Well well, where to begin? Begin here. If you’ve never been introduced to the multiple Hugo Award-winning online web comic/graphic novel of Girl Genius then your life has been emptier than you knew. And its about to be more full and colorful and steampunk-adventure-filled than you could ever guess. I apologize in advance, its going to become difficult to leave your computer for the next few days. Possible side-effects when you reach the last page include symptoms of intense withdrawl, possible temporary depression followed by strange desires to build clock-work friends. And in one rare, but well documented case, plans to kidnap the writers with giant laser cannons and force them to write at gunpoint.
If you’ve read Girl Genius before, then you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been through the crushing defeat of hitting the “next page” button and having nothing happen. Of realizing you’re reading the most recent page, and nothing you can do can make the next chapter appear. Three pages a week just isn’t going to cut it, and life is never going to be the same again. Luckily, you can go back to the beginning and start all over again with Agatha H and the Airship City. Yes, thats right, the creators of Girl Genius have decided to go back and create a novelization of the story from the very beginning. Agatha H covers the first three volumes of Girl Genius.
Girl Genius tells the story of a girl named Agatha, and the desperate adventure she’s thrown into. Agatha’s world is one full of chaos, conflicting rulers, harsh empires, and complicated politics. A few people every year are born with “the spark.” This appears to be an intense drive, impossible to resist, to use mad science to create life from machinery. Sparks are often called “madboys” by the normal people, because while they have the brilliance to create, they don’t often have the will to control their creations. Most of them end up dead at the hands of their constructs, or at the hands of the locals when the constructs destroy whatever village it was born in. The few that aren’t killed locally are usually taken out by a neighboring Spark who feels their territory is being threatened.
Years ago, the populace was helped and saved by a group of heros and adventurers who happened to be some of the few sane sparks. They were led by a pair of brothers known as the Heterodyne Boys. The only problem is, the boys disappeared sixteen years ago when their home and families were destroyed by an unknown villain called merely “The Other.” Since then, most of the lands and smaller kingdoms have come under the control of the tyrant Baron Wulfenbach.
Agatha is a quiet girl, raised by her parents and uncle in the smaller but less anarchic city of Beetleburg. Her uncle left them 10 years ago, and since she came of age Agatha has been studying at the local Transylvania Polygnostic University. The only problem is, she’s not very good. Everything she builds just falls apart, and on the unlucky days does it with a ball of fire and smoke. She’s only merely an unrespected lab assistant on the day the Baron comes to inspect Beetleburg. Before she even really knows whats happening, the Baron has killed her teacher and protector, taken over the city, and her parents are missing. Mostly by accident, she is taken aboard the giant flying airship of Castle Wulfenbach, and only then does she really begin to learn about her family, and the world outside Beetleburg.
The original webcomic of Girl Genius is brightly colored and expertly drawn. (They publish high-quality physical volumes of them now, and they are well worth owning, even though you can read it for free online.) Its highly imaginative, filled with images of strange clockwork devices, expressive characters, and expansive cities and landscapes. The plot instantly draws you in with romance, and wonder, and silly science, and hilarious creatures. Agatha is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever read, especially in a graphic novel. Comics have been written for boys for so long that its about damn time someone wrote a female character that is not a side kick, or a love interest, or helpless, or just there to look good. She’s smart and smoking hot, and can kick all the boys butts with her use of science and her plain stubborn will-power. And they know it, and adore her for it.
If I have one problem with the Girl Genius comics its just that they are too complex and involved to read in a page-a-day format. I actually have to force myself to stop reading and checking up on it on a daily or even weekly basis. I enjoy the story much more when I actually ignore the website and every six months or so go read the newest volume. And sometimes I can’t help but reread the whole thing from the very beginning.
It was during this most recent reread that I found out they’d actually published a novelization of the first three volumes. Oh the wonder, oh the glory! Same loved story, but new and different and exciting format!
Well, I can’t possibly say I didn’t like it, because the Girl Genius story was there, and was just as good in its basic elements. But I feel like they didn’t utilize the power of the novel as well as they could have. The written version definitely has some of the back story explained that isn’t in the graphic novel. But I don’t feel that they translated the scenes from the comic very well. It was written very… descriptively. It felt more like they were just trying to describe everything they’d drawn, but copied over the dialogue nearly verbatim. It fell into the classic problem of telling the reader everything instead of showing us and letting us imagine some for ourselves.
I think if they had just accepted that capturing the visualization of the graphic novel was going to be impossible, and instead fleshed out the power of the words more it would have gone better. A book is just so different than a comic, you shouldn’t try to make them similar. Just work to the strengths of each of them. I would rather have seen more of the emotional changes in Agatha and gotten a glimpse inside her head as her life is being turned upside down, than just read another pale description of a room in the castle that I’ve already seen drawn in full technicolor. They could have gone so much more into the motivations and true personalities of all the characters, and instead spent time just describing everything around the characters.
The authors have mastered the creation of a brilliant plot and lovable characters, they’ve excelled at witty dialogue, their imagination is broader and more colorful than we could ever believe… But this novel is merely a “good first try.” I fully hope that they’ll keep trying, and that they realize there is room for improvment, because right now their writing style outside of the speach bubbles is rather juvenile. Keep trying guys, I know you can get there!