Tom Siddell's webcomic sensation, "Gunnerkrigg Court," releases its second volume through Archaia this November, and, with a little fantasy and adventure shows readers why school is cool again. The comic follows the life of student Antimony "Annie" Carver as she explores the nooks and crannies of the Court and its surrounding area. When she first arrived at the Court with her mother's death still fresh in her mind, she was a wet-behind-the-ears newbie, but during her first year, she built robots, trained a ghost in how to be terrifying, survived a dragon attack, captured the demon Reynardine in her toy stuffed wolf, and discovered gods living in the surrounding forest – and all evidence points to her second installment being just as exciting.
"The theme of the second book is discovering things that happened in the past," said Siddell. "This means we'll get to see more about the origins of the Court, some of Annie's history when she lived in the hospital with her mother, and how Reynardine came to be stuck in the Court, as well as some other things. Annie will also begin training as a medium, so we'll be seeing some new characters as well as general life around the Court."
As a webcomic with a large fan following, Siddell has built up a mythology worthy of its own civilization surrounding Gunnerkrigg Court and its students, staff, classes – even Gods. "The Court basically acts as a gathering point for all sorts of myths and legends, new and old," he said. "I wanted a place where I could pick and choose which stories I found interesting and weave them into my own story to see how they play out. The background of the Court itself is a mystery that will be explored in the story, but it's a place dedicated to scientific research despite being situated next to (and once part of) a massive forest teeming with supernatural life. One might find the Trickster God Coyote hiding in the trees, or a student that was a former fairy, but the staff of the Court seem to want to ignore all that and focus solely on what can be examined in a lab."
As the webcomic grows and the story continues, Siddell is constantly adding to his cast of characters while continually fleshing out the existing players. But with a bit of planning, he's able to keep track of it all to excellent results. "I try to round out all the characters I use in the story before they make an appearance so I can be sure I know how they would act in certain situations," he said. "Sometimes it can be hard to convey just what I have in mind with some characters, as I like to reveal parts of their personality through their actions or the way people treat them. Usually, though, I like to think I could get any two of the characters in a scene together and know exactly how it would go down. As for the stories, a lot of the time an idea for a chapter can be based just on certain character interactions I find interesting and I'm eager to show the reader. Keeping things interesting is the challenge, as well as pressing the plot forward and keeping things relevant. I don't really show anything unnecessary, even if it seems like I might be using a throw-away gag or situation. I like to keep the readers on their toes!"
Much like the webcomic's story, Siddell's art is constantly evolving – and looking back on his early comics isn't the easiest thing. "It can be pretty tough!" he said. "I can't look back on stuff that is more than a few months old and feel that it looks very good, so I can't help but cringe a little when I see the early chapters of the story, and that they are finalized in print with no chance of being able to redraw them. I'm still a long way off where I want to be with my art, and I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I'll be completely happy with it, but looking back over the early chapters lets me know I've at least improved a little. I also hope that readers of the comic will enjoy the changes to the art and characters as they grow over time."
Siddell's work on "Gunnerkrigg Court" has reached all corners of the world and all different kinds of fans, and the new hardcover will no doubt help expand his fanbase. "I always enjoy hearing from readers who like the story," he said. "Now that the first book is in print, I'm also getting word from people who have found the book in libraries and all sorts of other places, and it's just great." But the author's favorite story comes all the way from Asia. "["Gunnerkrigg Court is being used by] a teacher in Thailand who is teaching English as a second language to young children. There are videos of them on YouTube performing puppet shows of some of the chapters in my book. The teacher even showed me some letters they had written to the characters on Valentine's Day."
To wrap up, we asked Tom Siddell about his robotic cows in the current "Gunnerkrigg Court" storyline found online – and what other livestock he might like to roboticize. "I would like to make a robot goat, capable of eating the Internet," he said. "It would probably be called the Intergoat. Intergoat 2.0 would be wireless."
Check out Tom Siddell's "Gunnerkrigg Court: Volume 2" Hardcover from Archaia in November, as well as the online webcomic at http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/.