Tom Gauld grew up in rural Scotland, but his latest cover turns a clear night sky, studded with stars, into a ritual of city life. Gauld, who’s done several covers for the magazine, recently talked to us about how he arrived at the image.
You grew up in the countryside. Was stargazing part of your childhood?
I don’t recall looking through a telescope as a child, but it got pretty dark where we lived, and my father would point out planets and stars. I especially remember the whole family getting bundled up in winter clothes late at night and going outside to look at the Northern Lights. I don’t actually remember what it looked like, but the ritual of going out together to look at it really sticks with me.
The telescope and father figure in this cartoon are partly inspired by my friend Pete, who lives in the countryside. If we go to visit him on a clear night, he’ll get out his telescope and focus on the moon or a planet. It’s a really lovely thing to do.
What other ancient activities do you think have endured in modern days?
Since we’re talking of nighttime, I think of fires. As I remember it, we used to have bonfires quite often when I was a child. My grandmother once said to me that we must be descended from pagan fire worshippers because we all enjoyed them so much. I still love to sit by a fire on a cold night.
Is the process of using panels markedly different from composing a single image?
Almost all my work is about storytelling—even the single images are intended to suggest what happened before and what will happen after the moment depicted. But by using multiple panels I can show a few different moments to tell a more involved story. There are probably more storytelling choices to be made when using panels than when pencilling a single image. And it’s unusual to have a comic strip on a magazine cover, so I’m pleased we got it to work.
What are some of your favorite depictions of the night sky in art or comics?
I really like the way nighttime and the night sky are depicted in Tomi Ungerer’s beautifully dark picture book “The Three Robbers.” In fact, now that I look at it, I realize it was probably a subconscious inspiration for my cover image.
The other thing that comes to mind is a book called “Full Moon,” by Michael Light, which collects the amazing photographs taken on the moon by astronauts. The sky in those photos is velvety black and contrasts beautifully with the silvery-gray moonscape. The images were a big influence on my comic book “Mooncop.”