This is the questionnaire that the Spanish writer Josué Ramos sent us in order to publish the corresponding interview within the scope of Steampunk Hands around the World 2014.
The interview was originally published at MundoSteampunk.Net on 21st February, including the answers of creators like Sally-Ann Livingston and Malcolm Sinclair. Josué did a great work with an outstanding series of blog posts regarding Steampunk Hands around the World, and having the opportunity to collaborate with him was a priviledge. Do not miss the results!
This is a bilingual Spanish-English document.
1.- The interviewee
Gretchen Jacobsen (aka Wilhelmina Frame) is a freelance producer, award-winning costumer, prolific crafter and frequent convention panelist; her alter-ego, Ms. Frame, Editrix de Mode for Steampunk Chronicle and Part Time Lion Tamer, travels the globe in pursuit of adventure and style. When not in the circus ring with Rajah, her tiger and the rest of her “Kitten Kabal” (seven lions, three cheetahs and a rather droll panther), Ms. Frame can be seen at the most fabulous parties, in the latest fashions, sparkling with wit in conversation. In addition, she is the founder and Tiffin Master of The American Tea Duelling Society.
2.- Steampunk media and fashion
Q.- Gretchen, your Steampunk persona is Wilhelmina Frame (part time Lion Tamer, full time Adventuress). Why did you choose this nom de guerre?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. In the summers when I was young my family would often take day trips up to various places in nearby Wisconsin. One of these was Circus World in Barabo. Circus World is a museum, showplace and historic site at the former winter headquarters of The Ringling Brothers’ Circus. One time when we visiting, the wild animal tamers were mingling with the visitors and carrying a tiger cub. They were quietly going up to select parents and offering a photo opportunity with the tiger. My parents were never the kind of to pay for these kinds of things, but due to the uniqueness of the offer and, most likely, my wide eyes, they agreed to pay for the photo. The trainers sat me down in front of a circus wagon, put a blanket of some sort on my lap, told me to smile and quickly put the dozy tiger cub in my lap. The moment lasted an instant but the memory and the photo will be with me always. This was the inspiration for Part Time Lion Tamer!
When trying to figure out a steampunk persona, I wanted something that could realistically support a variety of places, moods and adventures — and the clothes to go with them. A wild animal tamer seemed to fit that bill. Victorians were all about dressing for the occasion and being a lion tamer — even if part time — gave me ample excuses to vary my dress. I would have performance costumes, safari gear, outfits to mingle with the rough and tumble circus types, gowns for when I would mingle with the rich and powerful since I would obviously be famous and infamous. I would have reasons to travel and meet people from all walks. And I would, obviously, have lots and lots of lovely pets.
As for the actual name, Wilhelmina is very Victorian and has some family history attached. The Germanic derivation of Wilhelmina also reflects back nicely to Gretchen. I liked the idea of being referred to as Wil, although it seems that the more common nickname would have been Billie. Frame? Well it just sounded good. A nice sharp end to an otherwise obtuse name.
Q.- You have been Steampunk Chronicle’s Editrix de Mode for a long time. How did your collaboration with Steampunk Chronicle begin?
I was recommended to Deadline Dan, Steampunk Chronicle’s publisher by our former media editor, DJ Doctor Q. Doctor Q knew me and my fashion sense from various Steampunk events. The Chronicle was in need of a fashion editor so Deadline Dan asked me for a meeting. We met at my favorite bar, talked about our Steampunk philosophies and after a few rounds of delicious brews, I was the new Editrix de Mode of Steampunk Chronicle.
Q.- You have a wide experience as broadcast producer. From your point of view, what role does media play in the growth and development of the Steampunk community in the USA and abroad?
Honestly, not much! Traditional broadcast media — television, radio, film — hasn’t really picked up on Steampunk. While there have been a couple of music videos, Panic! at the Disco being a good example and Justin Beiber being a bad example, we really haven’t seen that much Steampunk representation. A lot of people point to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Firefly. They were released near to each other in 2002 – 2003 so they are little early for me to be representative of what we now call Steampunk. Really, we have yet to see our great magnum opus in cinema or television. Everyone is looking to Lantern City but we don’t have a confirmed release for that.
Where you are seeing Steampunk is in online media and in print. The internet is really what brought Steampunk to prominence. It’s also how Steampunks from around the world are finding out about each other. Steampunk based literature has been popular and many would argue that literature is where Steampunk truly has its roots. To a lesser degree, mainstream news media is picking up on Steampunk through its coverage of art, fashion, and trends in consumer goods.
Q.- In addition, we have to consider the famous Steampunk Chronicle’s Reader’s Choice Awards. We were among the nominees to the 2013 awards thanks to our Sky Captain Series and it was a fantastic experience. Do you think there should be a category for the ‘Best Steampunk Jeweler’?
1.- The interviewee
Austin Sirkin, a scholar and writer who has been studying the Steampunk movement for nearly a decade, and is one of the world’s leading experts on it. His work can be found in various blogs around the internet, as well as in the recent anthology Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution
2.- Steampunk beyond conventionalisms
Q.- Austin, we love your sense of humour (try reading ‘15 Types Of Annoying Steampunks’ without smiling) and your irreverent approach to Steampunk because we are convinced that a fresh look is essential in order to develop a deeper and wider vision. You have been involved in the US Steampunk scene since 2006 with a prolific activity as divulgator: blogger, columnist, panelist, podcaster… Why is Steampunk so attractive for you?
Austin Sirkin (AS).- Thank you! I think that when you get involved with something you love a lot, it’s easy to lose your sense of humor. Since no one is making tons of money on Steampunk, everyone is involved because they love it. That can lead to a lot of ruffled feathers! As a result, I always try to include my sense of humor in anything I write so as to bring some smiles back into what can be an awfully upsetting dialogue for many.
