Webcomic of the Week: “M9 Girls”

M9 Girls is a story of what can occur—for better and for worse—when the modern world meets magical girls.

There are very few character archetypes that are more storied and venerable than magical girls. Although faint traces of the genre can be seen in Japanese works as early as 1953 (with the manga Princess Knight) magical girl stories are widely regarded to date back to at least the sixties. Seen by many as a distinctly Eastern analogue to the superhero stories that have defined the West, magical girls have come to influence many forms of media—up to and including webcomics—as creators who grew up with such titles as Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors as children now weave elements of their favorite franchises into their own work.

M9 Girls is a cinematic and thought-provoking story—by the Mexican author/artist team of Rulopótamo (the former) and Shadow (the latter)—that explores what happens when magical girls manifest in the present day. It blends influences from both East and West, with protagonists that blur the line between magical girls and superheroines. Originally featuring the artist Kanela at the beginning of its run, the comic has been published and regularly updated since 2011, and is freely available on its official site in English as well as its native Spanish.

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M9 Girls presents its own take on the time-honored magical girl format that is much more contemporary than most. Each of the girls’ powers (in this scene, Pato/Purple Space) are the product of scientific experimentation.

M9 Girls stars a closely-knit group of four friends: Anahí, Patricia, Karla, and Claudia—nicknamed Any, Pato, Karlita, and Clau—who are enrolled in the science program at their college. After Any’s work is featured in a science contest, she is approached by a mysterious man who claims to be a professor, who offers her and her friends a lucrative part-time job opportunity at his genetics laboratory. Most of the four, understandably, have their reservations about the deal… but the prospect of money proves to be too alluring, and the girls agree to take the job after appearing for an interview at the lab.

Their first few days go smoothly: the experiments consistently fail, but the atmosphere seems very relaxed and friendly. The job seems informal enough that the four willingly provide samples of their own DNA for the experiments, an opportunity for some idle amusement in a discipline that rarely allows it. And then…

The latest experiment was turning out to be a success. The latest batch of cells, bathed in radiation, were refusing to degenerate like so many others have had before. And just after the enigmatic man, The Professor, informs the girls that they have unlocked the secret of cosmic power, the reactor undergoes a catastrophic meltdown. The girls, trapped inside the room by failsafe measures, are unable to escape. And as the Professor looks on in seeming horror, they are bathed in cosmic light…

Thus, the M9 Girls were born!

The premise and plot of M9 Girls deals with the mundane colliding with the fantastical. Not only must the girls deal with the new life that has been thrust upon them, they must defend themselves and the world against all manner of evildoers, from the preternatural to the painfully real.

Understandably, the four are left a little confused and overwhelmed at first… if not utterly lost. In order to counteract any supposed harmful effects of the radiation burst, The Professor immediately suggests exposing each of the girls to even more radiation. But when the girls begin to develop superpowers as a result of the exposure, they realize that their lives have changed forever. With The Professor by their side, the four design and don their own costumes, embarking on their new lives as the M9 Girls: Any becomes Blue Destiny, a mind-reading empath who can dilate others’ perception of time; Pato becomes Purple Space, who can teleport as well as absorb the properties of physical matter upon contact; Clau becomes White Energy, a telepath who wields powerful bursts of energy; and Karla becomes Pink Starlight, a light-wielding warrior who can dazzle opponents and render herself invisible.

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The M9 Girls are magical superheroines rooted in science, and the story isn’t afraid to touch on these roots in driving, occasionally frightening ways. Just one look at the first three pages will clue you in on the insidious villainy that lurks in the background.

If you’re one of the many, many people who grew up with classic stories about magical girls and superheroes, you’ll find M9 Girls to be a real treat. The comic’s dark and brutally realistic portrayal of its own characters will especially and doubtlessly appeal to fans of more recent, gloomy and sometimes graphic series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Raising Project. And incidentally, the distressing undertones of M9 Girls and its focus on realistic science fantasy make it an excellent companion comic to Neil Kapit’s We Are the Wyrecats (a comic previously featured in this column)—if you are a diehard Wyrecats fan, M9 Girls is practically a must-read.

And exactly like Kapit’s love for superheroes that was so plainly evident in Wyrecats, Rulopótamo and Shadow are both very clearly in love with the magical girl genre… and it shows. M9 Girls flirts with many tropes that have become almost synonymous with these works, but still manages to keep things fresh, and only rarely does it move into cliche territory. It’s the kind of story only someone with an exhaustive knowledge of the genre could have written, and when all is said and done, it proves to be a magical experience.

Thank you both for agreeing to do this! Let’s start with a quick rundown for each of the four main characters…

  • Rulo: Any is the self-appointed leader of the M9 Girls. Any is an almost shy, quiet girl. She is a straight-A student and takes satisfaction in her achievements. She can be bossy and stubborn, but she is also caring and loyal towards her friends. She is a Biology major and she uses the alter-ego Blue Destiny when in costume. She is an empath and can slow time around her.

    Pato is a down-to-earth, sociable girl, who has no qualms in calling things as she seems them. She is not afraid to get physical if the situation calls for it. She is the kind to react first and think things later, and she is not quite happy with the super heroine costumes. She is usually the only sane woman of the team. She uses the name Purple Space as part of the hero team. She can teleport and absorb the properties of any material she touches.

