As a person living very far from home at the moment I am so thankful for the internet, and especially networks that post episodes of my favorite shows. It was love at first viewing of the Comedy Central show @Midnight, which is hosted by Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist podcast series. He is fabulously nerdy and a big fan of cosplayers, so it came as no surprise when he dressed up in clever costumes for several episodes of the improv comedy show leading up to Halloween.
In addition to Luke Skywalker Texas Ranger, he also got decked out by Clockwork Couture in a Steampunk Doctor Who ensemble. From a distance, you wouldn’t know he was posing at the Doctor, but as he told the audience, his splendid cravat actually had his name embroidered in Gallfrayan on it. Someone photoshopped Hardwick onto a TARDIS interior and I couldn’t resist posting it.
Have a Happy Halloween!
~Love from ForWhomTheGearTurns 🙂
Maybe witches aren’t your thing, so you won’t be seeing Hansel and Gretel as part of your Steampunk Halloween. But everyone likes vampires, right? In 2010, author Seth Grahame-Smith penned an alternate history featuring America’s favorite president and pitted him against the forces of darkness running rampant in the South. It was made into an insanely good action movie in 2012 and it is another awesome choice for any steam-inspired monster movie marathon.
Abe’s (Benjamin Walker) sojourn into the vampiric underworld starts when he is a child, though he doesn’t know it. His mother falls victim to a mysterious disease as a result of his father standing up to the unfair treatment of free black people under his boss, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Even as a child he knows that Barts is somehow behind his mother’s death, and once he is grown he tries to take his revenge. To his shock, his bullets have no affect on Barts and Abe has to be rescued by a stranger whom he just met in the bar. The man calls himself Henry (Dominic Cooper) and tells Lincoln about how vampires escaped persecution in Europe to the American South, where they are deeply involved in the slave trade as their source of food.
Abe is only interested in his own vendetta, but agrees to be a vampire hunter under Henry’s guidance in order to gain the skills he needs to finally take down Barts. After hunting a series of vampires one by one, Lincoln decides he can make a much bigger difference in the world as a politician than by wielding his special silver-bladed axe, and his life takes the shape of the history we know for a while, including his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), presidential election and the outbreak of the Civil War. But when the Southern politicians ally themselves with the vampires, the unkillable soldiers start to tip the scales towards a Southern victory, and Abe must confront them and the mastermind of their ascent to power (Rufus Sewell).
Whether or not you know anything about the real Abraham Lincoln, this is a really fun and entertaining film. The effects are very special, the lighting and camera work are Gothic and moody and the action scenes are dynamic and sometimes even breath-taking. This was a much better film than I expected just based on the premise, and as it turns out the author did a great job of integrating vampire lore into the politics of the mid-19th century and documented historical events. Plus, it is a great action film. There is a fight scene that takes place during a stampede of horses, and a struggle on a speeding train that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It does not have the same ratio of dark comedy to action as Van Helsing or Brothers Grimm, but there are still some good lines and ironic twists that will make you smile. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed this movie and I will definitely be re-watching it to bring some “spook” to my “steam” again this year.
Plastic is an incredibly versatile material and it is everywhere. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease you can make it into just about anything.
First off, there are toys. At any Steampunk cosplay event you can be sure you will see souped up Nerf guns and squirt guns that look like they walked right out of an H. G. Wells story. But keep in mind that if you want to paint a plastic gun that spray paint will chip over time. If you scour your plastic surface ahead of time with steel wool, sand paper or even a kitchen scouring pad you will create pores for the paint to adhere to and it will last much longer. Kinex is a line of plastic engineering toys so it is a great way to get lightweight and cheap plastic gears that you can paint to look like metal.
At the Form and Function session at The Asylum one of my favorite items was a remote-control Dalek toy that a maker Steampunked by adding metallic paint and little makeshift boiler on the back.
Plastic pipes like the ones you can find at the hardware store are also really useful. Just like plastic guns, they need to be roughed up before you paint them, but they are relatively easy to drill into with a small electric drill so they are easy to embellish. Major Quicksilver had an amazing “power glove” that he built by attaching a leather work glove to the interior so the fingers were flexible even though the gauntlet was rigid. It was enhanced by flexible plastic tubing and a leather strap that attaches to the upper arm.
You can also get the look of rivets without having to use real metal. If you search for “half pearls” on eBay you can find these great little half-spheres that look just like metal rivets, sometimes without having to paint them. The Major warns that you can find one with adhesive on the backs, but they are much more expensive than getting the kind you glue on yourself. And if you are attaching them to EVA foam hot glue will hold them on really well. An audience member also mentioned that dried peas or lentils can also do for rivets in a pinch, as long as you don’t mind a little irregularity in the shape.
