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Goliath by Tom Gauld

Goliath of Gath isn’t much of a fighter. Given half a choice, he would pick admin work over patrolling in a heartbeat, to say nothing of his distaste for engaging in combat. Nonetheless, at the behest of the king he finds himself issuing a twice-daily challenge to the Israelites: “Choose a man. Let him come to me that we may fight. If he be able to kill me then we shall be your servants. But if I kill him, then you shall be our servants.” Day after day he reluctantly repeats his speech, and the isolation of this duty gives him the chance to banter with his shield-bearer and reflect on the beauty of his surroundings. This is the story of David and Goliath as seen from Goliath’s side of the Valley of Elah. Quiet moments in Goliath’s life as a soldier are accentuated by Tom Gauld’s drawing style, which contrasts minimalist scenery and near-geometric humans with densely crosshatched detail reminiscent of Edward Gorey. Goliath’s battle is simultaneously tragic and bleakly funny, as bureaucracy pervades even this most mythic of figures.

Occasionally I like to try something completely different here at The Eloquent Page and today is one of those days. I’ve been given the opportunity to take a stab at reviewing a graphic novel. Rather than traditional superhero fare, however, my first foray into this more visual medium of storytelling, is a reinterpretation of a classic bible story.

In this version of events, Goliath is painted as a very sympathetic character. He has no desire to fight and would much rather spend his time contemplating the world, or quietly working. His enormous size leads people to believe he is a monster but nothing could be further from the truth. The reader meets an introspective soul who, through the course of his journey, gets to ponder the meaning of existence.

Tom Gauld’s minimal artwork is extremely striking. There are panels were very little happens but this lack of action perfectly captures the sense of stillness in the landscape that Goliath inhabits. There are also moments where there is very little sound, again this is extremely effective. The first five pages of the novel, for example, don’t feature any dialogue but give a wealth of insight into Goliath’s gentle character.

It’s not often that you get to read a story where you are aware of the outcome before you even begin. The uniqueness of reading events unfolding via Goliath’s perspective, however, is refreshing.

I have to admit that there was a certain amount of trepidation on my part before I started reading. I’m a confirmed atheist and I was worried that I’m not the target audience for this but I needn’t have worried. I’ve read this story multiple times now and I’m rather blown away by just how touching, subtle and rather beautiful it all is. Gauld has the lightest of touches and its impressive how the art and writing blend together to create something that is delightfully dry one moment, and then heart breakingly sad the next. The religious elements aside, this is the story of a man on a voyage of self-discovery.

Goliath is published by Drawn & Quarterly and is available on the 16th March 2012.



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