Out of the shadow; Lorne Jackson meets a writer who turns Birmingham into a fantasy world that has become a huge hit in the US BOOKS Gunnerkrigg Court By Tom Siddell, Titan Books: pounds 14.99.



Byline: Lorne Jackson

Shadows - they're infuriating things, aren't they?

Permanently stuck to you, like a grubby lump of chewing gum, or a clingy toddler when it's time for beddy-byes.

Your shadow refuses, point-blank, to build an independent life for itself.

Which means it will never be hired as a highpowered executive, spearheading a multinational organisation half-way round the world.

Or take a year out to go travelling and 'find itself' in the jungles of Central America.

You won't discover your shadow in the local bar, weeks after splitting from you, proudly and indignantly sipping a white wine spritzer, while humming along to "I will survive".

That's because your shadowain't goinganywhere, bud. Not unless you happen to be going there, too.

He's warpingly wrapped-up in your welfare - morning, noon and night - like a junior-ranking civil servant, trailing in the wake of a mighty Cabinet minister.

However, there is an exception to this rule.

There is one shadowwho is not so servile and serflike.

One shadow who has an independent attitude and genuine desire to break free.

And you'll find him in Gunnerkrigg Court.

Gunnerkrigg Court is a comic for children (and adults with an undimmed sense ofmagic and wonder).

It was originally created, back in 2005, as an Internet picture-story by Brummie writer and artist, Tom Skiddel. Now it has become so popular - especially inAmerica - that it has been adapted into book-form by Titan Books.

And it's well worth a look - even if you're not a hard-core fan of independently minded shadows.

Because there's a lot going on in Gunnerkrigg Court.

In many ways it's similar to Harry Potter, or even the Philip Pullman of His Dark Materials.

The story follows the escapades of Antimony Carver, an ice-cool young lady who has just started studying at Gunnerkrigg Court, a spooky British boarding school.

Antimony soon discovers she has gained an extra shadow; a shadow who wants her to help it escape to a nearby forest.

This is only the first of Antimony's adventures. There's also a Minotaur in the bowels of the school, along with a demonic teddy bear...

It's wild stuff, all right.

Yet Tom Skiddel transpires to be a very calm and collected comic writer.

"I'm still regularly releasing the comiconmywebsite,"says the 27-year-old who lives in Sutton Coldfield. "I upload pages three times a week, and I'mnow getting 30,000 readers.

"That's really inspiring, as it's taken me years to build up a loyal and enthusiastic readership.

"I initially put the story on the internet as Iwanted to see if I could work to a tight schedule, by producing three pages a week.

"Now I've proved that I can do that.

"The internet is also a cheap way of getting my work out there. All I need is a pencil, a printer and a pounds 30 scanner, and my work is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people round the world."

He adds: I don't make any money from the web comic, as fans log on for free.

"There are web-comic authors who make a living from their work, but that's because they sell T-shirts and knick-knacks based on the characters.

"I've not got much of a business brain, so I don't do that. Besides, I've got a full time job. So there's not enough time in the day."

That's the remarkable thing about Tom.

He has created his comic book, and built a following, while holding down a full-time job in Birmingham as a 3D computer animator.

During this period, he has also managed to win the Web Cartoonists' Choice awards for Outstanding Dramatic Series, as well as the Outstanding Newcomer award.

"I can't say that I've got much of a social life," he laughs. "There's work during the week, then weekends I push ahead with Gunnerkrigg Court."

The effort is well worth it.

Because now Tom has a New York agent, who bagged her client the book deal.

But even though the bulk of interest in the work is originating across the pond, Tom reveals Gunnerkrigg is still very much a British comic.

"The school where all the action takes place is huge, gloomy and intimidating," he says with a chuckle. "It's actually based on Birmingham. I go around taking photographs of back streets and alleys to get the kind of vision I want.

Gunnerkrigg is very much Brum - sinister in places, but also quite magical!"

CAPTION(S):

Tom Skiddel from Sutton Coldfield and his hit comic Gunnerkrigg Court Picture Adam Fradgley AF130309krigg-06

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