Webcomic Spotlight: Interview With Gunnerkrigg Court Creator Tom Siddell
A look at the magic, myths, and robots of the Court!
Gunnerkrigg Court is a webcomic full of elaborate mythologies, loving friendships, dark mysteries, and robotic hijinks. Recently, its creator, Tom Siddell, agreed to talk a bit about the origins of the Court and some of the background behind the stories that have come out of it.
Alex Townsend (TMS): Gunnerkrigg Court draws on many mythologies for its stories. Have you always been interested in myths? What stories are your favorites?
Tom Siddell: I’ve always loved myths and legends from around the world, and I knew I’d want to put a bunch of them in the comic when I started it. In particular I enjoy the Black Dog myths of the British Isles and the surrounding lore related to them. The trickster god Coyote and Renard the fox, for example, are mythological equivalents from different parts of the world, so I included them in my story as cousins and it’s been really fun making them my own characters while still drawing from their real world “history”.
TMS: How did you initially come up with Antimony and her mysterious school?
Siddell: I was just sketching one day and drew a sketch of a stoic-looking girl that eventually became Annie. At the time I wasn’t doing much with my art other than drawing the odd character floating in white space, so I was looking for something to break me out of a rut. I’d been wanting to work on a comic so I’d be forced to work on backgrounds and improve my work and perhaps tell a story, as well. Looks like I’m still doing that!
The school and the whole of the Court is basically based on my old school and Birmingham, the town I currently live in. I wanted it to be a big, sprawling industrial looking area, but still quite a lonely place. It’s rare in the comic to see other people wandering around as they students are usually left to their own devices when they are not in class.
TMS: How do you design your more creative elements, such as Lindsey, Coyote’s various forms, and the other monsters and ghosts of the series?
Siddell: When I come to include something in the comic, either drawing on existing mythology, or something totally new like Lindsey (who is a creature I made up based on Eurypterids and other Merostomata) I try to take their designs in unexpected directions. Coyote is directly based on depictions I came across when doing research, but I also wanted his design to be of my own creation, so he looks kind of like a horse and a greyhound made out of taffy, not much like a coyote at all. I like to show readers something they might not have seen before, which is also why I like some of the obscure myths and the chance that gives me to present my own interpretations of them in the story.
TMS: Do you ever make a deliberate effort to include diversity in your stories (people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, etc.)? Would you like to include more in the future?
Siddell: It might be bad to say that I don’t make a deliberate effort to include diversity, but I do try show a wide range of people and characters that reflect the general area and my experiences. The story is set somewhere in the UK, so the cast represents a mixture of people. The main character, Annie, is British, but her friend, Kat is half Scottish, half Gitano. Her girlfriend, Paz, is from Galicia, which is where my mom’s family is from (I’m half Spanish). Renard and Ysengrin are from France and there are characters from Poland, Slovenia, the Americas, and other places. Europe has a greatly diverse background, in my opinion, and while we will be seeing many more interesting characters in the future, I hope that I can portray their involvement in the story as naturally as possible.
TMS: What was your process in deciding Kat and Paz should get together? Was that something that happened organically for you or was it a deliberate choice? What was Kat’s (and Paz’s) thought process to become okay with being in a same-sex relationship?
Siddell: Kat was always designed as a very amorous character, much more so than Annie. It’s been part of the way I contrast the personalities of the main characters right from the start. In this sense, Kat has always been more open to thinking and talking about relationships which Annie has thus far always dealt with a sort of detached bemusement. So when the time came for Paz and Kat to start dating, Kat (and the reader) didn’t really know how Annie was going to react. It would have been easy and obvious to launch into a debate on same-sex relationships because that’s how I normally see this kind of thing treated and it quickly becomes the Point (with a capital P) of these kinds of arcs, but the main focus of the comic has always been the friendship between Annie and Kat. Annie reacted badly at first, but she would have reacted exactly the same way if Kat turned up with a boyfriend. She was worried there would be a rift created between them and they would see less of each other as their priorities change. It’s a little selfish of Annie, which is another flaw in her character that I like to examine, but the fact that Paz is a girl isn’t an issue. I enjoyed pointing this out by illustrating that Annie came to the revelation that Kat is open to date girls a while back during a conversation that happened off panel. It’s an irrelevant detail to her. Annie knows enough ancient myths and historical stories to know it’s not that big a deal.
