Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell
webcomic : gunnerkrigg.com
Archaia Studios Press
Volume 1 : Orientation * (Chapters 1-14), 2008
Antimony Carver is a precocious and preternaturally self-possessed young girl starting her first year of school at gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a very British boarding school that has robots running around along side body-snatching demons, forest gods, and the odd mythical creature. The opening volume in the series follows Antimony through her orientation year: the people she meets, the strange things that happen, and the things she causes to happen as she and her new friend, Kat, unravel the mysteries of the Court and deal with the everyday adventures of growing up. ~Publisher’s Comments
Volume 2 : Research (Chapters 15-22), 2009
Annie and Kat begin their second year at Gunnerkrigg Court! Parts of Annie’s past are revealed, as well as mysteries that tie back to the origins of the Court itself. Finding a secret tomb of ancient robots beneath Kat’s workshop leads the two friends to question how they are linked to the mysterious ghost that attacked Annie the year before. And as a new Medium In Training, Annie is able to visit the powerful trickster god Coyote in Gillitie Forest, a visit that reveals more than she ever imagined. ~Publisher’s Comments
aquafortis for “Guy’s Lit Wire” reviewed Gunnerkrigg Court : Research recently and I was very happy to have found both the first and second volume at the library. Now to get a hold of Volume 3 : Reason. Or, I could become one of the many followers of this webcomic at gunnerkrigg.com. It is nice to have a book in hand, a collection easily flipped through sans scrolling, but if your library does not have these first chapters for you, do check out this comic on-line. [do read aquafortis’ review.]
The British Boarding School and the supernatural elements will undoubtedly excite Harry Potter fans, or cause them to sigh “been there, done that,” (just as many Fantasy (read Tolkien) fans had before them). There is also an element of familial inheritance in the story-line, Antimony and Kat’s parents were friends and attended Gunnerkrigg Court before them, creating some mysterious story-lines of their own. However, the Harry Potter familiarity ends there. Gunnerkrigg Court is an oddity all its own, and I found the reviews likening it to Gaiman’s Sandman series much more apt. As aquafortis notes, like Sandman Siddell’s Gunnerkrigg Court “bring[s] in a wide range of mythological and magical elements that seem disparate but somehow come together.” And like Sandman, Gunnerkrigg Court contains stories and elements (both text and image) that seem bizarrely elsewhere but come together.
The first volume Orientation binds 15 chapters and at the beginning it requires some patience and–orientation. As the setting, the strange occurrences, and the characters become more familiar, the story takes on greater coherence. Research has the more cohesive feel, but the author still moves in and out of time and focus at will. And, strangely, it works. There are mysteries that intrigue the reader. And there are characters who charm the reader into turning pages and searching them out. You may not be sure where you are headed, but there is still a sense that everything is moving forward, toward something.
There are several characters to follow, and some have present and past versions; mind the clothing and hair styles, there are no formatting hints to transitions between past and present (i.e. distinct panel borders, page colors, tints, text box alerts or chapter breaks). Antimony (the red head) and Kat (the other), as they become and are, are the two main characters of Gunnerkrigg Court; Antimony, of the two, is the main figure. Much of the story is about friendship, and the family you create. It is also about appearances and possibility. And how having mad intellect and imagination is very cool!
Antimony is a classic hero figure, except for the lack of discernible flaws. Her odd upbringing is hardly a detraction–though maybe a teen reader would argue this point. She is smooth and cool about most everything; although much of this maybe attributed to the way she’s drawn. When she cries it is a surprise and I guess, intellectually, I feel sorry for her, but she has so much going for her, pity is a difficult well from which to draw. Kat and Reynard (demon stuffy/wolf), among others, really animate the setting. They are the laughter and adrenaline. Although, regardless of who or what is in frame, Siddell has no difficulty creating movement, as well as a stillness when atmosphere is required.
Panels/pages never feel excessive or lacking. I would prefer some of the transitions smoother. Does an understanding that the bound book is a translated form create a plausible excuse? I don’t know. But reminders like the end of chapter page featuring an informative comic splice go a long way in reminding the reader Gunnerkrigg Court is a serialized comic, not a graphic novel. Siddell has allowed himself a freedom in the versatility of his storytelling and rendering of image and form. Like his use of mythologies and technology, his illustrations are eclectic–and fitting.
Siddell can move from serious to humorous in a blink and often does this with a great sense of timing. He does the same with the disturbing and normal. That isn’t to say that he would try to turn everything upside down and backwards just because he can. Issues of Nature versus Technology, Ancient vs. Modern, Magic vs. Science, Living and Dead, Ghost and Shell, all serious realms of exploration that Siddell attacks playfully, but not with disregard. Siddell uses Gunnerkrigg Court and Gillitie Wood to compose each side. In places the pairs are inextricably linked, in others they are in fierce competition, and Coyote seems to be often found at the center of them all–Coyote and Antimony, “There was a great division which saw the court and the wood separated. Nature on one side, technology on the other. And this is where you [Antimony] come in. Or people like you” (Research, 67).
The silly and the weird and the adolescent cannot completely distract from the ominous undertones which make themselves blatantly known upon occasion. There is something serious going on, a not unfamiliar struggle, for which one shouldn’t try to anticipate an ending. Siddell is not only flexible, but not wholly predictable. This is just one of those series where you just go along for the ride.
Gunnerkrigg Court (Archaia Press) will likely be found in the Teen Section, surely its best audience, though this series should not be dismissed by Adults. There is some language, some scares, and violence/blood, but nothing that would keep it out of the hands of 10 & up–so far.
images: (1) Orientation, “Chapter 9: Questions and Answers,” p147. Can you tell Gunnerkrigg Court is concerned with Science/Technology? There is a nice big playground here. (2) Orientation, “Chapter 13: A Week for Kat,” p233. There are a lot of pop culture references. And I have to agree with Kat on this one, the earlier album is the better one (though I do like both). (3) Orientation, “Chapter 2: Schoolyard Myths,” p29. This was a fun chapter on perspective/belief. (4) Research, “Chapter 20: Coyote Stories,” p184. Love the way Coyote is drawn and developed. Him and Muut. (5) Research, “Chapter 21: Blinking,” p199. Each bring value to the relationship. (6) Research, “Chapter 17: The Medium Beginning,” p90. an informative splice by a recurring narrator-character, sometimes the end-caps are a few-frame comic developing characters/tone. (7) Orientation, “Chapter 1: The Shadow and The Robot,” p11. Siddell launches straight in and does backstory glimpses/explanations along the way. The images seem to progress alongside the story and its characters. The wit, however, is much the same. (8) Research, “Chapter 19: Power Station,” p160. Zimmy and Gamma are amongst the most interesting characters, and a nice doubling of Antimony/Kat upon occasion. With these two characters and others, I could appreciate Siddell’s use of foreign language and the capture of dialects. He is great at informing his personalities via image and text.
* The book I borrowed from the library was missing a whole section; pages 139-154 were reprinted and placed where 155-170 should have been. Glad to have the webcomic available. I had come to expect jumps/gaps, but not this sort. May want to mind the copy you pick up.