Colonialism In The Age of Steampunk

Yomi Ayeni
4 min readOct 7, 2020


Steampunk Anti-Colonialism Charity Pin Badge

Steampunk, Victoriana, retro-futurism, or whatever else you may call it, has firm roots in the colonial era, and this was one of the aspects that attracted me to it many moons ago.

In 2007, I was approached by a group of friends to help stage a Steampunk event called Seductive Alchemy, and we spent quite some time planning all the various interactive elements that would be incorporated into the narrative. We built a pre-story that people could engage with, and seeded the idea that sky pirates, clockwork automata, and Her Majesty’s own airship corps would all be at the event. These elements reminded me of my youth, when we played Flash Gordon, and Batman up and down the backstreets in Littlehampton.

As a grown up, the fact that adults were role-playing a fantastical dystopian past was fascinating, especially as the attendance at these events was almost 100% caucasian.

For me, role-play is a space where everyone can engage and contribute to the make believe, irrespective of race, gender, sexual preference, or ability, yet there seemed to be a disconnect when it came to people dressing up like colonial masters and mistresses. To put it mildly, the scene did little to attract people of colour, and I felt something had to be done.

Steampunks are one of the most inclusive, and courteous groups I’ve experienced in my social scene, yet like some of the punk rocker tribes their public image can easily be misconstrued.

In 2011, I started writing Clockwork Watch, a transmedia narrative told across multiple platforms — comic books, live events, role play, online, and fictional newspaper. The story is set in a fantastical mechanised world, powered by Clockwork automata. This harmonious setting is turned upside down when a freak accident creates an anomaly — a sentient Clockwork called Ervin — a humanoid robot that can emote, feel, think, and function like a human.

Ervin embodied the negative legacy of colonialism, and the fact that in some places people of colour are still (in this modern world) not seen as equal. Within the context of my story I positioned Clockworks as slaves of the Steampunk age.

I grew up in a world where signs saying “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” adorned pub windows, and racist attitudes were almost de rigueur.

It’s 2020 and calls for social justice are everywhere. Covid-19 has just about shutdown every comic convention scheduled, and my plans to publish the 10th book in the series are shelved, but I feel the time is right to step out, and ask for support in showing the world that Steampunk is not about colonialism.

We can ‘make-believe’ a better world through role-play, participation, and co-creation. We can also make the lives of the less fortunate better by supporting their fight for a better tomorrow, and this why Doctor Geof and I have come up with the following message:

“We love the creativity of steampunk, playing with fiction and elements of Victoriana and history to create vibrant fantastical worlds. But one of those elements is colonialism, and colonialism has caused harm”.

We have created a badge to reflect the ongoing fight for social justice. 100% of all funds raised will go to support the Il’laramatak Community Concerns (NGO), who protect young Kenyan girls (Kajiado Girls) from being robbed of their basic human rights and forced into child marriages, and FGM.

The Anti-Colonialism Charity badge is available from Doctor Geof’s shop. Please support this initiative, and be splendid.

The Clockwork Watch series is available through Page 45, who are exhibiting at the 2020 LICAF Live (Lakes International Comic Art Festival), this weekend.

Love Steampunk — Hate Colonialism.

Thank you.