The front cover of Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation
|Current status / schedule||Updates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays|
|Launch date||4 April 2005|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction, fantasy|
Gunnerkrigg Court is a science-fantasy webcomic created by Tom Siddell and launched in April 2005. It is updated online three days a week, and the first volume of the comic was published in print format by Archaia Studios Press and Titan Books (in the United Kingdom and Ireland). The comic has been critically acclaimed and has won numerous Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards, as well as receiving positive reviews for its artwork and storytelling.
The comic tells the story of Antimony Carver, a young girl who has just started attending a school at a strange and mysterious place called Gunnerkrigg Court, and the events that unfold around her as she becomes embroiled in political intrigues between Gunnerkrigg Court and the inhabitants of the Gillitie Wood, a forest outside the school. The comic's style and themes include elements from science, fantasy creatures, mythology from a variety of traditions, and alchemical symbols and theories; the literary style is heavily influenced by mystery fiction and manga.
Gunnerkrigg Court was first posted online on 4 April 2005, and was originally updated two days per week. The comic began updating three days per week on 25 December 2006.[# 1] The end of the seventh chapter in May 2006 marked the end of the "first book,"[notes 1] which Siddell published through Lulu.com in 2007; that book is no longer in print. In August 2008, Tom Siddell explained that the comic had a standard "comic book format" which was useful when he had sufficient pages to print a hard copy. The first fourteen chapters of the webcomic were printed as the first Archaia Studios Press edition of 296 pages bound in a hardcover collection titled "Orientation". In 2012 he announced that he had quit his regular job to work on the comic full-time. In addition to books and merchandising the comic is supported through crowdfunding by Patreon since July 2014.
The Gunnerkrigg Court webcomic is told in a series of episodic chapters such that each, while forming part of the overall storyline, also functions individually as a stand-alone story arc. The themes and topics of the chapters vary widely: as one reviewer describes, "You are also not subjected to 400-plus pages of intricate plot movement. While there is an overall story arc, there are also lighter chapters that focus on unusual classes ... or small moments that build the main characters." Each chapter begins with a title page and ends with one or more "bonus pages," which are not integral to the main storyline but often offer ancillary details about the world of Gunnerkrigg Court or about minor characters. The chapters have varied in length from four pages to more than eighty. Each page is drawn in traditional (A4; 210 × 297 mm) page format and divided arbitrarily into frames.[notes 2] At the bottom of the most recent page is a link to a comments thread for that page, in which readers may comment on and discuss that day's comic.
Siddell has stated that he enjoyed reading Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators as a child, and that it has heavily influenced the literary style of his comic. His artistic style is influenced by many artists, among which he cites as his favorites Jamie Hewlett, Yukito Kishiro, and Mike Mignola, as well as the manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Dragon Ball.
One notable feature of the comic is the blending of mythological elements from many different cultural traditions, especially from the British Isles and Native American mythology.[notes 3] Siddell attributes this style to his experience as a child: "I moved about a lot when I was younger and had the opportunity to grow up hearing stories from different parts of the world and I've always been fascinated by them." In addition to mythology, Siddell makes heavy use of alchemical themes; for example, the main character is named Antimony, after a toxic chemical element, and many pages feature artistic depictions of alchemical symbols.[notes 4] The symbol for antimony appears frequently in Gunnerkrigg Court: the character Antimony wears a necklace shaped like that symbol,[# 2] the character Reynardine has the symbol imprinted on his wolf body, and the symbol is used to mark the end of a chapter.
The artwork of Gunnerkrigg Court has been described as "stylized," with simple character designs. At least one reviewer, on the other hand, has noticed that the backgrounds, in contrast to the characters, are often very elaborate. The comic has also been described as having a "rich" look in spite of its limited color palette, and Siddell himself has stated that he first developed the idea for the comic using only a limited number of colors. The pieces of artwork that Siddell has posted at the end of each printed book, entitled "Treatise"[# 3] and "Second Treatise,"[# 4] demonstrate many such of Siddell's artistic and storytelling motifs: they integrate alchemical symbols, mythological figures, nature, and technology.
Gunnerkrigg Court is set in a boarding school in a country that resembles the United Kingdom, identifiable from the grey skies and mandatory uniforms.[# 5] The comic contains other clues about the setting, such as the house system that is described at the end of the first chapter. This system is similar to that used by many UK schools, including the one the author attended; Siddell has even stated that the school in which Gunnerkrigg Court takes place is modeled after his own secondary school.
