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Link, by A. Abrams

Who would've thought that rusty pipes can spawn a cultural movement?

But they did... After cyberpunk, steampunk was the logical development, then bio-punk, clock-punk, nano-punk, squid-punk... and now dieselpunk (no relation to Vin Diesel, or is there?) True to the name, this movement sings jazzy paens to convoluted and impressive tangles of pipes, chambers, pistons, and has the mighty Torque in the center of it all.

"The Road Pirate", art by PanzerCobra

Proper "dieselpunk" takes an interest in various bizarre machines, full of esoteric levers, cracked-glass meters - all visually intense and pretty sinister-looking, when photographed. So let's start with some embryonic steam/dieselpunk vintage imagery:

Depicted above is the bizarre-looking Japanese aircraft carrier "Kaga" from 1926 (more info) Note the horizontal steam pipes (stacks), 150 meters long, placed alongside the vessel.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White has been immortalizing industrial landscapes since the 1920s (she died in 1971) Here is the engine room of U.S.S.Maryland, 1939:

Chrysler factories and the Chrysler building:

Inside a war-time diesel submarine:

(images credit: LIFE magazine, via)

Illustration to the awesome story by Nat Schachner "Stratosphere Towers", published in Astounding Stories magazine in 1934, featuring 10-kilometer-high megacity, filled with machinery and attacked by robotic planes from the enemy megacity across the globe -

And again, digging deeper into the pulps, we find this invasion of walking vehicles - from 1930s "Amazing Stories":

From the pulp pages dieselpunk migrated into the movies - more easily recognizable cultural references will be "Mad Max" (of course) and the 2004 movie "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (read interview with the director). Don't miss definitive dieselpunk style in the excellent movie "Dark City" and - perhaps - in the upcoming "Spirit" visual extravaganza.

(image via Ottens)


Bringing Machines to Life

We mentioned works by Boris Artzybasheff before. But his "machine-eats-machine" world requires a closer look, if we going to understand "diesel-punk" roots. Most of the illustrations were made in the 1940s, many ended up as covers for "Time" magazine, some of them surreal industrial nightmares:

(images via)

When machines come to life... and come back to haunt the nightmares of Detroit executives:

(cover for "Mechanix Illustrated" magazine)

See more works of B. Artzybasheff on this page.


Recent Dieselpunk Developments

Dieselpunk as a genre was first proposed by the creators of the role-playing game Children of the Sun in 2002. Arguably sharing sensibilities with cyberpunk, rather than steampunk (however some say that it's a darker, dirtier version of steampunk), this petrolium-powered movement has a much earlier roots, especially in 1920s movies, beginning with the classic "Metropolis" by Fritz Lang, and on through the avantgarde work of Sergei Eisenstein - to the imperial 1930s and the architecture of Albert Speer and Hugh Ferriss.

Fast-forward to the present day, and you find that building your own diesel punk masterpiece is no cheap task. But don't despair - there are artists who will gladly sell you a miniaturized versions of dieselpunk machines. For example, one great Japanese artist is Kow Yokoyama, with his models in "Maschinen Krieger" series:

(images credit: Kow Yokoyama & MaschinenKrueger)

See more models at Kow Yokoyama's tribute site

Japanese artist Shinya Yamashita makes a definitive steampunk / dieselpunk statement with his works:

(image credit: Shinya Yamashita)

His website is simply irresistible (even in Japanese), featuring beautiful female characters - click here, could be nsfw.

