By Marty Mulrooney
Goliath is a graphic novel by Scottish cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, it retells the famous biblical story of David and Goliath from the point of view of Goliath of Grath himself, a gentle giant who actually prefers doing paperwork to fighting.
Drawn like a mash-up of Horrible Histories and Gustave Doré, the story of Goliath is a sad yet beautiful affair. The towering Goliath is introduced as an outsider, eager to please but preferring to keep to himself. He chooses admin over patrol duty every time. He lives with the Philistines upon a mountain on their side of the Valley of Elah, whilst the Israelites eye them suspiciously from atop their own mountain on the other side.
Soon, a plan is hatched with the approval of the King himself – sort of. Goliath is to become a warrior and each day he must walk into the valley and issue a challenge to the Israelites:
The majority of the book centres around Goliath and his newly appointed shield-bearer, an inquisitive nine-year-old boy. Each day they walk into the valley, issue their ultimatum, and wait. There is plenty of humour laced throughout the book, with a combination of subtle images and carefully chosen words coming together to tell a story that is by turns hilarious and deeply sad. Goliath cuts a striking and sorrowful figure, uncomfortable in his own body and the world around him. After a while, he doesn’t return to camp at all. He remains in the valley and contemplates running away as the days and nights begin to merge into one.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is so special about Goliath. It could be the two-colour illustrations, almost impossibly rich in detail and vibrancy despite – or perhaps because of – the minimalist art style. It could be the dialogue, with every line perfectly written and delivered for maximum impact and laughs. Or it could simply be Goliath himself, a biblical pantomime villain turned reluctant, three-dimensional hero. A gentle giant caught within the rotating cogs and constantly moving mechanisations of a futile war.
Goliath tells a familiar story from a fresh angle and the results prove delightful. Graphic novels have the power to move and stir emotions as successfully as any novel. The only real negative of Goliath is its brevity – at 96 pages, this charming tale will easily be consumed within an hour, if not less. Perhaps more graphic novella than graphic novel then, but don’t let that put you off. Goliath is one of the very best of its genre and shouldn’t be missed, especially by those who like their humour spiked with a healthy dose of melancholy – the ending, when it comes, is a total knockout.
9 OUT OF 10