Gunnerkrigg Court, the fictional place around which the story revolves, is a mysterious and vast establishment that many characters suspect hides much more than just a school.[notes 5] The school appears to actively recruit many talented or extraordinary students.[notes 6] As the story progresses, it is soon revealed that the school is inhabited by a wide variety of both supernatural creatures - many of which become characters involved in the story's plot - and ultra-modern technology. One character explains that "the Court was founded on a union between technological and etheric design."[# 6] Another describes it as "man's endeavor to become god."[# 7]
The court is built on the edge of a wide chasm, on the other side of which lies the Gillitie Wood, which is inhabited by "etheric" or magical creatures. At the time when the main story takes place, the two sides exist in a kind of truce, with the Court as the realm of science and technology and the Wood the realm of nature and the etheric.[# 8][# 9] The denizens of the Gillitie Wood do not allow technology in the Wood,[# 10] and the rules of the Court forbid students from leaving school grounds.[# 11]
The story of Gunnerkrigg Court involves several different ongoing plot arcs. The main story is that of the protagonist, Antimony Carver, and her deepening involvement in the intrigues between Gunnerkrigg Court and the Gillitie Wood, the forest outside Gunnerkrigg Court; she is accompanied throughout the storyline by her friend and classmate Katerina Donlan and her companion Reynardine, a demon living within her stuffed animal. As the story progresses, Antimony and her companions also slowly learn more about their surroundings, the relationship between Gunnerkrigg Court and the Gillitie Wood, and the beings they encounter.
The story begins when Antimony builds a robot to transport a mysterious shadow into Gillitie Wood, the forest outside Gunnerkrigg Court.[# 11] Several chapters later in the comic, and apparently several months later in the story's timeline, the robot reappears on the bridge outside Gunnerkrigg Court;[# 12] being controlled by a malevolent creature from Gillitie Wood, it pushes Antimony off the bridge when she goes out to it. Antimony spends a night at the banks of the river below the bridge, and encounters a ghost,[# 13] before she is rescued by Kat and taken back to the school. Her brief time outside Gunnerkrigg Court, though, sets off a dispute between Gunnerkrigg Court and the Gillitie Wood. Not long after Antimony's return, the Court is visited by Coyote, a god from the Gillitie Wood, and General Ysengrin, the being who caused the robot to attack Antimony at the bridge. They express anger over the robot's visit to the forest, and over the damage Antimony caused when she left the Court.[# 14][# 15]
During the time that the robot is gone, Antimony meets a creature called Reynardine, who tries to take over her body but, by accident, instead becomes trapped in the body of a stuffed animal she carries;[# 16] and becomes subject to her command.[# 17] Because of her relationship with Reynardine and the events with Coyote and Ysengrin, Antimony is nominated to begin training to become a medium, one of the individuals who moderate disputes between the Wood and the Court and communicates with etheric beings,[# 18] and she decides to return to the woods to speak with Coyote. When Antimony visits Coyote, she learns that in the past Coyote had travelled across the sea to find Renard (called later Reynardine) and Ysengrin[# 19] and make them into "powerful being[s]" like himself.[# 20] He had given Ysengrin "power over the trees"[# 21] and given Reynardine the power to take bodies,[# 22] but bodies that Reynardine took always died after he left them[# 23] and Ysengrin was hardly strong enough to stand without the help of Coyote's tree armor.[# 24] Reynardine had been in love with Antimony's mother, Surma,[# 25] and had used his power to steal a young man's body and woo Surma; the man died, however, and Reynardine was imprisoned in Gunnerkrigg Court until the events surrounding his first meeting with Antimony.[# 26]
In addition to this plotline, the story includes several additional plot arcs interspersed with the main story. One concerns two girls from the Court, Zimmy and Gamma, who communicate with one another telepathically. Zimmy sees hallucinations of monsters which her etheric abilities turn into reality,[# 27] which she relies on Gamma to dispel.[# 28] In one chapter, Antimony[# 29] and another student, Jack,[# 30] also become trapped briefly in Zimmy's hallucinatory world, and escape after they "find" Gamma there.[# 31] Another storyline revolves around Kat's attempts to repair Antimony's robot (which had been temporarily taken control of when it pushed her off the bridge), during which time they discover a set of highly complex robots[# 32] that Antimony speculates are related in some way to the ghost she encountered at the river.[# 33]
|Antimony Carver||The protagonist of Gunnerkrigg Court, she came to the school after her mother's death. Has a way with the "etheric" or magical beings that inhabit the Court and the Gillitie wood.[# 34] She is able to see and communicate with the guides,[# 35] spirits that lead humans into the afterlife.[# 36] Acts as a medium between Gillitie Wood and the Court, as her mother did before her.[# 37]|
|Katerina "Kat" Donlan||Antimony's closest friend. Daughter of two teachers at the Court, Mr. and Mrs. Donlan.[# 38] Whereas Antimony has close contacts with the supernatural, Kat is gifted in the formal sciences. The robots in the Court started to regard her as an angel and later "Creator". Kat is in a relationship with fellow student Paz.|
