Today I'm going to do something a little different and introduce "Required Reading", an idea I've been toying around with for a while now. Basically this is where I introduce you to books or comics that if you aren't reading already you totally should be. This is the stuff I consider to be the best of the best folks.
To start Required Reading I want to introduce you all to a webcomic/comic series very near and dear to my heart, Girl Genius. Now is also an optimal time to mention this series because Phil and Kaja Foglio (along with their colorist Cheyenne Wright) have received their third Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. In a row. For those of you that don't know, the Hugo Awards are basically the Academy Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. And for the three years Graphic Story has been a category, Girl Genius has won every time. This is some serious stuff, people.
Okay, now I know what you're thinking. You're probably wondering if the hype is really worth it. Sure they got a bunch of Hugo Awards, but what is Girl Genius really about? Well I'm glad you asked that question. In a nutshell, Girl Genius is defined as, "Mad scientists rule the world, badly."
To clarify, the world of Girl Genius takes place sometime in the 19th century on an alternate Earth. In this world there are certain individuals known as "sparks" who are brilliant, brilliant scientists and have come up with giant airships, wonderful mechanical devices called clanks, and hundreds if not thousands of other crazy discoveries. The main problem though is that with great brilliance comes great insanity. Sparks have a rather distressing tendency of laughing maniacally and becoming determined to rule the world. A sort of, "I'll show them! I'LL SHOW ALL OF THEM!" mentality. As you can probably guess this does not form a very stable system of government. In fact probably the only reason sparks are in charge at all is because they have the biggest death rays around. For much of its history, the world of Girl Genius has been utter political turmoil as mighty spark families fight for control of the world. However in recent times the Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, with his mighty armies and fleets of airships, has established the Pax Transylvania and established some semblance of overall order to Europa. However the fragile peace may soon be overturned by one girl, Agatha Heterodyne, heir to the famous (or more accurately infamous) Heterodyne family, thought to be extinct with the disappearance of the famous Heterodyne boys, Bill and Barry.
Okay, as you can probably tell from that last paragraph, the world building is fantastic in this series. And if there's one thing I love, it's world building. The sheer amount of thought and planning that went into this series really shows and makes this one of my favorite series to read. I actually got to meet Phil and Kaja Foglio, the creators of this series, at Ohayocon back in January and learned a lot about the inner workings of this comic. Basically before they even began drawing Girl Genius, they sat down and wrote out the entire plot to their story. They know exactly what's going to happen with the story, what they want to do with it, what characters they need. The planning and forethought is truly superb and little details you might miss earlier in the comic become major plot points later on, which makes re-reading this series an absolute delight.
Now giant airships, mad scientists, and awesome adventures are good enough for me, but Katie and Sharon are probably asking, "What's in it for us?" Well, there is a romance plot that also is part of the overall narrative. It's a little heavy in the first couple of books to the point I personally find it annoying, but I'm sure Katie and Sharon would eat it up. Sorry girls, no smut though. This comic is 100% classy.
If you're a fan of steampunk, or want to find a way to be introduced to steampunk, Girl Genius is a great story on that aspect alone. Technically Kaja calls it a "Gaslamp Fantasy" but I'm willing to risk the ire of the Internet and put it in the broad category of steampunk just based on the technological aspect. If you end up liking the setting of Girl Genius, with its mad scientists, airships, and clockwork contraptions, you may want to look into other steampunk works.
I know I've gushed a lot about this series, but I do have some final comments. Perhaps the thing I love most about Girl Genius is the characters who really help drive the series. Even the characters playing second fiddle to our beloved sparks are absolutely great and stand out in their own little way. Every character we've met has a reason for being in this story and doesn't feel superfluous. I'll provide a short list of my favorite supporting characters because the sparks get enough love already.
- Airman Third Class Axel "The Unstoppable" Higgs. We have yet to find out who, or perhaps more importantly what, Airman Higgs is, but the Foglios have assured me that he has an important part in the plot. What we do know is that nothing can stop Higgs. Nothing. I eagerly await more information about Higgs and his overall role in the story, because if he's there, he's there for a damn good reason.
- The Jagermonsters. The Jagers used to be foot soldiers for the Heterodynes, but are currently employed by Wulfenbach since the Heterodynes disappeared. With Agatha Heterodyne emerging, the Jagers are going to become less reliable allies and put Klaus into a very dangerous situation. As a whole the Jagers are a fun-loving psychotic bunch who I have fun reading about. However there is a really important reason I like the Jagers. Hats are serious business for them. You never see a Jager without his hat, it's just a rule. For those of you that don't know, I'm really serious about my hats too so they really struck a chord with me.
- Captain Bangladesh Dupree. Oh boy, where to start with Dupree? Basically Dupree is completely and utterly psychotic and takes joy in the senseless killing Baron Wulfenbach employs her for. Basically sometimes Klaus needs someone with no morals to get a job done, and for that he calls in Dupree. Not to imply that Dupree takes herself seriously. Oh no, she has some really good jokes and can be a fun character, even if she's psychotic. And honestly, I think we all wish on the inside we could be as uninhibited as Dupree at times, just to show the world.
Overall I give the series a well-deserved Five Sheep.
Adventurer's Rule #1: Any plan where you lose your hat is a bad plan.