Dualism is a major theme of the comic.
On Alchemy, Bismuth, Lead, and the significance of Antimony's name
First, let us delve into Alchemy and the elements, both chemical and mystical. Alchemy is a very significant visual and thematic element to the story. The Great Art itself can be seen as a fusion of magic and science. It sought to take mystical concepts and find reproducible methods of achieving them. In this way it is representative of the story itself: the spreading wild of the Gillitie wood and the mystical Etheric sciences combined with the technology and traditional sciences and the sprawling humanity of the Court. A balance is struck, as with the Mediums (as Antimony is now training to be), who attempt to balance between the Woods and the Court themselves.
Important in Alchemy is what we would now know as chemistry, though ancient practitioners wouldn't have understood it as such until after Boyle. Among the greatest goals of Alchemy is the conversion of baser materials, such as the vulgar metals of lead, bismuth, antimony, and others to gold, particularly Philosopher's Gold, not the dead gold as makes coins and jewelry, but Gold full of life.
Antimony is a metalloid element, which essentially means not quite a metal but not quite a nonmetal. Metalloids, which also include silicon and germanium, often act as semiconductors, highly important for electronic technology. Antimony is in fact highly used in diodes and transistors in the modern day. Another characteristic of metalloids is the ability to form amphoteric oxides, or compounds that may, depending on chemical conditions, act as either acids or bases. Note again the characteristic of duality, of balance.
The symbol used for Antimony the character and antimony the Alchemical element in the comic is actually not that common in Alchemical literature. The most widely used one is a cross on top of a circle, or an upside-down version of the Venus/female symbol (which is itself used for copper in Alchemy; consider the coppery red color of Antimony's hair).
This is also important in light of the Treatises (the art pages at the end of chapters 7, 14, and 22). On the First Treatise, it breaks down thus: Kat is on the left, next to a river, and surmounted by the Moon, Luna, a symbol of the feminine. On the right is Antimony, next to a fire, and surmounted by the Sun, Sol, a symbol of the masculine. On the second treatise, they are on the same sides and have the same close heavenly body associated (the Sun for Antimony, the Moon for Kat). Yet Annie wears a feminine dress, while Kat wears a man's uniform. Furthermore, while Annie carries a torch and is next to the Woods, fire, Kat carries a hammer (a symbol of technology and industry) marked with the symbol for Bismuth, associated with the Court, which she stands next to.
The third treatise is even more complicated, but to summarize: Kat is not wearing a man's uniform, but something more masculine, closer to perhaps a pantsuit. Above her head is a cog in the position of a halo, perhaps representing her naming as an Angel by the robots. Nearest her is a poster depicting the Moon once more. She is on the side of the Court, and leading Annie towards it and away from the Woods. Antimony is in a feminine dress once more, but above her is an Amerindian-styled depiction of the Sun. She is barefoot and closer to the Woods. Her hair turns to fire, and she also holds fire in her hand. She has the eye of Coyote on her head, perhaps representing her being watched. In the background, in the trees, is a wolf's head (presumable Ysengrin) with a bismuth symbol associated.
The symbolism of the above is important, so remember it, but hold on for a few more digressions.
Consider the name Antimony. Its true origin is unknown, but one of the most common etymologies given is that it derives from the Greek for "against one," or "never alone," referring to the metalloid's state of almost always being in a compound rather than as a pure element. Antimony the character is rarely truly alone. She has Kat, Reynardine, Robot, Shadow 2, and the various teachers looking out for her at various times.
Stibnite, her mother's surname, is an ore of antimony and sulfur. Alchemically, sulfur is one of Paracelsus' Three Primes, the Spirit of Life. Additionally, stibnite was used to make Kohl and Surma, eye-makeups known since antiquity (Annie, of course, is almost always seen with eye shadow).
On the periodic table, antimony is near lead and bismuth, both of which figure prominently in GC. Bismuth is more chemically near it, being in the same group but one period down. The Seed Bismuth from which the Court itself came lead to bismuth's symbol being widely used as a representation of the Court. Lead is often associated with Alchemy, as in turning lead into gold (rather than just base metals in general). A symbol for lead may be seen various places in GC, for example on the breastplate of the Dragon Slayer's armor. This may be a symbol of protection—lead is used to shield against hard radiation—hence its use on the armor of the Court's protector, and above the door facing the Forest.
