Tom Gauld’s work is perhaps most familiar to us in the form of the Guardian’s weekly cartoon; usually a little two or three frame story, at times a single image, the simplicity and geometric linearity of his drawing always striking. His cartoons have both a light fragility and a clean, bold firmness: a result of his unique method which combines hand-drawing in pencil and ink followed by digital manipulation. ‘I like the control that the computer gives me over my work, but if I made my work entirely on the computer I think it would look too clean and sterile. I think the tiny variations and mistakes of hand drawn images are very appealing.’
Gauld mentions he could never ‘sit in front of the computer’ and come up with an idea, and I remark that many of his cartoons deal with the complexities and difficulties of the creative process itself. ‘The first two times The Guardian asked me to make comics for them I was rather overwhelmed… I couldn’t decide what to do and I think this leaked into the work as both times I made stories about blocked artists. I suppose that those cartoons would be a bit boring if they were just about great people being great at doing great things. I like to look at the other side of things or people we might imagine to be magnificent, I’m pretty sure that we are all idiots most of the time.’
His forthcoming graphic novel, Goliath, certainly fits this theme. It retells David and Goliath from the perspective of the rather timid and awkward giant, moving the focus onto the overlooked. ‘I do like the contrast (in visual scale and ideas) between big/grand/important things and small/ordinary/everyday. In Goliath I wanted to tell his story, and make it unexpected… In my version I haven’t made David a bad guy, it’s just that seen from Goliath’s perspective he’s not good news.’
Gauld himself comes across as quite an understated character, and gives the impression that complementing his talent is a lot of quiet hard work. His intricate cross-hatching technique takes ‘quite a while, but I guess probably not quite as long as most people imagine’, he got to his position not by a wild stroke of luck, but by ‘calling up all the magazines, publishers and ad agencies whose work I liked’, and he is clearly drawn to the ‘immediacy’ and ‘intimacy’ of self-publishing.
The polar opposite of any David-like hero, he is far more the retiring Goliath. ‘I always just try to make the sort of thing I’d like to see and, since I think I’m not a terribly unusual sort of person, I assume that it’ll work for other people. I think of my work in terms of ‘communicating’ (i.e. thinking about the audience) rather than ‘self-expression’, which I think sometimes leads to what may be meaningful and interesting to the creator but baffling to anyone else.’
The momentum of Gauld’s softly spoken humour is a natural partner to the simplicity of his visual aesthetic, and together they form the accessible language which makes Gauld’s drawings so innately likeable.