Girl Genius
Girl Genius

A Spark is a mad scientist. The term comes from The Spark, short for "the spark of genius", the mental attribute which is the sine qua non of a mad scientist.

General characteristics[]

To quote the Professors Foglio, the Spark is "whatever it is that makes Mad Scientists what they are. A poorly understood concept that identifies and incorporates a batch of personality traits shared by those who have it." They are "people who seem to have the ability to tinker with the laws of physics as we know them. They are brilliant, focused, and often impatient with those whose thoughts don't run with the speed or in the direction of their own. Because of this, some of those thoughts have veered off in truly alarming directions. This makes them dangerous and shortsighted..."[1].

Sparks tend to inspire loyalty (or at least obedient fear ) in lesser mortals and thus acquire a coterie of minions. This intuitive ability and associated charisma come at a price, however: Sparks are mad scientists who often lose awareness of practical and even ethical concerns in their pursuit of technical apotheosis. In fact, down-to-earth solutions mostly strike them as extremely boring .

There can be competent, even brilliant, engineers and researchers who are nevertheless not Sparks; and therefore will never make the intuitive leaps necessary to "truly warp the laws of nature" and arrive at such creations as Dr. Jekyll's formula, Dr. Frankenstein's monster, a Strong AI implemented in clockwork, or even the absolutely perfect cup of coffee. (However, some apparently sparky creations — such as nuclear submarines equivalent to Captain Nemo's Nautilus, heavier-than-air flying machines, Google AdSense, and mortgage-backed securities — actually do exist in our world.)

Breaking through[]

The first trip into the madness place is the definitive point at which one may be called a Spark. Prior to breaking through, the individual may have not shown any particular signs; afterwards, there's no turning back. This is usually traumatic for the Spark and dangerous for bystanders, since breakthrough devices are notoriously destructive (with few exceptions). Most Sparks break through in their teens or later.

Young Sparks usually won't survive without powerful protection . If the breakthrough device does not kill its creator and everyone in the general vicinity, and the new Spark also survives the retribution of other survivors, he or she becomes part of the incessant power politics of the Gifted, usually as the pawn of an existing power who noticed the chaos, but sometimes (especially with appropriate protection and mentoring) they become players in their own right.

Agatha is a unique case as she did not really break through, the pendant she wore at the time easing and suppressing many of the Spark urges in such a way that she was more 'eased through' rather than break through.

The Crazy[]


Spark Characteristics

Main article: The madness place

Even if they're not actually driven insane by the breakthrough, Sparks often lose rationality while they're working. This state tends to be marked by megalomania , increased aggression (especially if interrupted ), and a serious loss of perspective .

The term "grounded" is used to refer to the state in which a Spark is sane enough to function on a day-to-day basis;[2] that is, when they aren't mad.


Sparks are variously referred to as Gifted, Madboy/Madgirl,[3] Mad Scientist, and the archaic Thinkomancer.[4]

Sparks and Politics[]

Sparks quickly gain minions through sheer charisma[5], and eventually gather tremendous support unless killed by rival Sparks.

Those that survive this process of attrition become the power players of their fictional world. If they successfully reproduce they begin lineages that are nothing less than royalty – right down to personal heraldic badges: the Heterodyne Trilobite, the Sturmvoraus Sword-and-Gear, and the Wulfenbach Winged Tower, for example.

However, this does little to satisfy their obsessions, and they spend most of their time duelling rivals when not engaging in dangerous experiments — which is what makes the world of Girl Genius one of unending conflict and cataclysm.

They are thus almost always generally despised, and are colloquially called "madboys" and "madgirls". But calling one this to his or her face is generally considered hazardous to one's health .

Each Spark's characteristic style[]

One of the features of the Spark is that each mad scientist has a unique style. At the grossest level this refers to the spark's preferred medium — which is often fairly easy to describe: Agatha Heterodyne works mainly with clanks and small-to-medium sized weaponry, for example; while Dr. Dimitri Vapnoople appears to have worked primarily with uplifting animals.

See also: List of sparky styles

There's more to it than that, however. A Spark's style seems to remain consistent and recognizable (at least to those who know what they're looking for) across projects, types of project, and technology levels.

