Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Tom Gauld

It’s lovely to enthusiastically anticipate new oeuvres from a present-day cartoonist, or to have the opportunity to praise his work knowing that, perhaps, some of this praise will eventually reach him. I spend much time reading books written and drawn by people long gone, so it’s truly a pleasure to endorse cartoons by a contemporary artist.

In this case, this post was prompted by getting my hands on Department of Mind-Blowing Theories, which came out in April 2020. It took me a few months to get my hands on it, yes, but get to it I did.

Tom Gauld, hailing from a Scottish county with the romantic name of Aberdeenshire, is a self-declared SF/F nerd with a scientific bent, the latter proclivity acquired thanks to his grandfather, who was a marine biologist. To quote Gault, « he was a quiet and thoughtful man and I think because of him, the whole family had a respect for science and scientists. He subscribed to New Scientist and would give them to my Dad after he’d read them, so there were always copies around our house as I was growing up. » The first time I encountered Gauld’s strips, I thought he was a scientist, so accurate were his depictions of the struggles of the scientific community. As it turns out, this is a somewhat new and recent direction for him – he’s only been contributing to the New Scientist since 2014. His more literary-minded work has been published by The Guardian since 2005, and he has also created some lovely covers for The New Yorker (eight, to be more precise).

All material (except the first image) in this post has been scanned from You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack (2013, Drawn & Quarterly), a collection of selected strips published in The Guardian, and the aforementioned Department of Mind-Blowing Theories (2020, Drawn & Quarterly), his fifth book with this Montreal publishing company.

A print from a series of twenty four commissioned by Bart’s Hospital. These prints are installed throughout its Cystic Fibrosis Unit. « As part of Tom’s commission, he met with patients to gain insight into the particular circumstances of their condition, the hurdles they encounter, their hopes and fears in order to create a project that is relevant to their reality. The outcome is an urban park featuring humorous vignettes and unexpected elements. Each isolation room in the Unit displays a selection of prints from Tom’s Imaginary London Park series. Embedded within each image are an array of symbols that relate to an explanatory key, included in the rooms. Patients can imagine the variations in their own, as well as adjacent rooms. Due to frequent re-admission, patients can explore more of the work, and discover new vistas, when they return to the Unit and occupy a different room. »


Gauld’s tentacles aren’t always front-and-centre, occasionally occupying a humble corner. I got Richard Dawkins, by the way.

« There sometimes seems to be an idea that in order to be a scientist you have to put aside your humanity and become an emotionless logic-machine. I think that’s wrong, but some people (even some scientists) seem to believe it. There’s a thread running through the book of cartoons that depict scientists being human: Being unsure, bickering, misunderstanding, and messing things up. It’s much more fun (and realistic, I think) to depict flawed, klutzy humans than idealised successes. » |source|

I’d worry most about the black cat on the ceiling – black cats are evil!






« I spent seven years at art school and tried all sorts of drawing styles, but when I got into drawing comics I found that a simple style worked best. I gave up trying to be “artistic” and just used the type of drawing I’d naturally revert to when I wasn’t thinking too much: the style I’d use for a silly cartoon to amuse a friend, or to draw a map or an idle telephone doodle. I’ve tried to improve as I’ve gone along, and I hope I’ll never be stuck with a fixed, unchanging style. I want the images to be simple and clear, but with a bit of human warmth, a bit of handmade wobble in the lines, to stop it seeming completely diagrammatic and cold. » |source|

And (arguably), the best for last…


∼ ds

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