Arts & Culture

Steampunk expo mixes sci-fi, Victoriana

Performers Shon and Heather Gunderson walk the boardwalk at Old Cowtown Museum during Steampunk Day. (Nov. 5, 2011)
Performers Shon and Heather Gunderson walk the boardwalk at Old Cowtown Museum during Steampunk Day. (Nov. 5, 2011) The Wichita Eagle

Nathanial Timm met his girlfriend at Anime Festival Wichita. She also liked Victorian-era clothing. That meant Steampunk.

Instead of dressing as a character out of a Japanese animation movie, Timm was back in Wichita this weekend in a top hat with goggles, red shirt, brocade black vest, skull rings and a cane doubling as a gun.

"My girlfriend loves the clothes, but I'm more into the accessories," said Timm, 26, who was at the Emerald City Steampunk Expo at the Hyatt Regency.

Steampunk combines science fiction and romantic literature with classic costumes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Think "The Wild, Wild West" meets "Star Wars." Literally.

"We had a Princess Leia, Hans Solo and R2-D2, all outfitted in Steampunk fashion," said John Horn, one of the organizers of the event.

Some of the same people who are into Anime, video games and Renaissance Fairs also dress the Steampunk roles.

"You know us geeks — any reason to dress up and we're there," Horn laughed.

"Geek" and "nerd" are words bantered about at Steampunk conventions, but not in a derogatory way.

"I always love classic geek or nerd thing," said Timm, who added that his interests in video games, computers and math also attracted him to Steampunk.

The subculture does have an Old West feel to it, which is why this weekend's convention included a carnival day at Old Cowtown Museum. That one-day event last year grew to three days this year.

The culture also inspired art: an exhibit that opened Saturday night at City Arts will run through Nov. 19.

The Steampunk name comes from contraptions built around the emergence of steam engines and the dreams of the kind of power it could provide in the early days of the Industrial Revolution in Victorian Britain.

The science fiction of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne was an early influence on the pop culture that would spring up during the 1990s, making way for events such as the one this weekend.

"I've always been fascinated with clothing and lifestyle of the Victorian lifestyle and music. And also it gives me the reason to talk in all sorts of accents, which is pretty fun," said Dalton Brock, 16, of Wichita.

With its science fiction background, Steampunk can span the ages.

Horn identified the subgenres evident at the Emerald City Expo including:

* Dustpunk: characters from the Old West.

* Dieselpunk: from the 1920s, when diesel fuel began showing promise of more power.

* Junkpunk: a post-apocalyptic, futuristic vision, inspired by movies such as "Mad Max"

Horn and Darrel Edson talked about what they called Dilithium Punk. That was inspired by the feel of the silent film "Metropolis" and the multigenerational sci-fi series "Star Trek." Dilithium was the crystal substance used to help manage warp speed on Star Trek.

"You can be from the future," Horn said. "You can even be from an alternative universe."

Or you can just like making Victorian clothes, like Laci Neal of Omaha, who described herself as in her 20s.

"You can use your imagination a lot," she said. "You don't have to make your own clothes, but I do because it's part of the fun. I can wear my cool Victorian clothing, I can add gears and goggles but I don't have to, because it still counts."

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