Queer Comic Review: Gunnerkrigg Court

August 27, 2014 in inQueery

banner-gkThere are a lot of reasons to recommend Gunnerkrigg Court, the first of which is that it’s just a really good comic.

Set in the boarding school that gives the comic its name and purpose, Gunnerkrigg Court is about a young girl named Antimony Carver and her many adventures. The basic structure will be familiar to most readers of fantasy: a new student arrives at a mysterious school and begins to discover both more about its secrets and some secrets of her own. More mystifying than even the court are the woods across the bridge, which house an incredible variety of mythic creatures, including the trickster god Coyote.

The story follows Antimony (or, as she is called more often, Annie) as she attempts to uncover the secrets that permeate the court, with questions ranging from “how as the court founded?” to “what’s going with all these laser cows?” The art starts off stylish and becomes beautiful, and the story follows this evolution by becoming increasingly complex. And while the stories are intricate and interesting, they can also be plain hilarious.

You may have noticed that these reasons, while all fantastic reasons to start reading, don’t seem to have a lot to do with the main subject of these columns. Gunnerkrigg does in fact have some incredibly written and developed LGBT content. It’s heartfelt, feels true to life, and has been featured prominently in the main story. But the actual development within the comic is so well done that it feels like cheating to give the story away. So if the basic premise plus the promise of a queer storyline is enough to sell you, I highly recommend you stop reading this now and start reading this instead.

But if you want to know more, there’s a lot to tell.

Even in the earliest chapters, we’re soon introduced to some quietly implicit queer relationships. There’s the codependent partnership of Zimmy and Gamma – a girl cursed to see the world in horrific symbols, and the only girl who’s ever been able to calm the visions. Their relationship is complicated, overall difficult to describe, but it’s undeniable from the very beginning.

The story follows with the strange relationship of Shadow and Robot – two characters who exist outside of the gender binary altogether. Their partnership grows throughout the comic to almost become a symbol of unity between the factions of forest and court. But more importantly than that, it’s a symbol of unity between themselves – a key moment later in the comic comes with the realization that Robot loves their friend.

But the development that takes the most time to come to fruition happens to be the one with the most relevance both to the plot and to the general queer experience. Annie’s best friend, Kat Donlan, begins her romantic journey by falling in love with a boy who ends up becoming a bird.
And what queer girl hasn’t had that experience?
In actuality, the relevant scenes start to come many chapters after this somewhat disappointing first experience. The first inklings of what’s to come appear as Annie and Kat sneak out with a group of other friends for some good old-fashioned teenage rebellion. As the students break up into smaller groups, Kat tries to comfort her friend Paz – who panics and tells Kat she’s not interested in girls.

This small event is the first in a chain of events that are at times achingly familiar – Kat begins to present more aggressively femininely in order to convince herself and others she’s “normal.” She luckily sheds this false presentation soon after, just in time to be asked out by the girl who started this tailspin in the first place. And even when she says yes and things seem to be going well, she’s stuck in the awful uncertainty between friends and more than friends that plagues so many intimate friendships.

All of these events are surrounded by magical dramas and fantastical happenings, but they still manage to be an incredibly realistic depiction of early queer awakening. Sometimes it’s almost too much – it can be like reliving all the most awkward parts of your already all-too-awkward youth. But there’s something cathartic in seeing the missteps along the way. It’s a gentle reminder that sometimes the road to self-acceptance has a bump or two in the form of an awkward pink headband or a quick check what “friend” means.

These events all happen gradually and subtly, and pay off in the adorable ongoing relationship. (At the time of writing this, the latest update features the two of them heading to a dance together – with special note of Kat going comfortably in more androgynous dress.) And it’s this reflection of reality that manages to feel the most important. Although it’s a strange relief to see the insecurities you never knew other people even had, it’s even more gratifying to see them resolve into a happy, stable relationship. It’s just plain nice to have a reminder that sometimes things work out. Even after your first relationship ends in an aviary.

Gunnerkrigg Court is written by Tom Siddell, and can be found at gunnerkrigg.com and in hard copies at Topatoco. It updates regularly on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to read the new pages as soon as they go up at midnight.

Ellen Perry is a Guest contributor at InQueery and a volunteer at the Pacific Center.