Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Agatha, main character of Girl Genius

Agatha, main character of Girl Genius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Airships, highly intricate clockwork or steam-driven machines, Victorian-era clothes, Frankenstein-style monsters, mad science as a talent… Yup, this is definitely steam punk, or as its authors would have it: gaslamp fantasy.

Girl Genius Online

Girl Genius actually started out as a quarterly print comic and was moved online after 13 issues, which has complicated things a bit. The Foglios have opted to put the original strips online on a thrice-weekly (M-W-F) basis while at the same time continuing from where the paper comics left off – also online, three times a week. The original series, known as “101”, was published concurrently with the new strips (“Advanced class”) but has now caught up with them, so there’s no longer a gap in the continuity. You really do need to read it all from the beginning, but I warn you it’s long. Do not do this at work.

Artistic style: it’s not a manga, although you can see some manga influence in the drawing and the boiled-sweet colours. It’s very well drawn indeed, a joy to the eye.

Writing style: despite a largely humoristic approach, this really is an adventure story. The carefully constructed plot contains a fair number of ambivalent characters and twists and, since the specifics of the particular fantasy universe are only explained when absolutely necessary, the reader is required to have recourse to his/her own imagination in the meantime. I found it an enjoyable read.

Manga influence again: the Obligatory Comical Talking Animal is present, although the sickeningly cute has thankfully been avoided. The Jägermonsters are also used for comic relief, although it is made quite clear that they are efficient, emotionless, killing machines when the need (or order) arises. There are also real killing machines, some cutesy stuff (fortunately kept to a very bare minimum) which possibly isn’t that cute after all…

Very readable, beautifully drawn and lovingly coloured. Recommended for age 10 up.

Dead-tree version
The whole of “101” is currently available in the online shop, but I’ve put off buying it so far for two reasons: 1) it’s relatively expensive, especially when you add in postage from the US, and I’m a bit strapped at the moment and 2) more importantly, Volume One is not – yet – available in colour, which does have a small but important dramatic role in the strip in addition to making it prettier.

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