Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review Monday: Girl Genius

Today we're going to start a once-a-month feature with Writer's Center science fiction & fantasy workshop leader Brenda Clough: comic reviews! Today she reviews Girl Genius. This review originally appeard on the Book View Cafe blog.

Surely this web comic is one of the great pleasures of all time! It has everything you could possibly want in a comic — a deep back history (running back to 2001) that nevertheless is instantly accessible, a vast and energetic fan base (there are multiple Yahoo groups and a Wiki that goes on for miles!), a new episode three times a week. Step in, and weeks and weeks of happiness are yours. There are too few things in life like that; there are entire celebrity marriages on view in People magazine that don’t give joy for that long, at least to the participants — the divorce lawyers are happy, however.


And the comic itself is masterfully done. The genius of the title, Agatha Heterodyne, begins young and a little passive but rapidly seizes the reins of her own destiny. Intelligent heroes are rare, female heroes famed and valued for their intelligence are very rare indeed. Agatha is even unusual in her relative heftiness — plump was beautiful in Victorian times and so it is historically accurate, but there are no zaftig heroines in the comics, where weightism is the standard operating procedure.

Agatha’s world, an alternate steampunk Europe, is deep and wide and full of complexity. The creators, Phil and Kaja Foglio, show a fine familiarity with SF, a consistent bent towards humor, and admirably demented imaginations. The romance and action-filled plots are paced with the kind of studied cruelty to readers that keeps everybody jonesing for the next episode and biting their nails. Any artist who enjoys drawing death rays and machines of pain and destruction with such vim and detail is destined for greatness. And indeed GG has been a fan favorite for years, and won the Hugo this year.

The comic is also an interesting case in alternative publishing and adapting to new media. Originally appearing in dead-tree format, GG moved to web-only publication several years later. This immediately boosted its popularity and lent wings to the sale of the book collections. Everybody here at BVC finds this profoundly inspiring.

The only real problem with GG is that there is not enough of it. No, nine hefty volumes are not enough; you can prove it yourself by reading them. Are you satisifed? No, of course not! You want more! And there you are, waiting grouchily for the next episode to go up, right along with all the rest of us.

Brenda Clough has written seven novels, including her most recent, Doors of Death and Life. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines, including Analog SF Magazine and the anthology Starlight 3. Other work has appeared in SF Age, Aboriginal, Marion Zimmer Bradley Magazine, and many anthologies. She was a finalist for both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award in 2002. She can be found on the web here, and her new novel is up at Book View Cafe.

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