Gunnerkrigg Court

Gunnerkrigg CourtThe first thing I looked at was the sparse cast page. There is a little data on two characters and for the rest it just links to their first appearance. It struck me as a good way to throw readers into the comic.

GC is set in a huge (and I mean vast) factory in England. There is a well lit bridge across a deep chasm to a dark forest. Then it starts getting odd.

Weird stuff abound such as extra shadows. In the “school”, there is a room labeled “no spare robot parts room.” By chance, they find an abnadoned part of a library with a secret compartment to a maze with no dead ends. The main character sleeps on Bunk 30, which is not 30th in the room. It’s 30 bunks high and reachable only by ladder.

As a parent I was not liking that at all. Maybe its an English thing or inside joke or something.

There are a lot of things like these. Like a dream that goes on and on, only to get stranger at every turn. Speaking of strange, let’s look at the main character.

It’s a little girl named Antimony, who is weird in a morose, glum way. She grew up in a hospital and her mother died. That’s a good partial explanation for her personality but she strikes me like she acts a lot older than grade school age. It is like she’s trapped in this little girl body, resigned to another decade of aging until she’s grown up. She also knows how to pick locks, speaks several languages and some martial arts. That’s a lot for a ten year old. The other characters have their secrets but lack the depth of mystery that Antimony has.

The story reveals itself slowly, mostly through dialog. There is always something happening but it always get resolved with a conversation. Nothing ever seems to have a final consequence. It also seems like you never know all the details for a given character or event. There is probably something you don’t know that really matters.

The art has a certain style which has good contrast, line and color work. It doesn’t have a lot of extra detail but it does provide a clear visual. One thing; the big eyes of the characters became a little disturbing after reading a sizable portion of the archives. I’m not sure why I got that from GC.

Overall, there’s something about it that’s not quite right for me. I have a solid sense of dissatisfaction with it, although it’s hard to describe what is causing it. Perhaps what I am getting most from it is a subtle but seething hostility. Mix in a little despair and frustration tempered by a quiet resolution.

That’s very strange, isn’t it? As I tried to figure out why, I decided to research things. There’s an interview on Comixtalk in which I found my answer.

The artist is seemingly fond of horror. He read a line of books by Alfred Hitchcock when he was younger and One of his first comics was about Freddy Kreuger and Dracula. What that lends itself to are many elements used or mentioned that I just don’t like. I’m just not a horror fan.

(Remember Dash’s teacher from the Incredibles? He was insanely sure that Dash was tacking his chair? Imagine me ranting away in that same tone of voice:) Please note that there is an element named the same as the lead character Antimony. It is metal deathly toxic (like arsenic) and one of its poisoning symptoms is depression. The alchemical symbol for Antimony looks like an upside down version of the symbol for female, as well. There is more, but I’m pretty convinced that the name of the main character was no accident.

GC is a well done,original work and does not have a predictable story, but it is definitely too dark for me. Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Gunnerkrigg Court
http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/
by Tom Siddell
review by Delos Woodruff
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (14 votes, average: 2.93 out of 5)

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23 Responses to “Gunnerkrigg Court”

  1. The Doctor Says:

    I…I don’t believe it. I, The Doctor, the definite article, you might say, actually seem to agree with Delos, Defender of the Eternally Neutral? :)

    I believe that this just MIGHT be one of the signs of the Apocalypse! I’ll be right back as soon as I tell these four guys on horses to get off my lawn.

  2. Delos Says:

    I know! Your thinking finally corrected itself. It’s good to see you make some progress. :)

  3. The Doctor Says:

    Oh sure, steal my lines -

    “You’re improving, Harry - your mind is beginning to work!”
    “Is it really?”
    “Yes, but it’s entirely due to my influence - you mustn’t take any credit for it…”

  4. Talekyn Says:

    And, amazingly enough, Delos and I don’t agree on a comic for once. This is the week of topsy-turvy!

  5. Talekyn Says:

    I had to go read the interview to check out what the references to horror influences were, and I have to point out: “Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators” was about as far away from horror as you could get and still be in the mystery genre. They were, for lack of better terminology, a more contemporary Hardy Boys. Now, I can see the “shadows around every corner, mysteries to solve” aspect of those books influencing Gunnerkrigg.

    I also liked that the interviewer points out something people tend to forget: in addition to Neil Giaman’s (also non-horror) Timothy Hunter preceding Harry Potter, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast was a precedent for Hogwarts and thus Gunnerkrigg.

  6. Larry Cruz Says:

    I never thought I’d see the day Gormenghast would be mentioned around these parts. It’s not one of my favorite books, but I can’t deny that it’s influential. It wasn’t until now I realized exactly just HOW influential. This get me to wondering if every fantasy novel taking place in a vast, labyrinthian castle can be traced back to Gormenghast.

