Tom Gauld, Goliath (#BookReview)

It’s probably just me, but I hadn’t heard of Tom Gauld until a member of my little volunteer indexing team sent me a link to some of his “cultural” cartoons in The Guardian. I was immediately enchanted. And then, he lent me one of Gauld’s graphic novels, the above-named Goliath. Being primarily a textual person, I am not a big graphic novel reader, but our son became keen on them in his teens, so I have some familiarity and have read a handful.

Now I’ve added Goliath to that elite bunch. It’s the sort of graphic novel I enjoy – spare, drily witty, a bit melancholic. It is also, as you will have assumed, a retelling of the biblical David and Goliath story. Like many modern retellings, Goliath is told from a different perspective, that of Goliath himself, who is seen as a pawn in the game of war. In a wry touch, Goliath is your quintessential gentle giant. When, out of the blue, he is approached to be measured for some armour, he says to the armour-maker, “Are you sure this isn’t a mistake? I mainly do admin”. As one who doesn’t mind a bit of admin, I’m with Goliath.

Gauld has published well over 20 books, starting back in 2001, but according to Wikipedia he is best known for Goliath (first published in 2012) and Mooncop (2016). I notice that his latest, published just this year, is Revenge of the librarians. Now, that’s one I’d love to read!

Anyhow, back to Goliath. Although he’d rather do admin work, destiny has other plans for him as we know – and so, he finds himself, under the Philistine king’s orders, waiting in a valley, armoured and armed up, issuing, morning and night, a challenge to the Israelites:

I am Goliath of Gath,
Champion of
the Philistines.

I challenge you:

Choose a man,
Let him come to me
that we may fight.

If he be able
to kill me
then we shall be your servants.

But if I kill him
then you shall be
our servants.

Poor Goliath. “I’m not a champion”, he says. In fact, he continues, “I’m the fifth worst swordsman in my platoon … I do paperwork. I’m a very good administrator.” But, in classic political spin, he’s told that there won’t be any fighting. He just has to “look like a champion” and “the enemy will cower”. We all know how that turned out … along came David (albeit in this version, after a very very long time of waiting for poor Goliath).

The reviews on the back cover sum it up beautifully. The New York Times says that Gauld uses “simple, clever images to explore the larger, more complicated issues of war and heroism”, while London’s The Times says, and I particularly like this, that “Goliath is a master class in reduction … a celebration of the Christian underdog becomes a subtle meditation on the power of spin and the absurdity of war”. The rest of the back cover review excerpts are similarly spot on.

Small reproduction, allowed for review purposes.

So, did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. I liked the spareness of the art and the text. The first five textless pages set the scene – that is, they show Goliath going about his day quietly, peacefully, doing his paperwork, having a stretch at his desk, and trudging down the hill on which the encampment is located to get a drink. One of my challenges with graphic novels is taking in the images and the text, without letting one distract me from the other, but in Goliath the spareness of both made this easy. Making it easy to comprehend, though, is not the main reason for the spareness! It also reduces the story to its essence, encouraging us to engage with Goliath and what he is experiencing.

I also liked the humanity of Goliath and the small boy whose job it is to support him. As they traipse to see the captain, the small boy carries Goliath’s oversize shield. “Are you OK with that?”, asks Goliath. “Sort of” replies the boy. These two, we clearly see, are pawns in the game, potential “collateral damage” as it were, though of course the Philistine leaders believe they have the winning hand.

I also liked the subtle humour, which you have hopefully picked up already. And, of course, I appreciated the anti-war message conveyed through a twist which shows the ostensibly powerful giant as the manipulated underdog – just by changing the perspective. Something we all need to do, eh? See and feel things from another side. Recommended.

Tom Gauld
Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2017 (orig. ed. 2012)
ISBN: 978770462991

Neomad: A Yijala Yala Project

First up, I have to admit that I’m rather challenged when it comes to e-book apps. I did love The Wasteland app which I reviewed a couple of years ago, but it was clearly designed for a, let us say, more staid demographic. Neomad, “a futuristic fantasy” in three episodes, is another matter. Consequently, my aim here is less to review it as a work and more to talk about what seems to be an exciting collaborative project involving 30 young people from Roebourne in the Pilbara, comic artist Sutu and filmmaker Benjamin Dukroz.

We hear so much negativity about indigenous communities in outback Australia that it’s easy to feel the situation is hopeless. However, while we should not forget for a minute that the situation for many indigenous Australians is still dire, things are happening. Not enough, but nonetheless something, and these things can surely be seen as models for further action.

Pilbara landscape, Newman, WA

Pilbara landscape, Newman, WA

So, back to Neomad. Produced as part of the Yijala Yala Project, it’s currently available free from iTunes (or the Apple App store), so I decided to have a look. It’s colourful and infectious. The Facebook site calls it “an interactive digital comic”. Late last year it won Best Game – Multimedia Production in the 2013 ATOM (Association of Teachers of Media) Awards. So what is it? A game? A book? What’s in a name did I hear you say? Fair enough. Let’s not get bogged down in categorisation right now, except to say that it’s an example of what is apparently being described as “interactive fiction”.

Ignoring the categorisation issue, though, the ATOM site is useful for the neat little summary it provides of the story:

Set over three episodes, NEOMAD follows the story of the Love Punks and Satellite Sisters, techno savvy young heroes from a futuristic Roebourne in the Pilbara region of WA, who speed through the desert full of spy bots, magic crystals and fallen rocket boosters branded with a mysterious petroglyph.

The app itself says it is “based on real characters, places and stories that connect people to their country”. This becomes evident when you click “Play” on the Home page, as it starts with a lovely live-action sequence set somewhere in the Pilbara, involving a group of indigenous boys. They are the Love Punks and they feature in Episode 1. They tell us “When you see a star fall at night be sure to welcome it to the land for the star brings new life”. The story is set in 2076 and sees the Love Punks chasing a space robot (oops, space bot) across the sky, only to find, when it crashes to earth, that it bears the image of an ancient petroglyph. What does this mean? Episode 2 begins with quite a different live-action sequence involving indigenous girls, The Satellite Sisters, learning about the importance of their ancestors. Like Episode 1, this sequence progresses into an animated comic, which you can read as text or click on the speech bubbles to hear the characters speak the words.

As an interactive-game-challenged person I wasn’t always sure how much was on each “page”. For example, on some pages extra “things” pop up when you tap to “turn” the page. I presume that you can’t miss anything important, that no matter where or how often you tap or swipe, the app won’t take you to the next “page” until you’ve seen everything on the current page. However, I did find it disconcerting, as pages vary in layout so you never know what might be there behind the clicks! I expect this is not a problem for the people to whom the app is targeted though!

There’s an Extras section, comprising short live-action movies providing background to the project. We hear the kids talk about the meaning – one Satellite Sister tell us “that film is about the Satellite Sisters looking after the country” – and the process, such as how they learnt to use PhotoShop to colour the animation. There is also a “junk percussion” music video in which the Love Punks perform music using found objects such as corrugated iron, old drums and metal bars. I love it!

What is exciting about this project is that, amongst all the glitz and colour, it reaffirms the importance of country. As the name – Neo (new) Mad (nomad) – suggests, it marries respect for tradition with acceptance of change, looking for the points where they coincide:

“You boys need to respect these men and their robots. They’re all part of our community and they’re all looking after our ngurr, our country.”

“Sorry Nanna Tootie.”

This is kids telling a story in their language for other kids – and it is good fun. If you have young children around – and even if you don’t – do check it out. Meanwhile, thanks to E. Teacherlord, as our daughter calls her brother, for introducing me to the Love Punks and Satellite Sisters.