All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los Angeles‘ Make March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 17), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.
To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ll be focusing on kids’ comics and childhood favorites, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.
This month, I’m giving some love to the books that aim to bridge the gap between readers new and old. All-ages comics – the stories that live up to that idea in the literal sense, creating a story that will engage the young, the old, and everyone in-between. Last time, we covered Katie O’Neill’s graphic novel, Princess Princess Ever After, which subverted some of Disney’s most popular tropes with a cute, fast-paced romance.
This time, we’re talking about the long-running webcomic, Gunnerkrigg Court, serialized in hardcover volumes by Archaia.
Thomas Siddel’s Gunnerkrigg Court, which still updates today, launched in 2005. That is, as of next month, thirteen years of comics… an achievement of which most webcomic creators can only dream. I bought the first volume, a thick hardcover that collects the first fourteen chapters, way back before Boom! Studios purchased Archaia. In the early days of my career as a comics writer, I would go to one convention per year – New York Comic Con – and wait to buy comics until Sunday. That’s when the prices were slashed, you see. Archaia always had amazing deals then, and I would load my bags with hundreds of dollars worth of their gorgeous hardcovers that I would then have to walk all the way back to the train. My back heart, but my heart was full. I’ve never enjoyed conventions as much as I did in those early days, when it was all new, and there are still, to this day, many books I’d bought back then but have yet to read. Including, until today, Gunnerkrigg Court Volume One: Orientation.
Now, when I write about comics for Blastoff, I usually do so to highlight books that I like – comics that caught my eye, that I bought and enjoyed, that I believe deserve your attention. I find myself trying a lot of first issues and first books, and then moving on… just because there is so much out there. I’m saying all of this because I want you to understand that, of all of the many books I’ve covered for Blastoff Comics over the past few years, Gunnerkrigg Court is my absolute favorite. It’s the first series that I’ve read in a very long time where, after a few chapters in, I stopped reading and looked up how many volumes had been published. I haven’t loved a cast of characters and a world so fully, so instantly since perhaps all the way back to Harry Potter.
Let’s talk about why.
Gunnerkrigg Court completely lacks what you expect from a comic. It isn’t interested in dramatic page-turns. Each chapter varies in length rather than structuring itself to fit into a specific page count. It’s episodic, with chapters that stand alone, chapters that focus solely on character, chapters that completely break the previously established tone but then bring it all back down to make it work, chapters that push the overall arc forward while still giving a satisfying ending. Perhaps best of all, it’s not at all concerned with over-explaining, which is a problem I see in not only a lot of all-ages comics, but these days a lot of comics in general. How many #1 issues have you read that seems to rush out a bunch of unnecessary backstory? Gunnerkrigg Court seems to be the polar opposite of that – writer/artist Siddell shows no concern for explaining his world. As the characters encounter it, so, too, do we. This gives it perhaps the most casual style of narration I’ve ever read in comics. It feels like I’m being told a story by a friend. I have questions as they come up, by my friend just smiles, says “All in time” and continues with the story.
Beyond the style, the characters and the world are utterly unique. It all takes place at the eponymous Gunnerkrigg Court, a mysterious school that the students all seem to agree is more than just a school. Their classes are very science and technology focused, with incredibly advanced tech being introduced as if it’s no big deal, but there are also mythological and supernatural creatures both in the school and beyond its walls. The mythology rolls out very gradually, unfolding in a way that creates the feeling that the reader is sneaking out of bed to explore the school with the characters.
The lead character is Antimony Carver – Annie for short – who is a calm, inquisitive, intelligent girl. She’s a bit of an outsider to all but her best friend Kat, a sweet and energetic student with a big heart. Their crew is rounded out by Antimony’s stuffed animal who is possessed by a demon named Reynardine, a shadow from the woods beyond the school named Shadow 2, and a robot named Robot. My favorite character, though, is Zimmy, an angry student who suffers from hallucinations that cause her to be rather unpleasant. Her eyes are covered by a strange black goo that oozes from her face. There is a beautiful chapter here where Zimmy and her girlfriend Gamma are looking forward to the rain and, when it begins, Zimmy goes to play in it, and the black goo washes away from her face, exposing shining, happy, red eyes.
Outside of the box, inquisitive, warm, and original, there aren’t many books out there like Gunnerkrigg Court. It is simply an amazing story that delivers not only everything that I look for in comics… but everything I wish comics could dare to be more often.
NEXT UP: An Aurora Grimeon Story: Will O’ The Wisp