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New dress code? No, it's steampunk

Steampunk made its way to the Addison Township Public Library last week. Showing off their outfits are Lyn Henderson (left) and Madame Dowd. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
July 31, 2013 - What do you get when you mix the Victorian era with steam-power and throw in a little science fiction? You get a movement known as "steampunk."

The Addison Township Public Library gave teens an introduction to the steampunk community with a steampunk minicon held at township hall on July 22. The convention included various speakers who explained the different aspects of steampunk and what it means to them. Teens were also given the opportunity to make steampunk-style jewelry, as well as ask questions and interact with featured guests.

Steampunk is generally considered to be a science fiction sub-genre. It usually features steam-powered machinery inspired by the Western world's industrialization during the 19th century. Britain's Victorian era and America's Old West figure prominently in steampunk culture, fashion and stories.

While there are many different variations of and aspects to steampunk, the fun thing, as Ben Despard will tell you, is "there is no definition of steampunk."

"It is whatever you put into it and whatever you take out of it," he said. "Therefore, if you can justify why something is steampunk, it's steampunk."

Some of the excitement many people experience with steampunk is letting loose their imaginations and being able to create a persona that they normally wouldn't don in everyday life. Part of building that persona is creating a background and occupation. Despard said sometimes a person's background determines their occupation, whether they are an orphan, a socialite, of nobility, a runaway or somebody who is running away from the law.

For example, in the steampunk community, Despard is known as "Sir Benjamin Despard III, captain of the H.M.S. Defiance," which is a British Royal Air Fleet ship, the mission of which is to hunt down pirates. His "air crew" consists of his friends who have created personas that play off of his.

Another aspect of steampunk is the fashion, which basically, entails dressing in a style that makes your persona come to life. Clothing can be anything from the late 18th century to the Victorian era to World War I.

"Whichever ever way you want to go is totally fine," Despard said. "It depends on what kind of persona you're going for."

His Sergeant of Arms, Garrett Papow, who was wearing a World War I trench coat with a Victorian-style vest and a pair of World War II boots, said people can "mix and match."

"That's one of the beauties of steampunk – it's not a set time period, but a fantasy genre," he said. "You don't have to be inside a big set with boundaries."

Despard got involved in steampunk a little over a year ago after seeing a friend's pictures on Facebook. Shortly there after, he and Papow became friends and he invited him to come along to a steampunk event. "I've been going ever since," Papow said.

Nick Downing explained that another big part of steampunk is weaponry.

"In weaponry, it's everything from handheld to powerized weapons or projectiles," he said. "The main metals end up being brass, bronze, copper, and silver because they're easy to work with. Without the power of electricity and major production engines, you can't really smelt steel."

Downing is a designer at Studio & F/X 101 LLC, a studio where people can design and build things.

Movies containing examples of steampunk include "Around the World in 80 Days," "Sucker Punch," "Final Fantasy," and the new "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey Jr.

Speaking of movies, that is how Michael Orlando found his way into the steampunk community. After spending 20 years in California and sitting behind a computer doing special effects for movies such as "Space Jam," "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: At the Worlds End" "Transformers: The Dark side of the Moon" and "Star Wars Episode II," Orlando wanted to use his artistic side and create with his hands once again.

"First convention I took stuff too I got a huge hit right off the bat," he said. "I was surprised how many people actually like my stuff quite honestly."

Some of the pieces he has created include a model ship, a steampunk paint set, which allows paint to be mixed inside the brush instead of on a pallet and a steampunk crossbow. He also has done some steampunk style oil paintings. Orlando's persona is vampire slayer.

"Being able to (create) your own persona – here is a venue for that," said Michael Orlando. "I couldn't go walking down the street (dressed) like this, but I go to a convention and I fit right in."

After seeing the different facets of steampunk as well as going to the conventions and seeing all they have to offer, Orlando said it attracted him like a "fish to water."

"I like Victorian, I like science fiction and I like making things," he said. "I was just amazed to find so many people out there on the fringes together. It was a family of creative folk, like-minded folk. That continues to draw me to it."

So, what do teenagers think of steampunk?

"You got this artistic side, you got mechanical, you got costume, there is just so much there," said Aaron Howarth, 16, who became intrigued with steampunk in 2008. "You stumble across these little things that interest you and you start to learn and obsess over them and fall in love with these concepts."

Anna Gierak, also known as "Captain Emily Smith," agreed.

"The Victorian culture is all about being sophisticated, but also going out there. With the steampunk, it's more of an adventurous kind of Victorian where anything can happen," she explained. "There are certain rules, but you can be on this air ship that has traveled the world. You can be a woman captain. You can wear awesome clothes, but have all these modern-day adventures and stuff."

Aluma Draper, 14, who is friends with Howarth, said she likes meeting the people involved in steampunk.

"It's really great," she said. "I like the history and what it evolved into."

Esther L. Lee, 16, got into steampunk through her sister.

"I haven't really gotten into it through the community as much, but we've been dressing like this for years," she said. "We don't dress like this just (for) conventions; we dress like this everyday. That's just our style."

To learn more about steampunk check out the collection of steampunk books at Addison library (1400 Rochester Rd.).

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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