    Clau is a very optimistic and hyperactive girl, described by her friends as a “caffeine-addicted hamster”. She is usually cheerful, although she is prone to fast mood swings. She embraces new ideas enthusiastically and has a friendly demeanor. However, she can be dizzy and lose focus in a matter of seconds. She is the only one of the M9 Girls who shows an overt spiritual side, in the form of New Age and Eastern philosophies. Her heroine name is White Energy. She is a telekinetic and is able to produce energy bursts.

    Karlita is an upper-class, popular girl with a liking for fashion and trendy stuff, though she is internally kind of a geek. At first, Karla appears uppity and snobbish, being a social butterfly. She seems aloof and materialistic; however, it has been suggested that she is actually very smart, although she does not like to let that part of her personality become very apparent. Still, she likes dressing well, to the point of designing superhero uniforms for her and the girls in what she considers proper superheroine fashion. Her hero persona is called Pink Starlight. She can produce light bursts and glows. An interesting side effect of this power is that she can actually become white light, rendering her effectively invisible.

Do you two have any particular favorites?

  • Rulo: Clau is Shadow’s favorite. Pato is mine!

And speaking of “you two,” M9 Girls is the first comic we’ve featured that consists of an author/artist team instead of one person handling both art and writing. What opportunities and challenges would you say this presents?

  • Rulo: I was completely ecstatic the first time I saw a finished drawing of my characters, my vision finally realized. I think having an artist allows to double-check your work and see if the ideas will work. Shadow will usually give better ideas on page composition or coloring. On the other hand, it is frustrating not being able to insert easter eggs whenever I want, and you have to be disciplined in order to convey to the artist what you want and give the artist creative freedom while keeping your story intention and spirit on track.
  • Shadow: I feel relieved that Rulo gets to make all the difficult decisions: what is the fate of this character? When is the better time to update the site? Then I can focus on the artistic side, doing my best to represent what the writer has in mind.

    I love seeing the reactions of our readers. I like to please my audience and I’m scared of seeing negative input. On the other hand, getting a nice comment about my art makes me feel special for a moment!

M9 Girls is heavily focused around the concept of magical girls, a concept dating back to at least the sixties. Are there any particular franchises or series that you would say has inspired M9 Girls, or is the comic more inspired by the genre as a whole?

  • Rulo: Originally we wanted to do a deconstruction of the genre: “What if there was a way to create magical girls in the real world? What if these girls wanted to emulate the heroines of the comic books?” The comic has Sailor Moon as a major influence for the looks of the characters, and the Macross series for the soap-opera storyline.
  • Shadow: Rulo looked for artists who gave the comic a definite manga look. I had the challenge of picking-up from the style of the first artist [Kanela, who departed the project on amicable terms after her post-college schedule made sustaining a comic impossible] while at the same time bringing my own style to the comic.

The backstory and lore of M9 Girls, rather than being standard magical girl fare, is more like a combo of superheroines and mad science. Were any other settings and backdrops considered during design?

  • Rulo: We wanted to have a plausible origin story for the girls’ powers (if that makes any sense), so them being college students instead of teenagers was one of the first decisions. I wrote in-universe rules as to how someone can get cosmic powers. I also wrote the girls as this bickering team, living twenty minutes into the future. I wanted to include subtle hints of this futuristic world, but my first artist squarely settled them in the present.
  • Shadow: I kept the girls’ civilian clothes grounded in the present day, but I introduced more sci-fi elements, specially in the villain gadgets. I’m also making my own interpretation of typical magical girl lore (like the required transformation sequence) to better reflect the point that these are girls aspiring to look like superheroines.

Are there any scrapped plotlines, characters, or concept art pieces you’d like to share? When did you initially came up with the idea for M9 Girls, and would you say it’s changed a lot since then, or not really?

  • Rulo: M9 Girls was born in 2011 after I doodled some caped heroines to amuse my friends. Soon I had a story to go along with the drawing, which quickly evolved on a full-fledged movie script. The movie would be a cross between Japanese and American animation. Since movie-making is an expensive hobby, I settled for a webcomic, unaware that sometimes webcomics are an expensive hobby!

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    The original M9 Girls were drawn and envisioned by Rulo himself, and they were somewhat different from their final appearance.

    The girls evolved from regular magical girls to a more western heroine type. Their powers also evolved. Initially Any could fly and Clau had some hypnotic powers. Artist Kanela took the original superhero costumes and created the current look of the girls, after some tests. She also set the standard for the girls’ fashion and wardrobe choices.

    The main story is almost the same today, although some changes have been made to accommodate for the webcomic format and publishing schedule. Also, both heroines and villains were given more complex personalities and motivations, with more shades of grey on their moralities and goals.

  • Shadow: I think my art has influenced the character personalities: Pato is tougher and has a more pronounced sarcastic streak, and antagonist Vero evolved from being half-crazed to being a more cunning and complex character. Vero is my favorite character and I have given her a make up and wardrobe revamp.

Thank you both very much for a fantastic interview! One last question: what advice would you give to someone about to read M9 Girls for the first time?

  • Rulo: Reading webcomics is a labor of patience and love. You can literally see the creators improving page by page. I highly recommend binge-reading M9 Girls, as the original script was conceived as a movie, so the comic, especially the first chapters, are better enjoyed as a whole.

Craving more of this magical story? Check out the following links:

Main Site | Patreon | Twitter | Artist’s Page

Mede Colvin
Under The Ink Reporter

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