Webcomics What’s What: Gunnerkrigg Court

Gunnerkrigg Court is a marvel. It was launched in 2005 by Tom Siddell and has been updating three times a week ever since then (With a few hiatuses and holidays in there). Not surprisingly then the sheer number of comic pages available on his website is staggering. But that wouldn’t be much of an achievement if the story he’s telling was crap.

But it isn’t. It isn’t crap at all. In fact, it’s one of the best fantasy story’s for young adults I’ve ever encountered.

It starts out seeming like it will be a strange story of kids at a magic-filled boarding school — kind of Harry Potter crossed with Edward Gorey with a hefty dose of manga thrown in. But it quickly evolves into an epic sci-fi/fantasy tale filled with robots, fairies, romance and ass-kicking, boarding school adventure.

The art is definitely manga influenced but the mythology the story draws from is part Anglo-Saxon, part First Nations. And it all works together really well.

Oh, and I should mention, unlike Harry Potter, the main characters here are pretty much all women. Which is damn refreshing. I ranted at one point about the lack of quality fiction with female protagonists. Since that time, I’ve gone on a hunt for top-notch, girl-friendly fiction and Gunnerkrigg Court is near the top of that list of awesome finds.

I don’t have time this week to really do a thorough write up about how brilliant this comic is — how the art continues to improve, how rich the story is becoming — but I wanted to mention it at this time because Siddell, the artist behind it, has put up a plea for support on his website.

Up until now, he’s been doing Gunnerkrigg Court in his spare time. He spends a day and a half on it each weekend, he says. But now he is quitting his day job so that he can focus on his comics career. And he’s doing this despite the fact that at present what he’s making off Gunnerkrigg Court in merch and book sales doesn’t pay his bills.

Yet.

There are several examples of web cartoonists who’ve been able to take their online, arty hijinks and turn them into their main day job. Randall Munroe of xkcd fame and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics (believe it or not) are two examples. And then there’s the very awesome Kate Beaton who’s had to reduce how often she updates her comic, Hark! A Vagrant, because she’s getting so many offers of illustration work.

It’s funny. There’s all this hand wringing in the music, film and news industries about how they’re going to survive financially in the internet age. But it’s seems like web comic artists are getting very close to figuring out the problem. So far what they’ve found is if you put out a lot of high quality work on a regular basis — for free! (that’s the key) — you can make an income by selling t-shirts, prints and books. And, you’ll also find that your fans will donate money to your project — either through your website or through Kickstarter — because they want you to keep at it.

Jury’s still out on whether this model can sustain itself. And maybe I’m too enthusiastic by half about it seeing as I’ve also read that the vast majority of web comic artists who’re making a living off their work are sadly making very small livings. But, it’s an exciting direction for things to be going.

And anyway, regardless of how you think things will finally shake out for this funding model, I’d highly recommend you give Gunnerkrigg Court a read. It’s 37 chapters (so far) of brilliance. And then consider buying a print or a Reynardine plushie.

My daughter would be heartbroken if Gunnerkrigg Court had to stop updating.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5’10” tall and he was born in a place. He’s not there now. He’s sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It’s “Girl From Ipanema”, thanks for asking.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.