Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Good, The Bad and The Steampunk

A bit back (see here), I spoke about my first published work, Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons From the Age of Steam. It was pretty well-received, and a sequel was green-lit! Fast-forward a year or two, and the sequel, is now available (from all good bookshops and the Osprey website).

The sequel delves more deeply into America. It covers the Sioux and Apache wars, the lingering cold war between North and South, Canada's border skirmishes with the Union and Russian Alaska, and the Mexican-Confederate confrontation. Naturally, a look is also given to the non-military side of things - gunslingers, bounty hunters, and cowpokes.

This volume was a real labour of love, and I hope that enthusiasm shines through. Mark Stacey has done a bang-up job on the artwork as usual, and even thrown in a few familiar faces (I suspect he loves old Westerns as much as I do!).

Who knows - if this sequel goes well, we might see another...

Anyhow, here are a few of my favourite spreads (click to embiggen) from the book to whet your appetites, along with a little "director's commentary". Enjoy!

We had a Pinkerton in the first volume, but while that one represented the Presidential bodyguard, this one represents another aspect of the Agency (and its historical peers) - strikebreaking. John Sayles' Matewan is one of my favourite films, and inspired me to read more about the early American labour union movements. So, when I started out with the planning for this volume, I knew I wanted to pick up some elements from this rich history, and thus this rather seedy, past-his-prime gun thug was born. His face reminds me of a cross between Jonathan Pryce and Titus Welliver, which pleases me no end!

I can only thank my co-author, Joe, for putting up with me. Having agreed from the start that we were not going to muck around with geography (apart from the division of North and South), I almost immediately threw that out the window (sorry, Kansas City... pages 14-15), and then smashed the window with this one, establishing an independent nation right in the middle of the US. While he didn't complain too much at the time, I do think this artwork went a long way towards seeing me properly forgiven for it...
One thing we decided from the outset is that while hephaestium gave us license to introduce all kinds of bizarre technology, we wanted to keep it grounded in something resembling reality - less is more. So, while every artwork shows off some anachronistic element, there is a range from the outright unbelievable (pages 60-61, for example...) to the more subtle, such as this one here. A classic bandito, armed with a prototype flamethrower weapon alongside a more reliable (seriously - look at the holes burned through his sombrero - that flamethrower is a double-edged sword!) sawn-off shotgun.
Not all of the plates depict individual soldiers, mind you - there's a fair few that show off vehicles and equipment too. This is one of my favourites, and is really my steampunk homage to The War Wagon and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma - two westerns that I can happily watch over and over again. With art plates, the authors usually supply reference material from which the artist can work. For this one, Mark received a bundle of pretty random images - steam engines, trains, pillboxes, weaponry, period fonts, corporate logos, costumes, film stills... - and turned them into this beauty. Mark always does a good job of telling a story with his art - often even with a single figure (see the Pinkerton clutching his hip flask just as tightly as his shotgun), and the tone here is perfect - the motor idling while the drivers argue about directions and the gun crew take the opportunity to escape the searing heat of driving around in a metal box!

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