Concept art for "Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2" -

(image via)


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (in a Nazi Uniform)

The recent "Hellboy II" movie had some interesting visual steampunk / dieselpunk references (especially with the unforgettable Johann Krauss character). In Finland, the whole dieselpunk comedy about the conquest of the Moon (in a weird alternative world) is in production: "The Iron Sky" -

(image credit: ironsky.net)

Speaking of the real technological exploits by Nazi engineers, this rare photograph shows a screw-driven vehicle (similar to the Russian prototypes, made by engineer Grachev - watch video here)

This is the "SchneeMaschine", designed in 1944 by Johannes Raedel, a German soldier sent to the Eastern Front. (more info). He came up with the idea, when he saw the misery of the German troops in the deep Russian snow, and taking a good look at a meat mincer... Testing this machine in the mountains in Tyrol:

(image credit: strangevehicles)

Soviet-made 1960s prototypes (such as this ZIL-2906) were also meant to be used by cosmonaut rescue teams -

If you think that dieselpunk can only be seen in some esoteric technology and on the movie screen... Careful! Don't stumble into the gaping maw of some rusty jaws on a construction site:

(original unknown)

Also Read:
DRB Steampunk Art & Gear Series, William Gibson's Novels, Flying Submarines

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Blogger Skipweasel said...

That photo of the WW2 sub put me in mind of the online Fleet Submarine Manual here...

Complete manual for the entire wartime sub - amazing.

Blogger Jeremy said...

The website you give as Kow Yokoyama's is actually a modeling site called Krueger's Kriegers. It is a tribute site to the Yokoyama-designed "SF3D" et. al. model kits and the world which they inhabit. While there are many excellent SF3D/MaK ZBv3000 sites (my personal favourite and the one I use for reference is http://www.roboterkampf.com/), Kow's homepage is http://homepage3.nifty.com/kow/.

Anonymous Will said...

Red Alert 2 concept art is a Kirov.

Blogger owr084 said...

"True to the name, this movement sings jazzy paens to convoluted and impressive tangles of pipes, chambers, pistons, and has the mighty horse-power in the center of it all."

No. That is incorrect. With a diesel motor, Torque is much more important than horse-power.

Anonymous KaiserTroll said...

Shouldn't it be Red Alert 3 rather than 2 ?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ owr084
Horsepower is a number derived from measured torque.
The formula is: HP = (RPM × Torque) ÷ 5252
(Anytime you see a graph showing an engine's horsepower and torque curves you'll notice they cross at 5'252 RPM)
As a result, engines that redline below 5'252 will make higher torque figures than HP and vice versa.
As diesel engines typically don't rev very high, they make much higher torque figures than horsepower.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Well, guys, you convinced me about superiority of the mighty Torque in this case. Updated.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mo' about the Kaga ship...


Anonymous Steve W said...

Another excellent cup o' justice, Avi! Thanks for all the High Weirdness!

I think I like the term "dieselpulp" and "steampulp" better, because they encompass more flavors than just the raw-edged *punk does. (See the most excellent Brass Goggles blog for 'steampulp' and other terms floating around.)


Check out the covers of Astounding and Analog magazines for some righteous dieselpulp (vacuum-tube-pulp?) eye-candy:


And by all means check out Sharkit's Alterra universe:


Open Skies and Safe Grounding!

Up Ship!

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Steve,

This is wonderful stuff - I especially like steampulp terminology: makes a lot more sense, but maybe not that recognizable to the general public.

Thank you for the Cover Browser! Great resource.....

Blogger spinchange said...

Dieselpunk. I like the sound of that. Reminds me of engines and pipes.

Anonymous Daniel said...

I actually do a webcomic that's nestled in the dieselpunk movement:


It's a universe where everyone (monsters) lives in their steampowered motorcars, governed by fascist dictator Abe Lincolnstein.

The "friendly" police are 7 ton giant mechanical CrowBots; the strong arm of the Authority!

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Great comic, Daniel - thanks for letting us know!

Anonymous دليل مواقع said...

The website you give as Kow Yokoyama's is actually a modeling site called Krueger's Kriegers. It is a tribute site to the Yokoyama-designed "SF3D" et. al. model kits and the world which they inhabit. While there are many excellent SF3D/MaK ZBv3000 sites (my personal favourite and the one I use for reference

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look at www.enjin.co.nz


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