Brain Pickings

Tom Gauld’s Brilliant Literary Cartoons Blur the Artificial Line Between “High” and “Pop” Culture


From Hemingway’s hangovers to the messiness of creative collaborations, wryly witty visual satire of intellectualism.

With his singular style of irreverent erudition, cartoonist Tom Gauld has emerged as an unparalleled visual satirist of the literary world. You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons (public library) collects eight years’ worth of Gauld’s wryly wonderful and wonderfully wry comics created for the Sunday Review section of The Guardian, mildly reminiscent in spirit of Kate Beaton’s literary cartoons and yet entirely, unmistakably original in style. From the odd habits of famous writers to the age-old tension between science and religion, Gauld leaves no cultural stone unturned in his heartening testament to Susan Sontag’s assertion that the divide between “high” and “popular” culture is a false and toxic one — after all, if a medium as “pop” as the cartoon form can serve, like Gauld’s art so masterfully does, as a form of meta-literary criticism and intelligent cultural discourse, then the polarization between “high” and “low” is instantly and spectacularly demagnetized.

In one cartoon, Gauld echoes E.B. White’s protestation that “a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper” and Bukowski’s bold debunking of the excuses writers use for not writing:

In another, he seconds Virginia Woolf’s admonition about the evils of cinematic adaptations of literature:

Another reminds us that there is no magic formula (though there are some excellent tips) for writing a great story, and that in fact, as Steinbeck put it, “the formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader”:

Then there are our greatest techno-dystopian fears and anxieties — the worst manifestation of Saul Bellow’s admonition about “the distracted public” — followed to their most tragicomic end:

Gauld also extends beyond the literary and into the broader spectrum of cultural concerns, such as the lamentable present neglect of space exploration:

On and on Gauld goes, poking gentle fun at our cultural conceits:

The rest of You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons is immeasurably wonderful from cover to cover. Complement it with Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant and this charming compendium of contemporary graphic artists’ takes on literary classics.

Images courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly © Tom Gauld

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