The term "Stitchpunk" has quickly been attached to Shane Acker's astounding debut film, 9. But where did it originate? Should we take this new genre seriously? We take a look at Acker's influences and attempt to define the Stitchpunk genre.
Historians will point to the year 2009 and Shane Acker's sack puppet apocalypse as the starting point of Stitchpunk. But before Stitchtoos and Stitchtatts become popular, before the needle-and-thread revolution, and certainly long before the horrific forthcoming Stitchtorture Sew films, let's take a moment to bear witness to the birth of an entirely new aesthetic.
It seems that everything has a "-punk" suffix these days. Steampunk, Cyberpunk, dieselpunk, biopunk, biodieselpunk. When the images for Shane Acker's film first appeared, the media lost no time in giving the director's unique visual style its appropriate "-punk" moniker. But what are the origins of this handcrafted anarchy? Here are (suitably) 8 of the influences and origins that came before 9's ragdoll revolution.
# 1 & 2: Steampunk and Dieselpunk
First and foremost, Stitchpunk owes its overall aesthetic to Steampunk, and could be construed at first glance as a subgenre. In an interview on Gone With The Twins, Acker himself admits to this being one of foundations of 9's visual style:
I'm a big fan of steampunk. I love the Jules Verneian, turn of the century design aesthetic. It celebrates mechanics but at the same time there's a kind of ornamentation. I think it's really beautiful and expressive and visual. I wanted to bring that to the world. It's as if the industrial revolution had progressed another 300 years and we hadn't gone into the digital age. There's sort of computer technology but it's all mechanical. If the Victorian era were to collapse in some post-apocalyptic event, then these creatures are made from all the bits and pieces that are left over. That's the idea behind "Stitchpunk." It's not steampunk, which fell away, but the bits and pieces of steampunk that got stitched together. I wish I could say I came up with "Stitchpunk" but I didn't. It was someone on a blog, but it really hit the nail on the head.
For the sake of accuracy, and good old-fashioned geek obsession to detail, it should be noted that 9 inhabits a world more closely related to Dieselpunk than Steampunk; Steampunk being retro-Victorian, whereas Dieselpunk is born out of WWII technology and imagery. 9 is rife with references from that period, from the tattered red fascist flags to the landscapes reminiscent of Normandy after the invasion, and Dresden after the bombing.
#3: Little Big Planet
9 is a cornucopia of apocalyptic imagery and visual references, but it was the titular character who seemed most eerily familiar to me. As 9 started out on his adventures of a strange new world, I realized where I'd seen him before. He's Little Big Planet's Sackboy.
Little Big Planet is a videogame created by Media Molecule, the makers of Rag Doll Kung Fu. The game is populated by crafty puppets on a series of adventures in a handcrafted world reminiscent of Michel Gondry's office. The puppet even share 9's zippered look. While I have no evidence to substantiate LPB as a direct influence of 9, I think it's clear that LBP should have a primary place in the origin story of the genre itself. 9 is essentially Sackboy wandering through Terminator's destroyed landscape, isn't it?
#4: Tim Burton's early work
Producer Tim Burton must have felt as though he had found a kindred spirit in Shane Acker. Burton has been stitching on screen since his directorial debut, the animated short Frankenweenie. Stitches, needles and scissors (and the darker side of handcrafting) are recurrent themes throughout Burton's work, and obviously influenced Acker's. For example, Burton's illustrations from The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy feature sackpuppet characters and sharp edges, like the Pin Cushion Queen.
#5: Burton's Catwoman
Believe it or not, we can also point to Burton's Batman Returns as a starting point of Stitchpunk. Remember Michelle's handmade Catwoman costume? Recall the needle-sharp claws? The costume perfectly blended sewing & punk, and for the first time in the character's long history, Catwoman was less sleekly assembled and more coming-apart-at-the-seams.
#6: Burton's Edward ScissorhandsFrom the opening strains of Danny Elfman's score, echoes of Burton's gothic fairytale are encountered at every turn in 9; the mad scientist who creates life, the desiccated Victorian house, the creation leaning over his fallen creator, and the dark sculpture garden. There are clear nods to Scissorhands even in the smallest character details, like 8 sitting on a statue's hand or 1's buckled leather straps. 6's hands, which he uses to express himself, are crafted from another utilitarian device; the nubs of fountain pens. Burton's work in general, and Edward Scissorhands in particular, will undoubtedly come to be seen as one of the major influences of the coming Stitchpunk movement.
#7 & #8: Coraline and The Nightmare Before Xmas
If 9's opening sequence looked and felt familiar, that's because we saw something very similar earlier this year; the opening credits of Henry Selick's Coraline. Needle hands play God while dismembering and stitching up a sackdoll, before sending it out into the world to make mischief. Coraline, with its handsewn look and button-up horror, can easily be seen as another Stitchpunk precursor.
There are also notable nods to the iconic Burton & Selick collaboration, The Nightmare Before Christmas. 8's shape and demeanor seems to come directly from Oogie Boogie, and Sally's stitched-up sex appeal and sewing skills seem obvious influences on Acker's characters of 7 and 5.
The ultimate conclusion is that Stitchpunk, like its visual aesthetic, is made up of many parts and ideas: sewing chic, dark and whimsical; stitches against machines; handmade horror; breathing life into the inanimate, and unraveling the mysteries.