Friday, October 28, 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation


Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation by Tom Siddell

I've been fascinated for a while now with the fusion of text and graphics that comprise graphic novels. The problem I find is that most comics and graphic novels are geared toward a male audience. While it's great that there are books for the numerous guys who are reluctant readers, I wish there were more graphic novels that appealed to women—especially women who are strong, smart, and dress in actual clothes. So I was ecstatic when I found Gunnerkrigg Court, a captivating series of graphic novels for teen girls.

In the first volume, Orientation, Antimony Carver arrives at the gloomy Gunnerkrigg Court, a British boarding school that looks more like a factory than a school. Sounds normal enough, but that illusion fades within the first few pages as strange things start to happen.

Soon enough Antimony discovers that her parents—her mother recently deceased and her father missing—are intricately tied to this school and the mysteries that surround it. Events at Gunnerkrigg may even hold the key to understanding what happened to her parents.

Antimony's world is a dark one populated with robots, demons, and forest gods, but it also one in which she and her pre-teen classmates can still have fun. This isn't a humorous book by any means, but there is a quirkiness to the situations and scenes that give it a certain kind of depth I've only found in graphic novels. The best comparison I can make is to Emily the Strange, another graphic novel series* I absolutely adore. As with Emily the Strange, there's something youthful but dark about the illustrations that I find fascinating.

While some of the chapters in this volume feel a bit episodic—which makes sense considering the series started out as a web comic—enough of the the overarching plot threads are woven throughout that it all fits together well.

This volume ends much like the Harry Potter books: at the end of the school year but with enough mystery to propel readers immediately into the next book.

Now all I have to do is track down the rest of the series since my library only carries the first. (Why do they do that‽) This is definitely a series I'd recommend, though it might be a bit tougher to find a copy.** 

* There is a series of books for teens featuring Emily the Strange that are mainly text-based but with graphic elements. The original graphic novels are much darker, though just as compelling, and fit more into the traditional comic style. 

** Hint: All of the books in this series is available online through Indiebound, even if your local indie doesn't carry them.

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