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What Did I Learn?: Girl Genius

Girl Genius by Profs. Phil and Kaja Foglio is a massively popular comic, whose examination should yield a number of noteworthy things about what a good comic is. Currently, they are working on Volume 7 (in color) and the comic is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

girl 198x300 Girl GeniusBefore we even get into the comic, take note of all the goodies to the right of it. There’s a FAQ, Cast Page, Story So Far and lots, lots more. So, first observation is to offer lots of fun extras for your audience to enjoy. One item in particular is a four-to-a-page black and white flyer that “we hand out at conventions or leave small piles of in appropriate places, like designated flyer tables.” That’s a good idea worth trying, I reckon.

One other very useful page of note can be found here. This page lays out what sorts of fan sites and material will be acceptable fan service and what is not. Every artist ought to give that page a read.

The artwork is outstanding, with plenty of detail and interesting characters with colorful costuming. The linework is thin but that allows the colors and details to really make the action pop. The crowd scenes are very well done (it’s not easy to do entertaining crowd scenes) and there are flashback scenes done in sepia-like tones.

The writing is full of twists and turns, with new places and people constantly being revealed. There’s this great page full of rumor-talk to be found right away that you really should see. What a great sense of anticipation that leads to. There’s a lot going on and I, of course, jumped right into the latest storyline before reading up on the comic. I was, very quickly, in over my head but when I went back to read the earlier volumes it all started to fall into place nicely.

This comic has been going since at least 2000, but this is what you need to know to start reading it:
The setting: In a time when the Industrial Revolution escalated into a full-on war, rival mad scientists, (Sparks to be polite), are the ruling powers in most of Europe. Keeping them all in line is Baron Wulfenbach, a particularly powerful and cranky Spark who, when someone starts causing trouble, simply steps in and makes them stop. His captial is the gigantic airship fortress Castle Wulfenbach.

The main character: Agatha Clay was a student at Transylvania Polygnositc University, who had truly rotten luck until she was revealed as a Spark. (Some might argue that this, also, was rotten luck.) She has also recently discovered that she is the last of the famous Heterodyne family beloved heroes who disappeared under mysterious circumstances many years ago. Folk legend claims that they will someday return, but so far they haven't managed it.

You could also say it’s Gaslamp Fantasy (like the authors do) or 1800’s mad science. Either way, it strikes me as whimsical and fun to follow. It’s also noteworthy that it is a female protagonist in this setting, which historically was dominated by men in real life. This alone helps make her stand out, but she is also a very, very talented mad scientist. The background art is entertaining and really promotes the setting. There are also some backgrounds that are just color texture, something along the lines of unfinshed fresco which is superbly evocative of the setting.

There is more information to be found but one special thing to mention is the great number of character writeups on the cast page. There are two lists, actually. One for the current storyline and another for everyone ever featured. That’s attention to detail!

There is a seven page fan fiction comic inserted into the regular storyline starting December 2005. That’s something I’ve never seen anywhere else. There are also story diversions that break up the main action going on. These are usually short and entertaining.

What did I learn?

Give the audience as many goodies as possible. Work on your visuals and make that art sing both in the foreground and background. Little tricks like story flashbacks are a wonderful idea to mine for your own comic. Make your main character as interesting as you can. Find ways to create buzz and anticipation in and around your work. Don’t overlook fan service and support it if you have it. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Girl Genius and I am very impressed by it.