As for Kat and Paz’s thoughts about the “issue”, I tried to illustrate them in the chapters that deals with the arc. A lot of Kat’s preconceptions came from herself, and even Renard says that she isn’t “weird”. As a mythical creature himself, he was a literal fox when he fell in love with a woman, and he’s been around long enough to know it’s not unheard of. Kat is a modern kid, immersed in pop-culture, and along the way she probably picked up the notion that people were going to be mad at her for something she didn’t have control over.
TMS: On a similar note, you’ve strongly hinted that Robot and Shadow as well as Zimmy and Gamma are also in romantic relationships. Do you feel that’s true or would you say the situations are more complicated than that?
Siddell: I can say with no uncertainty that Zimmy and Gamma are a couple, and the same goes for Robot and Shadow, though it is true that their situations are much more complex than that. I’ve tried to put different types of relationships in the story, but tried to not limit myself to only talking about gender or biology. Zimmy and Gamma are a couple, but the important aspect is the unhealthy nature of the relationship and how they treat each other. Robot and Shadow are a couple, but the important aspect is how they are creatures that are changing over time and how they reconcile their feelings. James and Jones could be said to be in a relationship, but them being a man and a “woman” doesn’t make it simple. I have a heterosexual married couple in the story, but they both happen to be intelligent sea creatures, one the size of a house and the other no bigger than a bucket (Lindsey, as mentioned earlier, and her husband Bud).
I try to keep it fun and interesting. I’d hate for my comic to seem like a lecture for any particular point of view. It’s the comments and positive feedback I get from my readers during these arcs that let me know they appreciate it too. I’ve heard from many great people about the different relationships they enjoy in the comic and I enjoy having that aspect to the story (looking at different relationships I mean), but I’m happy to keep it as a side point that compliments the main plot.
TMS: What made you decide to include so many robots in a mostly fantasy-based setting? Why are they the comic relief?
Siddell: As well as enjoying mythology, I’ve always loved sci-fi, and instead of choosing one over the other, I decided to put them both in the comic. The robots and the mythical creatures represent the two opposites of the Court and the Forest in the main story, and they are also represented by the two main characters. While the two girls use their differing skills and experiences to compliment and help each other, the world around them is not quite so harmonious. Also, I like funny robots because they are just little gremlins trying to find a place in their world and while they are mainly in the background, they have recently been getting more serious as they try to understand themselves and the role they play.
TMS: A lot of the recent chapters have dealt with Annie and Kat dealing with internal fears and personal flaws (such as Kat’s internalized homophobia and Annie’s issues with selfishness). Were these arcs planned or did they come up naturally?
Siddell: While I think Kat would be dismayed to hear she had internalized homophobia, the story was always going to be about the main characters growing up and dealing with their issues. At the outset, Annie is seen as stoic and together, but that was just hiding a lot of her problems that were buried beneath the surface and now she is dealing with them out in the open. Some of the specific character development arcs came about naturally, but they were all done in a way that aids the story as a whole. I have a definite end in mind for the whole story and I make sure that anything I add is in service to that end.
TMS: You’ve started creating side-stories for GC. Can you tell us what future ones you have in mind?
Siddell: Yeah, I want to do a bunch of side stories that either involve situations that I had to keep out of the main story due to brevity, or characters that we don’t get to see too often. I’m working on a short story with Zimmy and Gamma (the readers always want to see more of them) and I want to spend some time looking at the life of one of the teachers that used to be an ex fairy from the forest. I also have something in mind with Hetty, a character that was only in the comic a short while. I see the side comics as my chance to take things in weird directions. It’s almost like taking a break from the main story.
TMS: Who is your favorite character right now?
Siddell: Annie has always been my favorite. I guess she has to be since she is the main character. The readers only get to see certain parts of Annie in the comic, but I know what else is going on in her head, and I look forward to bringing that all to the fore.
TMS: Can you give us any hints about what’s coming up for GC?
Siddell: Yes! It will continue to be updated Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays!
TMS: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Siddell: Yes! What character do you like, and why? Also I’m thinking about buying a new banjo, since the one I have for practice is just a cheapo one from Amazon.
Interview got you curious? Looking to read or reread a great comic? Gunnerkrigg Court can be found here!
Alex Townsend is freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!
—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—