Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 1: Orientation - Tom Siddell
Following the death of her mother, Antimony Carver begins boarding at Gunnerkrigg Court - supposedly a school, even if it more closely resembles a sprawling industrial facility. There are strange secrets hidden in its labyrinthine halls, and that's before we get to the mysterious forest over the river and the bizarre nature of some of the students. Robot birds; a girl with dirty, pitch-black eyes and an attitude to match; a demonically possessed soft toy; suicidal fairies and a ghost who can't frighten anyone... It's a good thing that Antimony seems able to remain utterly unflappable, whatever she faces.
Looking at the first three chapters of the fourteen contained in this volume, I can kind of see why Siddell had to start out posting his series on the web (here) instead of being snatched up by a publisher right away. The art, at first - especially and crucially when it comes to Antimony herself - is a bit ropey. But by chapter 4 Siddell starts to get into his stride, and shortly the story is being told in exactly the kind of rich, sumptuous, beautifully coloured artwork that I was so keen to own on glossy, high-quality paper. Antimony, her friends, the imaginative settings and creatures are all rendered in a simply gorgeous style.
But it isn't just the imagery that's gorgeous. Gunnerkrigg Court has a heart, a sense of humour and a vibrant, unstoppable imagination. Always understated and reserved - like its heroine - this is a story that blindsides you with its sudden but carefully constructed moments of bittersweet emotion. This is absolutely one of my favourite comics - the perfect combination of art and character to appeal to me - so it's a no-brainer that I think Siddell deserves to get paid for his work. But given that it's also available on the web for free, you've got no excuse not to at least try it on for size.