Steampunk Comes to the Wild West

steampunk at suncity scifi
Steampunk artists, performers, and cosplayers are no longer an unfamiliar site in West Texas and Southern New Mexico, including at the 2014 Sun City SciFi Convention in March. Pictured (left to right) are propmaker Edward Hall, Threnody Radio performer “Professor Brassthorn,” and cosplayer, “Airship Captain” Byron Silvermane.
Images by Rick Tate.

West Texas and Southern New Mexico are custom-made for steampunk, with all of the Wild West heritage, multicultural mix of ideas and styles, and a tech-heavy military backbone from Texas’ Fort Bliss to New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. Not to mention, the region is also home to sites like the International Spaceport near Truth or Consequences and the world’s most famous “UFO crash site in Roswell.”

Despite the growth of the steampunk genre, many people in the area were still barely discovering this imaginative other-world of Victorian steam-powered futurism as recently as two years ago. Today, the area is representing the genre well with a growing number of steampunk cosplayers, artists and artisans, writers, and performance groups.

El Paso, Texas-based artisan “Captain” Edward Hall is a relative newcomer to the convention scene, but his custom steampunk props have already been a hit with customers.

“The appeal, I believe, that is attractive about steampunk, is the 1880 Victorian/Edwardian culture, American Wild West, with science-fiction fantasy storytelling,” Hall said. “Steampunk allows for the crossover of many different good-versus-evil characters that are still popular today, only dress them in elegant style of the European history.”

He said that he only first discovered this phenomenon had the term “steampunk” in 2011, although the concept itself goes back much further.

“‘Steam’ being what fuels the ideas; ‘punk’ being the deviance from conformist everyday accepted science, fashion, technology, ideology, time, and space,” Hall said, “which is why authors such as (H.P.) Lovecraft and Jules Verne are so popular as being original steampunk authors.”

While creating his own steampunk persona, Hall said he uses parts of his own history to evolve them into a character who might have existed in the “aether” world of steampunk.

“For instance, I have years in the military, so creating a military-esque character with English overtones is not so difficult. Lords and Ladies, Airship Pirates and Sky Captains, could legitimately exist in this world,” Hall said. “It can be very unique depending on how creative you are, or you can simply blend in with what has already been done or seen. The community of steampunk is like no other culture when it comes to the accepting of individuals’ ideas for character. This is also why it is so popular.”

Some of his own creations that resonate well with customers include attention-getting devices of shiny brass or that light up and make noise.

“Heroes need always to have gadgets of some type or weapons to defeat their adversaries. Hence, the lightsaber or blaster,” he said. “I have always liked firearms, but science-fiction firearms. What if John Wayne or Clint Eastwood had an electro-static Tesla-coiled hand cannon for a sidearm? What would it look like?”

Hall said that steampunk crafters have been grateful to the Nerf company for making toy arms that, when painted or manipulated in some way, make that steampunk vision come to life. The most popular of these is the Nerf Maverick pistol. With this vision in mind, he said he would like to create artifacts that an adventurer in a steampunk story would need and want, and he likes to draw from other science-fiction genres as well for inspiration.

“Like a Star Trek away team had phazers, communicators, and tricorders, I would like to make similar items using brass, wood, copper, and things that would have been readily available,” Hall said. “I get most of my building materials from Goodwill, or flea markets, or hardware stores.”

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epitaph
Threnody Radio’s Lord Epitaph. Image courtesy of Threnody Radio.

Hall has found the regional cons, including Sun City SciFi in El Paso and various others in Southern New Mexico, to be the perfect venues, especially with the steampunk genre becoming more visible.

Even as a first-time vendor at Sun City SciFi in March, many of Hall’s items sold out on just the first day. He plans to attend more events, as long as they remain fun. If his interest becomes too much of a “business,” however, then he knows the fun has stopped.

There are plenty of other steampunk practitioners still embracing that fun, including Threnody Radio out of Roswell, New Mexico.

