It’s time to go full-steam ahead with “So You Want To Read Comics”, our weekly feature where we focus on one topic, then offer comic recommendations for new readers based on that topic. This week we’re taking a look at the genre and world of steampunk.
Steampunk is a term coined by author K.W. Jeter used to describe fantasy, alternative historical, and science fiction stories set in the Victorian Era. Fiction that falls into this subgenre, are often characterized as having technologies that would’ve been far too advanced for the time, but are imagined to work with methods that existed during that age. Think, computers that run on pistons and vacuum tubes or electric cars with tesla coils sticking out of it. Since then though, the term has ballooned to incorporate nearly anything that incorporates Victorian Era aesthetics, art nouveau, and design associated with the usage of steam power. Beyond its usage in fiction, it’s become increasingly popular among cosplay communities, DIY interior designers, and role-playing game fans.
Steampunk has become incredibly malleable as a genre and style and has been incorporated into many different mediums. From books like the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman and Everfair by Nisi Shaw, to films like The Prestige, steampunk is wide reaching. This of course, includes comics. Like these:
Lady Mechanika Vol. 1: The Mystery of The Mechanical Corpse
Writer: Joe Benitez
Artist: Joe Benitez
Publisher: Benitez Productions
Lady Mechanika is a series that revolves around a survivor of a serial murderer’s attack. This attack though has left her with robotic limbs and a connection to the supernatural and occult. She uses her abilities to become a private investigator, to assist Victorian era police agencies in solving cases. The series is steeped in the steampunk aesthetic in every panel. Mainstays of the genre, like airships, steam-powered robotics, and clashing between science and the supernatural, all appear in these volumes. What makes this a nice read for people new to comics, or just to the series, is that the volumes are often self-contained which means that the reader often doesn’t need to happen in a previous volume to know what’s going on in another. Also, if the stories aren’t necessarily your thing, the art in the series is wonderfully realized and is a showcase of all things Victorian and what many consider “steampunk”.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Originally created as a sort of Justice League for Victorian England, Alan Moore brought together literary characters set during the time period like Mina Harker, Alan Quartermane, and Dr. Jekyll, and had them form a team to help protect England. Now on the surface this premise seems a bit shallow, but Alan Moore takes it and uses it to perform deep examinations of these characters, their place in history, and then criticizes society of the time as well as the aspects of modern society that hasn’t let go of the norms of the Victorian era. Beyond this, the stories are fun adventure tales that utilize strong steampunk style technologies right down to Captain Nemo’s submarine which was originally created by Jules Verne, who is often considered to be one of the originators of the genre. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn’t always a pleasant read though and touches on some subject matter that might be troubling, so keep that in mind.
What do you think of these recommendations? Do you have any suggestions of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.