“Comics, I think, are also really good at time passing,” Tom Gauld tells me. “You can have time pass slowly in a comic very beautifully. You can say to a reader: ‘this is happening slowly’ without it happening slowly.”
Time and space and the strangeness of both is at the heart of the work of Gauld. Originally from Durris in Aberdeenshire, he is regular cartoonist in The Guardian and the New Scientist. But it’s in his graphic novels Goliath and, now, Mooncop, where you can truly see the ambition and scope of his graphic world view. He is a scratchy minimalist eking out visions of mankind set against vast empty spaces. The result in the case of Mooncop is a hugely moving, melancholy vision of a future that never was.
Here he talks about the graphic novel, Stanley Kubrick, the history of lunar exploration and the comics he read as a kid in Scotland.
THE HERALD SCOTLAND: So Mooncop, what’s the story behind the story?
Tom Gauld: I’d been doing science fiction comic strips, short ones, all along and some of my first comics were about two astronauts bickering on the moon.
They were inspired by a book called Full Moon which is a curated set of the most beautiful and interesting photographs from the Apollo missions. It’s big and beautifully printed and the images are amazing. The coldness and crispness of the photographs and the emptiness of the moon and these few men - always men - on the moon.
Most of the time it’s just a landscape, but sometimes there’s that funny little car they drove around in.
I did these short things but I never quite got it out of my system I wanted to write a longer story. That was more than 10 years ago and it took me more than 10 years to happen upon the idea for a story which could use the wonderful atmosphere of the moon interestingly.
And that’s when I came up with the idea of using the stock idea of the slightly cheesy policeman, the doughnut shop, the driving around in his car.
HS: You do like your empty spaces.
TG: Not having to draw too much ties into a minimalism which ties into empty spaces. I don’t know quite where that comes from. The thing people have commented on in Mooncop and Goliath is a melancholiness. It’s just somewhere inside me. I don’t know where it comes from.
But it comes out more in my art than in my general life. I think I’m probably more upbeat than you’d imagine if all you’d done was read Goliath and Mooncop.
HS: Are you old enough to recall the Apollo Missions?
TG: I’m 40. I was 40 a few days ago. I think I was a bit young to be caught up in the excitement of it. I certainly remember space launches being covered on Newsround when I was a kid and the books I was getting out of the library would often be a bit out of date.
They were from that period and there was one I particularly remember which was The Usborne Book of the Future, which projected what would happen up to the 2050s. And as a kid if a book written by an adult tells you something you believe it.
I had a look at it for research for Mooncop and they suggest the 2020 Olympics would be on the moon and there would be a moon colony by now and that kind of slightly melancholy thing of our childhood dreams not coming true is in the graphic novel.
But I think there also has to be an acceptance when you look back that they were silly dreams. Who would think they would have the Olympics on the moon?
I spent a lot of time doing the funny outdated architecture on the moon which came from a time when people really thought the future was a good thing change was good and new was good.
HS: What was the vision of lunar life you wanted to capture?
TG: Mine is a take on existing ideas of the moon. I looked at Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. I just feel that’s a wonderful film and it stands up so well. It’s so well researched and made that even though it’s insanely dated and obviously 2001 was nothing like that, on its own inner logic it’s so perfect that it hasn’t dated at all. Especially the science fiction section in the middle. And I wanted my moon colony to feel a little like 30 years after that world. So things have started to fall apart a little and have got dented and broken.
Mooncop’s costume is a version of the spacesuits from 2001 and the space shuttle that arrives is the same as the one in 2001.
And the apartment building that Mooncop lives in which is lots of different little pods is based on a real apartment building from Tokyo, the Nakagin capsule tower, that was built in the early 1970s. This utopian building with a slightly Austen Powers interior; maybe not quite as kitsch as that but with the telephone right beside the bed and television set into the wall.
And now its derelict, but the hipsters are starting to move back in.
HS: Has science fiction always been an influence?
TG: I really like science fiction films or I really want to like science fiction films. I love the visuals but I have the feeling there’s not that many of them really work. I suppose I’ve got high standards.
But the ones where someone has really made a cohesive world are wonderful. 2001 or Blade Runner. And I love Iain M Banks’ Culture novels again because it’s that perfectly considered world that you’d just like to visit.
HS: What part did comics play in your childhood in Aberdeenshire?
TG: There were three ways I got my comics. There was Mrs Hamilton’s shop which we would go to once a week and where I’d get Battle and Action Force comics. There was the library where they only had Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke. And the Press and Journal ran the Far Side when I was a little older and that was a huge influence on my humour comics.
We did live quite a walk from anyone else’s house and my brother would be at home quite a lot and when we weren’t at home fighting I was reading comics drawing constantly.