Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell

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Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A lauded internet graphic novel hits the book shelves – and the shelves are delighted by the cheery design, strong characters interacting with the old and new from mythology, and a wealth of intrigue to tease us. Roll on the next volumes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN: 978-1848561755

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While having used the internet for several years now I have never needed to use the favourites option much – there is a routine for my comings and goings online that I can handle, and I don't think I regret losing out on a regular visit to any particular site much. The downside of this is that a lot of online graphic novels have probably passed me by, as I habitually don't form the habit of clicking to them. It's a relief then that one very well-acclaimed example, Gunnerkrigg Court, has come to my attention in book form.

It's a very appealing book, too, in a handy but chunky hardback format when I came to it, presenting the strip's bold, vivid, clean look, on black pages. The artwork hides any digital origin, and gives us just what we want in a quick, easy-to-digest visual language; characters generally look quite manga-styled, but the sparse full-motion action frames underplay those movement lines so beloved of manga artists. Sound effects are used sparingly, too, which is good, and I love the lettering font. Come the end, we are even given a Thank you for reading. To whoever thought to include that, I should reply the pleasure was all mine.

The Court of the title is a bizarre schooling establishment, a labyrinthine industrial pile, somewhere inside which is new girl Antimony. This, of course, will turn out to not be the usual school – it has a spare minotaur, dragons crash through the dorm roof, and there are robotic sentinel parrots that – it turns out – the staff don't know enough about. Neither will Antimony (or Annie as she becomes to her best friend) turn out to the usual school girl. The first chapter proves her to have two shadows, so she immediately builds a robot from spare parts to transport the new one safely away.

Beyond the minotaur there are other mythological creatures that will pop up in the story here and there, but there are so many elements to the fiction that it can provide so many that are old, yet the new ones will overshadow them most pleasingly. The school is such a sprawling behemoth of a building it could have been designed to be a second rate Gormenghast, but instead has an industrial feel.

Elsewhere the story is brightened up by all sorts of things, both expected and unexpected. The book can get perhaps too tangential – witness the episode regarding a fictional moon mission, and the one following that, concerning the powers of a cute Polish girl.

Mention of her brings me to the multi-lingual signs and other hidden details worth scanning the pages for. This does not mean to say one is supposed to pore over everything and absorb it all, finding immense import in everything. This by no means gets to be a geek-fest – even when Hellboy, Batman and Mulder all gather for a tea party, to great comic effect.

The converse of that is the main story arc, which will often revisit characters thought lost, dead or otherwise moved on. If it has a theme, it might be the power of free choice, that at least two characters are happy to discover. This book covers the first year of Antimony's school life here, and only hints at a huge mystery, concerning her dead mother, gods, possession, ghosts – and those parrots – that is bound to cause thousands to rush to the web to gain their regular updates.

I might well become one of them, but for now I shall cherish this book. There's brilliance in the small (just what does cause the men in hazmat suits to visit the science fair?!) and a very compelling reason for me to be restless to know the rest of what comes in the grander scheme of things. Books like these need to instil a huge amount of trust in the reader that they are worth investing effort in – can he really tie up all the odds and ends and keep us in intrigue to the 1,500th page? On this evidence, I think so.

We at the Bookbag must thank Titan Books for our review copy.

For more semi-mythological stories going off at a tangent in graphic novel form, we can recommend Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Nathan Hale.

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Buy Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell at


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