Tom Gauld loves books and reading so much. His new collection of comic strips Revenge of the Librarians is replete with love letters to books as physical objects and to all the people involved in producing and preserving them. Librarians, editors, bookshop clerks, and writers are each dealt with in multiple strips. The remarkable thing is how little rancor and bitterness is to be found within these pages. There’s sometimes weariness and, on odd occasion, despair. But neither are indulged in and both are dealt with with gentle irony rather than caustic wit. Gauld doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body.
A farmer and his wife stand on a hillside, looking down at a corral below. Instead of livestock, it’s populated by slender stick-figures sitting at desks, walking about, or staring into space. The wife says, “It’s March, Brian, and not one of them has sent a sample chapter to their agent. We should have stuck with cows.”
His drawing style splits the difference between Chris Ware’s reductionist precision and Edward Gorey’s Gothic melancholias, but his canvas is much more concise than either of those masters of the form. Each strip is confined to a single oblong page and rarely consists of more than four or five panels; many are a mere one or two. The format, as well as a bit of his absurdist bent recalled Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Gauld is not above corny dad jokes like his NOVELS REWORKED FOR BETTER SUMMER READING: The Holiday of the Jackal, The Old Man and the Siesta, Jane Airbnb, A Tale of Two City-Breaks. Some readers will chuckle, others might groan, but none will question Gauld’s all-encompassing love of the printed page.
A chunk of this series of strips was composed during COVID lockdown and address that novel reality. Unsurprisingly, many of these panels end on the happy conclusion that enforced isolation leaves more time for reading. Gauld’s is a world of introverts who’d just as soon stay inside with a good book as go out into the “real” world. No matter the subject, the aftereffect of taking a Gauld strip—even if one groans at the punchline—is of a kind of cosiness. His world of teetering book towers and solitary beings hunched over writing desks is comforting and reassuring. It’s as if he’s telling so many of us who have been engaged in the frustrating business of writing and publishing that it will turn out alright. I wondered at times whether Gauld is truly an optimist or trying to will himself to be so by ending so many of his strips on such upbeat notes. It’s not that they’re pollyanna-ish but there’s a general feeling of positivity that, in my experience at least, is a pretty rare commodity.
Drawn & Quarterly has made a beautiful object of this collection—a short wide orange hardcover with a handsome black graphic accented in gold leaf. The library card bookmark attached inside the front cover is a nice touch as well. This is undoubtedly the kind of book that would have a place of pride within one of Gauld’s own strips.
Revenge of the Librarians
by Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly; 180 p.
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