Archive for the ‘Icons’ Category

It honestly doesn’t take much to make someone into steampunk gush enthusiastically about a fantastical hand-crafted ray gun or stunning hat, but when it comes to reading, there is a comic that combines the best of steampunk with the best of entertainment – Girl Genius.

Now, if you are into steampunk, you probably know all about it. You probably even know that their inventive comic series has now spawned a delightful novel that hit the top 20 on Amazon on Girl Genius Day, Jan. 12th, but what you might not know is that from a writer’s perspective, Girl Genius is damn brilliant writing.

What makes it work? First you’ve got a fun, smart, quirky main character who is an underdog. That makes Agatha Heterodyne sympathetic from the start. But add into the mix that she’s enamoured with the son of her deadliest rival for control of Europa (not that she knows that in the beginning when she meets Gilgamesh Wulfenbach), that she’s being hunted, and that she discovers her role as the last heir to a great mad-inventive legacy and you’ve got a character mired in a great bundle of internal and external conflict. Story developer Kaja Foglio further amps up the tension by adding in a third main character/love interest who competes with Gilgamesh (and has known him from the past when they were in school) and a coniving blonde cousin to Agatha who wants to kill her and take over as the fake Heterodyne heir.

The action is packed to the brim. The visuals, courtesy of Phil Foglio, are dynamic and fun. The inventions are mad and brilliant. And every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they post up the next page (which is not nearly enough for we true addicts of the Girl Genius). And every page ends with a fabulous hook that lures you on, keeps you addicted and makes you want to flip pages faster than a steam-powered airship engine could.

But what really makes it all hang together better than super rubber bands, is the inventive world the Foglio’s have created. It’s familiar (set in a Europe-like fascimile of the Victorian era) and yet it’s very otherworldly with airships, creatures and villians enough to make this a very bumpy ride for our characters. (Conflict is essential to good story-telling, btw.)

I first found Girl Genius when I was doing research on steampunk, because I didn’t really realize that’s what I’d been writing. I’d just been toodling along in my own story in my own little Victorian world.

The comic has ever page posted since Monday, Nov. 4, 2002. WARNING: These are addictive. And I mean that sincerely. I spent four to six hours a day for three days straight reading them all. I then had to invest in the entire series of comic books for my children who were reading them over my shoulder…once you drink of the genius tea, you will not be able to walk away. And if you wish to indulge, you have been amply forewarned (and encouraged). They are at www.girlgeniusonline.com (click on the comic to get to the latest installment. If you wish to start at the beginning click start and it’ll take you to where it all began.)

I adore Girl Genius because it’s smart and fun. I adore the characters because they are flawed and delightfully human (even if they are cartoons). There is romance and adventure as promised, and definitely lots of mad science. And I can’t wait to read their novel Agatha H. and the Airship City.

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It’s interesting what happens when you begin to write a story. In some ways you discover something about yourself. For instance, I never knew about steampunk as a subculture until I went to the Steampunk Univeristy in Seattle last year. Up until that point, I hadn’t realized that my childhood and teen fascination with sewing up victorian clothing for myself and designing victorian oddities actually had a name.

Then I thought about it really hard. I’ve always been a steampunk person at heart. One of the most favorite places of my childhood was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. If you’ve never been there, may I say, you are missing out on steampunk perfection. Although I’m not exactly sure that’s what Mrs. Winchester intended.

Sarah Winchester, who was married into the family that invented the famous Winchester repeating rifle, dealt with the untimely loss of her daughter in 1866 and the premature death of her husband in 1881 in a very interesting fashion. She built a house. And kept building it.

Well to be more accurate, she purchased an unfinished eight-room farm house and turned it into a sprawling seven-story mansion with 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 52 skylights, 950 doors, 2 ballrooms, 2 basements, 17 chimneys, 3 elevators and 10,000 windows that spread out in an estate covering 161 acres. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm

The reason? A spirital medium in Boston advised her that the deaths of her loved ones were due to angry spirits – those deceased American Indians, Civil War soldiers and such – that had been killed by her husband and father-in-law’s invention which had made her unusually wealthy. At the time of her mother-in-law’s death in 1889 she owned just under 50% of the stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, bringing her in an income of over $1,000 a day in interest on her over $20 million dollar fortune (and this was in the days before income tax when you could still buy things for pennies and the average daily wage for a worker was $1.50).

She was told to build. She had shifts of workers, going 24-hours a day for 38 years. They built staircases that ended in the ceiling, doors that fall off into a several story drop to the outside, windows that look at a wall. Huge wall-sized cabinets with shleves an inch deep. There are windows in the floor (so you could see down into the kitchen). A senace room with only one entrance and one exit (which are not the same door and both hidden). There are priceless Tiffany stain-glass windows that will never have sunlight pour through them, windows that were optically ground to Mrs. Winchester’s eye prescription so she could view the gardens and stair cases that rise and fall in the middle of a hallway like a style over a fence. Perhaps most haunting is the phrasing written in the stained glass of one of the ballrooms that tour guide say was part of a vision Mrs. Winchester had that thousands of people would be walking through her home.

It is reported that Mrs. Winchester never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row in order to confound the spirits that might be searching for her. She is said to have refused President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt entrance at the front door and made him come around to a side entrance because she refused to allow people in the front door after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. On the day of her death, by heart-failure in 1922, the building stopped. There were even half-driven nails the workmen did not finish hammering in when they heard of her death.

In short, it has everything to make it the perfect steampunk place – oddities, creativity, incredible detail, hand-crafted workmanship, Victorian, mystery, history, and paranormal spunk.

If you can’t visit there yourself, I encourage you to check out the extensive video archive at the website where there are many episodes you can view for free. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/videogallery.cfm and all kinds of pictures at http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/photogallery.cfm

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When you think of Steampunk, images of brass goggles, aviator caps, and pocket watches immediately spring to mind.

The question is, why?

Steampunk is a genre full of action, adventure, and innovention–what says that better than a pair of brass goggles?  They could be the goggles of an airpirate, plundering the open skies on his air ship, an explorer in her balloon, a car shark motoring to his next game, or of a mad scientist about to invent the next modern marvel or machine of mayhem. 

But why brass? 

Sure, there are other metals, but something about shiny brass invokes that Victorian feel…

Just like pocket watches, cogs, gears, and clock hands abound in Steampunk (they also make great jewelry).  It’s a very classic image of a bygone era of gentleman, of craftsmanship.  Since Steampunk is very rooted in the Victorian era, the pocket watch is an obvious accessory of choice (though there’s plenty of room for wrist-watches and time-keeping rayguns).  Of course, a pocket watch doesn’t just have to be a timekeeping device.  Perhaps it’s a communicator–or a time machine….
Aviator Cap from Clockwork Couture

Aviator Cap from Clockwork Couture

Don’t forget your leather aviator cap!  Since, in Steampunk, most things–even advanced technology–is made with Victorian materials and/or in the style/manner of the Victorians, your aviator and adventures wouldn’t ben wearing plastic crash helmets.  They go with a balloon, a hoverboard, a spaceship, or even a plain old automobile.  The aviator cap is another a symbol of action, adventure, and innovation.  It’s the sign of someone boldly going where no one has gone before, of defying convention, of following their dreams.

There are many other things that are quintessentially Steampunk, and there are plenty of reasons beyond mine why Brass goggles, Aviator caps, and pocket watches are a bit iconic.   I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.  As usual, one lucky poster will win a tiara!   The winner will be posted on Friday!

Have a great week!

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