To really understand dieselpunk, you need to look at the artistic styles that serve as the aesthetic foundation. These styles include pulp fiction, film serials, film noir, Art Deco and World War II art and propaganda. Dieselpunk enthusiasts construct their artistic creations on top of these building blocks.
Long before it became a quotable Quentin Tarantino film, pulp fiction shaped literature and sparked imaginations. Printed on cheap paper and featuring stories in genres like adventure, romance and mystery, pulp magazines provided readers with a sense of escapism. Famous pulp fiction authors include Cornell Woolrich, whose novels and short stories are best known to modern audiences through films like Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler are both famous for their dark, gritty tales. Dieselpunk borrows both from the spirit of pulp magazine stories and the art you'd see on the covers of the magazines themselves.
Film Noir and Serials
Films from the 1930s and 1940s play an important part in the dieselpunk style. Film noir is a style of crime and detective cinema that became popular in the early 1940s. It gets its name from a French film critic named Nino Frank, who used it to describe the dark and bleak nature of such films. These movies often featured a cynical hero in a corrupt world. Plots involved mysteries, double crosses and unhappy endings. While the protagonist might be a realist, he or she usually would struggle -- in vain -- against an unjust world. Examples of film noir cinema include movies like "Shadow of a Doubt" and "The Maltese Falcon."
Movie serials were episodic, much like modern scripted television. You wouldn't watch a movie serial play out from start to finish in a single visit to the theater. Instead, you'd come back week after week to find out what happened to your favorite characters. Each episode would end in a cliffhanger. Movie serials don't belong to a single genre. Science fiction and adventure films were popular and mirrored the pulp fiction found in magazines and other publications. Some creators invoke movie serials in their own work -- George Lucas and Steven Spielberg cite movie serials as inspiration for both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. And authors like Dan Brown punctuate their novels with cliffhangers at nearly every chapter, creating the literary equivalent to a movie serial.
Also known as Style Moderne, Art Deco is an architectural and interior design style that rose to popularity shortly after the First World War. It followed the art nouveau period and first appeared in France. The style has many archaeological influences ranging from ancient Egyptian architecture to Aztec temples. A related style called Streamline Moderne split off from Art Deco in the 1930s. This style focused on fluid lines and aerodynamic designs, as if the buildings themselves were meant to take flight. Art Deco buildings represented wealth and power as well as a sense of what the future would bring. The style crept into other types of design as well, including automobiles. Luxury cars featured streamlined curves and gleaming chrome. Dieselpunk works often follow suit.
World War II Posters
The Second World War had nearly as much to do with psychology as it did with weapons and armies. Both the Axis and Allied countries used propaganda to encourage people to support the war effort and to cast aspersions on the enemy. Dieselpunk artists draw inspiration from the art style of these posters, including pinup girl art.