During a spotlight panel on his artistic process at Comic-Con International in San Diego, which mostly focused on readings of selected cartoons and discusion of process and influences, “Goliath” and “You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack” cartoonist Tom Gauld let slip news of his third book to be published by Drawn and Quarterly. Details were vague due to the book’s early stage of development, but Gauld hesitantly revealed that it is set in space.
The presentation began late due to the previous panel running over so Gauld, who was introduced by D&Q editorial and marketing manager Julia Pohl-Miranda, quickly jumped into a reading of his murder mystery short story from 2010, “The Locked Room.” The quirky characters and funny reveal, along with his understated delivery, drew laughter and a warm reception from the appreciative crowd. During the reading, panels were projected one at a time as an accompanying slideshow. Once Gauld was finished, the complete page was displayed to reveal his layout.
“I do a cartoon every week for The Guardian newspaper, and I spent a summer holiday drawing that cartoon,” Gauld said. “I enjoy doing weekly cartoons so much that I continue to do weekly cartoons [on my own].” This led him to creating “The Locked Room” in 2010.
This past year, he created “Robot Fairytale,” a reworking of the Grimm fairy tale “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage.” Before his reading of that cartoon, he explained his affection for fairy tales and the way that shows up in his own work. “I suppose one of the things I like in my comedy is to come up with something absurd and then try to do it in a deadpan, almost convincing way,” he said. “I think that’s something that sometimes happens in fairy tales.”
Copping to the fact that he uses robots a lot in his work, he said, “You’re not making, necessarily, a super-realistic picture of a character; you want almost an icon to stand in for that character [to give] a simple way of expressing things. In a way, a robot is a simple, iconic version of a person.” He feels robots have a sad quality to them because while they are beings, they are also products, designed to do nothing but perform a simple task. He then showed a poster he designed for the band End of Level Boss, saying he intends to write a short book about the giant robot featured in the poster.
During his email communications with his publisher while designing the robot, Google Mail started feeding Gauld ads targeted to his interests. Odd ads for robots started popping up, so Gauld designed a series of robots based on what he imagined from the simple text ads.
“In my stories, I’m quite often inspired by impressive, amazing stuff from my childhood, like ‘Star Wars’ or something like that,” Gauld said. These epic stories also inspire his artwork, but his tales end up being about something ordinary. He also enjoys the “nerdy aspect” of creating the technical designs of how a robot would work, despite it never being able to actually work. “I like to keep straight-faced about it.”
On major childhood influence on his workis LEGO. “The units are so beautiful and simple, such lovely little blocks, that when you put them together, you almost can’t help but make something nice,” Gauld said. He recently discovered that he has a similar approach to creating comics by creating “these nice little units and try to combine and recombine them to make things.” That kind of approach was also used in a recent t-shirt design for the website BoingBoing. He created a variety of robots made out of the same pieces that seemed to infinitely repeat.
Following a reading of the cartoon “The Art of War,” Gauld delved into his graphic novel “Goliath,” which has its roots in his adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark in “Kramers Ergot 7.” The experience of shifting the perspective while not changing the facts, and his interest in doing a story with a giant main character, led to him turning his attention to the story of David and Goliath. While delving into that story, Gauld realized that most of the focus in The Bible is on David. “Poor Goliath,” Gauld said. “He’s not really even a character in that. He’s just this thing to be beaten.” He noticed that in other depictions as well, there’s no attempt to elicit sympathy for Goliath, while David had God and the universe on his side. “I didn’t want to rewrite the story so he’s blameless, but I wanted to look at the same events.”
Gauld then showed early character sketches, illustrating his process in designing Goliath, to whom he gave a small head and bad posture to accentuate his size. Gauld also worked on giving the world atmosphere and getting dialogue right, which he confessed is the hardest part of the creative process for him. “I’ve been drawing since I was tiny, so that’s all the fun part. It’s slightly more work to work out the text.” Finally, he added a 6-panel grid layout, which he occasionally broke to add excitement or change pacing, and his recognizable “obsessive crosshatching” which he feels gives his work warmth and a human level.
After an overview of some of his commercial illustration work, including interlocking book covers for the “Wimbledon” trilogy by Nigel Williams and a book of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and a reading of the short story “Skull Collection,” Gauld shared information about “You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack,” a collection of his weekly cartoons for The Guardian.
He walked through the process of producing a cartoon, which begins with his editor Ginny Hooker emailing him a set of letters around noon on Tuesdays, often apologizing (“I’m sorry, this is all we’ve got”). A cartoon is due 24 hours later. “My cartoons do have to relate to one of the letters,” Gauld said. “Quite often, the letters, they’re very dry, they’re very serious, quite often even boring. So I try and just take the letters as a jumping-off point and have fun with them.” He brainstorms ideas in his sketchbook until he has a good idea, and then the next day draws the cartoon in pencil. He also uses PhotoShop to “move bits around” and as a color guide. When Gauld revealed “I’m quite color blind,” an audience member related so much he began applauding.
The title of the book is based on the frequent debate in the Saturday Review about science fiction writers versus literary writers. In the end, Gauld enjoys boiling down tiny ideas until they work as what he described as “haiku-like things.” For the last year or so, he’s been posting the Guardian cartoons on his Tumblr page.
Following a reading of the hilariously brief short story, “Short Story,” Gauld opened the floor up to questions.
One person was surprised to discover that he’s younger than she assumed, which Gauld sid happens frequently. He joked that most people expect “an old guy with a big beard.” He added, “Hopefully [my work] doesn’t feel dated, but it feels maybe not as if it could be pinned down exactly.”
A question about any cultural differences between the editors of The Guardian and The New York Times revealed that it mostly had to do with scale caused by the size of the market. At The Guardian, one person approves the final cartoon, but at The New York Times, it goes through three different people, who also check spelling and punctuation. However, he said there is no difference with the content, and that the two papers are comparable.
“I definitely want to do animation,” Gauld said in response to a question about experimenting in different formats. He revealed that in 1996, he nearly chose to study animation but felt comics were challenging enough and studied illustration.
Gauld also mentioned doing another book with Drawn and Quarterly, along with his current cartooning jobs and illustration work. When questioned for more information, Gauld apologized that he couldn’t reveal specifics. “I shouldn’t talk about it yet. When my work’s in its earliest stage, I get very cautious about blocking it off, so I tend to keep quiet about it.” Then, he reconsidered and added, “It might be set in space.” No date was given for the release of the new book.