by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013)

I love stories that shine a light on a well-known myth in a way that makes it seem completely new. Tom Gauld takes the giant's point of view in Goliath, a retelling of the familiar story that switches sympathies -- successfully -- making the giant the fallen hero.

In this elegantly drawn tale, Gauld's Goliath is the fifth-worst swordsman in the whole army and would rather just be an admin, being much better at paperwork than fighting. But his captain has a plan that he thinks will work: send Goliath of Gath out as the army's champion, whose size will intimidate the other side into leaving when they can't produce a champion of similar greatness. Goliath, peaceful and obedient, sits on a large rock in the middle of the battlefield each day and waits for the opposing army to send an equivalent champion whom he fervently hopes never arrives.

Of course, we all know how the story ends, but Gauld's treatment is so lovely and touching that it's hard not to want to rewrite the whole thing and set the poor guy free. But life isn't fair and war even less so. In his dry, witty, bittersweet way, Gauld shows us a monster who is just a man, a foot soldier in a war. Finding himself the figurehead of a diabolical plan, he does his best to follow orders, even though he knows things aren't going so well. There's a subtle but strong message about honor and nobility in there.

Gauld's plain, clear, Jason-like art has the big lug of a guy parked like a rock amongst boulders as his large form sits slumped all day, waiting patiently. At one point, he picks up a pebble and tosses it around in his hand, the symbolism quite clear. That he is killed with a stone fired from a slingshot feels less like a winning shot than a cruel trick played on an innocent man who was never a man of war.

Gauld has added layers of humanity and humor to a tale, changing the depth and the meaning without changing the text. A brown and black color scheme helps keep the story humble and straightforward while still conveying the characters' personalities. It's a simple story but there's so much happening underneath the calm surface. It speaks volumes about the soldier as a part of a machine larger than himself, about loyalty and friendship and sacrifice. It's sorrowful, told sparsely and without a lot of romanticism, but it's still warm and sweet in a way that stays with you long after you put the book down.

review by
Mary Harvey

8 March 2014

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