Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Girl Genius

Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio, drawn by Phil Foglio and coloured by Cheyenne Wright.

Rating: Young adult upwards. Would let children read, they just might not understand it.
Genre / themes: Mad science, alternate histories (Europe, Queen Victoria mentioned), steampunk and politics.
Art level: Colour, consistently good art if you like the style.
Number of Books: Ongoing series, unfinished. Currently nine published books.
Other notes: Husband and wife team. Webcomic.

A long-running and entertaining webcomic, the story of young Agatha Heterodyne's journey to rescue herself, discover who she really is, and take over the known world (mostly by accident so far), while making loyal friends, engaging in hilarious exchanges, becoming the minion of a cat and finding minions of her own and of course, constantly inventing various mechanisms of Mad Science, is one of the most popular webcomics online. The black and white first book has finally been republished with a better quality publisher and I can now happily send people to buy the series!

Agatha Heterodyne is a student at Transylvania Polygnostic University in Beetlesburg when she gets caught up in her professor's attempt to control hivers (slave wasp-type creatures, a weapon left over from wars with the Other). Her pent-up sparkiness causes her to create a clank in her sleep and she gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity, by the terrifying and mostly all powerful Baron Wulfenbach. After escaping from his airship, she is adopted by a circus, has many adventures and starts uncovering her true identity. All around her, politics and power games erupt and continue, and mad science bursts out of every cranny! Matters only get funnier when she meets the Jagermonsters - who swear loyalty to her as a Heterodyne heir.

A very practical, stubborn heroine with a lot of pent-up Sparkiness (i.e. Mad Science), Agatha is an entertaining protagonist who wins friends and hearts as she goes. The Foglios, a husband and wife team, also publish less... family friendly works, such as the XXXenophile comics and this shows in the style of the female characters - but it's a family friendly comic, very colourful and unique.

Award winning

Girl Genius has now won a Hugo Award. for the third year running. Runners up were the previously reviewed Fables and Schlock Mercenary.

Volume 10, Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse won Best Graphic Story in 2011, following in the footsteps of Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm and Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones.

Buying the books
The first edition of Girl Genius has finally been republished in colour as Girl Genius, Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne and The Beetleburg Clank - and more importantly, with a better printer! The last version (titled Girl Genius: Omnibus Edition #1) fell apart at the binding after a single reading, and as it was my father's christmas present I wasn't too happy about that... It was also a tiny a5 book, which was very hard to read considering how small the black and white illustrations were. The first part of Girl Genius was drawn in black and white, and then the colour part at the end was printed in greyscale, of all things! Be very careful buying second-hand books, if you're getting the first volume!

However, the second book onwards (and now the new first book) were much higher quality hardbacks, twice the size (although thinner obviously) and in lovely colour.

Friday, June 3, 2011


A story of wombats and gods

By Ursula Vernon

Rating: Young adult-adult

Genre / themes: Gods, demons, wombats, saving the world. Culture clash. Anthromorphic animals.

Art level: Very good. Black and white.

Star Rating:  5/5

Number of Books: Three so far, still ongoing.

Other notes: Webcomic, but moves too slowly page by page to follow as it updates. Artist creates fascinating art and has also published children's books. Definitely a series that Pratchett lovers will enjoy (the author is a fan and it shows).

My Review
Ursula Vernon is an artist who takes the unusual out the other site - her quirky illustrations (such as the 'lolwut' biting pear of Salamanca) are famous on the internet. Digger is her Discworld-esque, thoughtful, dark webcomic about a wombat who ends up roped into a quest to destroy a living god, and is very practical about it.

Much, much better in book format, as its pages move too slowly for a webcomic, this book is entirely black and white inside.

Three books published so far...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The classic fantasy graphic novel! Complete with elves.

By Wendy and Richard Pini

Rating: Young adult-adult

Genre / themes: fantasy, alternate earth, space travel, elves, nature, questing

Art level: Good, western, fairly pretty. Older books in black and white, newer editions in colour.

Star Rating: 4/5

Number of Books: Four 'complete' archive books, but a LOT of smaller books. Has been republished in various forms and series.

Other notes: Self-published originally. Husband and wife team. 'The' classic fantasy comics for many years.

My Review
The elves of Elfquest originally landed on the World of Two Moons (not exactly earth, but close) from space, and over the years were gradually pushed into the corners by the emerging humans, and became more specialised and smaller. They began as the etheral and slender High Elves, but when the books begin, they have become the dark-skinned sunfolk, the swarthier wolf riders (the main focus of the story), and other varieties. After being driven from their forest home, the Wolfriders leave in search of a new home, the original High Ones and the crystal palace they landed on earth in - discovering their heritage, making new allies (and lovers) and surviving the deadly Winnowill, trolls, weather, fire, treachery and humans along the way!