  7. The Doctor Says:

    That explains, then, why I don’t “get,” so to speak, a lot of the nuances of the comics we may read, then. Myself,I’ve never heard of half the books/stories you’re talking about - to be honest, I only began reading fantasy/science fiction once I hit my late 20’s and got introduced to it.

  8. Ivea Says:

    I think you might be reading too much into the name Antimony. I think there’s just as big a chance that Siddell is refering to Antinomy (a type of paradox) and simply playing with the word in her name. Anyway, I think there is defenently an intended mystery with her name, but I have a feeling it’s more complex than that…

  9. The Doctor Says:

    I’d have to disagree. In looking at Delos’ review as a whole, I believe his notice of her name’s spelling and definition is a valid one. The comic itself is very dark, her personality is one that seems glum and depressed, and the name being a deadly toxic element (one of the side effects of which is depression, not to mention the symbol used for it indeed looking like the inversion of the classic female symbol) fits very well with the other observations.

    Is it possible he’s making a play on the name that fits with your hypothesis, or that it’s some deep, dark mystery? Of course it is. However, given the other evidence, it seems the less logical assumption of the two, in my opinion.

  10. Delos Says:

    Ivea,

    Am I making too much of the name? I’m just sure, for one reason or another, the name Antimony is no accident. The things it has been used to symbolize also represent the character Antimony very well. A little more concisely than the other options.

    Just as interesting (and I’m glad you brought it up,) the paradox Antinomy happens where there is “mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws” also lends itself to the comic. There is the Court which is science and the woods which are magical. I thought my wild rant at the end there was enough without adding new words. Since I saw Antimony as being a very dark character, I went with the first option.

    Also, there is Kant’s use (also according to the wikipedia info) of antinomy where sensible theory conflicts with what is perceived. This suggests mysteries around the corner in the Court, if you will. However, it’s more of a stretch than option two.

    With things like this, my rule of thumb is stolen from James Bond…
    Once is coincidence, twice is happenstance. Three times is enemy action. It’s possible that all of these things contributed to the name. Or some small part of them.

    When I see a pattern beginning to develop like you see with Antimony’s name, I can only assume that it was purposeful. He could have named her Matilda or Gertrude or Winona. But he didn’t. Perhaps Mr. Siddell will divulge the origin of the name someday.

    I agree there is mystery surrounding her. There has to be. There are unknowns about all the characters which means the lead character should be the biggest, most exciting unknown of all.

    Thanks for reading!

  11. Delos Says:

    Talekyn,

    Continuing with topsy turvy week, it appears that I,too, am fickle in my reviewing loyalties. :)

    I have never read those AH books, so I humbly accept the correction on that.

    However, Alfred Hitchcock reveled in suspenseful and dark entertainment like the Twilight Zone. He didn’t make happy-ending movies and I’m pretty positive that Mr. Siddell has watched a few horror movies, even if the interview didn’t mention them. I see that influence - Gunnerkrigg is not a happy-ending sort of comic.

  12. Larry Cruz Says:

    I see that influence - Gunnerkrigg is not a happy-ending sort of comic.

    Can’t totally agree with you there, fearless leader. If The Doctor is correct with his Harry Potter/Gunnerkrigg Court analogy, then you should probably know that (SPOILER ALERT!) the Harry Potter series actually ends on a fairly happy note (END SPOILERS!)

    Additionally, I sorta agree with Ivea that there might be too much being made of Antimony’s name. I see her less as a mystery character and more as a fish out of water. In fact, the naming convention reminds me more of the one used in Jeff Smith’s Bone. I guess you could come up with an elaborate explanation why the main female character’s name was Thorn, but as it turns out it’s mainly because a lot of gals in the valley had botanical sounding names.

    But I’m the sort of person who engages and supports speculative rants, so more power to you.

  13. The Doctor Says:

    Well of course it was a happy ending - THEY ENDED. What could be more happy than that? (I’ll wait until the boos and catcalls stop)

    And El Santo … IF I am correct?

    I am The Doctor! :)

    I still think Delos is on the money with his observations and idea about the name - far closer than all the supposition (and less evidence) voiced by others.

    Although the Doctor would like to know why this infernal website constantly greys out things like exclamation points and punctuation if they’re in a certain position on the page, unless you put them in bold.

  14. Sly Eagle Says:

    Few things some of you have NOT mentioned about the name and symbol for Antimony. In alchemy: antimony represents mankind’s animal nature. In addition to the symbol, it’s represented by a wolf. Ho, what’s that stuffed toy she carries around? Furthermore in ancient Egypt and Greece and the surrounding area, antimony was used in cosmetics - eye-shadow, I believe. Coincidence seems impossible to me.