Finally, like bismuth and lead, antimony is Alchemically considered a fairly base material. It is mundane. Notice that Antimony has a tendency to dispel the weirdness around her. She is generally unfazed by Mort. She is stiffly polite with those who shuttle souls to the next world. She is curious rather than intensely frightened when a dragonish creature crashes the roof of her dorm down upon her. When helping Mallt-y-Nos and the Moddey Dhoo, whatever she touches is unaffected by the boy's visions. She is able to dissipate the Nobodies and acts as a calming effect for Zimmy. In other words, Annie is a source of mundanity in the fantastic world of GC.
How does this all tie together?
The Court is a base and vulgar thing, as can be seen from its sprawling, industrial nature, its interference with natural harmony (the lightning-based communicator which causes Zimmy so much anguish), the artificial constructs so widely spread within, the encroachment upon the Woods, and so on. It is associated with base metals like bismuth and lead. Coyote said, Gunnerkrigg Court is man's attempt to make himself into god. The base metals attempt to transmute themselves to Living Gold in their greed and lust for power.
The Woods are not particularly better. They are too wild, too overgrown, too full of blood and discomfort, they represent Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. They, too, want to spread, but into the Court, and in doing so are becoming corrupted: in the Third Treatise, Ysengrim is associated with the Bismuth symbol, representing how he is himself becoming base and like the Court in his goals.
Nature seeks a balance. This is where Antimony comes in. She is to be a Medium, to find the balance between Gunnerkrigg and Gillitie. To hold neither nearest her heart and thus to be able to help both. To alloy them together. This is symbolized by her vast dualities. She is female, of Venus' copper and wearing a dress, but associated with the masculine Sun; the flipped Venus symbol. She is named for an element that can be both technological and primal, both acid and base. Yet due to her lonely childhood spent with only her mother (herself a medium) and the Psychopomps (guides disinterested in mortal affairs), she is too far to the side of the Wild. She wields chaotic fire and holds herself closer to the Woods.
She needs Kat's technological soul, associated with the works of Mankind and the Court, to help her find the real balance. Kat is the Water to her Fire, the Moon to her Sun, the Builder to her Destroyer (hammer vs. fire as in the Second Treatise). Annie by herself can't be the midpoint, but must ally with her equal and opposite. Antimony. Never Alone.
- The sun symbol in the 3rd treatise resembles that of the Zia tribe of New Mexico, but with only three rays projecting from each side.
- Other interesting alchemical symbols used: Body-snatching powers are linked with a less-common symbol for mercury (a U-shape above a cross, rather than a horned circle above a cross). This symbol appears on Reynardine's fiery form before he's bound into the stuffed toy, and in a flashback it shows up on the foreheads of creatures that Coyote possessed. Both Reynardine and Coyote are mercurial fellows (clever, eloquent, temperamental). On the treatises, Kat is associated with a symbol that appears to be related to alchemy, but is actually an original symbol that Tom Siddell invented.
The Court and Gillitie Wood are balanced opposites, representing opposing concepts.
Gunnerkrigg Court embodies technology, winter, humanity, and order. Gillitie Wood embodies nature, summer, nonhumans, and chaos. This is basically summarized here. Reynardine/Coyote, Moon/Sun, TicToc/Alastair, Fire/Earth, Kat/Annie—and in the middle the Ghost With The Sword and the alchemical symbol representing the bridging of opposites. Symbolism overload. This also corresponds with the bicameral model of the human brain, where the left hemisphere of the cerebrum works logically and analytically, and the right hemisphere works creatively and artistically. These two halves are physically separated by a deep fossa, and are linked by the corpus callosum, a "bridge" of neural fibre.
- You are very observant, however you have yet to look a little deeper. Look at the treatise. Above both girls there is a symbol: Annie has an alchemical glyph (the one around her neck) that is symmetrical (i.e. organized), while Kat has one that is asymmetrical. It seems to me that Mr. Siddell is suggesting that the essence of both worlds are reversed: nature is apparently chaotic, but has a deep underlying organization, an order (think ecosystems), while human society, which is apparently based around order, is actually flawed and decaying into chaos (I'm thinking of depression, poverty, crime, etc). Look again, at the suns to the sides of the picture. The human one is looking towards the forest (i.e. outward expansion, conquest, both human traits), while nature's sun looks down, or has its eyes closed (introspection, self-organization, evolution). Man changes through expansion, nature changes through evolution. Addendum: This is only a personal analysis; I'm trying to justify all the time I've lost in literature class instead of studying dark matter; I'm not trying to push any ideals, either. I'm deeply in love with the human side of the world.
