GUNNERKRIGG COURT Webcomic Goes Unplugged

The 'Harriet Potter' of Webcomics gets its first print edition, complete with endorsement by Neil Gaiman.
Archaia Studios Press is bringing writer-artist Tom Siddell's Gunnerkrigg Court--printed and bound--to a comics store near you.

Gunnerkrigg Court is a thrice-weekly webcomic about the tensions between a unique boarding school and the mythical creatures of the local forest.

But that's the broader story. On a smaller scale, Siddell's comic is about Antimony "Annie" Carver trying to fit in at school while dealing with the recent loss of her mother. Interestingly, Annie is largely unfazed to discover body-snatching demons, forest gods, ghosts, minotaurs, robots, dragons and other odd creatures inhabiting the Court. She also finds it hard to mix socially with her classmates. Luckily, she's befriended early on by Katerina "Kat" Donlan, a much more outgoing and personable student who helps Annie come out of her shell over the course of the story.

Like many enduring comic book creations, Gunnerkrigg Court began as a doodle.

"I was sketching one day and I drew a very stylized girl with a bored look that was quite different to the usual stuff I was drawing at the time," Siddell explained to CBR News's GEORGE A. TRAMOUNTANAS. "I did another sketch right after that of the same girl and, wanting to color it but only having a very limited selection of marker pens, put her in an ugly school uniform with some crazy makeup. At that point, I decided that I liked her enough to make a comic about her. I thought up some ideas and drew the first couple of chapters before putting it online, and it went from there."

Readers started to appear. It wasn't quite a "book" in the traditional sense, yet Siddell was pleased.

"I'm not a comics professional, so the only option I had if I wanted people to see my comic was to put it online," he said. "I also really like webcomics in general and think they are a great way to read the kind of stuff you'd never see anywhere else."

Thankfully, site visitors liked what they read in Gunnerkrigg Court. From there, a friend told a friend about who in turn told another friend, and so on until word reached writer Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, American Gods).

"That was probably the biggest boost in the comic's popularity I had," said Siddell, "and Neil even took some time to write a blurb for the back cover of the book."

Although there are no actual size or shape limitations to webcomics, Siddell decided to stick with a classic printed page-style layout. "I started the comic with the intention of having enough pages that I could take it to a local printer and get a hard copy made up that I could hold in my hand."

After finishing the seventh chapter, he happened upon and had the first "book" printed out using print-on-demand. He left it on the site, since it cost him nothing to do so. "Then I was contacted with the opportunity of getting my comic printed professionally, so I decided to go for it. It certainly wasn't something I'd planned, so I guess it was good luck that my pages were already drawn in comic book format."

"Orientation," the first Archaia Studios Press edition of Gunnerkrigg Court, includes the first fourteen chapters of the webcomic, coming in at around 300 pages, and covers Annie's first year at school.

Meanwhile, the online adventures are still going strong. Chapter 18 is on the site, and Siddell is closing out 19. He knows how his story eventually ends, but he has no plans to get there any time soon. After all, he's creating Gunnerkrigg Court for himself, as he did from the very beginning.

"I suppose even if all my readers abandon the comic, I'll still keep it going as long as I'm able and interested in the characters," he said, "which means it should be going for a long time."
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