Drawn & Quarterly
You’re All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack is a collection of Gauld’s cartoons from eight years of the Saturday Review section of The Guardian. You may know Gauld’s work from 2012s Goliath. That piece was a short fiction, powerful and moving in a quiet, simple manner. This is something completely different; this is gag caroonery at its finest, at its most literate and intelligent (well, what else would you expect from the Guardian’s Saturday Review?).
Gauld’s work here develops ideas and themes, literature and those who consume it never that far from the surface, all wrapped up in a pervading sense of surreal whimsy, often masking something a little darker just beneath the surface. This is a book of funnies all about words, and those who make them, and those who read them. And is distinctly unafraid to gentle tease everyone involved as well:
Inside you’ll find ideas careering all over the place; Dicken’s lost novel “A Megalosaur’s Progress”, The Owl & The Seasick Pussycat, Drunk Classics, Kenneth Grahame’s alternate characters for Wind In The Willows, Sam Beckett’s Adventures Of Tintin, the movie version of your novel complete with lovable Orangutan, Mao’s Little Red Book jokes being scrapped by his editor and more. Much more.
He’s a master of the literary mash-up for comedic effect; the ‘Rhett Butler videogame‘ controller, a Nintendo Wii with controls mapped to ‘scandalize’, ‘charm’, ‘proposal of marriage’; or the remapping of Pride & Prejudice style romantic fiction featuring Lucy and Squire Davenport onto a Facebook generation of Blackberry accidents and failed friend requests.
The strips mostly speak from a knowing perspective throughout. There’s a basic enjoyment sure, but the real kick comes from knowing the back-matter Gauld is referencing. Take the Tom Waits strip below as an example; it’s funny as it is, but with just that little extra knowledge to inform the cartoon and imbue each part with extra meaning it goes from mildly diverting amusement to very, very funny.
Individually Gauld’s cartoons work, individually they deliver a punchline somewhere between raised eyebrow mildly diverting yet clever all the way up to maniacal laughter. But there’s also a cumulative hit of the book, the accumulation of all that comedy, all that clever observation, where the individual gags build on certain ideas, build on the themes, creating a mood-piece for the work that goes beyond gags, beyond simple comedy and into something more sublime, something almost that stays with you after you close the cover.
And his cartooning is so simple, so stylised, it’s easy to overlook the sublime skill behind it. In a single page, sometimes a single image Gauld distills such meaning, so much information into so little space.
See, simplicity in art and ideas. But just as the artistic simplicity masks deep artistic waters beneath, the simplicity of idea is mere surface as well. Sure, the ridiculousness of Mister Wibbley-Wobbley makes it funny, but the core of the joke speaks to the literary idea of the writer honing his tale, refining his ideas.
It is a great collection of clever and funny. But even then, it still suffers from a problem I always seem to have with strip collections, where bringing the cartoonist’s work together highlights some of the repetition and inherent reliance on a certain shorthand. Easily solved though; dipping in and out over a week is the perfect way to absorb them, and in the course of putting this together I’ve been doing just that.
All in all, even with the inherent problem of strip cartoon collections, Gauld’s Jetpack is a great great work, consistently clever, consistently funny, but no matter how I many words I spend telling you that, nothing I can say would ever convince as much as Gauld’s cartoons can. So I’ll leave you with a few of them…. a picture paints a thousand words they say.