The Elfquest books are classics that have only gained in popularity in the 25 years since theywere first self-published - the story of Cutter and Leetah, the mysterious High Elves and the rough and ready wolf riders is both fantasy, fun and tragedy, wrapped up in some very pretty artwork. I really enjoy these books, and most people have heard of them by now!

Much like the Sandman series, Elfquest has been republished in individual graphic novels, volume compilations, and finally, larger definitive 'Archive' versions. Some are full colour and some are not, so check the descriptions!

The Elfquest Archives Compilations

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sandman

An epic, surreal, slightly macabre, beautiful and thought-provoking series

by Neil Gaiman (and assorted artists)

Rating: Adult

Genre / themes: gods, mythology, alternate reality, psychology,

Art level: Variable. Distinctive characters, but a lot of people don't like the art. Very dark tones for most books, even though they are usually in colour.

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Number of Books: Was released in single comics, then twelve collected graphic novels. Four huge ultimate editions available, and a smaller Death one.

Other notes: Neil Gaiman is one of the Gods of writing :D

My Review
Gaiman's Sandman series was a long-running comic which opens up a clever, dark, often satirical world that is full of short stories of sad or ordinary or miraculous people, and is connected by the great deeds and brief appearances of the Endless - Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Destruction, Destiny and Delirium.

 Sometimes the stories are tragic, or horrible, they focus on people's lives as they live and die, write books, touch magic, have sex, retreat from society. Sometimes the stories are utterly mundane, sometimes the characters save the world. Sometimes they're metaphorical - the famous writer who keeps a muse trapped in the attic, the woman who suffers a debilitating disease and retreats from society (but is actually turned into metamorphic warrior by the sungod Ra).

...and I just found this awfully fun dissertation on DeviantART looking at The Kindly Ones in the Sandman books.

The Sandman series is HUGE - the complete comics collection was recently released as the Absolute Sandman books - four enormous volumes bigger than my cat, and another for Death's miniseries. But it's also available in twelve 'normal' sized graphic novels, and a 'collected dustcovers' book. It was originally published - for years - in single comics, which can still be found on eBay.

The Absolute Sandman editions
The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1
Order the Sandman books from The Book Depository and get FREE shipping!

The Absolute Death volume is high quality and focuses only on Death herself - but it's also pretty short. It's only worth it if you can afford it, as there isn't enough exclusive content to make it worth buying for that alone. That said, the format is very nice, so if you can afford it, it's better quality than other options.

(Also, the price has dropped a lot on Amazon - it started out at $100!)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

V For Vendetta

A clever and dark futuristic England, and the downfall of its dictatorial political regime

by Alan Moore

Rating: Adult

Genre / themes: Politics, freedom, terrorism, Guy Fawkes, Future England.

Art level: Basic, gets the job done. All black and white and quite small.

Star Rating: 4/5

Number of Books: One.

Other notes: Very thick book, a lot of writing and talking. 'Classic' of graphic novels. The recent film starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman was based of this book. Alan Moore also wrote Watchmen

My Review
Another book by Alan Moore, V For Vendetta was recently made into a fantastic film featuring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. Futuristic England is in the grip of fear and dictatorship, and V is the mysterious terrorist who decides to bring back the memory of Guy Fawkes and free England. A very good book, and again, like Watchmen, not for kids.

A thick book, with small black and white illustrations and a lot of text, this is a very interesting book to read and well deserves to be ranked up with classic novels (I'd put it well above The Great Gatsby for example!)

This isn't light reading, but it's one you'll go back to.

The film of the book

The recent movie, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, is one of my favourite films. It neatens up the storyline (of course) but is still very effective - dramatic, with sword fights and bullets, classical music and explosions, mysterious masks, government cover-ups, medical testing, plagues, people being 'disappeared', the Voice of London, murders, and imprisonment. And roses.

Three of my favourite parts include the explosions to music, the story of the woman who was questioned and executed for loving another woman, that Evey found (...for three years I had roses and apologised to no one) and of course V's entire speech from his very vivacious and veritably versatile first appearance:

V: VoilĂ ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villian by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. (he carves a "V" into a sign) The only verdict is vengence; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. (giggles) Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

Evey: Are you like a crazy person?

V: I'm quite sure they will say so.