    Her mom gave her the name, the necklace, and the stuffed wolf - this not being some sort of intentional major plot-thing/mystery would be some sort of crime.

  15. Versiani Says:

    “I don’t like (and don’t know well) horror/suspense, thus I don’ like Gunnerkrigg Court. So, if I don’t understand and don’t like, it’s no good at all!”

    Way to go with a ridiculous review.

  16. The Doctor Says:

    Let’s try that another way:

    “I don’t agree with you and I like Gunnerkrigg Court, thus I don’t like your review. So, if I don’t understand your point of view and don’t like, your review is no good at all!”

    Way to go with a ridiculous comment on his review.

  17. Delos Says:

    No, I don’t like horror at all and I’m afraid that all of GC’s fans are going to have accept that. Further, I didn’t say that Gunnerkrigg Court was “no good.” What I ended the review with, in fact, was:

    “GC is a well done,original work and does not have a predictable story, but it is definitely too dark for me.”

    Those first three things are positive, in my opinion. While I found the setting and concept very strange and not to my liking, the comic itself is technically well executed by a talented artist.

  18. Versiani Says:

    Nice inversion, Doc.

    Anyway, Delos, I read and understand that. But my criticism go to the little effort in this matter - the real critic of a comic. You should give more attention to what the comic are (and what it don’t), the good and bad points, than what you like or not about.

    At least, this is what I think. What I espect from a review. I don’t espect you to like the comic or give a sweetie critic of it, you see.

  19. The Doctor Says:

    In expressing what he likes or doesn’t, he is giving more attention to what the comic was or wasn’t, from his point of view. Are you expecting, perhaps a more in depth or technical review on the artistic merits/qualities of the comic? (I’m guessing you meant critique, not critic, of the comic) If so, I don’t think that’s what this site does - or it doesn’t seem to, anyway.

  20. Versiani Says:

    No, Doc. I know that and don’t want you or Delos to go more depth or technical.

    I just expected more… “development”. I read your review about GC, Doc, and even if I disagree with most of what you say, I can understand your reasons. But I can’t see the same in Delos review.

    I know the position of Delos about reviews, but he didn’t make this one very clear. I see a little about Antimony in contrast with other characters, her name, the depressive tone Delos senses in the comic… but that’s all. I didn’t see how or why.

    And, anyway, aside for some esthetic, there’s no room for horror. Gunnerkrigg Court are depressive, I agree, yet very heart warming.

  21. The Doctor Says:

    Ahh ok - I understand now, and I appreciate you clearing that up. Guess now we’ll wait and see what Delos says about the whole thing.

  22. delos Says:

    Versiani is quite right that I did not go into the depth I perhaps should have. This was an instance where everything pointed to the same conclusion for me. I resorted to a more general review since pointing out specific examples seemed like I was merely pointing out the obvious.

    Take, for instance, the initial setup: You have a little girl whose mother has died tragically and father has (in effect) abandoned her to an isolated factory/school. Most factories I’ve worked in are very unfriendly places that are dirty, filthy places which also smell awful and are usually freezing cold or boiling hot. The art did not leave me with the impression that the place smelled pleasantly of lavender, if you take my meaning. Add to this is the isolation and coldness which seems to be a part of the boarding school background.

    Now, this little girl who rightly should be in a terrible state of mind has no safe person to turn to and no safe place to even lay her head down. At best, she finds herself speaking to frightful things and in some strange and very unfriendly places.

    Comics typically have such dramatic extremes and even things that don’t (or can’t possibly) exist are to be expected and taken as believable. However, the things mentioned above would be catastrophically and permanently fatal to any child’s sense of safety and normal personality. Many people who have had just one of these sorts of things happen to them (death of a parent, etc) never fully recover. This little girl cannot possibly be comfortable, feel safe or be anything but an emotional mess - even in a comic.

    At that point, my opinion was that everything basically points toward despair and depression. I felt like I would have been restating the obvious to go into any depth about it. That seems to be part of what people enjoy about the comic.

  23. Versiani Says:

    “That seems to be part of what people enjoy about the comic.”
    Yeah, because this are a comic, not real life.

    And you don’t have all this background right at the first chapters. The history behind Antimony progress very slowly, without losing the mystery. You don’t are exposed to so much dramatically facts just in the first pages.

    But, even if you have all this at one shot, things don’t change at all. Everyone, every history has your bitter and sour times, but things go on. The good thing, and the hearth warming point behind GC, is the characters getting through that and growing.

    Anyway, I’m not here to complaining about you opinion of the comic. With this last comment I get exactly what you wanted to say, and understand it very well. I’m really glad for that.

    Well, at least, sorry my first approach. I don’t act very… “gently” at the time. My bad, I’m really sorry for that one. And excuse my poor english – I’m not very experienced with the language, you see.

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