Off Life interviews Tom Gauld

“Interview: Tom Gauld” / Off / April 26, 2014

For over 10 years, Tom Gauld has been taking his distinct comic art to the world.

Whether in the form of his best-selling graphic novel, Goliath, or as a cartoonist for the Guardian newspaper, Tom’s wry insights have opened comics to a cross-over audience and changed people’s perceptions of what the medium can be.

He was also kind enough to be our first ever interview. Here’s how it went…

You’ve been published as a cartoonist for over ten years now, what first drew you to comics?

I’ve been drawing constantly since I was tiny and loved the picture books read to me as a child – by Maurice Sendak, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, etc – so it just seemed natural to me to like comics when I was old enough to read them. My first love was the Asterix books then I got into Tintin and moved onto Battle – a war based comic for boys – and then 2000 AD.

When I left school, I knew I wanted to draw for a living and went on to study illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. I was still interested in comics, reading Eightball and the Acme Novelty Library and would play around with short narratives, but it wasn’t until I was at the Royal College of Art that I started to find my feet with storytelling.

While still studying you kick-started your comics career in small press and self-publishing. What do you think you gained from this?

When Simone Lia and I self-published our first comic in 2001 [as Cabanon Press] there were not many other ways of getting a book out there. There are many more comic publishers out there and more who might publish shorter work by a new artist – Nobrow and Blank Slate spring to mind.

However, I still think that self-publishing can do some things better than ‘proper’ publishing: you get a level of control, freedom and intimacy with your reader which is much harder to find elsewhere. I’d definitely advise trying it; I learned a lot of things self-publishing which have helped in ‘proper’ publishing.

Have you seen the comic industry change much in the 12 years you’ve been published?

It’s definitely changed and definitely for the better. I think we’re in a real golden age for ‘alternative’ comics, both in Britain and in the world generally. It seems we have more good artists, publishers, outlets and enthusiastic readers than 12 years ago. My only concern is that I think there is sometimes a feeling in publishing that working on anything other than a graphic novel is a complete waste of time. I realise this is mainly because they sell the best and have an air of seriousness about them, but I think many artists – and particularly new ones – benefit from working in shorter/different forms.

What does being a cartoonist mean to you?

I aim to entertain people. I think my general worldview comes across in the work but I don’t start out with things I want to say to my readers, I mainly want to tell an interesting story. My cartoons can often be quite melancholy or dark-humoured, but I would never make anything really nasty or completely bleak and without heart: there are enough bad things in the world already.

Many people will recognise your work from the Guardian. What do you think cartoonists can bring to news issues that perhaps other mediums don’t?

Cartooning can bring a certain lightness to serious things. In my work for the Guardian I am often given a highbrow, serious theme and if I treated it in a serious, highbrow way it wouldn’t be interesting. So I treat it in a light-hearted, silly way and the disconnect between the two is what makes it interesting – to me, anyway!

Do you manage to keep up with UK comics? If so, who have you been reading recently and who is impressing you?

Yes, I go to Gosh! Comics in Soho most weeks and get new stuff there. I’ve really enjoyed Jon McNaught’s work with Nobrow and I’m really looking forward to his third book [Dockwood].

Finally, where do you see comics moving in the near future and what advice would you give to creators starting out today?

Obviously, things are going to change because of digital technology, but I’m not sure it’ll be a simple swap-over from reading paper comics to reading exactly the same things on iPads and Kindles. I downloaded some comics onto my iPad and realised afterwards that I would have rather read them all on paper. I love books so I hope that they continue to be a viable thing to make, and I’m quite optimistic that they will be for the forseeable future.

I have a hope for books generally that cheap digital editions will hurt the publishers of badly made, ugly books and encourage the sales of beautifully designed, well-made books. All the technological innovations, Kickstarter schemes and marketing strategies in the world won’t make up for an uninteresting idea or a badly told story – they might make money, but won’t make good art – so you just need to get on with making good things and then learning from those things to make better things!

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