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Phil & Kaja Foglio: Gaslamp Fantasies

Phil Foglio was born in Mount Vernon NY and grew up in Hartsdale NY. He attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, earning a BFA in cartooning. In 1985 he illustrated Robert Lynn Asprin’s MythAdventures series for Donning/Starblaze, and later did a comic adaptation of Another Fine Myth for indie publisher WaRP Graphics. His comedy/SF series Buck Godot was collected in two volumes: Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire (1986) and Buck Godot – Psmith (1988).

In addition to a few short stories, in 1989 he co-wrote the humorous science-fiction novel Illegal Aliens with Nick Pollotta, and under the name James Clay, co-wrote That Darn Squid God, again with Pollotta (2004).

With his wife Kaja Foglio he founded Studio Foglio, and they began to co-write and publish the ‘‘gaslamp fantasy’’ series Girl Genius in 2001. In 2005, the comic moved from print to become a free online webcomic, updating three times a week, with comics later collected in print. Foglio was nominated for fan artist Hugo Awards in 1976, ’77, and ’78, winning the latter two, and was a professional artist Hugo nominee in 2008. He & Robert Lynn Asprin were nominated for the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo in 1976 for their humorous slideshow ‘‘The Capture’’. In 2009, Phil and Kaja Foglio won the first graphic story Hugo Award for Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, and they won the category again in 2010 for Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm.

A prose novel version of the first three Girl Genius volumes, Agatha H. and the Beetleburg Clank, is forthcoming from Night Shade Books in 2011, to be followed by two more novels.

Kaja Foglio was born in Bellevue WA, and grew up in Kirkland WA. She attended the University of Washington, where she became involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism; she met Phil Foglio through the SCA. Her first professional artwork was for Magic: The Gathering, and she also illustrated Barry Hughart’s The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (1998). In addition to co-writing Girl Genius, she does the graphic design and website design for Studio Foglio.

Kaja & Phil were married in 1993. They have a son and a daughter, and live in Seattle.

Website: Studio Foglio

Excerpts from the interview:

Phil Foglio: ‘‘The first convention I went to was TorCon 2 in 1973, where I saw an ad for a thing called the ‘Klingon Empire Appointment Calendar’ – which I thought sounded really cool. So I wrote and said, ‘Gosh, I’d sure like one of those,’ and did a little drawing next to my name. The editor, Paula Smith, wrote back saying, ‘Here’s your calendar. Thank you very much, and by the way, love the little thing next to your name. Would you like to do some art for us?’ That’s how I got started doing fan art.”

Kaja Foglio: ‘‘I’d always liked comics. In high school, my friends and I would make up stories and draw comics together. Then, of course, I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I first saw Phil’s work in high school, when the Dungeons & Dragons group had a bunch of old Dragon magazines. While the boys would argue about the rules, the girls would sit and read the comics in Dragon.”


PF: ‘‘We got married in ’93, and that was the year we said, ‘We should work on something together!’ I’ve never had a real job, unless you count a few series for Marvel and DC. I’ve pretty much been doing independent comics from the beginning.”

KF: ‘‘We had folders full of drawings, and I was trying to go through his stuff and file everything to make sure I had copies, so I could find them again when a convention wanted incidental art. I was looking at all this stuff, and there were these cats in top hats with monocles and walking sticks, and dirigibles – a very strong thread of what we would call steampunk now, although we didn’t call it that at the time. I was like, ‘Look at this awesome Victorian, Jules Verne stuff! You should do more of this!’

‘‘Americans really like to know how things work. They enjoy science, and they enjoy machinery. Abraham Lincoln patented a device to lift boats over shoals, and back then to patent anything mechanical you had to make a model. So his idea of a hot time (no kidding!) was to take his kids through the Hall of Patents, where they’ve got thousands of little models that actually work. These days, more and more the idea behind industrial design is for the mechanisms to be hidden, resulting in a ‘magic box.’ The iPod is like the ultimate expression of that: it has no visible moving parts! People like steampunk because it gives them a feeling of smartness and control, that they’ve got a handle on things: ‘OK, the fuel goes in there, and I see the pistons move like this…’ ”


PF: ‘‘We started publishing the Girl Genius comics in 2001, and as an independent comic went, we were relatively successful: printing around ten thousand copies, selling around six thousand of those through our distributor Diamond. (The rest we sold at conventions and over our website.) It was a critical success and a good commercial success. The biggest problem was regulating our cash flow. Doing periodical comics cost us close to $20,000 a year. Like I said, we made a profit, but it was still a squeeze when the time came to pay the printer. But our most obvious problem was the state of the comics industry. Simply put, every year there are fewer and fewer comic book shops, and actual sales of comics have been spiraling downwards non-stop. The comics industry has been officially dying ever since I got into the field in the early ’80s.’’

KF: ‘‘Comics has pointedly been ignoring us for that entire time too.’’

PF: ‘‘For years, people have been coming up to us and saying, ‘I’d like to do comics. How should I start?’ Lately we’d been saying, ‘If we were doing it all over, we’d do it as a web comic. Give it away for free, and build up your audience like that.’ And eventually we realized, this is really good advice. We should take it.’’

KF: ‘‘We’d been saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do a web comic?’, and wed put up a few little strips now and again for fun, but we couldn’t stick to it with any kind of regular schedule. But finally, we decided, ‘Let’s just do this!’’’

PF: ‘‘Best decision we’ve ever made!’’

KF: ‘‘It took about 20 minutes to hash out how we were going to do it, and to figure out a strategy. We went online instantly and pulled down all of our old subscription offerings, and dealt with those we had already sold by offering either store credit or a check.’’

PF: ‘‘We started out with around 10,000 readers. Within one year, we were up to 100,000 readers, and currently we’re at about 400,000. We put it up three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s much easier to do it this way, taking a big job and breaking it down into a bunch of little ones. I do more pages of Girl Genius in a year now than when I was just trying to get out that one book every three months.’’


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