Writer & Artist: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Except for the basics of its visual style, this collection of Guardian strips from Tom Gauld is rather different from the author’s acclaimed narrative, Goliath, released last year. It’s a little strange to see praise for that relatively-serious book on the back cover of this compilation of silly jokes. Is this new creation “quietly powerful and emotionally grabbing,” as boing boing described Goliath? Er, no, but if you need something in your powder room for everyone’s amusement, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack will more than do the trick.
Gauld’s work has a lot in common with that of Michael Kupperman. Both rely on a set of references that recur frequently, clearly obsessions of the author. In Kupperman’s case, these include Mark Twain and Albert Einstein (crime-fighting, mystery-solving duo) and Hercules (public-domain superhero). Gauld has a great love of robots, Victorian literature, spacemen, and surrealism. Read in short chunks, the book is terrifically funny. Strung all together, it can be the teensiest bit repetitive.
Gauld’s style results from extreme simplification, but in a way that resembles the Nazca Lines more than early cartooning. His figures often appear without faces, or even arms: just a collection of dark shapes loosely connected. Color rarely enters the picture. This deadpan approach nicely offsets the silliness of the scenarios, which might involve aliens almost abducting Queen Victoria or the apocryphal Bible story involving Mary adventuring undersea. It’s the Buster Keaton method of stoicism in the face of chaos.
Gauld’s frame of literary and historical reference is impressive and often secretly educational (the things you can learn about noted type designer Eric Gill[!] — no, really, Google him), but he’s not just throwing out names to sound smart. His understanding of conventions allows him to express many of his comics in a catalogue format. Examples include the many different genres of book cover, all using the same basic figure and a few accessories; the inevitability of what occurs when you bring home a flayed hand; and, ultimately, the failure of art to do much at all. You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack is awfully pessimistic and awfully cheery at the same time, which is exactly what a short-form newspaper comic should be.