Instead of my usual intro I’d like to relate a little personal history that relates to this particular web comic.
I can’t recall the exact order of events but at some point when reading Girl Genius I was delighted to discover that it shares an author with a much older comic called Myth Adventures (which you can read online here).
Now I had never read Myth Adventures, or read the novels from which it was adapted, but I’d played the board game Myth Fortunes which is based on them and illustrated by the same artist as both Myth Adventures and Girl Genius. I’d always been really curious to find out what on earth the board game was based on (it’s a pretty bizarre board game) so I was pretty chuffed to find that the entire comic was online and finally found out what it was all about.
Anyway this is probably only interesting for the few of you out there that might remember Myth Adventures; for the rest of you I’ll get on with the review now.
The characters and comic concept
Set in Europe in a steampunk (the authors actually prefer to classify it using the lesser known term “Gaslamp Fantasy”) based alternative universe the world of Girl Genius is teeming with mad scientists, warring countries, cults, secret societies and some generally crazy people.
Our heroine is Agatha Clay, a humble lab assistant to Dr Beetle the Master of Transylvania Polygnostic University, who can never seem to get any of her experiments to work. She lives with her guardians Adam & Lilith who work as mechanics/black smiths in town.
Naturally there is quite a bit more to Agatha than she ever expected and she discovers she is capable of far more than she thought and from a family whose name has become legend.
Agatha must embrace her new found heritage and master the power it grants her for without it she will surely be seized as another vassal of the powers that be.
Girl Genius is an epic high fantasy/steampunk adventure with strong comedic leanings. It’s very high energy, very dramatic (there’s quite a bit of shouting, and ranting, and raving – it’s all the mad science that does it) and with a comedy style verging somewhere between slapstick, farce and its own special brand of silly.
The pacing can be a bit of an issue in some sections. It’s generally true that nothing happens easily in Girl Genius. So chaotic is its environment that an attempt to complete a plan of any sort is guaranteed to drop the characters into successive rabbit holes of sub-plots as they face obstacles that force then to divert time and again. It’s very much the comic’s style but in a couple of places it is overused and become a little frustrating.
There is some early character development but within a few chapters everyone has pretty much settled into the personality they appear to be sticking with for the rest of the story so this isn’t a big factor in this comic.
Apart from the mad science and the adventure there is also a romance component to the story. Like most story elements in Girl Genius any potential relationships for Agatha are high dramatic and fraught with difficulty. They don’t overload the story but be aware that they are a key component to the story lines.
It is probably worth mentioning that accents (or really one particular accent, that of the Jager-Monsters), is written phonetically and sometimes can be a tiny bit hard to read. I can imagine this driving some people crazy but I quite liked it. The Jagers in general are often used as comic relief and appeal to my sense of humour, your mileage may vary.
Due to the length and intensity of Girl Genius I recommend reading a book or two then taking a break and coming back to it. I read it all again over a week and a half and it was good but really a bit much in such a short time-frame.
The art of Girl Genius is done to a high level and generally improving as the comic goes on. Like the comic, the art is fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. The colouring changes significantly after a certain point, it becomes a lot brighter and more vivid - more in keeping with the style of the comic in my opinion.
Author, publishing and timeline
Girl Genius is created by Phil & Kaja Foglio who are based in Seattle, Washington, USA.
Phil Foglio is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and has worked as an artist, illustrator and writer for a number of different companies including DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
Kaja Foglio is a graduate of the University of Washington and also worked as an artist, illustrator and writer. A number of her prints were used for cards in the game Magic: The Gathering.
Girl Genius has won a number of awards including the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Novel three times (2009,2010 and 2011). You can see a full list here.
There are print editions of Girl Genius available via shop page on the main site. Phil & Kaja have also novelised Girl Genius, publishing three books to date covering the first nine books of Act 1. These are available on Amazon (there is a short-cut on the shop page).
The comic recently started Book Two of Act Two (Act One consisted of thirteen books) and I’m presuming that Act Two will be the final act for the story. On that basis the comic probably has another 10+ years to run.