To the casual observer Gunnerkrigg Court could be described as a Harry Potter comic book with a girl as the main character, but that description just scratches the surface. Tom Siddell has done a uniquely wonderful job intertwining mystical folklore with futuristic robotics and technology.
The main character, Antimony, provides spirituality to the story. She is attending a school that caters to and recruits students and faculty that have links and powers with a super natural element. Although she attends school at Gunnerkrigg Court she has strong ties with the forest that surrounds the school, Gillite Wood. In fact she is studying to become the medium to the forest and its inhabitants.
Meanwhile her best friend and roommate, Kat, is considered an "Angel" by the robots that are plentiful in the Gunnerkrigg Court universe. The robots exist to serve the humans but Kat is disturbed by how they are treated. She sees them more as a society and feels they should have rights. The school itself is shrouded with mystery. It seems almost like a government of sorts. Kat and Antimony’s personalities provide an interesting dichotomy of technology existing next to the spiritual.
Antimony, Kat, and the other students are the token "good guys" that we relate to as we read. Siddell has added dimension to these characters by not allowing them to be perfect. They can be selfish, judgmental, and impulsive. They mean well, though. They are brave and have wonderful intentions but those plans do not always pan out.
Coyote is the one character who cannot be trusted. He is a god who lives and rules in Gillite Wood. He is a trickster and is always up to something. His true motives have not been exposed yet, but whatever he is up to it cannot be good. Although he never lies, he speaks in riddles and reveals just enough to put Antimony in danger.
The students of Gunnerkrigg Court are busy dealing with the same things any other high school students struggle with. They are busy trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. In their case, however, it is not just typical moral conflicts that they struggle with internally.
Instead of just worrying about cheating on homework they most struggle with supernatural powers and creatures. If they make the wrong choice, instead of just receiving a failing grade they could die or change the course of history for the Court. Add that to friendship issues and the always strange and uncomfortable world of teenage dating, and our main characters have their hands full.
Sometimes the creator of a comic is a strong writer but not a good artist or vice versa but Tom Siddell has proven to be extremely multi-talented. He has created a rich and complex universe narratively and aesthetically. His artwork can best be described as crisp and neat. He sticks to a palate of simple drawings and uses just a few colors. Do not think that means his artwork is weak. He has just found a rare balance. His artwork does not distract from the story; it complements the story.
Siddell's artwork pulls your attention to the foreground of the panel. Faces in the background or that are supposed to be far away are either marked with simply lines and dots instead of the full face. Sometimes there will be the outline and color of a character without the face at all. Had someone described that to me as their idea in artwork I would have judged it as a copout, lazing out on a challenging aspect of drawing, but Siddell makes it work. He uses that technique as a device to draw your attention to the important parts of the frame.
Siddell’s story can be a lot to take it at times. A lot of information and action takes place over several pages. At the end of each chapter, however, he adds a light hearted exposition that sort of gives the reader a break from the long story lines. Sometimes it will be just a one page character bio. Other times it will be a couple pages devoted to an interesting class or a comic within the comic, created by the characters of Gunnerkrigg Court. This helps keep the comic light and gives the reader an opportunity to digest everything that just took place before you move on to the next chapter.
One of the best parts of the volume is the treatise at the end. Siddell’s artistry builds up and then climaxes with a picturesque portrait at the end. It is a like a stained glass window at the end of the book that sums up the entire volume. The treatise would have been a much better cover than the frame from within the comic in my opinion. The cover illustrates a very important part of the Kat’s individual story but the treatise is a perfect summation of the volume.
On the left side is Kat with her links to the city, court, and robotics. She is connected to progress and modern day. On the right side is Antimony with her imagery relating to Gillite Wood and all things natural. In the picture Kat and Antimony hold hands. This suggests that Gillite Wood and Gunnerkrigg Court can exist together in peace instead of opposition against each other.
This along with the other volumes would be a great gift or way to introduce girls to comics. Perhaps one of Tom Siddell’s most important achievements overall for comics is that Gunnerkrigg Court includes a female main character. He does so without being too preachy nor with an obvious feminist agenda. Siddell has made Antimony smart, collected, and brave. She is not without fault but that just makes her a better character. He treats the male characters with equal respect. He does not make the males villains or dumb them down.
Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 4: Matteria is a wonderful addition to anyone’s collection. Tom Siddell has found a nice balance between adventure and mystery while still producing a quality piece of art. He has used his talents in a very clever way. I cannot wait until the next volume!