Threnody formed last year, combining the medium of classic radio theater with a gothic steampunk edge. This “dark fantasy radio drama” often collaborates with other artists and performers to create “a realm of fantasy and dark workings, which travels worlds.” According to Threnody Radio’s co-founder, who goes by the moniker Lord Epitaph, “Threnody,” meaning “songs for the lamentation of the dead,” was a word he ran across as a young boy.

“It is another word for a funeral dirge. Once I read that, I took to liking it,” he said. “Never had a use for it until the radio show. Because we started off sitting around the laptop talking about science and all things dark, it came naturally after that.”

Epitaph said Threnody Radio is certainly a diverse endeavor. He and co-founders Lady Epitaph (Lord Epitaph’s wife) and friend Professor Brassthorn began Threnody “on a whim,” wanting to do an internet radio show. Within a week of having the idea, they broadcast their first transmission. He said the project has evolved quite a bit in just one year.

“It was nothing like we do today,” Epitaph said. “Our first episodes were the three of us talking about ghosts, blood, imaginary friends, and other offerings. It really all depended on what we felt like. It was not until we had a few episodes behind us that we got the idea to start telling a story.”

This was quite the undertaking with just the three of them, so they acquired a fourth Threnody participant, author M.B. Christopher (Tempus Transformare: Catalyst).

Epitaph, who has been going by his steampunk moniker for about 15 years, said his persona’s backstory, which involves his character fighting “The Reaper” for his own life over the course of a year, goes even further back. He said these types of tales are what make steampunk and goth such good companions.

He hopes Threnody will help promote this marriage of genres, as well as bring a heightened awareness of the world of steampunk.

steampunk at epcon
Cosplayers at last year’s Ep-Con in El Paso brought the area’s Wild West edge to their own steampunk characters. Images by Rick Tate.

“It is about time that steampunk gets the recognition that it rightly deserves,” he said. “We here at Threnody like the idea. They both transcend each other in a nice complimentary way. I think the allure of the genre is that it is still on the ground floor, if you will. There is room for this to grow like nothing else.”

Epitaph, Brassthorn, and Christopher have made the rounds at science-fiction conventions and other events, promoting their show and their various artistic talents. Many guests approach them unaware of what Threnody Radio actually is. They rely on their con appearances as a way to help raise funding for future upgrades in broadcasting software.

Since Epitaph and his wife maintain their personas, even outside of cons, they often get approached by people wanting to know for what event they are “dressed up.”

“We always tell them that this is what we wear,” Epitaph said. “After a while, people see us always dressed like we do and realize it is not just a thing. We do this all the time.”

He shared his advice for those wanting to create their own persona, and said coming up with a “moniker” should be the first step. Once the name is established, creating a good backstory of “who you are” is also important.

“Take any situation where you were asked all the social questions like where were you born, what do you do, how did you get those scars, etc. If you can answer these and have a few good stories to go with it, it makes it so you sound genuine,” Epitaph said. “Staying in your character while talking to people is also important.”

He said he gets to talk with a lot of people at events and encourages anyone interested in getting into steampunk or similar worlds to not be afraid to ask those involved about it.

“If you are not sure on how to go about it, ask. I have yet to meet anyone in the goth or steampunk community that won’t stop and give some advice,” he said. “We had a girl at our first con who thought we spent a lot of money on our clothes. We told her the truth. It was just stuff we had in the closet that we embellished.”

More than anything else, Epitaph said, it simply takes imagination and not being afraid to keep in character.

“Yes, people will look at you funny. Yes, you will entrance children and scare old ladies,” he said. “But there is nothing else in this realm, or my own, that is better than feeling what in your own eyes is normal.”

Hall agrees, and feels one of the most appealing things about the steampunk world is something that can be very recognizable, but also very personal.

“Steampunk is something they can be and do,” Hall said. “You can dress like Iron Man or Batman, but you can be your own hero or villain as a steampunk.”

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.