Tom Siddell – Interview

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Tom Siddell is the writer and artist responsible for Gunnerkrigg Court. I previously wrote a review of sorts for the comic back here, and now I got a chance to interview the author.

We discussed story telling, art style, story structure, characterisation and more!

1) The story of Gunnerkrigg Court has become very long and complex in places, with lots of different arcs intersecting and dividing. How much of it did you plan out in advance and what kind of notes do you keep on it?annie and others

I planned some of the major arcs near the beginning of the comic, things like the plotline with Annie’s father, and some of the larger issues, but generally the way I plan the comic is fairly flexible. I enjoy letting it take its own course sometimes, but I try not to let it get out of hand. Before I go in a certain direction I think carefully about how all the plot threads tie together and I won’t include something that isn’t going to be resolved later. I was a little clumsy with that at the beginning of the comic when I was still finding my feet, but I’m pretty happy with how things are progressing now. There are still a few long running plot threads that haven’t been resolved yet, and I enjoy keeping those in the background and getting back to them when the time is right.

2) What got you into story telling? Can you talk about some of your early projects and stories that may have led into Gunnerkrigg?

Jones with hatI guess I’ve always enjoyed stories. Reading them and making up my own. I used to spend a lot of time when I was younger thinking up plots, or even just characters and situations that I would hope to one day work on to completion. Gunnerkrigg, however, is my first attempt at a real comic.

I thought I’d spent long enough wishing I could start a comic and just jumped in feet first. Some of the characters that ended up in Gunnerkrigg are old characters that I’ve had around for years and not used in anything, and they were a good fit for the comic. Aside from that, I still have lots of ideas for stories I’d like to get to once Gunnerkrigg is finished.

3) The art in the comic has evolved and developed in leaps and bounds, how conscious of the changes were you as you were making the comic?

I knew that the style I used would change over time, I hoped for it, in fact. Since we were going to be with the characters for a long time in the story, I tried to tie in the changes to my style with the fact that the characters were growing up and changing over time. I still have a long way to go before I’m happy with the artwork, but I can see a drastic change when I go back to the first pages. I hope I’ll continue to improve!

4) You’ve dealt with some pretty heavy themes. How deep into the characters psychology and mental health do you feel comfortable exploring? Is it something you think needs to be done more in media?kat and annie

With my own characters I’m comfortable with exploring basically anything. If it feels natural then I’m notgoing to dismiss something without taking it into consideration first. The main rule I follow is making sure the themes I explore pertain to the plot or help round out the story and characters. I think exploration like this should be done as long as it leads to a richer story or better characters. Media, any kind of media, should be able to explore any possible subject, in my opinion, as long as it’s geared towards the appropriate audience.

5) Many of your characters subvert often repeated tropes (especially within sci-fi and fantasy, and especially for female characters); how deliberate was this?

Antimony Carver2Oh, very deliberate!

I started Gunnerkrigg Court as a comic that I wanted to read myself, so I’ve been able to deal with various tropes or clichés that I’ve found annoying in the past. For example, I made a deliberate choice to not include a character who spends their time saying things like “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!”

When Annie and Kat find a trap door leading into darkness under Kat’s workshop, their natural instinct is to go exploring, not umming and ahhing about possible danger. They deal with that stuff as and when they need to. Plot lines that revolve around character conflict that could be resolved by the characters simply talking to each other is something that I very much try to avoid too.

6) Do you think that female characters are getting better treatment these days than before? Do you see yourself as part of this movement towards more complex and layered female characters in media?

I don’t see myself as part of any particular movement, no. I only aim to have interesting and complex characters in general, regardless of gender or sex. I’ve never had a problem personally finding great female characters in the stories I grew up reading, but I can understand the frustration many people might feel when faced with the most apparent, mainstream media. I’ve had great feedback about my characters and people seem to really enjoy what I’m doing, so I hope I can keep people interested and do a good job.

7) How far ahead do you tend to be in production of the comic?

I like to have a buffer of between twenty to thirty pages done in advance. This helps make sure I never miss an update, and gives me some breathing room in an emergency where I might not be able to work on the comic for whatever reason.

8) You regularly attend conventions, like the MCMs and such; what have those experiences been like? Are they now an essential part of the web comic world?ReyWolf

I love going to conventions! They are a lot of work to get set up for, so I only do two in the UK and I’m tryingto go to more US cons. The experience of meeting people who read the comic and getting to talk to them face to face is well worth the effort, however. Working on a comic is a pretty solitary job, and it’s nice to get away from the computer screen and talk to people who read and enjoy the story I’ve been making. I’m not sure if I would call conventions “essential”, but they are a big part of comics culture that I think people should take part in. You get to see what’s out there and take part in an active, fun environment. Thanks to the internet there are many different avenues to advertise or generate an income from your work, so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t make it to every con, but there is something great about working hard over a few days, selling your work to people face to face and, if you’re lucky, making some decent money from it.

9) What has been one of your favourite chapters to write so far?

she died and we did nothingI think my favourite chapter is Chapter 25, Sky Watcher and the Angel.

It brought a lot of important details to the fore, and I just had a good time working on it and I’m really happy with how it came out.

We get to see the main characters going about their business from the perspective of a minor observer and get a glimpse as to how their actions might affect them.

10) Is there any particular panel or combination of panels you are especially proud of?

I guess a lot of the sequences in Chapter 25. I tried to convey slow zooming shots using panel sequences, and scenes like the recorded flashback that takes place were really interesting to work out.

11) And finally, would you like to let everyone know about your other projects and where they can find your stuff?

Antimony CarverCurrently I’m writing a comic based on the popular tabletop card game MUNCHKIN for BOOM! Studios which has been really fun so far. You can find them in any comic shop and people seem pretty excited by it.

I’m also working on various side comics based, but not set in, Gunnerkrigg Court. I’m releasing those as limited print runs with a view to eventually collect them into a collection that I want to try self publishing. I think it would make a nice companion book to the wonderful print editions of my comic that Archaia publishes for me.

Speaking of which, my printed volumes are being re-released as soft covers, so it’s great to see them in a new format and hopefully reaching more readers who might have missed some of the earlier editions.

I also have a Patreon which has been a great way to get support from my readers, and for that I’m doing a series on Youtube where I go back over each chapter in my comic and talk a little about each one.

gunnerkrigg-court-annie-and-kat

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.