Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a mad scientist? I don’t mean just your run-of-the-mill, slightly charred test-tube pouring professor in a lab coat. While these scientists might be frazzled, or angry, or occasionally actually slightly insane, their efforts in the laboratory tend to be bounded by those pesky laws of physics like gravity and conservation of mass. No, when I say “mad science” I mean reanimating corpses, building giant killer robots, attempting to terrify the countryside with the sheer power of your mind—Frankensteinian, horror-movie, lighting-and-thunder-and-portents-of-doom MAD SCIENCE!!!!!! (Please imagine your own echo effects.)
If you’ve ever wondered what a world governed by that kind of science would be like, Girl Genius is the webcomic for you.
Genre: “Gaslamp Fantasy,” not so much steampunk as a blend of alternate history, Gothic elements and fantastical Victorian-era “mad science”
Type: Continuous storyline with occasional side stories
Updates: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, without fail
Began: November 2002
Number of Comics: 1300+
In Print: Available in single-volume color softcovers or hardcover omnibus editions. Can be found online up to the most recently completed volume (Vol. 12), and also in local stores like the Athens Book Center and possibly the Wizard’s Guild.
Girl Genius follows the story of Agatha Clay, an unforunate student at the Transylvania Polygnostic University in Beetleburg. Agatha is an amateur inventor who never seems to make anything that works, due to her lack of what in this universe is called “The Spark.” The Spark is the innate ability to create devices and “clanks,” or Victorian-style robots, and it is seen in only a small portion of the population. However, when the iron-fisted despot, Baron Wulfenbach, comes to town, he and his son Gilgamesh are witness to a series of events surrounding Agatha that will end up changing the Wulfenbach Empire forever, and possibly the world as well.
As it turns out (spoilers from here on out, folks), Agatha Clay does indeed have the Spark, and is in fact the only daughter of the most famous pair of Sparks the world has known in recent history: the Heterodyne Boys. A pair of brothers who, in contrast to a long history of truly mad, despotic scientists who terrorized the countryside and lived only to fulfill their own hedonistic desires, the brothers Bill and Barry Heterodyne spent most of their lives attempting to clean up the messes of their fellow Sparks before disappearing one day and leaving the land to fall back into ruin. Except apparently, they also left a daughter as well. This means that when Agatha’s Spark emerges rather violently, she suddenly becomes heir(ess) to a legacy that means half the land wants to worship her as a hero, and the other half desperately wants to kill her. What doesn’t make things any easier is that the Other, a mysterious enemy that the Heterodyne boys supposedly vanquished after years of battle, is apparently not so dead as had been thought… and is very interested in one Agatha Heterodyne.
Agatha makes her way from Beetleburg to Baron Wulfenbach’s flying airship castle, is proposed to by Gilgamesh, the Baron’s brilliantly Sparky (and quite handsome) son, wends her way through the dangerous wasteland with a traveling circus, fakes her own death, and is kidnapped by another local despot who finds out she’s a Heterodyne and dumps a copy of the Other into her head. Here she picks up another
cute boyfriend with his own agenda very dangerous but also very helpful prince, Tarvek, who accompanies Agatha and her companions, Krosp, the Emperor of All Cats, Zeetha, a green-haired warrior princess, and three Jägermonsters (constructs, or flesh-and-blood creations animated by mad science!!!!!) to the Heterodyne’s ancestral city of Mechanicsburg, where Agatha must go to confirm her heritage and finally, perhaps, take control of her own destiny. And things just get crazier from there.
If Chasing the Sunset was my first webcomic, Girl Genius is probably my favorite comic, on the internet or in print. The authors’ die-hard adherence to a regular update schedule, the incredible artwork, and the storyline that runs from falling-off-your-chair-laughing hilarious to highly dramatic to really exploring just what it means to be finding your place in the world, all make Girl Genius absolutely worth the complete read-through. I recently went back to the beginning and reread all thirteen volumes’ worth of comics in less than a week—not the advisable serving suggestion, given that it gives one the tendency to cackle at odd moments and occasionally glance at mechanical objects wondering, Could I build a clank out of that?
Girl Genius is one of the most well-known webcomics, and its authors, Phil and Kaja Foglio, make their living drawing the comic. Girl Genius has also won three Hugo Awards for Best Graphic Story among various other awards for comics . What I truly love it for, though, is its amazingly well-thought-out universe with little quirks that, despite the crazed scientific experiments that roam the land, the airships that patrol the sky above it, and the frankly terrifyingly messed-up political system, make the world of Girl Genius somewhere I highly suggest you spend at least a few minutes a week visiting.