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Tom Gauld:

Goliath and Other Giants

From a rusting Gigantic Robot or bored guardians of an endless Great Wall to the Biblical giant Goliath, Tom Gauld’s comics often play with contrasts in scale, between people, objects and ideas, and, he tells me, “between grand, heroic ideas and small, human ordinariness”. There’s also a sweet bleakness to his locations and his humour. “I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire. We weren’t completely isolated, but a mile or so from a small village, so my brother and I spent quite a lot of time on our own playing and bickering. A few of my comics are about two male characters in a wilderness and perhaps that comes from my childhood. The scenery and weather where we lived could be quite bleak, especially in winter, as is often the case in my comics too”. You can almost hear the Highland winds whistling through his remote, dwarfing landscapes.

While studying at the Royal College of Art, Gauld connected with kindred cartooning soul Simone Lia and together they began self-publishing as Cabanon Press, landing a book deal in 2003 at Bloomsbury where their comics First and Second were compiled as Both. Since then, Gauld has been published far and wide, from Time Out and Sturgeon White Moss to Kramer’s Ergot and Nobrow, as well as drawing every week since 2005 in witty response to whatever The Guardian‘s readers submit to the arts review’s letters page (see example above). Passionate about pens and penmanship, he finds inspiration in the luxuriant renderings of old engravings and their forms built solely out of layerings of lines.

For his first full-length graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly, Tom Gauld decided to read between the lines and imagine the untold life of Goliath. Most people are familiar with the Bible story, who won and who lost, but the towering champion of the Philistines remains a mystery. “The Bible tells us very little about Goliath, so I could make up an unexpected background for him, and spend a lot of time with him, before he meets David and gets killed”. Gauld playfully imagines the back story of this overlooked figure as a laconic, gentle-hearted soldier, and rather hopeless swordsman, who much prefers doing paperwork over patrol duty or fighting. Goliath’s demise is foreshadowed in the opening sequence where he picks up a pebble out of the river that divides the two warring factions and drops it back into the water. When the giant is told about his secret mission, he momentarily blacks out, stunned from shock, another moment that anticipates his demise.

Because one brief passage in the Old Testament mentions that Goliath had a shield-bearer, Gauld felt permitted to add a young boy companion for him to converse with. The comedy is perfectly paced here, documenting tedious days spent waiting around for the tribes of Israel to respond to Goliath’s challenge and send their champion for that lethal dual. The camp’s captured bear, used for unseen gambling fights, and a pestering crow, symbol of death, also resonate with our hapless non-hero’s fate.

That crow returns in Gauld’s new strip Skull Collection, created for Art Review and displayed below. He once more shines the spotlight on the incidental bit-players lost in an epic scenario, in this case extras from Peter Breugel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death. Gauld’s deadpan wit and perfectly timed pauses and surprises are supplemented by visual pleasures, like the headless skeletal soldier’s coffin-lid-shaped shield from Breugel’s original and the sad yet twisted twist-ending. Those winds are whistling again…

You can meet Tom Gauld in person next Saturday April 21st 2012 at the Spring Comica Comiket, the independent comics fair being held again at The Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, City of London, EC2M 4QH, from 11am to 6pm. Tom will be opening the fair and drawing live on the big stage and big screen as part of the Drawing Parade, for the first 30 minutes from 11am, as well as exhibiting all day with Simone Lia on their own stand selling his limited edition items. Admission is free, so bring family, friends and strangers and enjoy an amazing day celebrating good comics.

And if you can stick around for the evening from 7pm to 10.30pm, get yourself a ticket for the Comica Comiket After Party, where you’ll be able to hang out with lots of comics creators and readers, including Tom Gauld, and see a screening of Matt Abbiss’s animated adaptation of Tom Gauld’s comic Invasion, as well as experiencing the delights of the SelfMadeHero Lovecraft Cabaret hosted by Chris Lackey, a DJ session by Woodrow Phoenix, and the Comica Comiket bar. Come one, come all!

Skull Collection
Click images to enlarge.

Posted: April 15, 2012

This Article originally appeared in Art Review Magazine.


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My Books

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Featured Books

Both with Simone Lia

Gigantic Robot