Mar 5, 2009

Steampunk Myths and Legends 01: Introduction


CG Society, the forum that brought us the Steampunk Star Wars challenge, recently released the winners of their Steampunk Myths and Legends Challenge. It was the largest CG Challenge ever, with $22,000 in prizes. The challenge concisely defined Steampunk as "the application of advanced steam age technology to a modern or science fiction setting" which isn't a bad definition if all you want is for people to play with the visual elements:
"This challenge asks you to render traditional myths and legends in the steampunk style using elements of gears, springs, brass and steam power. Re-imagine legendary characters from some of the world's most ancient stories, such as a steam-powered minotaur, or a Zeppelin-mounted Thor, hurling lightning bolts from the sky."
I know someone was working on a Steampunk Thor, but to wade through the heaps of entries will take some time, and while I wade, I thought I'd do some close readings of the various works, in the same way I did for the Steampunk Star Wars paper I'm shopping around. The theory behind this is that while Steampunk was a literary movement to begin with, it has become a cultural phenomenon. My goal is to isolate the aesthetic definition of this phenomenon by performing close, critical readings of the culture products created by it. So with Steampunk Star Wars, I looked for common elements as well as assessed fan reactions to the works. We cannot make an essential definition for Steampunk - it is an entirely imaginary construct which has real world products. One cannot hold "Steampunk" but you can hold a Steampunked laptop. You cannot see "Steampunk" but you can look at Steampunk images.

The Steampunk Myths and Legends challenge images as Steampunk culture products have the advantage of sheer numbers to wade through and assess. As a comparativist, I will "read" the images in a similar fashion to the way in which I read texts. Images will be investigated, not for their artistic merit (although I'll still comment on that as well, since structure and style are elements to take note of, and these are inextricably bound to quality), but for how they reinvent the original mythic source in a Steampunk way. As with the Star Wars images, we can compare and contrast with an original type, utilizing the differences between these to make our assessments about what a Steampunk aesthetic is.

I'll be starting with two David and Goliath images, since those were the impetus for this idea, and then move on to the winners. That way I'll have dealt with the cream of the crop, in the event I don't get to all the images.

Please feel free to send me requests via the comments for images to look at. You can see the winners here and all the entries here.

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