Gunnerkrigg Court, vol. 1-3

Gunnerkrigg-CourtAfter Antimony Carver’s mother dies, she is sent to Gunnerkrigg Court, a boarding school that is far from ordinary; there are mysterious items hidden deep in the school, the teachers seem to have more than normal abilities, and somehow Antimony has gained a second shadow. Antimony and her new best friend Kat’s explorations into the deep recesses of Gunnerkrigg Court begin to reveal the secrets which led to the schism between humans, who formed the science-based Court, and etheric beings, who retained control of Gillitie Wood, and created the Annan Waters which separate the two. But Antimony’s own powers are growing and she may soon have to face up to a dark realization about her past, her mother’s death, and her father’s continuing absence.

The paragraph above only brushes the very top of the layered plot that makes up Gunnerkrigg Court. Siddell’s ongoing series is a popular webcomic, which Archaia has been releasing in beautiful hardcover editions since 2008. Siddell clearly puts a great deal of research into his story. He incorporates themes – and even characters – from mythology, folklore, history, science, and more. Fans have even created a wiki for Gunnerkrigg Court, allowing them to get details about the characters, events, and settings of the Court. And it’s easy to see why they would go to the trouble. Siddell’s story starts slowly, each early chapter a snippet of a random event that happens in the Court or to Antimony, but soon Siddell begins weaving those elements and events together, so that by the time readers get to book three, events that happened in book one gain new weight and new meaning. It’s a tricky thing to do, especially when publishing in webcomic form three times a week, but Siddell manages the task masterfully. The nice part is that he doesn’t forget humor or romance in the process of building his fantasy world, so readers get a story that is well-rounded and solid.

Because the comic is serialized, there is a large change in art styles over the course of the series. His characters are drawn in a simplistic, angular style at the start of book one, but even then it is clear that Siddell is a strong artist. His settings are powerful and when he switches art styles to indicate a change in the story or a bit of background, his pictures are luminous and glorious. By the end of book three, he’s settled into his character style, something that deftly blends a bit of manga-type art with just the right touch of fairy, to give his characters a mostly realistic, but still slightly other-world quality. The colors almost leap from the page, spotlighted beautifully by the black background of each page.

Gunnerkrigg Court has rightly won praise and acclaim, from starred reviews to a 2009 Cybils Award for best YA graphic novel. This one may have flown under the radar as compared to better known fantasy graphic novel series like Amulet and Bone, but it certainly deserves closer attention. Some mild cursing and a complex plot ages this one up a bit, making it a good choice for readers in grades 5 and up. But even though it’s marketed as a teen title, adults will find plenty to enjoy here as well.

Gunnerkrigg Court, vol. 1-3
by Thomas Siddell
Volume 1 ISBN: 9781932386349
Volume 2 ISBN: 9781932386776
Volume 3 ISBN: 9781936393237
Archaia, 2008-2011