Books

Tom Gauld's 'Goliath' Is Interesting Enough, but Thin

Depth of engagement + duration of experience = importance to the audience.


Goliath

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Length: 96 pages
Author: Tom Gauld
Price: $19.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-02
Amazon

One characteristic of graphic novels that might—or might not—play a role in their consideration as serious literature is the speed with which they are absorbed. A long novel takes a long time to read, and even a short one is a considerable investment in time; a couple hours at least, which compares to a movie and allows the reader/viewer time to absorb thematic ideas along with shifts in character and plot and so forth. Admittedly, a poem is often a short work that can be read in a few minutes (or less), but an individual poem is less likely to establish a writer's reputation than is a significant number of poems, likely collected in an anthology.

On the other hand, comics, as graphic novels used to be called, are a narrative art form which tend toward being extremely quick to read. This quickness, I think, has bearing on whether or not they are accorded the kind of thematic weight which we demand of our "serious" literature. There are exceptions, of course. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's 572-page From Hell and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home are both densely-packed stories littered with historical and literary allusion, and whose convoluted storylines and detailed artistic compositions reward repeated readings. Ditto for the work of Chris Ware, whose Acme Novelty Library forces the reader to slow down and take in every panel and every gesture, often by the technique of presenting panels in non-linear form (so it's not immediately obvious which frame the reader should move to next, or whether it even matters).

I bring all this up in the context of Tom Gauld's Goliath, because it strikes me that the white elephant in the room of comics discussions is precisely this: that comics can be read so fleetingly that they frankly don't seem terribly substantial. This book is a case in point. Gauld's hardcover retelling of the Biblical David and Goliath story brings us Goliath as the main character and David appearing in a brief walk-on role. It's clever and thought-provoking to some degree, and it runs to 96 pages. I read it in 15 minutes.

I don't mean to start some debate that "books have to be long in order to be important" or some similar nonsense. I do, however, think that works of art, or even works of entertainment, should engage us deeply in order to have an impact. That's why an outstanding hour-long record will seem more significant than an excellent three-minute song, and why a two-hour movie has the potential to move us more than a 30-minute TV show, and so forth. Feel free to disagree of course, but I think this is a useful rule of thumb. Depth of engagement + duration of experience = importance to the audience.

In comics, where dialogue and narration often take a back seat to the narrative image (and rightly so), there needs to be something about those images that compel the reader to linger. Textural depth is one way to do it; color is another. A striking compositional layout might bring the reader up short, or an unusually complex, beautifully rendered image. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis uses simplicity of line and character but reconfigures them in countless ways, with earlier frames echoed in later ones. Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze packs in the detail, while Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba layer on the colors to createdreamy, hallucinatory landscapes to linger over.

Gauld's artwork in Goliath is simple almost to the point of primitivism. Pen-and-ink drawings are devoid of detail and minimally shaded with simple cross-hatching, while colors are limited to black, white, and a sepia tone reminiscent of old photos. These elements are combined in a multitude of clever ways, but are nonetheless extremely limited in their effect. There's little here to savor; the childlike drawings tell a childlike story of a childlike figure who suffers a tragedy that has been written for thousands of years.

Nor is the dialogue particularly illuminating. Goliath is a giant, yes, but he has zero interest in fighting. He's a natural administrator and that's what he likes to do—early on he trades his patrol duty with another soldier assigned to admin so that he can sit by his tent and pore over documents. It's a clever conceit, but that's as far as it goes. He's a laconic character who seems to exist primarily as a foil to the Biblical representation of him as a threatening bully.

Biblical reinterpretation is a legitimate field for literature—I've written three such novels myself —but there needs to be something more to the storytelling than the simple reversion of expected roles. Goliath has moments suggestive of metaphor that move beyond the literal story—a chained bear, a wayward shepherd—but little is made of these things. Really, there's not much going on here beyond the obvious: "Look, Goliath wasn't a bad guy! He was a victim, get it? And ever since, we've only been hearing the other side of the story."

Okay fine, that's interesting enough as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far. If you've got a free 15 minutes, this little book will divert you well enough, but if you expect anything more than that, you are likely to be disappointed.

4

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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