After attending several conventions and events in the steampunk world, I found that many of the vendors at these functions are making and/or selling things that I thought people could be making themselves. Then I found out that while many (possibly most) steampunks design and construct their own outfits and accessories together, others prefer to buy. Sparky McTrowell, a writer of serialized stories called “penny dreadfuls” told me, “I can’t sew, I don’t want to learn, nor do I have the time, so I have someone else make them or I buy all of my outfits.”
The fantastical inventions of Lithobius Quick
Lithobius Quick, aka Kim Hutsell, shares some of his complex, artful "inventions," many of them made at the San Diego Lapidary Society.
A lot of the maker movement exists here because of people like Hutsell, whom others seem to gravitate to for advice and help with their mechanically minded projects. Jeb Haught, also known as “Jeremiah Goodfellow,” is a rider of those “penny farthing” Victorian bicycles with the gigantic wheels in the front. He went to Hutsell for help with the backpack he wears with his outfits. The pack features a rotating fan on his back. The blades “are modern plastic and about two feet in diameter with a wire grill from the 1950s. The body is from a wall clock, all painted in a brass color. It has a copper smokestack exhaust and there is a vintage pressure gauge from the 1930s or 40s on it. There is a hose connected to a knife switch from my leather arm gauntlet which has a DC motor and battery to power the fan when I flick the switch on my gauntlet. He calls it the Splendiferous Aeronautical Flabellum. “Kim [Hutsell] has helped me figure out how to make things and get all the parts working.”
I asked him what inspired him to make it, and Haught said, “I saw the fan and I thought it would look cool if I strapped it on my back. Maybe I could think of it as an early rocket pack.”
Jeb Haught's gadgets and accoutrements
Jeb Haught, steampunk fan and "maker," shares his story of discovering his passion for creating interesting things and shows off one of his more notable creations.
Hutsell says, “The inventiveness in steampunk is why so many gravitate towards it. Nobody tells you, ‘That’s wrong.’ It can get way out there, but the one thing that makes it all fair game is time travel. Because we consider ourselves time-travelers; almost anything goes when it comes to dress and our accessories. Time-travel brings in things you wouldn’t find in the Victorian era. It brings you ray guns or modern technology like a cell phone, but it’s covered in brass and glass. Most of the women dressed in steampunk would be arrested if they were in the Victorian era,” he laughed. “None of it is proper.”
I mention how polite everyone seemed to be at their Gaslight Gathering Convention and I asked why Hutsell thinks that is. “We’ve lost a lot of manners and we’ve lost a lot of how to treat each other kindly. In the Victorian era, even though a great deal of it was stilted, institutionalized, or faked, people were kind to each other. They didn’t have to worry about being verbally lacerated every time they talked to somebody who didn’t agree with them. Steampunks are refugees from people in this world being rude and unkind. [We want] to get back to a place where people are nice to each other. The etiquette part is just an extension of manners and being courteous.”
When I ask him why there seems to be a plethora of people over 40 in this genre, he stated, “You don’t have a sense of dignity or self-worth when you’re younger. Manners and etiquette just don’t come to young people. When you’re younger, you’re not aware that there are rules set up so we’re not running over each other all the time. So, for a teenager, for example, they can’t always see why we do the things that we do in the way of manners. They don’t see a need to do it, and in fact they are young and rebellious and full of hormones, and ready to be dangerous. Dangerous quite often translates to rude, discourteous, and unkind. The raciest costumes you see at the events are usually worn by the younger ones.
“The higher average age has to do with the wisdom of being older and all that comes with that. We send young people into war because they’re full of energy and bravado. They can go out and whip anything because they feel they’re indestructible and immortal. We know better when we get older. It’s the same thing with all the manners. The younger ones, they want to fit in; they need to and want to know the rules. They find people in the steampunk community they admire and want to emulate them. At the Gaslight Gathering, a lot of the younger people wanted to emulate the older characters. Even though they think of themselves as renegades, they don’t really want to be; they want to be part of the pack.”
Hutsell thinks it’s also popular because the older generation grew up with Disney and Walt saying, “If you can imagine it, do it.” He and fellow Starburners are currently working on their first graphic novel. Of course, it’s all about the Starburner Agents themselves, yet it is fictionalized.
“So many genres repel people, but steampunk seems to attract them. While you will see people avoid a bunch of goths walking down the street, people literally come running up to steampunks and ask to take a picture with us. We’re a friendly bunch.”
People in San Diego and Southern California in general are just more accepting of people in costume than they are in other states, Hutsell says. “I used to live in Kansas, and if you walked down the street there in a top hat, they would put you in a straitjacket. Here they might glance but not care.”
An exception he thought of was the mall incident. “We had planned to spend money in that mall. Security were following orders from some guy up in an office saying, ‘Get these people out of here.’”