Review: Goliath

Scottish cartoonist Tom Gauld manages to find poignant, sometimes tragic, humor amidst Biblical war.

The story of David and Goliath is one of the most famous in the world.  It’s just such an achingly perfect underdog tale: a small, clever hero defeats a larger, seemingly unstoppable foe with cunning and daring.  It’s been retold in a hundred different ways, whether it was the inventive, underrated TV series Kings finding David as a modern day soldier squaring off against Goliath Tanks or in a more traditional sword-and-sandals epic, like the Orson Wells-starring 1960 film David and Goliath… but few, if any, ever invested the story with the pathos and dark wit of Tom Gauld’s recent graphic novel, Goliath.

Goliath of Gath is a big man, but not a violent one.  A soldier in the army of the Philistines, Goliath often traded responsibilities with his fellow soldiers, swapping his field duties with them for their more tedious, less glorious administrative tasks as which he excelled.  All that comes to an end, however, when an ambitious commanding officer realizes what an intimidating figure the giant might cut, and hatches a plan to defeat the Israeli army without any more blood shed.  No matter how much Goliath might protest – and, ever the loyal soldier, he doesn’t protest nearly as much as he should – nothing can deter his superiors from enacting their fatally flawed plan.

Gauld’s art style here is sparse and minimalistic.  He uses simple figures and virtually nothing by way of color, and despite being a retelling of one of the most famous war stories in history, there’s almost nothing by way of action.  Instead, Goliath’s contemplative outlook permeates the book, shaping a simple narrative into a compelling, endlessly readable story that puts us firmly in Goliath’s head.

In the end, perhaps Gauld’s greatest triumph is the way he villainizes no one.  His superiors take advantage of Goliath, true, but in doing so they also save many lives.  And David, though he slays our peaceful hero, is only doing what he believed to be right – and what Goliath himself challenged him to do.  Goliath is a good man, but he’s also a man unwilling to stand up for himself.  Because of that reluctance, he lets himself get swallowed up by something much bigger than himself.   And while that mindset proves tragic for our soft-spoken hero, it proves endlessly readable for us.  I really can’t recommend this short, sweet graphic novella enough.

– Cal C.


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