Atompunk is a futuristic aesthetic focused on how the world would have evolved from the nuclear age of the 1950’s and 60’s. In this timeline the transistor is never invented. This is therefore a future without the digital age. Instead of computers growing smaller and smaller, technology is larger and clunky. Every screen uses cathode ray technology rather than the LED screens we have become accustomed to. It is a representation of the future envisioned during the 1950s in the US.
This aesthetic was introduced during the 1950’s and 1960’s in cold war America. This was a world scared of communism and in love with space and the nuclear age. Born in the wake of World War II, there was a strong national pride focused on the advancement of technology. The atom bomb had been dropped on Japan, ending the war. Therefore, the US public became obsessed with the unique power their country wielded. In the image below we can see a 1950’s sunglass advertisement in conjunction with a nuclear test. This image helps give context to the obsession’s the American public had with nukes and nuclear energy. They saw this as the way we would power the new world. During the 50’s there was even a tourism aspect to nuclear tests. You could buy a ticket to witness the explosion of a nuke outside the city limits of Las Vegas.
“Nuclear Family Vacation in the Nuclear Age” by sallyedelstein (Aug 25, 2014) and Vintage ad Flexfit Sunglasses 1951
The atompunk aesthetic takes the obsession of nuclear power and combines it with the futuristic aspects of the space race. The Jetsons TV show is one of the first shows to popularize the aesthetic. The show focuses on the stereotypical nuclear family living in space.
The Superman comics from the 50’s also begin to introduce audiences to this style of art and design. The comic cover below shows a red space ship that is in the very distinct style of atompunk. It is very pointy and small relative to our modern day rockets. In this fictional universe the beauty of the world is prioritized more than the functionality. The title features the word “atomic age” while the background depicts outer space. This is a clear example of how people in the 50’s viewed the future. They imagine a world where we fight in space while living in the atomic age.
Superman: The Atomic Age Sundays Volume 3 (1956-1959) (Superman Atomic Age Sundays) – Hardcover
In the past 10 to 15 years there has been an Atompunk revival. Numerous video games like the Fallout series or Call of Duty have incorporated this style into their world design. Below is an Instagram post from Bethesda Game Studios for a Fallout game that came out a few years ago. The woman is being tended to my a futuristic robot while she prepares for her big show. In the background there is a cartoon of a nuke while she drinking a cola called “Nuka Cola”.
“Atlantic City DLC” by Bethesda Game Studios via Instagram
The Call of Duty game Black Ops II even features an entire map called Nuketown 2025. The city is decorated in the Atompunk style. There are signs and cars that are all clearly inspired by the 1950’s but have a futuristic touch to them. The city only exists for nuclear weapons testing. At the end of the game a nuke goes off wiping out the entire city in the process.
“Black Ops II – Nuketown 2025” by JesseAndMike Gaming via YouTube
Another example of atompunk in our modern world is from the cartoon show Dexter’s Lab. The background below shows a small suburban house surrounded by a hyper futuristic city. The city sky line is dotted with rockets and nuclear power plants. Everything is very pointy and tall like the art work from “The Jetsons” and the “Superman” comic above. There is even a building in the middle that starkly resembles the Seattle Space Needle. The Space Needle was built in 1962 to resemble a flying saucer from a UFO. It clearly is another example atompunk.
Dexters LAB Cartoon Production Animation Background – Charles Scott Gallery
“Space Needle and Seattle Skyline” by Anupam_ts
I find this aesthetic very unique because it tries to capture very traditional “American values” in a sci-fi world. It’s fun to imagine if we would have gone down this path without the onset of the digital age.