A stubble faced man wearing a slept-in looking suit and bowler hat puffs on a smoke. ‘What brings a dame like you to a dive like this?’ he asks in a scratchy, cigarette-bathed voice.
The girl (hoop skirt, hand fan, cogs and sprockets on her violet fascinator), her eyes intent on the raggedy man, replies, ‘And why, pray, would that be any business of yours?’
Ding-ding-ding! And here folks, we kick off the second part of “So You Think You’re Steampunk?” with a little more clarification of this puzzling genre. Or possibly a little more muddying depending on your receptiveness to my introduction of another sub-genre – Dieselpunk.
What on Earth is Dieselpunk?
More digging and I’ve discovered an offshoot of Steampunk called “Dieselpunk”. Among a plethora of other “punks” this one resonated on account of summing up neatly movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, comics like V for Vendetta and games like Bioshock. That is, a World War 2 period style with noir qualities (makes sense, noir, a cheap by-product of little money following the wars was a style part created accidentally through budget constraints rather than actual thought to create a new genre). So we aren’t talking about a sex pistol doused in petrol. Also, as Wikipedia states, this sub-genre is sometimes known as Decopunk –
…referring to the Art Deco art style (including its Streamline Moderne variant). The genre combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pinups) with postmodern technology and sensibilities. First coined in 2001 as a marketing term by game designer Lewis Pollak to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun, Dieselpunk has grown to describe a distinct style of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering. Examples include Crimson Skies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, the BioShock series, and even Fisher-Price’s Imaginext Sky Racers toy airplanes for children (http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=2726&e=skyracers).
I’d argue the world of Batman in its many incarnations and re-imaginings could often be classed as an example of Dieselpunk and also the world featured in many of Ed’s scrawlings on hotel coasters circa the last five years would certainly fall under the Steampunk/Dieselpunk umbrella. Interestingly these worlds can and will collide – for example Steampunk is often described as taking place in a Victorian setting but featuring alternate histories with “futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them” (to quote the Steampunk Wiki entry again – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk_derivatives#Steampunk). Then take a look at Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy which includes more than three separate worlds – Lyra’s alternate Steampunk-y Oxford and Will’s modern/present world (our own).