It has been compared to the distinctive style of a painter, except that artistic styles are generally not inherited. Sparky styles can run in families .

There are two major classifications of Sparks: Sparks who go into science, and Sparks who go into the arts.[6] So far, Arts Sparks have rarely been distinguishable within the context of the histories. Alfons Mucha, a fashion designer, is explicitly identified as such in the novelization.[7] Other possibilities exist such as Gospodin Rassmussin, a dance master and a member of a sparky circus could be an example as could Van Rijn but in this case their contributions could be no less destructive. Another example would be a certain spark specializing in spectaculars ; while the technological nature of her displays implies a certain level of engineering expertise, her work seems to be focused primarily on the artistic side of things (and it is nonetheless extremely dangerous, at least for clowns).

Distribution of the Spark[]

Apparently, only a small minority of the European population have the Spark, usually royalty; the Long War set the standard that unless you possessed some degree of Sparky power with which to keep your castle from being smashed by a spark (anomalies such as Holfung-Borzoi retaining defenses built by the Heterodyne Boys notwithstanding), smashed it would be. Thus, all royals are assumed to be sparks, though the children of sparks are not guaranteed to be sparks themselves, and sparks are occasionally born to commoners.

Degrees and limitations[]


Less-competent Spark

The common perception of the Spark is personified by most of the main characters of Girl Genius (Agatha, Tarvek, Gil, the Baron) - mad geniuses whose genius and madness have shaped the world. This is not always the case.[8]

Just as in real life, many talented individuals are born in poor areas, cut off from the education and resources that would enable them to put their talents to real use; a spark lacking such would at best be able to build a very dangerous boot.[9] Also, there are varying degrees of talent; just because one has the ill-defined ability to "warp the laws of nature" does not mean one can do it in an effective manner.

Many with the Spark have just enough talent and/or knowledge to draw unwanted attention but not enough to protect themselves; peasants tend to grab torches and pitchforks upon learning a new spark has broken through, hoping to forestall the inevitable rampage through the application of pointy steel and fire. Surviving a trip to the burning windmill is likely to draw the attention of an established spark, who is equally likely to see an untrained one as either an undesirable competitor or a desirable test subject.

Master Payne's Circus of Adventure is filled with such Sparks; by disguising their creations as performance art they are able to hide their talents while applying them towards earning livelihoods. In addition, Dr. Dimitri Vapnoople was apparently incapacitated by the Baron's brain coring.

Null sex correlation[]

It is (or has become) generally understood that, despite the "girl genius" of the title, there is no (measurable) inherent difference in probability of males and females breaking through.

There are many more male than female Sparks in Agatha Heterodyne's Europa, but this is apparently due to external forces[10]. There were hints [11][12] that this was due to the efforts of Prince Aaronev VI to revive the Other, using, at least in part, female Sparks captured by the Geisterdamen[13] during their search[14] for the Holy Child, a theory eventually outright stated by Tarvek.[15]

Those female sparks that have been seen to date tend to be living in hiding (e.g. Countess Marie), living under the protection of a major power in Europa (e.g. in Paris or England), or such strong sparks that they have been able to protect themselves since shortly after breaking through (e.g. the Ancient God-Queens, Agatha herself).

Associated traits[]

Physical hardiness[]

Sparks are known for generally having a stronger constitution than ordinary human beings.[16] For example, Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, has repeatedly survived falling off airships. Some sparks have also displayed the ability to achieve feats of superhuman strength and reflexes -- for example, the ability to lift and throw a ten-foot tall clank . (That might just be Gil, however.) These may be examples of phenomena where the body simply ignores its limits.

Musical ability[]

The fact that many of the musical characters are also Sparky suggests that the Spark may be associated with musical ability. At the very least, the mathematical construction of music may "click" with the Sparky ability to warp physics, even a little.

