Graphic novels are more popular than ever these days, partly because artists have pushed the medium into new and exciting territory in recent years and partly, you have to imagine, because people are just too lazy to read real novels. If that’s the case, then Tom Gauld’s new book of single-panel cartoons is of the times on a few levels.
For one thing, each cartoon is digestible in a few seconds, like any good quip should be in the era of Twitter. But the real joy of Gauld’s work is how shrewdly it pokes fun at that era, deftly zeroing in on the small absurdities of a society saturated with video games, e-readers, and infographics.
Gauld, a Scottish cartoonist, has been contributing his bite-size works to the Guardian for years, and his new book, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, collects dozens of them in one handsome volume. He says he tries to stand out from the rest of the paper’s heady fare by including things like robots and monsters, but they’re always making some point that’s as smart as it is funny.
The most common theme of Gauld’s strips, broadly speaking, is technological progress—and its often overlooked consequences. In one cartoon, a tattered cookbook laments a Kindle who met an untimely death in a pot of soup. In another, a lamp gets excited about the addition of a wood-burning stove to the living-room family, only to find himself outmoded and cast out on the sidewalk for the taking.
In those cases, Gauld makes light of the casualties of progress. At other times, the humor comes from adopting the visual language of our times in unexpected ways. He shows a frame from a Bronte sisters video game and a faux-infographic detailing the make-up of an angry mob.
Each joke gets to the very essence of something, and Gauld says that gets helped along by the constraints of the form. "Mostly I find that the small space helps the process of making cartoons," he says. "It forces me to boil things down to their simplest form, which I think makes for good jokes and interesting cartoons."
He also strives to make the best use of that limited real estate as possible, working an idea over to find the most effective way of representing it. "I try to think of the idea in as many different ways as I can," he explains. "I might have an idea which would make an okay one-panel cartoon, but I’ll try it as a three panel strip or an infographic."