“Tom Gauld is so boring,” a cartoonist friend of mine said, “If I wanted to watch stick figures jacking off I would go to Newgrounds.com.” I went into Tom Gauld’s new book of literary-minded gag cartoons, many first published in the New York Times, Baking with Kafka optimistically, wanting to laugh. I smiled weakly a couple of times. Gauld’s ultra-minimal drawing style seems developed to showcase the words, but the words fall limply. In small doses, in a newspaper, these cartoons may have offered some amusement, but put all together, the effect is stifling.
One such cartoon is titled “The Snooty Bookshop.” A bookseller says to a customer, “Yes, we do have a copy of the book you’re looking for. You’ll find it in the ‘Vastly Overrated’ section of the ‘So-Called Classics’ department.” Ha ha ha ha ha? In another, entitled “The Auteur Directs a Superhero Movie,” the director says to his costumed cast, “Let’s try that again. This time: less action, more nihilistic ennui.” I would accept such dull drawings and warmed-over intellectual “punchlines” from a seventeen-year-old writing in their diary, but Tom Gauld is a grown man being paid for this. I don’t even know what this book is meant to do. Is it meant to make me laugh? If so, it is a crashing failure. Read this if you want to be mildly amused and you find it at your local library, but $20 is just too much for a stray chuckle or two out of 160 pages.