Strange Days & School Days: Should You Be Reading ‘Gunnerkrigg Court’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
The webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell launched way back in April of 2005. A sci-fi fantasy story about two young women at a weird boarding school, the series updates twice a week, which means it's become quite a tale over the course of the past decade --- and it's tale you might just enjoy checking out.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Gunnerkrigg Court tells the tale of Antimony “Annie” Carver, a young woman sent to the isolated, high-walled city that gives the comic its name. So far the series has chronicled three years of Annie’s time at the boarding school within the city, starting when she’s 12. Annie and her tech-genius best friend Kat explore the mysteries of the school, as well as the forest beyond the walls. They’ve crossed paths with shadow creatures, robots, trickster forest gods, fairies, psychopomps, and an entity simply known as “Jones.”
During her time at the school and in the city, Annie has not only discovered a talent for harnessing the magical ether, but has also learned more about her mother’s death, her parents’ history with the court, and the insidious history of the Court itself.
WHO'S IT BY?
Gunnerkrigg Court is written and drawn by Tom Siddell. The webcomic has been his major online project --- and his full-time job --- since 2012, but Siddell has recently also been writing Munchkin for Boom Studios.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
It’s not so much the premise that makes the series special, but where Siddell has taken it. Over the course of the last decade, and over more than fifty chapters, Gunnerkrigg Court has expanded both its world building and the complexity of the stories being told. It’s easy to get invested because the story keeps giving you the perfect amount of hints and reveals as the series progresses. Whether it’s the history of the Court, what happened to Annie’s mother, the secrets of Reynardine (Annie’s former attacker turned defender) or what the heck is up with the woman they call Jones, we are given answers. It just takes time to get there, and luckily time is something this project has in droves.
While all the characters have their charms and appeal (you’re sure to find a personal favorite among the supporting cast), the way Siddell has handled Annie in particular is of note. Annie is flawed — yes she has extraordinary talent and is seen as a wunderkind of sorts; she’s brash and stands up for others, like many YA heroines. But she’s also selfish and secretive and self-loathing. She makes big mistakes along the way, mistakes that she can’t always fix. It’s always nice to see a protagonist handled with this much care and complexity — Annie is allowed to be painfully fallible.
It’s also a special treat to see Siddell’s art progress as time goes on. Certainly the first few chapters of the series feature very stylized character designs and backgrounds, but the evolution of the art gets really splendid the further it goes. The variety of styles and techniques Siddell uses as the series has progressed is noteworthy, especially once we’re introduced to Coyote the trickster god. Any chapter featuring Coyote promises gorgeous colors and surreal page layouts. They’re some of my favorite pages in the entire story.
One more thing of note is a romance that brews between two of the girls in the cast. I won’t tell you which two, but it’s very sweet, and a nice addition to the many B-stories of the series.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Fans of Harry Potter and Gotham Academy will certainly appreciate Gunnerkrigg Court’s mysterious boarding school setting, along with its ability to mix humor and some whimsy with darkness and danger. Fans of Lumberjanes should check it out for the eerie forest and LGBTQ+ representation. And if you’re a fan of a long haul when it comes to reading webcomics, you’re going to get it with Gunnerkrigg’s 1,500+ pages and counting.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?