…an age of honor and chivalry.
I don't usually walk around in full Victorian regalia or anything,
but I usually have a bit of an anachronistic look to my dress.
I would certainly enjoy seeing the return of a sense of pride
in peoples' appearance. I get tired of seeing people wearing
sweatpants and hoodies in public all the time.
HVG: How do you create your steampunk works of art, where do you take the inspiration
and the materials from, what are your short and long-term plans with steampunk?
Doc: Usually I'll start out on paper
and make a few pages of doodles. Sometimes I'll draw a design
10 or 20 times before decided on the final layout. I like to
use design elements from other highly ornamental objects such
as jewelry boxes, clocks, music boxes, and typewriters, so
sometimes I'll spend hours on Google doing image searches until
I find some little brass accent or bauble that's complimentary
to the basic shape and function of the object I'm trying to
create. I think the most important element of any steampunkish
device is the perfect balance of form and function. You can't
just take a bunch of pieces of brass and glue them onto a wooden
box and call it “steampunk”. There a
subtle, delicate art to the design of the Victorian age.
I don't have any ”plans” for steampunk, as such. This
is something I've been doing for many years now (my Computational
Engine mod is easily 5-6 years old by now) and probably will
be doing for many more years, but since popular interest has
overlapped my interests, I certainly plan on riding out the
trend as far as I can. I can say this much...since I've started
building my designs for money, it has been a great incentive
to polish my skills and refine my methods so it has certainly
made me a better builder, if nothing else. That is reward enough.