If youâ€™re the kind of person who congratulates yourself when you actually understand a New Yorker cartoon with an obscure reference to a minor character in Moby Dick â€” regardless of whether or not youâ€™ve ever been able to finish the book, although you pretend like you have (donâ€™t worry, I also fall into this category) â€” British cartoonist Tom Gauldâ€™s new collection, Baking with Kafka, was made just for you.
Unlike Gauldâ€™s last book, Mooncop, a graphic novel, Baking with Kafka is more like a compilation of graphic short stories â€” really short stories. The series of about 150 stand-alone, one-page comics imagines things like God getting in the way of the creativity of an artist illuminating a manuscript, or â€œPlanning Neil Gaimanâ€™s â€˜Norse Mythologyâ€™ Book Tour,â€ where his assistant is a Viking.
Although the comics all exist separate from one another, many share an absurdist reality that uses historical references to poke fun at the present. Gauldâ€™s favorite topics include modern reading habits and the bureaucracy of the publishing industry, although visual art and #revolution also sneak in.
One of my favorites is in the first few pages, its protagonist is a novel thatâ€™s excited to have been assigned to a student, hoping itâ€™ll still be read despite that fact that the student has yet to open it, instead writing a term paper based solely on Wikipedia and the movie version. Gauld takes this same deadpan, characteristically British sense of humor to the museum: A â€œPlanned Extension of the Art Galleryâ€ has new wings dedicated to a â€œcaviar silo,â€ an â€œoligarch bunker,â€ and a â€œlimo tunnel.â€
Gauldâ€™s simple, almost cute drawing style stands in contrast to his comicsâ€™ content, adding an extra dose of humor. The anthropomorphic books having identity crises in the face of new technology, the literally one-dimensional characters aspiring to develop in a badly written story, and even the â€œangry friends and relativesâ€ fuming at the award-winning autobiographical novelist â€” a bearded fellow, probably Karl Ove KnausgÃ¥rd â€” are all drawn in the same manner.
Gauldâ€™s comments on 21st-century culture may be sadly true, but his jabs at politics are probably his most poignant. In â€œThe Angry Mob,â€ most of the people are either â€œnot sure,â€ â€œpretending to be angry,â€ or â€œjust like being in a mob.â€ One of the last few comics is of a circular orange person at a museum, laughing at all the art about stupid green, purple, and blue people, but getting really angry at the depiction of an â€œorange nitwit.â€ Get it? We didnâ€™t need to know a single thing about Moby Dick for that one.
Tom Gauldâ€™sÂ Baking with Kafka is published byÂ Drawn & QuarterlyÂ and available October 3. In October and November, Gauld will be touring bookstores in the UK, France, Texas, California, Washington, and Oregon.