Another great use for plastic is if you have to make something hinged. Sure, you can use real metal hinges that require screws but if you want a quick and easy hinge you can just cut plastic packaging like the top from a butter tub or the like into strips. Attach one end of each strip to the pieces you want to hinge and you will have a flexible and lightweight connection. The amazing giant hand at right had metal hinges on one side and plastic on the other. He was able to manipulate the fingers by pulling strings attached to a leather glove on the other side. In case you are thinking of doing something similar, he let us know that the thumb was the most difficult part to get to move, so he used his pinky finger instead, ergo the three-fingered hand.
The good Major also told the crowd all about a wonderful malleable plastic called polymorph. It comes in the form of little beads and you can melt them in boiling water on your stove. After they become gel-like and come together in a glob you have about 5 minutes to mold it into any shape you want. And if you don’t like the result you can just put it back into the hot water and start again. Of course, you have to be careful about burning yourself when you take the polymorph out, so if you use something like welders gloves it will protect your hands. It usually comes as a transparent plastic, but you can add dyes or paint it later. Once it is solid it is a great material to drill into or file.
If you want an antiqued look to your paint jobs you can use a dry brushing technique. This is done as the second layer to add a bit of a weathered look to your surfaces. For instance, if you are trying to get the look of copper armor that has begun to oxidize, you should start with a solid layer of copper paint before you add the touch of turquoise to make it look tarnished. To dry-brush, add a glob of paint to your brush (this is a good use for old brushes) and remove most of the paint on a newspaper, magazine, etc. Even if you remove most of the paint there will still be just a bit left on the bristles, and you can apply this to your finished project.
Do you have any suggestions for working with plastic? Please comment below!
During the “Creating with Quicksilver” session, the Major couldn’t say enough good things about a material called Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) foam. My only experience with it has been with bedrolls and yoga mats, but he demonstrated several ways to use it when you are constructing costumes.
EVA foam comes and many different colors and thicknesses. There are floor mats that are popular for kids to play on and these often have texture on one side which can add interest. Unlike many plastics, this foam also readily takes to hot glue without extra treatment. It is easy to draw on it with permanent markers, and can be cut with scissors or for more accuracy, a craft knife. It will dull your blade pretty quickly, though, so if you plan to make repeated cuts it is a good idea to invest in a craft knife that allows you the change out the blade easily.
If you do end up with rough edges you have a couple options. You can use something like a Dremel or other electric tool to grind them down, but it will be very messy when the foam starts flying. Major Quicksilver advises running the blunt side of a scissors across any rough parts to smooth it down without the mess.
EVA is especially good for things like armor that need to look heavy and sturdy but you don’t want to weigh you down. There are tons of patterns out there on the web for different kinds of armor, and the foam is great for layering so you can add bulk to your character easily. It is also easy to mold when heated with a heat gun, or even a hairdryer and holds it shape like a dream.
There are some foams, like polystyrene, which are even lighter and readily available, but be advised that there is often a chemical reaction with certain paints that can actually melt the foam. It would be a shame to build a whole suit of armor just to have it disintegrate while you are adding the finishing touches! EVA, on the other hand, is great for painting, especially with spray paint. But beware that the more a part of your project has to bend the more likely it is that your paint job could crack and flake.
Here are a few Steampunk examples I found on the web to inspire your own creations.
Whenever I explain Steampunk to the uninitiated I always find that I have to say, “oh yeah, and also…” at least 4 times to try to encompass everything the genre/aesthetic can cover. I can always get them on board when I go from Jules Verne to punking technology, but then I have to back up and include all of the supernatural creatures that also make regular appearances in Steampunk literature and I often get raised eyebrows in response. But if you know the time period, ghosts, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night fit in directly with the trends of the era.
Ghost stories appear in the folklore of countries all over the world, but ghosts as we think of them today in America and the UK where the majority of Steampunk stories occur have their roots in Spiritualism. Some people treated Spiritualism like a religion, and others viewed it more as a science but either way it is based on the belief that spirits are hanging around waiting to have conversations with the living, and they do so by knocking on tables, moving around objects, and occasionally even taking mediums clothes off. They speak through people who claim a supernatural ability or through the use of hypnotized volunteers (and very rarely say “wooooOOOOoooo”). I learned most of what I know about the Spiritualist movement from a wonderful and funny book by my favorite non-fiction writer and former Wired magazine columnist, Mary Roach. She has written several books worth reading, but for the skinny on communicating (or pretending to communicate) with the dead, you must read Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.
Many notable historical Brits like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Queen Vicky herself were taken in by the “evidence” of spirits among us. But, most folks point to a happening in New York in 1848 where two sisters supposedly contacted a ghost as the beginning. Four years later, mediums started popping up in England and conducting seances. By the late Victorian period many people claimed to have communicated with the dead, and women dominated the medium business. In a time when class division and a clearly patriarchal society predominated, Spiritualism was movement that crossed these boundaries and brought people from all walks of life into its fold. There were even pamphlets, newspapers and public spectacles for the spiritually-inclined during the 1860s.
