We started on Monday with the Hazardous Players, and we're continuing today with Tom Siddell, author and illustrator of the webcomic-turned-graphic novel Gunnerkrigg Court: Vol. 1, Orientation, which won a 2009 Cybils Award in the teen graphic novels category. (The equally fabulous Vol. 2: Research is also available now!)
Tom Siddell: Originally the story was going to be more adult, but I soon realised that it would be unnecessary to make it so. I decided instead to try and write a story that didn't fall back on any particular crutch to hook an audience. Loads of webcomics (or comics in general, I suppose) use sex or violence to draw in the readers but I didn't see how that would add to the story I wanted to write. I'll definitely avoid certain things now that I have a young adult/all ages audience in mind, but I don't want to pull too many punches or treat the audience like babies. Having a broader appeal simply means the comic is accessible to a larger amount of people, and I've heard from people of all ages who have enjoyed it.
TS: I knew I wanted to include a wide range of mythologies in the story because I didn't want to focus on just one or two legends. I find the idea of all the world's mythologies living in the same realm and interacting with each other a very interesting concept. I don't think I can think of any myths or legends that I didn't find interesting, I like hearing about them all. Those old stories tell us a lot about ourselves as human beings.
In other interviews, you have referred to yourself as an "amateur" graphic novelist. Does this mean you’ve not had any art courses or drawing classes? How do you draw Gunnerkrigg – with traditional pen-and-paper media, or directly on the computer? What programs or media do you use?
TS: No, outside of doing art classes in school (in which I was absolutely the worst, literally) I've not had any drawing or art classes. In fact, I was so bad at it, I went on to do Computer Science at university instead, much to the relief of my parents and everyone else. A lot of the time I wish I'd learned properly, but other times I know I might have ended up hating art if I did it at university (in the same way I hate computers now), and it would have been harder to find a job at the end of it. Some people seem to have a natural aptitude for art, but I certainly don't, and it's been difficult trying to teach myself. I try as best as I can but I still can't get things to look just right, and I have a long way to go towards becoming a decent artist.
As for technical details, I drew the first 17 chapters with ink and paper, but after that I switched to all digital. I just use Photoshop and sometimes Painter.
What does a typical drawing weekend look like for you? What’s the most difficult part of telling Antimony, Kat, and Reynardine's story – the artwork, or the story arc? Unlike many other anime tales, each of the particular threads of the story arc which you begin to explore, you actually come back to – allowing the reader to be confident that all mysteries will eventually be revealed. How do you deal with continuity, with such an extensive story arc and so many episodes? Do you already know the story you will tell? Have you taken writing courses or, like Reynardine, do you simply read a lot?
TS: I got in trouble a lot for getting wrapped up in comics when I was younger, and my drawings were so bad it became uncomfortable for anyone to look at them, so I learned to keep all that kind of stuff to myself. I don't currently know anyone in real life who draws, or reads comics, so it is a solitary gig! My family knows I have a comic and that it is available in books somewhere, but they don't read it and since I don't actually make any money off the comic, the "success" is pretty intangible to anyone not already into webcomics. I think this is common for anyone who works on comics, really. I'm no Jason Beeber or Beyonce Stephens, I still got to get a bus to work every day and sit in an office in order to stay alive!
Gunnerkrigg Court itself is such a place of awesome – side-by-side rooms of magic and science; ghosts with robots, weird fairies in the wood and mythical totem gods. However, we see in more ways than one that the world is divided, at the same time that it is diverse. Antimony herself is a bit of an outcast, different from the other students because of her backstory as well as her unique interests and abilities. Is this theme of identity and alienation a theme that you deliberately set out to include, or did it arise organically as your ideas developed? What attracted you to writing a story with such drastic—but intriguing—juxtapositions?
TS: I've learned to keep my mouth shut! People always say that you should never meet your heroes because you will always be disappointed. Well I know what it's like to be the guy people are always disappointed in meeting, so I think it is better if I keep out of things as much as possible. My favourite part is hearing about people from all walks of life who enjoy the comic. I can't think of anything better. My least favourite thing is that it is easy to feel down about the things some people say on the Internet!
My storyline hasn't changed based on reader feedback, however. I knew that would be a risky road to travel, so I only write what I want to write.
* Do you consider yourself a writer or an illustrator? Neither!
* Do you prefer Ink or Computer? Computer!
* Are you an early bird or a night owl? I go to bed early to get up at 6 every day but I hate mornings!
* Will we ever get the scoop on what’s up with Zimmy? Yes!
Thank you so much to Tom Siddell for spending time on our questions and making us fangirls extremely happy. You can buy the Gunnerkrigg Court graphic novel in physical hardbound form, or start right here with Chapter 1. BUT, READER BEWARE: Gunnerkrigg Court may be habit forming. Ask your physician if Gunnerkrigg Court is right for you. Gunnerkrigg Court readers are at risk of developing a major update dependence on this webcomic. Read only as directed.
Meanwhile, the Summer Blog Blast Tour continues with: