books: Follow your shadow.

Byline: by Lorne Jackson

SHADOWS - they're infuriating little things, aren't they?

Always sticking 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'll never be hired for a key executive job halfway round the world; or take a year out to go travelling and 'find itself ' in Central America.

You won't discover it 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 it will never break free, move out, move on.

Instead, it's wrapped up in you - morning 'til noon - like a junior-ranking civil servant, trailing in the wake of his Cabinet Minister.

However, not all shadows are so servile and serf-like.

There happens to be one member of the tribe with an independent attitude and a genuine desire to go its own sweet way.

You'll find him in Gunnerkrigg Court.

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

It was originally created, back in 2005, as a web comic by Brummie writer and artist Tom Siddell. Now it has become so popular - especially in America - that it's been adapted into book formby Titan Books.

It's well worth a gander even if you're not a hardcore 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 Philip Pullman's His Dark Materi-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 that wants her help to escape to a nearby forest.

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

It's wild and wacky stuff, alright.

Yet Tom Siddell proves to be a very calm and collected author.

"I'm still producing the comic for the web," says the 27-year-old, who lives in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham.

"I upload one page, three times a week, and I'm now getting 30,000 readers. That's really heartening, as it's taken me years to build up a strong, enthusiastic readership.

"I initially put the strip on the internet because I wanted to see if I was capable of working to a tight schedule. Now I've proved I can.

"The internet's also a cheap way of getting my work seen.

"All I need is a pencil, a printer and a pounds 30 scanner, and my comic can be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people round the world.

"However, I don't make money from the web, since people 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 knickknacks based on their characters.

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

That's the remarkable thing about Tom.

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

During this period, he's also won the Web Cartoonists' Choice award for Outstanding Dramatic Series, as well as the Outstanding Newcomer prize.

"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 has certainly been worth it.

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

But even though most of the interest in Tom's output comes from across the pond, he still believes Gunnerkrigg is very much a British story.

"The school which Antimony attends is a huge, gloomy, intimidating place, and is actually based on Birmingham," he says. "I go around taking photographs of back streets and alleys to get the kind of vision I'm after.

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

Gunnerkrigg Court By Tom Siddell is published by Titan Books, priced pounds 14.99.


SPOOKY: Part-time comic author Tom Siddell is being published in America.

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