Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

The Troubleshooter: as dieselpunk as it gets.


As I get back into dieselpunk writing, I thought I’d reflect on what dieselpunk means to me. The definition found at the Dieselpunk Encyclopedia: “Dieselpunk is a style and a budding sub-culture that combines the zeitgeist of the interbellum period through World War II and ending before or at the early 1950s with postmodern sensibilities from a counter-cultural viewpoint.”

That’s a very broad definition that can cover many things. Personally, I think of it in much narrower terms. I prefer to consider dieselpunk a culture that combines elements of wartime style and customs with in a present-day or future setting, or with speculative elements like fantasy or sci-fi. I think that’s what separates dieselpunk from historical for alternate history settings. If I write a story about a spy in WWII, that’s not dieselpunk to me. If I write a story about a spy in WWII that boards an alien ship, that’s dieselpunk.

I spend a lot of time on Pinterest, perusing different boards and pinning to my own boards of different topics, one of which is dieselpunk. At first I would pin anything that had an airship or WW uniform, but then I thought about what really applies as dieselpunk. It changed how I pinned the images to my boards. A man or woman in uniform doesn’t make the image dieselpunk, nor did a WW bomber plane or tank. That’s historical imagery, in my opinion. No shortage of such images, history is overflowing with them. I search for pins that display that special blend of old and new, wartime and modern, diesel and sci fi, etc.

When think dieselpunk film, I think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. When I think of dieselpunk literature, I think of Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series. (which can be arguably steampunk as well) When I think of dieselpunk art, the works of Stefan spring to mind. Those are just examples of the perfect blend of wartime era/sensibilities with speculative aspects. There are many others.

I was writing in the dieselpunk genre before I knew the culture existed. I called my writing style for the Troubleshooter series ‘dystopian noir’ at the time. Through networking with other enthusiasts I came to know more about dieselpunk and what it encompasses. Everyone has their own interpretation, but to me, it’s the ‘punk’ in dieselpunk that infers an addition to the wartime era style and setting. When you add the speculative aspect, blend the old with new, link past to present to future; you get something that stands apart from its historical counterparts.

You get dieselpunk.

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Comment by John Picha on October 5, 2013 at 12:41am

I think Tome created a good DP definition for the DPES.


When I started the Dieselpunks website years ago, the word “dieselpunk” was still a curiosity. Sure, it was loaded with familiar tropes like Pulp Adventure, Film Noir, and Weird Horror, but the artists were mashing these concepts together with something different, something a little more contemporary. At that time, the steampunks were just starting to climb their way from the underground and gain traction as a legitimate style, but there was something to be said about this little-known corner of dieselpunk, or "low-brow pop surrealism" as it was known back then.

Like the French film scholars who codified Film Noir as a genre years after the movies were in the theaters, I could see a similar thread binding the dieselpunk work together. Whether they realized it or not, these artists were creating work with eerily similar concepts. They were creating a future fueled by the spirit of the Jazz Age. In their world, they wanted to see if old Sam Spade could work in an era of smartphones, or if Dillinger could make a clean getaway in a cherry red hovercar. These artists were writing cyberpunk stories from inside The Great Gatsby’s mansion, and they invited everyone to the party.

What was missing at the time was a sense of community. We had fashion designers, musicians, architects, directors, sculptors, mechanics, authors… almost every artistic discipline was represented, but there was no single place they called home. That’s when the Dieselpunks website started. It was created as a research site for these budding world-builders, someplace to find the weird and wacky (but mostly true) things that happened between World War I and World War II. In short time though, the community turned our quiet library into a raucous speakeasy and it’s been growing ever since.


from tome's framework, and all the interactions I've had with people on the subject of DP, i kind of look at the "what is dieselpunk" question a little inverted…

the term itself has been a little hard to fit neatly in a box. i've read and heard arguments between people about it and have discovered that if you ask 10 different people what DP is, you may get 10 different answers. in most cases the definition tends to supports what the person making it is most interested in. i think that's kind of cool.

I think DP is actually a definition of a community, of people who are interested in similar things, in the same way Hippies, Hep Cats, Punks, Goths, Hipsters, are. Each one of those examples conjure an image of what its preferred content might be, but none of us reading this list will come up with the exact same list of qualifiers for the groups.

I think it's the same with Dieslepunks. I'm not sure sure the question needs to be "what is dieselpunk?" but "who are dieselpunks?" As I interprets it we are a collection of people who enjoy cultural esthetics and the culture markers of the 1920(ish) - 1949(ish).

I think the proof of this categorization attempt may be in the diversity of all the members drawn to this dieselpunks.org beacon. 


Comment by Bard Constantine on September 28, 2013 at 7:02pm

I'd agree with that. It never hit me until I was looking up Blancanieves. Wonder what other films I've seen and never considered...

Comment by Larry on September 28, 2013 at 5:13pm

I do indeed consider Pan's Labyrinth dieselpunk. 

Comment by Bard Constantine on September 28, 2013 at 4:53pm

Thanks, Larry and Mark. Oh Brother is a good example, Larry -I can seen how the take on the era can be considered as 'punked. I haven't seen Blancanieves, thanks for pointing it out. Makes me ask about another Spanish language film, Pan's Labryinth. Would you label it as dieselpunk?

Comment by Larry on September 28, 2013 at 9:54am

Very interesting thoughts, Bard. Personally, I do separate "dieselpunk" from "diesel era themed". There has to be something that 'punks' the era. For example, I don't consider either Red Tails or A League of Her Own as dieselpunk, though I very much enjoy both. Whereas, I do include Blancanieves and Oh Brother Where Art Thou as both dieselpunk even though one doesn't find speculative fiction in either.

Personally, I prefer the big tent viewpoint. Therefore, while I also love the elements you describe, I also include scenarios that don't include speculative fiction. In addition, the larger dieselpunk community has done so as well. 

Comment by JerseyStyle Photography on September 28, 2013 at 9:23am

A really good insight into your work, Bard. How you combine all of these elements into The Troubleshooter is fantastic. As you can tell, I lean way more heavily into the "film noir" genre than dieselpunk, though I like the images, themes and writing. Still, it's great to see how you take my work and combine it with Stefan's to help us bring your creative to life. And for me, it's been a good creative learning as well.

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