Steampunk Web Comics: Girl Genius
Gaslamp Fantasy Comic
By Phil and Kaja Foglio
|Free wallpaper from Girl Genius Online.com|
Although I call this a steampunk comic in my headline, it may not be. The creators don't call it steampunk anyway. They instead use the term “gaslamp fantasy,” which they unintentionally coined because they misremembered the word “gaslight,” sometimes used to describe fiction from or set in Victorian times. Also, they didn't like “steampunk” because they didn't think there were any “punks” in their story.
The history of the world of Girl Genius was altered not by the addition of advanced steam technology in Victorian times, but rather by the long ago addition of “sparks,” highly inventive, adaptive and intuitive scientist-adventurers.
“Sparks” can go into a fugue/trance state in which they create incredibly complicated machines out of whatever elements are to hand. These machines are frequently violent and destructive in nature (although Agatha, the “girl genius” of the title, once rebuilt a coffee maker so that it produced a brew so sublime it put anyone who drank it into a pleasure-induced coma), so it's no surprise that “sparks” now rule Europe.
When the series begins, Agatha is a student at Transylvania Polygnostic University, who aspires to build something that works, but something always goes wrong. Her migraines don't help. Then, a locket, which her uncle made her promise to never take off, is stolen. It turns out she is a “spark,” the daughter of one of the Heterodynes, the greatest spark heroes who ever lived. The locket was designed to protect her from the Heterodyne's enemies by preventing her from concentrating enough for her spark nature to manifest. Also, sparks have been known to go mad.
Once unleashed, Agatha proves to be one of the strongest sparks alive, a fact that draws the unwelcome attention of Baron Wulfenbach, the most powerful spark ruler, and the more welcome attention of his son, Gil (for Gilgamesh) Wulfenbach.
In addition to the sparks and their inventions, there are other fantasy elements, including half-human soldiers called jagermonsters who speak a sort of pidgin English, and many other creatures that look like dragons or lizards but usually are the result of genetic and mechanical tampering; so-called slaver wasps who turn people into zombies; pretenders and usurpers who want to take over Mechanicsburg and the world; Krosp, the would-be emperor of cats; Zeetha, a lethal green-haired swordswoman searching for her mysterious homeland; and Agatha's evil mother, who created and controls the slaver wasps and wants to permanently take over Agatha's body.
Currently -- and for what seems like at least half the run of the series -- Agatha is in her ancestral home of Mechanicsburg, repairing the damaged but sentient Castle Heterodyne and repelling attacks by every other spark in the world. A lot of promising plot threads have been waiting patiently to be pulled while the Foglios indulge their love of weird creatures, technology and monsters.
The entire series so far is available for free viewing at Girl Genius Online Comics. The pages have also been bound and printed, 11 volumes so far, here. There are also straight prose versions of the first two story arcs, both as books, e-books and audio books.