Falling Off the Fairy-Tale Bandwagon
Macabre and terse, cartoonist Tom Gauld’s latest graphic novel is a clever, if an ultimately unsatisfying re-imagining of the tale of David and Goliath, told from the perspective of the great giant, who is neither fierce nor hungry for war.
In the world according to Gauld, Goliath is a peaceful soldier who is better suited to administration then the heat of battle. But his great size inspires his commanding officers who plan to use him to intimidate the Israelites. Innocent and unsuspecting, Goliath is pushed towards his fate, which is as sudden as it is cruel.
The sparse nature of the narrative means we are told very little–exactly why there’s a war, for instance, is never discussed–and this quality echoes Goliath’s own life: he is very much a boat caught in the current.
Gauld has been compared to Edward Gorey, the American illustrator known for his surreal art and black humor. Goliath certainly echoes Gorey’s work: there are plenty of sly jokes here, such as when Goliath, seen as a potential suitor, is asked about the size of his “you know what.”
In any graphic novel, the artwork is half the story. Here Gauld uses his unadorned two-toned sketches as a way of echoing the simplicity of his hero. Yet his talent is such that even though his hero is little more than a few dots and some vague lines, he manages to create Goliath’s bewilderment at being caught in a world he doesn’t understand.
Gauld’s version of events is witty and well in keeping with the current trend towards re-imagining old stories, from Shrek to the two upcoming versions of Snow White (Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsmen) hitting theatres in the next few months. Those rewrites tend to create a new sympathy for characters other than the traditional hero.
But Gauld’s story, like the art of the book itself, is just a sketch: we are given nothing about Goliath’s past (or even his present life outside the war). Re-inventing Goliath’s death is clever; getting us to truly sympathize with the giant is another thing entirely. The author stresses his innocence but fails to truly engage our compassion.
Goliath is published by Drawn and Quarterly, an independent publisher based in Montreal that specializes in quirky selections of graphic novels and comic books. All of its publications are available at its retail outlet on Bernard, where it also hosts plenty of showcases, readings and literary events.
Goliath by Tom Gauld. Drawn and Quarterly, Montreal. 2012. Preview Goliath here