Gunnerkrig Court vol. 8: Catalysis (HC edition) – Thomas Siddell

4 out of 5

In the few long-running series I’ve stuck with, the reason that is “few” tends to reveal itself eventually, when storylines peter out and what felt like planning shifts to a plotting-just-ahead-of-time construction. I would hang on to the books, figuring things would bounce back, with fond memories of how good something was at the start, but then when I go back to reread, some of the issues are actually present, right from the start.

I’ve reread Gunnerkrig Court every time a new volume is released, and my excitement when I get back up to date has never dimmed. And I think a big key to that is very present in volume 8: commitment. Writer / artist Thomas Siddell commits to his world and characters, and the changes that he enacts along the way. Perhaps this is due to the webcomic source as opposed to many books writing specifically for trades, but whatever the cause, even though I’d doubt that Siddell has had everything mapped out from the start, by sticking to whatever he puts in place – remembering details, evolving on them – the series has always had the very convincing appearance of being connected, and subplotty-interwoven, and it’s so convincing that I can easily suspend whatever suspicions I might have about how things have been retconned along the way, and just get fully sucked up in the life of Antimony, and her friends, and the forever growing – but always memorable – cast.

Volume 8 does have some churn at the start, because we’re dealing with a pretty massive upheaval: two long-running characters have gone away (or combined) into the peskily unpredictable Loup, who proves themselves to be even more impulsive than Coyote, and thus quite a bit more frightening to the status quo. And Siddell stacks on top of this switch-up with a small time-jump forward, and, er, the addition of the multiverse into Gunnerkrig Court, and so we have several chapters where Antimony is once again on the outs with everyone (including herself, wink wink), which means we have a bit of work to do before the narrative can kick back into gear. Thankfully, the relationships that’ve been established across the previous seven books are between characters we’ve come to know very well, and thus Siddell can execute story arcs like this with confidence – he doesn’t need to throw fantastics at us every moment.

But, I mean, he does: the back half of this book is an insane ramp up and then mind-melting revelation, delivered in that delightfully offhand mix of casualness and seriousness that has always given the series an incredibly human, engaging vibe. What’s most impressive, though, is the reminder of the storytelling style mentioned above: some of the things added to the story here would, in a traditional book, only stick around for as long as it takes to get to the next big event, but that’s not how Siddell rolls. I kept waiting for some kind of “well, I guess things are back to normal now” moment, but also not really expecting that to happen. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

As we’ve also seen along the way, Thomas has continued to experiment with his art style, and his shift between surreal moments and more complex concepts and then the humor beats and dialogue is just so slick now. However, he’s doing this weird thing where he just flats in characters who aren’t the focus – like, even when they’re in the foreground – and I found that distracting. I’ll be curious to see if he sticks with that approach.

Because obviously I’m still around for volume 9, and hopefully for many volumes to come, since I plan to read this book forever.