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First created as a comic book series in 2001, Girl Genius has grown from a humble underground comic to one of the most well-known webcomics ever. From the duo of Phil and Kaja Foglio of Foglio Studios, the comic is an ever-changing, ever-growing story about one ordinary girl, who happens to be a mad genius.
Agatha Clay lives in a world where mad geniuses, called Sparks, rule the world. Here, a person’s worth is based on what they can create, and Agatha is merely a clumsy lab assistant, until some wandering soldiers steal her locket. And then things start happening. It turns out Agatha’s locket inhibited her mad genius skills, concealing her true Spark identity. And not only is she one of the most powerful Sparks ever born, she might possibly be the long-lost daughter of the Heterodyne Family, an ancient (and generally mad) line of Sparks. The Heterodynes are believed to have died out years ago, leaving Baron Wulfenbach the ruler of Europa, controlling minor noble families and Sparks through force. And with Agatha in the mix, that precarious balance of power is about to break.
With the King of Cats and the Lost Princess of Skifander as her traveling companions, as well as a host of other characters, Agatha must learn her true destiny and bring peace to Europa, all while battling other Sparks, both great and small, wanting to control her powers.
Phil Foglio is the writer and has written a sweeping epic, with numerous characters intersecting and interacting in strange, dramatic, and comedic proportions. There are almost a hundred characters that all fit into the grand storyline, either in small or large capacities. While this may sound like a menagerie of static characters, many change as the story progresses, even background characters only seen here and there. The writing has a sarcastic and slightly salacious wit, which only keeps hooking the reader in.
Kaja Foglio is the main artist, who illustrates Agatha’s adventures with immaculate detail and grandeur, leading to new discoveries with each read. Her lines are lightly drawn, but well-defined, showing realistic body and facial movements that convey a large range of emotion. Also, veering from the usual, her characters are generally “well-built”, with curvy women and barrel-chested men. That’s not to say smaller-frames are shunned; here, all sizes are welcome. But to have a female character who is not only smart and independent, but also of a normal body composition than the usual drawings, is refreshing.
The Foglios have employed several different colorists through the years, their current being Cheyenne Wright. The beginning of the series has a more subdued coloring, with sepia backgrounds. As the story progresses, a primary color scheme becomes more prominent. Wright’s own work plays more with various hues and shades, allowing the art to remain colorful but not so vibrant to distract the reader.
The story itself is as varied as its characters. The Foglios coined the term “gaslamp fantasy” to describe their work, distinguishing Girl Genius from the steampunk genre. In this universe, steam is used in many instances, but with equal measure to gas-powered technology, such as zeppelins and hot-air balloons, with coal thrown in as well. The science aspect itself is reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an age where science, the occult, and romanticism where intertwined. The Foglios have released thirteen print volumes, with a fourteenth on the way. You can read the continuting story at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/.