|Reynardine (Or interchangeably, Renard)||A fox spirit that can take others' bodies, referred to as a demon on behalf of the Court by Eglamore.[# 39] He is now trapped in the body of Antimony's doll and is subject to her command.[# 17] In addition to inhabiting Antimony's doll, he may also take the form of a white wolf.[# 40] He is very protective of Antimony,[# 41] which one character claims is because Reynardine had once been in love with Antimony's mother, which he later admits.[# 25] Reynardine is a cousin and former companion of Coyote's, but has been confined to Gunnerkrigg Court because he killed and possessed a young man in the past, led by Coyote into the belief that this would win him Antimony's mother affection, which in turn made him fall in love with her acting under orders from the Court, who feared him as Coyote's successor.[# 42][# 43] However, it is suggested in various conversations that he remains there not because of "men's laws", but actually for the bond he has formed with Annie.|
|Sir James "Jimmy Jims" Eglamore||The instructor for physical education classes,[# 44] and protector of the Court.[# 45] He shares his name with a dragonslaying knight from a Northumbrian folk song, and some characters have referred to him as a "dragon slayer",[# 46][# 47] He also was in the same class at the court as Annie and Kat's parents. He made an appearance in the webcomic Sandra and Woo.|
|Zeta "Zimmy"||A student at the Court. Zimmy claims that she never sleeps.[# 48] She frequently travels to a nightmare-like world recreated from scenes in her past, and sometimes other characters accidentally end up there as well. She has fangs and a black, smokelike substance obscuring her eyes, and rain seems to have calming effects on her, along with revealing for a short time that her eyes are red.[# 27]|
|Gamma||Zimmy's girlfriend. Gamma is able to calm Zimmy when she is seeing things or in the dream-world, blocking the "static" (as is Antimony, to a lesser extent).[# 49] She and Zimmy share a telepathic link. Speaks only Polish, and communicates with others by allowing Zimmy to translate for her.[# 50]|
|Shadow 2||A second shadow that began to follow Antimony when she first came to the Court. Kat and Annie have taught him how to speak English.[# 51] In recent chapters Shadow 2 has become 3-dimensional, but retains all of his shape shifting abilities.|
|Robot||An anthropomorphic robot Antimony built. He is a model S13, with S standing for "Seraph".[# 52] His original body, though simple in appearance, was of a highly complex design;[# 32] he was later destroyed by Mr. Eglamore. Replacement bodies have included a robotic mouse.[# 53] He is seemingly in some sort of relationship with Shadow 2. He has developed into a driving force in the robots belief that Kat is in fact an "angel."|
|General Ysengrin||A creature who lives in the Gillitie Wood. He is a wolf, but was given a 'suit' of roots and boughs by Coyote, covering his body up to the neck, usually in a humanoid shape, though he can alter it at will through his power over the trees of the forest.[# 54] He appears to leave it sometimes, for example to eat.[# 55]|
|Coyote||A god who lives in the wood. He is also known as the Trickster,[# 56] although Jones claims that he never lies ("and therein lies the danger").|
|Jones||The instructor in charge of training mediums. Some characters think she is romantically involved with Mr. Eglamore.[# 57] She is incredibly strong, sinks like a rock when she is in water and does not seem to show any emotion, leading some to believe she is a robot, although she denied it when asked. Coyote calls her "wandering eye" when he encounters her, and accuses her of "stealing" the name Jones, implying also that she has done this before with other names - something Jones does not deny. It was revealed she has existed since the formation of the planet.[# 58]|
In addition to being officially recognized at the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards, Gunnerkrigg Court has been critically acclaimed in a number of online reviews, and has a large readership and an active forum. Author Tom Siddell has been interviewed about his work numerous times, mostly by non-mainstream online magazines such as ComixTalk. Kevin Powers of the Comics Bulletin and Graphic Smash listed Gunnerkrigg Court as one of the series he "respect[s]," and ComixTalk (then called Comixpedia) listed Siddell as one of the twenty-five "People of Webcomics" in 2006.
The comic has received praise for its artwork and use of color, dark mood, slowly revealed mysteries, and pacing. Al Schroeder of ComixTalk has called Gunnerkrigg Court's setting "marvelous" and "unique," and said the comic is "delightfully fun" in spite of its moody backdrop. Along with the evolution in art style since the start of the comic, many reviewers have praised the age progression of the protagonists and their maturation with the plot, likening it to that of Harry Potter.
Some reviewers, on the other hand, have criticized its dark and depressing tone as potentially being frightening for younger audiences, also noting that there can be "lots [of information] to take in at times."
Gunnerkrigg Court has been nominated for and has won a number of Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards, shown in the table below. When the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards were discontinued in 2008 and replaced by The Webcomic List Awards (run by The Webcomic List Community) in 2009, it won several of those as well. It was also nominated in 2006 for a Clickie award in the "International Clickie" category at Stripdagen Haarlem, a webcomics festival in the Netherlands.Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation won a 2008 gold book of the year award from ForeWord magazine in their graphic novel category.Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation was nominated for a 2009 Cybils Award in the graphic novel category.Gunnerkrigg Court was nominated for the 2014 Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work.
The Gunnerkrigg Court complex, it turns out, resembles a giant factory. It houses more than just a school. Take a wrong turn, for example, and you may find yourself in a world populated by robots.
Kat's parents are both science teachers.
Beaver and Steve
|Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards: Outstanding Newcomer
|Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards: Outstanding Environment Design
|Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards: Outstanding Dramatic Comic
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