Gunnerkrigg Court is a comic that I find myself trying not to visit for as long as possible, only so that I can then drink up a nice long chunk in one go before reluctantly slithering back into withdrawal. The plot is always veering off in spectacular new directions, with cliffhangers and revelations and I WANT TO KNOW MORE!
When I first read Chapter 1, The Shadow and The Robot, all those years ago I was immediately intrigued by the premise and the writing: a spooky school, female protagonists(!), and a very clear sci-fi/fantasy scope. The characters of Shadow and Robot caught my imagination completely, and Antimony Carver was an intriguing lead – her look was a little unconventional, particularly in respect to the detailed background art, but it has been wonderful to see Tom Siddell’s art progress over the eight years that the comic has now been running.
The sheer scale of the story is, I think, pretty unparalleled in any other comic, incorporating science, magic, fantasy creatures, mixed mythology, mysteries, political battles, sci-fi elements, friendship, romance, parental relationships, betrayals, alchemy… all with two young girls at the centre, Carver and her best friend Kat. And her other friend Reynardine, a creature who is a wolf shape trapped in the body of Carver’s stuffed toy.
Much of the drama is down to the setting, the mysterious Gunnerkrigg Court boarding school and its antagonistic relationship with the neighbouring Gillitie Wood – a clash of science versus nature, technology versus magic – and Carver’s ability to transcend and blur the borders. Flashbacks help fill in the gaps of the story that took place years before between Carver and Kat’s parents and other members of the school.
The Wood is home to Ysengrin and Coyote, magical creature and god respectively, alongside a host of mythical creatures, while the school has students like Zimmy and Gamma, a mysterious pair that can travel inside dream worlds. As the story progresses, Carver finds out more about her unique heritage, while Kat becomes the savior of the robots due to her incredible tech skills, and the pair make friends at school while navigating the more traditional teen waters as well as their more ethereal adventures.
There’s one little chapter of Kat and a boy, which I won’t spoil, but man. The feels. And of course the intermittent adventures of City Face, the famous pigeon are hilarious to read.
From 2006-09, Gunnerkrigg Court won six Web Cartoonists’ Choice/Webcomic List Awards, and earned thirteen nominations. Siddell has also chalked up more nominations and awards around the world, and Gunnerkrigg Court is one of the few webcomics to have generated a huge Wikipedia entry and its own Wikia.
The comic has been collected in three volumes thus far with a fourth out later this year. They can be bought via the website’s shop, or at any online/offline book store. And as with all webcomics, the entire series can be read for free at the website – so indulge yourself today!
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.