Steampunk is attractive to me for a variety of reasons. First of all, I grew up reading as much sci-fi and fantasy as I could get my hands on, among which were the classics by Verne and Wells. I also grew up watching reruns of The Wild, Wild West, so I’ve always had an interest in Steampunk since before I even knew that it was a “thing”. Second, my clothing preferences have always leaned toward the fancy and Victorian, so when I discovered Steampunk, it was sort of a natural fit. Third, for the longest time, I wanted to be more involved in costuming, but until Steampunk took hold, it was exceedingly rare to find someone cosplaying a unique character. Practically everyone was dressed up as a character from a movie, or a TV show, or a comic book, or whatever, and let me tell you how hard it is to find characters in popular media that are a little on the heavyset side who have a goatee and glasses; it’s extremely hard! So when the metaphorical Steampunk ship pulled up with the prospect of cosplaying unique characters, I jumped right on board!
1.- The interviewee
As per The Steampunk Museum, “Captain” Robert Brown is a Steampunk songwriter, novelist, community organizer, blogger, game designer, craftsman, and fashion designer. He’s been interviewed by several TV shows and Magazines, like MTV, and the New York Times.
He is the founding member of Abney Park. In addition to writing all of Abney Park’s songs, he also creates an unending supply of Steampunk instruments for the band, from Guitars, to Keyboards, to “hornpipes”.
Robert is an avid blogger and is an outspoken inclusionist for Steampunk culture, fighting for the right for anyone’s daydream in the community. He regularly posts articles on Steampunk, including definitive pieces designed to direct the culture in positive and friendly directions, as well as videos posts of “how-to’s” on Steampunk mods and fashion.
He has released an Airship Pirate RPG, and written a novel, “The Wrath of Fate”, both of which tie together all the stories, characters, and settings from all of the songs of Abney Park.
2.- The interview
Dear Robert, we feel privileged for having this opportunity to share our thoughts with you, thank you so much for your kind attention. Abney Park is one of the most popular bands within the Steampunk scene and you have been directly involved in its growth and development for many years, so this is a great satisfaction for us.
Q.- As per your lengthy career and your contact with Steampunkers all over the world, what do you expect about the future of Steampunk? Which trends do you identify? May there be a ’Steampunk Revolution’ coming?
A.- I think we are seeing the Steampunk Revolution now. The level of global enthusiasm is so great I could spend days just listing all the amazing things happening.
I had originally hoped steampunk could save the world from what I deem a horrible fate. The thesis of all product designs these days is “Profit is the only important outcome of any product design, so design for profit, not art.” This has jaded the aesthetic of modern design. For example, I recently purchased what I consider to be the most beautiful laptop sold today: the Macbook Pro Retina. Its not plastic, taky, covered with stickers…all the flaws seen in so many other laptops. But the Apple design philosophy is, however, to make a product with no design at all. As plain as possible, they call it “simple” or “clean”, whereas I call it a cop out. Its like guys who can’t think of how they like their hair to be, so instead they wear a hat or shave there head. Maybe thats what looks best on you, but don’t call yourself a hair stylist. “Clean and simple” is the default state BEFORE an artist begins: it shouldn’t be the final design.
My hope is that steampunk can return beauty to design. Museums are filled with the undeniably beautiful creations of mankind, but some how modern man has decided to give all that up. instead of striving for beauty, we strive for profit, and in doing so we create cheap to manufacture disposable garbage. My dream is that Steampunk will show the corporate CEOs that we all still want beautiful things. I’m sure its a pipe dream, but I’m good at day dreams.
Q.- From your point of view, which challenges is Steampunk going to face in the next years?
A.- Becoming a joke. There is a lot of comedy in steampunk, which I love, but their is also a serious fire, and some amazingly cool and talented people, the likes of which the world has never seen before. My fear is that mainstream culture will turn this into a gag, based on the weakest parts of our scene, and that will scare away the real talent.
Q.- Robert, you sing and play several instruments, which musical influences would you emphasize? Which kind of music do you listen to at present?
A.- I mostly listen to historical music, and ethnic musics. I really love stuff from the east coast of Eruope an the middle east. Russian pop, bulkian, gypsey, bellydance, etc. I have a huge love of Flamenco. I also really love old vintage recordings. I have a Victrola, and a stack of records from a time long gone by. To hear that old machine recreate a world long gone is an amazing experience.
Q.- In any case you are not only a multi-instrumentist frontman, but also a writer. ‘The Wrath of Fate’, published in 2011, explores the fictional backstory of Abney Park’s members as airship pirates. Writing a complete book may be quite different from writing lyrics, are you happy with the experience of this first publication?
A.- Yes. The book has been selling amazingly well. In fact, at least from our online store, it outsells our music. Its a lot of work, and a part of me is not suited for that work, as I’m horrifically dyslexic, but its very rewarding an I plan to continue it.
Q.- So… may we expect new books in the future?
We are lucky enough to have been in touch with Kevin Steil, aka Airship Ambassador since late 2011. Kevin has earned worldwide respect for his commitment with the global Steampunk community, which includes the development of the news and resource website Airship Ambassador.
We had the opportunity to count with his collaboration for our series of brief interviews ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ and his interview was published in June. In this interview he disclosed that the release of a new a BIG project was coming closer and some days ago he contacted us to let us know that everything was ready for the official launch of its beta version.
When Irene and I visited the beta website of The Steampunk Museum for the first time, we realized the magnitude of this initiative and understood immediatly that this is something set to be a game changer: probably the definitive source of knowledge about the Steampunk universe with enciclopedic approach. Is this ambitious? Of course! Could it be any other way? Of course not.