Agatha H and the Airship City: Girl Genius book is a cross between a comic and a prose novel

By Cory Doctorow

Agatha H. and the Airship City is the first prose novel about Agatha Clay, the heroine of their Hugo-winning webcomic Girl Genius. I've been reading the Foglios since I was a sprout poring over Dragon magazine, and doting on Phil Foglio's back-page comic What's New? with Phil and Dixie; and I've always loved the Foglios for their unabashedly nerdy, slapstick sensibility, a bit of Tex Avery and Max Fleischer filtered through the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. Girl Genius brought that fine form to steampunk stories, with the buxom, madcap, brilliant Agatha Clay in a starring role.

The transition from comic to print works surprisingly well. While the action sequences sometimes feel a little like a script for a comic, they're always funny and delightful. The effect is a little like the high-speed feeling of reading a fast-paced comic, but with the depth of character that you get from a prose-novel's capacity for introspection and internal monologue.

In the Girl Genius world, the Industrial Revolution has all but destroyed the world, thanks to the Sparks, industrial wizards who are born with the mad scientist's ability to make uncanny machines and lifeforms that upend order and send villagers fleeing to the hills. Finally, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach brings some order to the chaos by conquering Europe and grinding it under his (surprisingly benign) iron heel. Agatha Crumb is a lab assistant at Transylvania Polygnostic University, ward of two "constructs" (reanimated corpses) that dote on her and care for her in her parents' absence. When her benefactor is killed by the Baron's men (and monsters), she is forced to flee, but before long, she is the Baron's prisoner aboard his flying airship castle, "the only capital city that was able to patrol its own empire."

Filled with folgian touches -- Borscht-belt comedy accents, things that go sproing, adorkable sentient machines, and laugh-a-minute slapstick -- Agatha H is a tremendously fun addition to the Girl Genius canon.

Published 6:38 am Thu, Oct 13, 2011

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

15 Responses to “Agatha H and the Airship City: Girl Genius book is a cross between a comic and a prose novel”

  1. might want to fix the link on Girl Genius, it goes to a parked site, the real site is:

  2. yri says:

    It’s always great to see the Foglios get some front-page time, and the more Girl Genius’s fame spreads, the better – but what’s with the anorexic Agatha on the cover? Had she been held captive and starved for weeks? I much prefer the Foglios’ own Agatha H., whose figure has much healthier proportions. :-)

  3. Diego Fernetti says:

    I like the way the illustrator of the book cover placed the cat’s tail on the girl’s crotch.  Subtle!

  4. markdery says:

    I dream of a retro future in which “girl geniuses” with the chutzpah to
    poke their Freud-friendly phallic lightsabers into the vagina
    dentata-like maws of robo-octo-whatever-a-poids are permitted to do so
    without first having to strip down to fap-friendly negligees.

  5. I’m seriously in love with Girl Genius, but I’m a little disappointed that this is a retelling of earlier parts of the comic series.   Not sure if I will be buying. 

  6. Tom Mathews says:

    I rather enjoyed it, and have read all their comics as well. There were several things that I had forgotten over the years that had importance in the current story arc, which lead to a few ah hah! moments.

  7. Shiawase says:

    It also available as a DRM-free e-book in several formats via

  8. Dave Brunker says:

    I love Girl Genius and even though the story and art are dramatically different I can’t help comparing it to Elfquest.

  9. James Bond says:

    One funny book and if you like airships and are in need of a Helium sniffing laugh, then try my new Gasbags site:  for the worlds only lighter than air comedy site.
      Regards JB (Airship & Blimp Consultant

  10. Stefan Jones says:

    Girl Genius is one of those strips I WANT to like and SHOULD be way into, but somehow found intimidating. So much to catch up on!  (Dresden Codak is that way too, and is possibly too damn smart for me in addition.)

    But I like the idea of learning up on the background and origins with this novel. Gotta see if it is available on Kobo.

    (Edit: Yes it is!)

  11. TheMadLibrarian says:

    Minor quibble: Agatha’s nom de guerre is Clay, not Crumb.

  12. steampunksweets says:

    “Clay.”  Not Crumb.

    I liked the book, though there were some style/writing workmanship issues that were jarring in a professionally-pupblished book versus a fan fic (like random POV shifts and awkwardly-structured sentences) but it’s fun for diehard fans and a good way to indoctrinate friends and family who “don’t read comics.”

  13. Jen Savage says:

    Wait, did they make Agatha thinner on that cover for a reason? I always appreciated that she was plump.

  14. If it was only they made her thinner …

    Anyone notice there are two (slightly) different covers on Amazon?

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