Highly variable neurochemistry[]

The brain chemistry of sparks is "all over the place ", and not well-understood even by specialists like Klaus Wulfenbach. This means that tests focused on "typical" human neurochemistry usually have to be performed on non-sparks. Sparks are also capable of rejecting or resisting ordinary slaver wasps, although indications are that this is an intentionally engineered limitation. [17][18]

Beyond the Spark[]

There is evidence that some sparks can reach a "hyper-spark" state, attaining a level of intellect and ability even beyond what the strongest sparks are normally capable of. For instance, it has been implied that the Heterodynes have gained much of their power, directly or indirectly, from the Dyne, which enhances their abilities despite poisoning most other people. Additionally, a few of the Heterodynes (including Agatha) have an especially strong reaction to being electrically shocked after drinking the Dyne's water, gaining a level of "supreme clarity" and sparky energy beyond what they would normally possess. Unfortunately, this condition is temporary; it requires an unsustainable buildup of energy within the body, and will cause the subject to explode if the energy is not dumped elsewhere. Queen Albia calls this "peeping into the infinite ", implying that other people have also found ways of reaching this state, and that the experience becomes less dangerous after the first time. (Or rather, that it becomes less dangerous for the spark, but more dangerous for everyone else!)

The Ancient God-Queens achieved a sustainable, permanent hyper-spark state, which involved actually breaking through a second time , i.e. becoming something beyond a spark . It's unclear how they accomplished this, but given the nature of the only second breakthrough seen to date, it likely has something to do with extradimensional energies and/or intelligences. The second breakthrough also seems to grant some degree of additional powers, such as (near-)immortality, shapeshifting, telekinesis, and a "halo" of floating symbols around one's head. It's not clear what relationship (if any) this has with "peeping into the infinite", though at least superficially the latter seems much like a temporary, limited form of second breakthrough. Additionally, Lucrezia Mongfish has suggested that this state requires some form of consistent power source, though it is unclear what she meant, or if her suggestion was deceptive in some way.

It should be noted that, while these "hyper-sparks" are remarkably strong even by the standards of powerful sparks, they are not invincible, and they have been outmaneuvered and even killed by strong, experienced, and prepared regular sparks, much as regular sparks are often killed by non-sparks, constructs, and even their own experiments run amok. Lucrezia Mongfish, despite having given no indication to date that she ever attained a second breakthrough herself, has hunted sparks and hyper-sparks alike through history. Queen Luheia was killed by the Grey Witch (who we know little about but is likely a regular spark). Queen Albia maintained her grasp on England in the face of a rebellion a few hundred years back, but much of her kingdom has been sinking deeper and deeper into the sea since then. And Dimitri Vapnoople not only challenged Albia once and lived, he also, in combination with Agatha Heterodyne, banished the nascent god-king Lord Snackleford to dimensions unknown. So hyper-sparks, however much they might claim otherwise, are not literally unstoppable gods.

See also: Second breakthrough

See also[]



  1. Secret Blueprints, Volume One, page 2
  2. Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess, page 179 (footnote #31).
  3. "Because that madboy from the airship came to get you -"
    "And I'm the evil madgirl with the death ray and the freakish ancestors -"
  4. Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess, Prologue
  5. Mr. Rovainen: "Ah, it is part of the power of the Gifted. Those around them wish to aid them. To serve them. Even when we know them to be monsters."
  6. Reddit Ask-Me-Anything, 30 May 2013: 'Phil: First of all there are two major classifications... Sparks who go into science and Sparks who go into the arts. (We haven't seen the Art Sparks in the graphic novels, and have only been a footnote). As for the Science Sparks, it depends on the interest of the Spark.'
  7. Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess, Ch. 11
  8. Master Payne: "Except it doesn't always work like that."
  9. Master Payne: "But what about someone who's brilliant, has the Spark burning brightly within him, no doubt about it, but is born to an impoverished village cobbler? Without any education or resources, what can they do? Build a dangerous boot?" - Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess (prose novel), p. 119.
  10. Judy: "Girls with the Spark — they usually just — disappear."
  11. Anevka: "Tarvek, do you know how many girls he's destroyed in that machine?"
  12. Anevka: "My father collected girls with the spark whenever he could."
  13. Eotain or Shurdlu: "I... I think we have killed another one."
  14. Lady Vrin: "...she sent us here to the shadow world— where we were to seek the missing child."
  15. "It's not that girls never broke through, it's that when they did, they were hunted."
  16. Zeetha: "Ha! I've heard Sparks were tough! "
  17. Anevka: " surely know that your Lady's filthy wasps— don't work on Sparks."
  18. Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess, Chapter 11: "That was part of the deal she made with those fools in The Order."