Friday, 14 September 2012

Goliath by Tom Gauld – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The Goliath of the title (Drawn & Quarterly, hb, 96pp) is the one from the Bible, and this is Tom Gauld’s version of his ill-starred battle with David, or rather the build-up to it, the actual confrontation and its aftermath taking up just the last seven pages of the book. Goliath is part of the Philistine army, but he’s not the mighty warrior of legend. In fact, he’s the self-confessed “fifth-worst swordsman” in his platoon. Reading the challenge he must make to the Israelites, his first response is to faint. Upon waking he says, “I do paperwork! I’m a very good administrator.” He isn’t a coward, exactly; he’s just sensible and doesn’t like fighting.

He’s been chosen for this dangerous task just because he’s tall. Goliath’s captain, given free rein by a king who can’t be bothered to read the plans, thinks that in a suit of ceremonial armour Goliath will be so intimidating that no Israelite will dare to take up his challenge. Goliath is simply going where he’s told, with no conviction that what he is doing makes any sense, his eventual fate made all the sadder by the friendship that develops with his nine-year-old shield bearer. When he dies he’s just looking for his little friend, and barely has time to realise what is happening.

I’m familiar with Tom Gauld’s art from the superb covers of The Damned Busters, Costume Not Included and the deluxe Penguin Classics edition of The Three Musketeers, but Goliath is the first of his comics I’ve read. The art is in black and white, simple, cartoonish and emotive, with sepia shades, cross-hatching and plain backgrounds enhancing the reader’s sense of Goliath’s loneliness and hopelessness. Goliath is a man made lonely by what makes him useful to other people, and eventually—after a tedious forty-day mission—dying because of it. This sad, funny comic doesn’t take long to read, but leaves the reader with much to think about.

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