When people think of British boarding schools, familiar aspects such as Hogwarts or St. Trinian’s comes to mind. Gunnerkrigg Court resembles neither. In this comic, the eponymous school consists of an overly-large industrial-style factory, complete with indoor towers, parks, and monorails. Across the bridge lies a mysterious forest, home to magical creatures, both gentle and nefarious.
Antimony Carver, called Annie by her friends, arrives at the Court per her dead mother’s wish. Although at first slightly reticent, she soon makes several friends: Mort (a ghost), Shadow 2 (a shadow creature), Robot (a robot), Reynardine (a fox-spirit trapped in a toy’s body), and Kat (fellow student). As Annie and Kat progress from school year to school year, they begin to learn the strange reasons for the tension between the Court scientists and the magical creatures of Gillitie Wood, separated by an unholy river, save for a single bridge. Also in the mix is Annie’s father, Dr. Carver, who abandoned her upon her mother’s death, leaving no forwarding address. Between his disappearance, Reynardine’s connection to her mother, and the odd hints left by Coyote, the trickster ruler of Gillitie, Annie has a tough time keeping up her classes, balancing friends and love interests, and trying to practice her new-found powers.
Tom Siddell, the writer and artist, launched the comic in 2005, and it has consistently been awarded numerous awards in the ensuing years. His characters are probably the most fun to draw. The humans are depicted as normal, more or less, although they reflect a diverse group of cultures and races. In the first fifteen chapters, his style is more cartoonish than lifelike, using odd shapes and proportions, which while unusual, do not detract from the comic itself. By the “second year,” the humans are more realistically proportional and detailed. The magical creatures are, to fit with their environment, more colorful with intricate designs, but in many ways buck traditional types. Siddell, a native Englander, often draws on Welsh, Scottish, and Manx folklore, and other lesser-known cultures, such as the Iviatim and Bretons. To emphasize the difference in settings, he uses cold colors for the Court, while preferring more primary colors for Gillitie Wood.
The writing and organization is wonderful, especially in how it builds and introduces characters. Not all chapters will focus on the overall plot; sometimes, a chapter will simply focus on the budding relationship between two characters, or show the evolution of new details within the setting. There is no set chapter lengths, with some being only nine pages, and others over eighty, with each a stand-alone story arc.
Tom Siddell’s mixture of antique and modern creates a wonderful story, both visual and literary, that is enjoyable for all ages. You can read it at Gunnerkrigg.com.