- It should be noted that the Technology vs. Nature divide is somewhat blurry, when you take into consideration the Court's Cherry Tree, Ysengrin's using Robot 13 for his own ends, and the TicTocs (who seem to be both machine and animal, and are not allied with the Court or the Wood).
- This is now at least partially supported by text. See page 373.
- Although that image suggests Annie and Kat are opposites, it's more true that Kat and Reynardine are opposites, just like Shadow2 and Robot are opposites. Antimony appears to be in balance between science and magic, suiting her abilities as a medium.
- She is not. She had to be taught how to use an e-mail, and can't even begin to comprehend things like babble jargon babble strange words. She's deeply rooted in the spiritual/natural side of the world.
Light and shadow: The truth hurts; the truth will set you free.
The contrast between the darkness and the light does not map onto the aforementioned contrast between Gunnerkrigg and Gillitie, as both places are predominately dark, with specific places of light. Instead, illumination corresponds to revelations of truth. It also corresponds to danger: either physical danger, from some threat which is confronted in the light, or psychological danger from the unpleasant nature of the revelation. Thus, while darkness represents ignorance, it also represents safety: "ignorance is bliss".
- Strong light is deadly to the Glass-Eyed Men, and Shadow2 is prevented from returning to Gillitie by the lights illuminating the Annan Bridge.
- In Chapter 3, "Reynardine", Annie's search for Reynardine takes her outside, under bright skies. When she finds him, Rey reveals his true form—a glowing spirit—and attempts to possess Annie (an act which would have killed her, had he succeeded).
- The first well-lit room we see is the artificial habitat room, containing the cherry tree, in Chapter 6, "A Handful of Dirt". Here, Kat learns the depth of Antimony's pain over the loss of her parents. Though initially unpleasant, this leads to a deeper friendship between the two girls, and to Kat seeking help from her parents for Annie.
- In Chapter 7, "Of New and Old", Annie ventures onto the lit Annan Bridge herself, to learn if Robot S13 needs her help. She instead discovers that Robot has changed somehow; for her troubles she is pushed off the bridge. Eglamore arrives with a glowing sword, with which he kills the Shadow and dismembers Robot, but he is unable to save Annie.
- In Chapter 8, "Broken Glass and Other Things", Annie discovers a light on the opposite shore of the Annan Waters. Annie later meets the source of the light: the ghost Jeanne, who wordlessly attacks Annie with a sword.
- In Chapter 13, "A Week for Kat", Alistair's lodgings are a well-lit room in a tower. It is here that Kat learns of Aly's Metamorphosis, and realizes that she has no chance to ever see him again. Even so, Kat prefers this knowledge to the uncertainty of Aly's prior, penultimate goodbye, and she can only conclude afterwards "How could I cry after a week like that?"
- In Chapter 14, "The Fangs of Summertime", lights in the sky are used to signal a parlay between the Court and the Wood. Much is revealed at this meeting, and Ysengrin attacks Annie.
- In Chapter 16, "A Ghost Story", upon learning the unsettling truth of Martin's death, young Annie sees the room engulfed in bright flame.
- Chapter 17, "The Medium Beginning", sees Annie move from a darkened physics lab, to the somewhat brighter hallway, then to a sunny rooftop and a well-lit gymnasium. It's at the latter two where she learns of the history of Mediums in the Court, and of her mother's involvement. It's also on the rooftop where Jones, attempting to provoke Annie, claims that her father abandoned her because he doesn't care about her.
- Chapter 18, "S1", sees Antimony bringing illumination: first, using her blinker stone as a torch in the dark hallway, then by plugging in the floodlights in the arena. Similarly, Reynardine's glowing eyes illuminate the dark, just as he unintentionally reveals his concern for Antimony. It's in the lit arena that Kat accidentally activates Robot S1, causing the arrival of the menacing Bull-bot.
- In Chapter 19, "Power Station", the artificial lightning brightens the night sky—and triggers severe pain in Zimmy, and leads indirectly to her, Gamma, Annie, and Jack being mentally transported to her dark city. The girls find Gamma in a bright room, dominated by pastel colors—it is here that Annie learns, in the most traumatic way possible, of the Doppelganger imitating Kat.
The other factor uniting all these incidents is that these revelations and hardships have made Annie and Kat wiser and stronger. Though the darkness is safer, the light is invariably better for them in the long run. As the story has progressed, the girls have become more proactive about seeking answers, and this has led them to spend more time in well-lit locales, rather than the shadowy halls of the early chapters.
On several occasions, Gillitie Wood has been shown with a bright light emanating from its heart, suggesting that Coyote's talk of his "great secret" is no idle chatter.
