The Dark Side of Steampunk

Welcome to my guest blogger this week, Bryce Raffle, editor of the  dreadpunk anthology, Deadsteam, which contains my penny dreadful inspired short story, The Case of the Murderous Migraine. 

Bryce is also a fellow steampunk and long-time member of Scribblers Den (an international steampunk writers forum). Take it away, Bryce.

The Dark Side of Steampunk

Initially, when I came up with the concept for the DeadSteam anthology, I had it in mind that I wanted to showcase the dark, supernatural side of steampunk.

Steampunk is a reimagining of the Victorian era from a modern day perspective, with a lens squarely pointed at the technology: the brass and copper, the engines running on coal and steam. But while the technology of Queen Victoria’s era fascinated me, I began to see other inspiration in that time period beyond the technology. Victorian literature was one source of inspiration. In particular, I began looking at the Victorian penny dreadful.

The cheap, sensational literature of the era, known as penny dreadfuls, were sold for a penny per issue. The stories were released in weekly parts, and often portrayed supernatural entities, such as ghosts, ghouls, and, of course, vampires.

A Feast of Blood, or Varney the Vampire, by James Malcolm Rymer (and/or Thomas Preskett Prest—penny dreadfuls were often written anonymously, and Varney was variously attributed to both Prest and Rymer), was a perennial favourite, running at a whopping total length of nearly 667,000 words. Varney introduced many of the common vampire tropes still common today, most notably the sharpened fangs now associated with the undead creatures.

“The figure turns half round, and the light falls upon its face. It is perfectly white—perfectly bloodless. The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principal feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeth—the fearful looking teeth—projecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends. No sound comes from its lips.
– James Malcolm Rymer, Thomas Preskett Prest Varney the Vampire

Penny Dreadfuls, otherwise known as penny bloods, also portrayed the deeds of criminals, such as the Resurrection Man portrayed in The Mysteries of London.

The stories often drew from gothic literature for their inspiration, and were often reprints of popular gothic novels, such as The Castle of Otranto. The dark and stormy nights, therefore, were not far where penny dreadfuls were concerned.

I began to see in penny dreadfuls an inspiration for a steampunk anthology with more of those dark, supernatural elements that you’d expect in a penny dreadful but not necessarily in your average steampunk story. I wanted to show a bit less of the science and gadgets and machinery and a lot more of the Victorian Gothic.

This was before I stumbled across dreadpunk.

What is dreadpunk?

Dreadpunk is an emerging genre founded by Derek “The Dreadpope” Tatum, who on his website, describes the genre as the “‘costume drama’ of the macabre.”

“I coined the term ‘dreadpunk’ in early 2015. At the time, there appeared to be a resurgence of interest in the Gothic; most notably, Penny Dreadful was on Showtime and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak was scheduled for release later that year.” – Derek Tatum, (

I reached out to Tatum for further info on the dreadpunk movement, and he was kind enough to get back to me, describing the movement as “gothic horror with modern storytelling techniques.” Hammer Horror, he said, makes a good comparison, “since that was an attempt to bring ‘period’ horror up to the era it was made.”

Besides Hammer, he also referenced Corman’s Poe flicks, Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Ravenloft, Coppola’s Dracula, Castlevania, and of course (Showtime’s) Penny Dreadful.

Exactly the sort of thing I had in mind for the DeadSteam anthology.

I began to envision DeadSteam as a dreadpunk anthology, although I did encourage steampunk authors to submit their stories, with the caveat that they should be more in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley and less in the realm of Jules Verne and HG Wells. In other words, less science fiction and more of the trappings of gothic horror and penny dreadfuls.

Thus emerged DeadSteam.

Each of the stories owes some credit to the writers of penny dreadfuls, who introduced us to fang-bearing vampires like Sir Francis Varney, resurrection men who dredge the dead up from their rest to sell to anatomists, and ghosts haunting the halls of gothic manors on dark, foggy nights.

Pre-orders are available now in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

Thank you, Bryce, for introducing us to dreadpunk.

Photos supplied by Bryce Raffle.

The Dark Side of Steampunk was originally published on karen j carlisle

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