Steampunk is a vast subset of popular culture with an untapped potential to tell an endless steam of inventive narrative and visually arresting stories. Arcana Studios’ Steampunk Originals Volume 1 is an anthology showcasing the collective imagination of over 40 different comic collaborators, all of whom deliver wildly different takes on the subject of Steampunk. Coordinated and edited by Mike Schneider, the decision to present these stories under the anthology banner is a smart one: there’s enough of a sampling of various visions to please even those not interested in steam-powered 19th-century influences of the sub-genre. You’d be hard-pressed not to find at least one tale that scratches a particular itch, although as is often the case with anthologies, several stories are shortchanged due to being constricted to a sparse number of pages and might have worked had they been given more room to unfurl.
One such entry that springs immediately to mind with regards to not being long enough is “Impulse Action” from Allen Jacoby and April Guadiana. It’s a simple tale of a man writing a letter to his sister to tell her of the impending bombing that will take place in England during the war, but at only two-pages, the end arrives rather abruptly when a correspondence from the man’s sister seems like the likely next page. Another history-laden story, “The End of Bushido,” is given nearly three times the page space as “Impulse” and is able to tell a total narrative as a result. Writer CW Cooke presents the death of the Japanese samurai at the hands of futuristic warriors and the kinetic art style from Keith Murray is among the anthologies’ most eye-catching.
Jim Frankenstin, aside from having the best name of a collaborator in this comic also has the most maddeningly short section in “Bob’s Repair Shop.” His art is one of the standouts in the book and gives off a serious 30 Days of Night vibe. Turning the page and suddenly starting the next story is a big letdown for sure. In fact, the most detrimental element to Steampunk Originals Vol. 1’s free flowing format is never knowing when a page-turn is going to mean the end of that particular story. “Battle at the Top of the World” by Scotty White and Mike Pascale and “I Can Explain” by Matt Wiley are other one-page tales that suffer from the same abrupt endings.
“Graveyard Shift” by Scotty White and Carla Rodrigues and “Unconventional Conventions” from Mike Schneider, Nursalim, and Ann-Marie Woolley offer more complete, light-hearted affairs. The former is a simpler tale of nightshift factory workers that has a surprisingly heavy message attached to it but is presented in a cartoon styling that works. A bit contrary to that is “Conventions,” which is not at all deep but a lot of fun and to see the steampunk representation of a comic-book convention is wildly inventive and original. It’s easily the most enjoyable of all the stories.
Equally solid is “Vow” by Craig Chenery and Dominic Black, though tonally different from a lot of the other prior stories. There’s little influence of steampunk in this particular one, and the fact that it deals with zombies is sure to catch the attention of most current pop culture enthusiasts. It delivers several unexpected narrative gut-punches and ends on a dour note, which is to be expected given the circumstances. David Tripp’s “Blocks” is likewise a total surprise, with art that suggests a whimsical tale of a girl and her robot pet but a narrative that delivers something more heinous, but in a good, surprising way.
Steampunk Originals Volume 1 has a lot of potential both in its format and the stories that are contained within it. Steampunk as a subgenre has spawned various pop-culture segments, and much like the collection presented here, there’s something for everyone. Some stories hit their mark, others are in dire need of more real estate, and the remaining can be a slog to get through, but the benefit of the anthology approach that works in the favor of Steampunk Originals is that a brand-new fiction is never far off. But best of all, this anthology is putting eyes on unknown comic creators and allowing them to unleash their potential in a world rich with inventiveness and infinite imagination.
GNN Comics Grade: GOOD (6/10)