What is it about steampunk and clocks? Where ever you look you see time pieces and their requisite gears churning away reminding us of the inevitable march of time. It is a curious thing really, to be able to see seconds slip away on a mechanical device.
The astrolabium is a wonderful example of literally watching seconds, days, and months pass by. Pre-dating this gorgeous mechanism, ancient Greek astronomers had developed a device to determine the position of the sun and stars. However, the astrolabium does more than simply count off hours, minutes, months, and dates. It gives time beauty and substance in an existential kind of way. Designed by the famous clockmaker Philipp Matthaus Hahn (1739-1790), its origins and/or inspiration can be attributed to the tellurium clock, the Antikythera Mechanism of the 2nd century B.C. and possibly many others. (Creativity and inspiration often seep across national boundaries and flourish in unexpected ways.) Whatever its origins, the astrolabium uniquely reminds us of the passage of time with a miniature globe of the earth that rotates and revolves around a solid brass sun in this particular model.
Though it is beautiful, I find it rather annoying. I mean the part about watching your life slip away. But you see I have always liked clocks. Pocket watches, necklace watches, the old mantel piece clocks that once were so fashionable in days gone by. I love to see the inner workings of clocks and watches for the simple reason I find the craftsmanship to be extraordinary. And it’s just so damned pretty. If I had enough room in our house there would probably be clocks everywhere, but practicality won out and in their place are stacks of books.
So, what is it about steampunk which finds clocks so enticing and engaging? And not just any type of clock, but ones where their inner workings are exposed for the world to see and dissect. It is my belief that in steampunk clockworks are a representation of the human heart.
Its ticking is the equivalent of a heartbeat and its exposure a symbol of human frailty. Gears can falter, skip and even grind to a halt. The human condition all wrapped up in a mechanical device.
Steampunk has imbued clockworks with soul and a sense of purpose beyond the intention of their original makers. You know the old saying, “you wear your heart on your sleeve?” In this case, it’s on the wall, in your pocket or in the palm of your hand. And it can be crushed at a whim.
Clocks and time play a very large role in steampunk. Loosely based on Victorian England sensibilities and technology, steampunk looks to the past for a new vision of the future. For the uninitiated, you will see steam-based technology augmented with modern devices in steampunk fiction as well as fashion and home-built gadgets. Some make sense, others not so much. But that’s part of the fun. Fashion is often ripped straight from Victorian styles, though more often than not the person wearing it has given it their own individual flair.
As the writer/creator of the graphic novel and companion novel for BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY, I worked within the framework of a specific time and place, but since I was working in fiction I had the opportunity to take a more modern point-of-view towards science and social mores. It was challenging and rewarding. The challenge being making sure my time line made sense. The reward was when it all worked out.
Though I do not have many visible clocks in the comic, there is however, a “ticking clock” which lurks in the background. A “ticking clock” in the writer’s world means your protagonist must accomplish something in a specific amount of time or something bad will happen. In this panel from the second chapter, Samuel has met with B.E.T.H. to discuss what to do about “The Shifter,” a trans- dimensional being who has been killing people at an ever growing rate. Their job is to stop it before it kills again.
The theme of clockworks in steampunk not only suggests the inner workings of the human heart but as I mentioned before evokes another time and place. And in some cases, those times and places cross over in the most unusual way. In this panel from the first chapter of the comic, Duncan, who is a ghost, had hidden a camera from Caitlin’s vengeful mother. He has crossed over from another time and place to help someone he cares for.
Since clockworks and time are inexorably linked, steampunk does what it does best in demonstrating another vision of the past with influences of the future. In this panel from chapter two, the men of B.E.T.H. are on a hill overlooking Boston Harbor. It is an image of an alternate history where dirigibles are common place along with a modern looking steamship which cruises into harbor.
BOSTON METAPHYSICAL SOCIETY is my first venture into steampunk as a writer, but I have funny feeling I may have found my home. It allows me to explore the issues and themes which are important to me in a way that appeals to my own personal aesthetic. For when you strip away the gadgets and the fancy clothes you discover that in steampunk, time is always at the heart.
About M. Holly-Rosing
The writer/creator of the Boston Metaphysical Society graphic novel series, companion novel, and short stories, Madeleine has also run six successful crowding campaigns and published the book, Kickstarter for the Independent Creator. She was also the winner of the Sloan Fellowship for screenwriting, and the Gold Aurora and Bronze Telly for a PSA produced by Women In Film as well as having won numerous awards while completing the UCLA MFA Program in Screenwriting. Source Point Press is set to publish the first six issues and the trade paperback of Boston Metaphysical Society original graphic novel in 2019/2020.
Other comic projects include the short story, The Scout which is part of The 4th Monkey anthology, The Sanctuary (The Edgar Allan Poe Chronicles anthology), The Marriage Counselor (The Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology) and the upcoming The Airship Pirate which will be part of The Rum Row anthology.
The first novel in the series, Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets, was recently awarded a Silver Medal in the SciFi/Fantasy category as well as The Write Companion Award for Best Overall TOP PICK – Adult, Children’s and Young Adult categories in the Feathered Quill Book Awards.
Formerly a nationally ranked epee fencer, she has competed nationally and internationally. Madeleine is an avid reader of comics, steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, and historical military fiction.
- Website: http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com
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