One popular thing to do during private parlor sessions was to contact famous people, and Charles Dickens (who died in 1870) was one of the most popular spirits to contact. In addition to speaking through the mouths of mediums, ghosts would sometimes also use a typewriter or the like to pen a message from the beyond. Dickens died before he finished his last novel, and in 1873 an American author claimed to have been contacted by his spirit who dictated the ending of the novel. I wonder if this is the origin of the term “ghost writer?”
Ever heard of ectoplasm? Think of the goo left behind by Slimer from the Ghostbusters. Some folks believed that ghosts could leave a trail of the stuff, or that mediums would extrude it as evidence of spirit possession. Ewwwwww.
For more fun facts about this “spirited” movement, check out the articles on Victoria Web.
In my last movie post about an awesome…ly bad Sherlock Holmes flick I introduced the idea of a mockbuster. I think Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may actually deserve to crowned as mockbuster royalty. I found not one, or two, but three other films that came out during 2012-2013 that have something to do, however loosely, with the Grimm’s fairy tale. I watched the trailers for Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (starring real life brother and sister, wait for it, Fivel and Booboo Stewart), Hansel & Gretel (a nasty-looking horror flick by Asylum Pictures) and Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (a half comedy-half horror stoner parody) and none of them are the least bit Steampunk, so accept no substitutions.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters stars Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) and Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy), as well as one of my favorite character actors, Peter Stormare (Brothers Grimm). The original story was published in 1812, but with the delightful mish-mash of technology in this movie it is hard to place it in time.
In the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods because there isn’t enough food to go around. They find their way back once by leaving a trail of pebbles, but the second time their breadcrumb trail is eaten by birds and they end up at a house made of candy. They defeat the witchy homeowner and when they find their way back to their own dwelling the wicked stepmom has died of unknown causes. Luckily, the kids found gems at the witches’ abode so their money problems are over, and it ends happily ever after (except for the witch and the stepmother, of course).
In the 2013 movie’s version of events, the kids are left in the forest by their parents for an unknown reason, and they still defeat their “hostess of the grossest” but the story doesn’t end there. They discover during their struggle they should “1. never go into a house made of candy and 2. if you are going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” but also that they are immune to witch’s spells. They go on to become professional witch hunters and are called to the town of Augsburg to investigate a spate of disappearances. It turns out the local witches are a-brewing a plot to make themselves immune to fire, and they need 12 kids as well as another secret ingredient to do it. In order to find out what really happened to their parents, the siblings must face the Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and defeat her before she can carry out her dastardly plot.
In my head I put this movie into the same dark-but-fun category as Van Helsing and Brothers Grimm, but it definitely has a higher gore-factor and earns its R-rating for violence. So if you are squeamish when it comes to blood, you might want to give this one a pass. Of course, that is part of what makes it a perfect movie for your Halloween fright fest 🙂
Kit Cox, also known in Steampunk circles as Major Jack Union, has a new book out on October 23. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy, and it is the perfect way to kick off my Halloween Extravaganza. Where his first book, How to Bag a Jabberwock: A Practical Guide to Monster Hunting, is more of a a how-to for aspiring protectors of the Crown, The Monster Hunter is a novel about a young boy coming of age amidst the threat of these monsters.
Benjamin Jackson Gaul is half-British and half-Indian, but doesn’t fit in to either place. His only real friend growing up is his mother, whom he loses at the tender age of 12 to a terrifying encounter with a mysterious creature despite her obvious, though unexpected, fighting skills. He passes a year in silence, wracked with guilt and questions that his storybooks cannot answer. He knows if he will ever get to the bottom of his mother’s death he will need to learn more than he can in Ceylon, and when offered a chance to move to England he jumps on it. After almost a year on the sailing ship the Hallowe’en, he arrives in 1885 at the Garden Orphanage in Kent, where a strange illness is affecting the children. With the help of a Gypsy girl and armed with books and good intentions he tries to solve the mystery, and finds out more about his mother’s fate along the way. The most important book he possesses is the journal of Major Jack Union, the older brother of his caretaker Nanny Belle, which paves Ben’s way to becoming the next monster hunter.
For an adult, this book won’t take up much more than one long afternoon, but it will be a fun afternoon! At 200 pages and written in simple language, it is best described as a young adult book. This is in no way meant to be a slight, I love YA fiction, and I am happy to find more of it to add to my Steampunk Book list. The opening chapter is extremely well done and the image of monster attack is very strong in my mind and helps compel the reader onward to find answers with the protagonist. I loved accompanying Ben on his journey across the sea and into the wide world that words and books can open a mind to. I just checked Major Jack Union’s facebook page and he recently announced the completion of his second manuscript in the Adventures of Benjamin Gaul series, so you can also be sure there is more to come. I always love a good series 🙂
The Monster Hunter will be released on Amazon on October 23, but you can already order your copy if you want to get it before Halloween.
Have you ever read anything in the Union-verse created by Kit Cox? I’d love to hear what you think!
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.