Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 1): Orientation

Thomas Siddell
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The first fourteen chapters of the award-winning webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court is collected on paper for the first time in one amazing comic collection. This is an all-ages fantasy series from Thomas Siddell that follows a young girl, Antimony Carver, who has begun to attend school at Gunnerkrigg Court following her mother's death. The school is very strange, and many of the initial chapters of the book are short stories that focus on one adventure or other that Antimony goes on as she explores the school, from finding the Minotaur through a secret passageway in the library to having her stuffed dog possessed by a demon who obeys her command. Later on, the stories kind of come together to become something more and begin to feel kind of epic in a way. The only drawback that I've noticed so far is that early on, the art is a little shaky. I can actually point to exactly where Siddell becomes a really good cartoonist: chapter eight, as if Siddell magically put aside any inhibitions he may have had (or practiced a lot in the interim? switched utensils?). It's kind of odd. Up to that point, Siddell had some moments of great cartooning, but from there on out, his characters really take shape and the art becomes much smoother and consistently skilled.
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Antimony Carver is a fully-realized protagonist. She's a bit awkward and strange, and ultimately very lonely, especially since her father has left without telling her where he's gone (although she deludes herself into thinking he will return by this time or that time, though he doesn't). She also takes things in stride. The school ghost in unable to scare her, but she quickly offers advice to him without missing a beat. It's all very fun and the thrills keep on coming, the story moving faster and faster as events proceed. Recent Newberry Award winner Neil Gaiman gives his stamp of approval on the back of the book, with a quote about this great character, and Gunnerkrigg Court was recently a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and deservedly so. It's not too often that something so magical and engrossing comes along, but I'd say that this will turn out to be one of the best books by year's end, and will surprise many people who pick it up. Highly recommended.

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