Gunnerkrigg Court is a huge success story and a bit of a cause célèbre having been praised by Neil Gaiman, no less, on his blog and seems to regularly makes many peoples favourite online comic list.
Personally I think it’s a great comic, and I found the best of the chapters quite affecting. I did also find it a little frustrating in parts but in a sense you're supposed to.
I’ve had no luck finding out what Gunnerkrigg means despite a bit of Googling around. If anyone knows please drop me a message!
The characters and comic concept
Aged 11 years old Antimony Carver transfers into her new boarding school, Gunnerkrigg Court. She find it a vast rambling place, more like an industrial complex than a place of learning, yet mysteriously empty. She quickly finds that there is far more to it than the school grounds and that it’s inhabitants, and her fellow students, are more than they seem.
And what inhabits the vast and foreboding Gillitie Wood that sits directly next to the Court?
Antimony is a complex and interesting character. A difficult childhood has left her outwardly cold and distant, and used to coping on her own. But, when we glimpse beyond the façade, we find an emotionally disturbed young girl underneath.
Bringing out Antimony’s more human side is Kat, her best friend (who has also been referred to as the second main character by the comic’s creator). Kat is Antimony’s opposite in many ways, outwardly warm and caring and raised in a happily stable environment. She is also a keen scientist (Antimony tends more to the spiritual) and plays a pivotal role in the stories central plot line.
There are some great secondary characters who I won’t go into here to avoid giving up spoilers but they are well thought out and developed.
Gunnerkrigg Court is many things. It’s a coming of age story, its youthful characters dealing with the fairly normal tribulations of school work, friendships, relationships, parents and general teenage stuff.
But then it’s also a fantasy piece with mythological beings, magic, science (indistinguishable from magic) and gods.
Finally it’s also a story of legacy, of dealing with decisions made and wounds inflicted by generations past. Of examining the accepted and permitted ways of doing things and sometimes breaking with them to try something new.
Gunnerkrigg Courts multi-faceted aspects are a great strength of the comic and give it a great depth.
The initial style of the story in the first few chapters veers more to the unserious, verging on farce at one point. Beyond that though it starts to head the other way and the majority of the story slides into more serious territory.
In terms of tone there is a bit of a contrast going on (this theme of contrasting elements is used heavily in the comic). You have characters dealing with forms of isolation or loneliness, traumatic events and such. But then you have these quite sweet friendships and relationships going on, as well as a lot of hopeful elements, of new beginnings and renewal.
There is also a humorous streak to the comic, often used to contrast and break up the more serious and emotionally heavy going chapters which tend to be more the norm.
Chapters tend to be self-contained short stories (though not always) and take an according story structure - generally having an independent beginning, middle and conclusion in each. This makes for satisfying reading as you generally get some sort of closure at the end of each chapter but equally elements will be left unresolved and events naturally impact later chapters.
Pacing is very good throughout; I think that the short story format of the chapters helps with that as it forces everything to keep moving to a conclusion each and every chapter.
The stories themselves are the strength of the comic and are cleverly written and highly inventive. The comic hits its strongest stories about 15-20 chapters in, not that there’s anything wrong with the ones before that, and there is some masterful story telling on display.
Contrastingly there is the odd shaky plot element where it relies on characters failing to communicate certain key points among themselves, or with others who could help them, to allow a situation to remain or come into existence.
And like any highly complex story that has evolved over time there is the odd comment, reference or action which, on the face of it, don’t seem to quite make sense (though may get explained at a later point).
I also found that there was the odd page or section where it was a little hard to understand what was going on. Having said that I got the general idea and it didn’t detract from the overall experience.
The art starts out with relatively simply drawn, but perfectly adequate, characters and slightly more detailed backgrounds.
As it goes on the art goes through some fairly major revisions and characters change somewhat in appearance, though the change is implemented gradually in most cases. If you, as I just did, go from the latest pages back to the start again the difference is very noticeable.
Antimony in particular has a head somewhat shaped like a rugby ball in the very early comics, this stylised appearance gradually tapers off as the art changes style.
Author, publishing and timeline
Gunnerkrigg Court is created by Tom Siddell who resides in Birmingham, England. He apparently previously worked as an animator for an undisclosed video game company. He now has gone full time on developing Gunnerkrigg Court and other projects.
In addition to Gunnerkrigg Court there are two side comics which take place between chapters 31 and 32. They are accessible on the main site via the ‘Extra Comics’ link down on the left hand side.
There are also a series of YouTube videos by Tom discussing and reviewing previous chapters of GunnerKrigg Court – you can view chapter 1 here.
My feeling is that the overall story line is probably slightly more than halfway through and that we’ll see a conclusion within the next ten years.