Reading this entire volume at one sitting is like ingesting a mind-altering substance. It contains such a coherent and yet completely strange worldview that it will reset your perceptions.
Tom Gauld‘s cartoons, one per page, cover history, literature, and technology, in the same way Kate Beaton’s do. The best way to recommend this volume is to simply send you to read his cartoons. If you see one that tickles you, you’ll likely enjoy more of them. The comics originally appeared in The Guardian, and a European sense of humor may be an asset.
The title comes from this particular comic, in which science fiction tells off “proper literature”. Reading — the great works, genre conventions, famous writers, popular expectations, and how it contrasts with other media and technology — is a frequent topic of Gauld’s. There’s a Bronte Sisters videogame, Shakespeare’s cast reductions, Kenneth Grahame’s cast changes, and Frankenstein’s monster explaining famous characters to a dense reader. He also has a modern perspective on classic subjects, for example, envisioning a Gothic novel with a Blackberry and texting or showing us future “Innovations at the British Library”.
You may find yourself consulting the internet if you don’t recognize a particular reference, so the cartoons are vaguely educational, if you approach them with curiosity instead of resentment for being smarter than you are. There’s an odd contrast between the assumed intelligence of the reader at the same time Gauld’s strips are puncturing pretension. It’s an anti-snobbery.
A few of the strips don’t need much more than their title, such as “Samuel Beckett’s Adventures of Tintin” or “Professor Ian Rigby: Academic Stunt Driver”. All are well-done, with simple-yet-complete drawings wrapped around strong, unusual concepts. Even somewhat familiar punchlines — British food is bad, cliché-using writers should be stopped, novels change when adapted into movies — are cartooned in creative ways.
I’m guessing that Gauld loves language, because he uses such excellent vocabulary. Visually, his figures are unique — the occasional person has a face, although one with dot eyes and a lump representing a nose. No mouths. More often, the figure simply consists of an elongated triangle for a body and a black dot for a head. They’re purely representational, and their simplicity is attractive.
It’s a pleasure to see such imaginative ideas expressed in such an approachable form. I got a kind of enjoyment from this book that felt fresh and surprising because of how different the subjects and look of these strips were from other comics. (The publisher provided a review copy.)