"Fire Head Girl."
Antimony Carver is associated with a fire motif.
- She has red hair.
- In the Treatise at the end of Chapter 7, there is a fire behind her.
- In the Second Treatise at the end of Chapter 14, she is depicted holding a torch.
- In the Third Treatise at the end of Chapter 22, she is depicted holding a fiery blinker stone, and with her hair turning into flame.
- Her first display of skill as a Medium involves discovering the nature of Martin's death—fire—and marching through a spectral inferno to comfort him.
- Upon receiving the blinker stone, the first skill she learns with it is how to use the stone to create fire. She then teaches herself the further nuances of this—for example, how to create a fire while holding the stone, without burning her hand.
- Coyote refers to Annie as "fire head girl".
- When Muut describes how she is the only person who can help Jeanne, the illustration accompanying his monologue depicts Annie with a crown of fire.
- Reynardine says of her, "You have a fire in you, child, a fire that belonged to your mother!"
- During the residential, Annie puts her skills with the Blinker Stone to use: first, helping her classmates by creating a fire that the Laser Cows can't detect; then creating a massive illusory conflagration in order to rescue her kidnapped classmates.
In the light/dark duality, Annie's fire marks her on the side of the light. Her combination of extranormal skills, curiosity, and concern for others make her a force for the illumination of the darkness.
OKAY all of the above was written before "Fire Spike" and the revelation of Annie's non-human heritage. On the one hand, it shows us that all the fire-symbolism was intentional; on the other hand, it raises the question of how much is supposed to be thematic, and how much is simply foreshadowing of an in-story fact.
"Do you think swords are neat": The use of force.
Tom Siddell does not portray the straightforward fight scenes of an Action story. The majority of the fights are suggested to be unnecessary, or contain some detail that, upon consideration, makes the fight itself unsettling.
- Eglamore's off-screen fight with Reynardine is initially presented to make Rey appear the victim and Eggers appear the villain. After the revelation that Rey is a dangerous killer, it is further revealed that the body Rey had possessed was that of Eggers' old friend Sivo; so in the process of apprehending Sivo, James had to seriously injure the body of his old friend.
- In the skirmish on the Annan Bridge, Eglamore attacked the Shadow-man, successfully preventing the abduction of Reynardine (and unsuccessfully attempting to save Annie). In the process, he seemingly killed Annie's friend, Robot S13.
- In contrast, during the skirmish at the parlay, we are given no reason to sympathize with Eglamore's foe, Ysengrin. However, Eggers' attack proves to be completely ineffective. Donald Donlan's and Reynardine's purely defensive maneuvers were what saved Annie's life.
- Dr. Disaster's simulator features a fantasy sci-fi battle against an imaginary evil enemy: an ideal setup for a consequence-free action scene—but all the action happens off-screen. The readers only learn of the space battle after it has concluded. The students on the ground brandish laser pistols, and shots are fired in the distance, but at no point are the students shown firing the pistols, nor are the lasers shown striking any target. The students who rush into battle, guns blazing, are all captured; it falls to Antimony, who is least eager to fight, to save the day. She does so, not by attacking the Enigmarons, but by neutralizing their weapon.
- The practice sparring shown in Chapter 17, "The Medium Beginning", is positively portrayed. The Court doesn't teach the subject because swordsmanship is a useful skill in itself, but because "it instills a sense of self awareness and how to read an opponent's body language". When Eglamore spars, he goes on the offensive, and promptly loses to the unarmed Jones. (Interestingly, this spar is also about as sexually-charged as a kid-friendly comic will allow.)
- The chapter's bonus page features Tea educating the audience about swords, reminding us that swords "serve as a physical metaphor for humanity's eternal, savage thirst for destruction!" The internet, meanwhile, completely misses the point and talks instead about how "I think swords are neat do you think swords are neat!!"
- In Chapter 22, "Ties", when the first Tree-dog is cut down by chainsaw-wielding robots, it elicits sympathy from Surma, at least until Anja claims that it's a puppet and not a real creature.
- The closest the comic has come to portraying violence in an unambiguously positive light is the opposition of bullies: Antimony throwing Winsbury to the ground to defend Kat, and young Eglamore getting in a fistfight with Hyland to defend Surma, Anja, and Brinnie. Both students were rebuked by teachers for resorting to violence, then immediately praised for their noble intentions.
Thus, the comic has consistently portrayed the use of force as something evil, though sometimes necessary in the service of a greater good.