Thursday, January 13, 2011

Webcomic Review: Gunnerkrigg Court (volume 1)

I discovered Gunnerkrigg Court a couple of years ago (one of the libraries had a print copy) and almost didn’t start reading it because of the art in the first few chapters. Almost, thankfully I had the good sense to peak at the later chapters and see that the art did in fact get better and it’s now one of my favorite webcomics. So when I found the first book at my college library I took the chance to reread the first 14 or so chapters (which is what I’ll be primarily reviewing here since the comic isn’t finished yet) and see what foreshadowing I missed the first time around.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell

Summary: Antimony Carver is a new student at the titular Gunnerkrigg Court after he mother passes away and her father goes missing. She is a quiet child who keeps to herself and spends a lot of her time exploring this strange new place. She soon makes a friend in Katerina Dolan, the daughter of two of the teachers and who has lived at the school her entire life, and both of them are constantly discovering that the court is a much stranger place than either of them would have imagined.

The Good: In terms of plot, this webcomic series has one of the strongest out there and I was surprised how much foreshadowing there was in the earlier chapters. Nothing huge, just small details in the background, but the nice thing about foreshadowing is that is proves the author has thought a lot of the story out beforehand* and it gives readers an incentive to reread (ie, buy the books). The first book also ends at the end of the first year so, even though there isn’t an overlapping story arc for the first volume, the book still feels complete.

The Bad: The art is a deterrent and the first few chapters feel a bit disjointed, as if Tom wasn’t quite sure how to start the story so he settled for showing just how strange the Court is until he got going. This book also focuses more on Annie and Kat while the later chapters focus a lot on side characters as well, understandable if you consider the book an introduction to the series but a fourteen chapter introduction is rather long. Finally, Gunnerkrigg Court is a story with a lot of mysteries and a long build up to the reveals so this volume in particular introduces a lot of plot points that aren’t resolved

The Art: Full color pages and it really does get better, loads better later on and that is the case with a number of webcomics actually. The character and background designs start off as simple and awkward drawings (which to be completely frank are rather ugly) but slowly become more defined, more detailed, and less strange to look at. The art shift is notable in this book (the art at the end is much nicer than the first chapter’s) and even more so when compared to the latest chapters, so please don’t let the art put you off. The early chapters in the book are kinda important, so you really can’t skip them, and the art really does become truly gorgeous at points later on.

I’d forgotten until I started writing this review a line said by Annie at the end of the first book “but my father didn’t appear for two more years” and that in verse it’s been almost two years since that point. Considering there have also been a few big reveals recently I think the story is starting to build up to the climax which makes me really excited. I’ve seen a few stories recently that had so much potential in the build up but failed on the delivery (coughTsubasaResevoirChroniclescough) and so far Gunnerkrigg Court is delivering surprising but well foreshadowed twists. You can read the whole thing online for free (legally or I wouldn’t be linking to it) here and the first two books are available for sale on Amazon for a reasonable price. I plan on buying all the books (and possibly some of the prints, like I said, the art now is amazing) someday, maybe it’ll be easier to get my friends hooked on it if I lend them the books….

*Which seems to be my main complaint with various manga series these days, although oddly enough I don’t have that complaint very often about webcomics, huh