Getting Smarter: Phil Foglio talks "Girl Genius"

Everybody loves a mad scientist. Well, okay, maybe not the villagers with the torches and the pitchforks, but they don't count. But Phil and Kaja Foglio certainly do, which is why they created the comic "Girl Genius."

"Girl Genius" is set in a world where mad scientist science, which is to say science of the lightning bolt death ray and flying death machine and MMWAHAHA THEY CALLED ME MAD! type, has radically changed the face of the world.

"Our story concerns Agatha Heterodyne, the long lost and here-to-for unsuspected heir to an ancient family of mad scientists who everyone had thought safely long gone," Phil Foglio told CBR News. "Because of who and what she is, everyone either wants to control her or kill her. Comedy ensues."

Phil Foglio grew up on DC Comics, the superheroes, but also the humor books like "Inferior 5," "Jerry Lewis" and "Sugar & Spike" before moving onto the underground comics and their influences can be seen in the dynamic cartoony style of "Girl Genius."

As an illustrator, Foglio has illustrated Robert Aspirin's "Myth Adventures" series, as well as the comic adaptation, and has worked for DC and Marvel in addition to his own self published work.

The series gives the Foglios a chance to work on a strong female character, something all too rare in mainstream comics, as well as a chance to draw some cool stuff, always a plus.

"We wanted to do something with a strong female lead character. We both like the tropes associated with mad science, and I really enjoy drawing fiddley Victorian style gizmos," said Foglio.

And if that sort of thing sounds like it's up your alley, there's good news.

It's free.

"Girl Genius" was the first comics to move from printing individual issues to serializing on the web, so you can read the whole series for free, if you like. New issues are put out three times a week, and the original printed issues are available for reading as well, making "Girl Genius" about as easy to catch up on as you could ask for.

If you don't like reading things on a screen, you can also buy the trades, which has the added benefit of allowing the Foglios to buy luxuries like food and shelter.

Several other comics, notably Carla Speed McNeil's "Finder," have followed suit, but "Girl Genius" is the gold standard for the print to net move, and the series' results have, as Foglio said, far exceeded their expectations.

"Our readership is way up," said Foglio. "At a conservative guesstimate by a factor of ten. Our sales have quadrupled, and not just from our online store. Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we're one of their bigger independent sellers. We no longer have to spend the time and effort to lay out individual issues, and with the time we save, we actually produce more 'Girl Genus' material per year. Not producing the periodical comics saves us money â€" at least $20,000.00 a year. We consider the collections to be the end product, so up until it goes to the printer, we're flexible. This means that all of our online readers can (and do) act as proofreaders. Because everything is done on the computer, we can correct spelling, rewrite dialog, change coloring or even redraw entire panels if we must, before it goes to print. It's also nice to be a part of an industry that is on its way up, as opposed to an industry that's on its way out."I must admit that I think that we had a slight edge over someone just starting out in webcomics, because we had an established readership, we already had a thriving web-based business site up and running, Phil and Kaja had been doing things in comics and gaming for over twenty years, we had a healthy relationship with Diamond and the retail community already established, and we had a basement full of already printed books for sale, and thus were able to have money flowing in from day one," continued Foglio. "Most other comics starting out have to bite the bullet and hang in there until they've generated enough material to fill a book, and then they've got to traverse a steep learning curve regarding the intricacies of the publishing business. All I can say is, it's a great life if you don't weaken."

And one that he recommends for new artists that want to start their comics.

"I'd been telling young artists for years that the web was the way to go. Finally I realized that we were being stupid not following our own advice," said Foglio.

Of course, nothing is without its drawbacks.

"If the Internet goes down, we're in trouble. Although now that I think about it, I guess anything that would knock out the internet permanently enough to cause us real damage would also be causing everyone else enough problems that I doubt they'd be thinking about us not updating on time," joked Foglio.There's quite a lot more "Girl Genius" on the way, too, as the Foglios keep on trucking."Well, the 6th collection, 'Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite' should be coming out in late spring of 2007," said Foglio. "We're working on a 'GURPS Girl Genius' book for Steve Jackson, as well as a novelization of the first three graphic novels. That's all I can mention at the moment."

They're also working on some non-mad scientisty type stuff, including reaching back into some of Phil's older work. All being serialized just like "Girl Genius."

"'Girl Genius' is really the big thing on our plate at the moment. Kaja and I do have a few other story ideas that we're developing, but they'll probably be single graphic novels. One thing that we're excited about is that we've started posting some of our other books online," said Foglio. "'Buck Godot-Zap Gun for Hire' will be going up Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 'What's New With Phil & Dixie' will be going up every Sunday. These are old series that I did a while ago, but many of our newer readers have never heard of them, so hopefully this will re-invigorate those properties. Plus, we now have a new page of content going up every single day."

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