Hugo Graphic Story Review 2014

written by David Steffen

And here’s the graphic story section of my Hugo review. This is one I look forward to every year because it’s kind of a wild card. I never know what to expect out of this because I don’t really follow graphic stories at all. Last year I got to read Schlock Mercenary for the first time. This time I get to read Girl Genius for the first time.

Note that there was one story that I didn’t read and review because for whatever reason it wasn’t included in the Hugo packet: That was Saga Volume 2. I reviewed Saga Volume 1 last year which you can read here.


1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
This story follows a hopeful young man in a bleak future. The least desirable jobs on the least desirable planets are done by “corpse” workers, the bodies of debtors and criminals whose brains have been replaced with remote control implants. The protagonist is a handler whose job is to control a crew of corpses for mining work. He tags along with his fellow miners to the local meathouse a house of prostitutes where the talent are more corpse workers. But he’s not like the other guys. He doesn’t just want to have sex with dead meat. He wants love.

This story is bleak as hell, both in the setting (though of course the characters are used to that) and in the themes and conclusion the character draws from his experiences. I don’t buy into the message the character tries to convey in the story, but for me to enjoy it I don’t have to buy into it I just have to believe that he could have that message.


2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Agatha Heterodyne is the last of a mythically heroic bloodline and is also a spark (a trait that makes her a genius, it’s basically a mad scientist gene). The Wulfenbach Empire that controls Europa is after her for both of these reasons and will stop at nothing to get her. After many adventures in the previous issues, she has made her way to her ancestral home in Mechanicsburg and has convinced the town and the intelligent Castle itself of her identity. But while she’s done this, a number of other sparks have gathered their own tiny but dangerous armies, and the Wulfenbach Empire itself is poised to attack. She has to figure out how to fully activate Castle’s defenses to defend herself and her town.

Not too surprisingly, there was a lot of this story I didn’t follow. There was a nice summary page at the beginning that summed up much of what I paraphrased in my own summary, which was immensely helpful. There were a lot of character relationships I didn’t really follow–was never really sure if particular people were essentially good guys or essentially bad guys. There were also a lot of other things that raised more qeustions than answers. What’s with the talking cat courtier? What are the jagers, why do they have viciously pointed teeth and all talk with barely understandable exaggerated accents? That’s not really a flaw in the story itself, since volume thirteen is the first one I’ve ever read. So I’m not going to hold that against it, although it did make it hard to get really really into it fully.

Still, it seemed like it had good characters, some good humor, and lots of very clever ideas–the idea of a mad scientist as a protagonist and pinning them against a world where their mad scientist skills have to be pushed to their limits just to survive. Great idea and I think that if I had kept up with this one in the past this could be a really solid entry in the series. Really, considering I’m jumping in way late in the series, I couldn’t expect more.


3. “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)
The sea is rising. Two friends from a clan of people who make their living scavenging trash from the leavings of a bigger society explore inland to see what they can see.

This story was rolled out as frames released periodically, numbering at about 3000 in total. If you follow the link i provided with the list entry, you can see one place where they’re all collected together in an easy to use format. You can either set the animation to play automatically where it will pause longer on special frames (like ones with dialog). Or you can go through yourself, including using the mouse wheel to go through them at your own pace (which is what I did).

I love XKCD. I thought the premise of the story was really solid and enjoyed it especially as the tension ramped up in the last sections of the story. But I thought the pacing could use a lot of work. The first section was about building a bunch of sand castles. Which was cute, but not exactly tense. There was some foreshadowing there as they notice the sea level is rising but I really wanted that to ramp up the tension. Their trip inland was likewise just kind of on their whim, just to see what they could find, not exactly tense though there was certainly an element of danger in exploring the unknown. I thought the story really picked up when they finally meet someone who can make some explanations, and I thought the method for showing the language barrier was a clever one (the text of the dialog is all smudged and overwritten with other words so that you’re lucky if you can make out the gist).

So, I thought it was all pretty decent, and was tense in the end, but could’ve used some more work on the pacing.


4. “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
The Tardis takes a wrong turn and Dr. Who ends up in our world and meets a girl who is a huge Dr. Who fan. He attends a Dr. Who convention and has to find a way to get back home, all while helping the girl.

Judging by the Hugo vote every year, I’m the only SF fan left who isn’t also a Dr. Who fan. I’ve seen clips but not a whole episode, so I can’t say I dislike it but so far I haven’t felt moved to seek it out either, and I do find it a little annoying when the show dominates the Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Form every year.

So I’m clearly not the intended audience for this story. I read it through, gave it a shot. It was clearly meant to be campy, but if you don’t reside in that camp it doesn’t have much appeal, yeah? It probably isn’t the best choice of the first full installment of Dr. Who media to consume since it is so self-referential and I obviously don’t get all the references. But it doesn’t move me to want to find more.