Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Revenge of the Librarians, is a book of cartoon strips that appeared originally in the Guardian newspaper’s Arts and Books section on Saturdays, just like Tom Gauld’s previous book collections Baking For Kafka or You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack. Each strip riffs off some aspect of the world of literature, as seen through the obsessions and enthusiasms of readers who send their comments to the Review section. Gauld gently mocks a typical situation or explores silly responses to serious literary themes and ideas by mashing up opposing elements in a sitcom kind of way to see what happens as they spark off each other. These tend to be something from the past paired with something from the future, or two disparate literary genres that fuse into an absurd new category.
This time the general theme of Revenge of the Librarians is the book itself as an object; the form of the codex, the places books are stored, the physical spaces they occupy and the values, both monetary and emotional, they hold. This theme informs many strips here in a more focused way than before. One might not have thought that further refinement of Gauld’s elegantly mathematical process was possible, but to demonstrate that it is, each copy of this volume comes with a library card tucked in a pocket on the inside front cover. If you pull it out you will see it is issued by the Department of Libraries and comes with a warning that returning your copy after the due date “will incur fines and more importantly, the displeasure of the librarian. Believe me: you do NOT want to make an enemy of a librarian.”
Lots of cartoons run with ideas that a library is a cartel, a mysterious organisation or a secret base from which those with superior organisational skills will take over the world, in a tidy and methodical way: “A whole world ordered on the Dewey decimal system. We should never have messed with the librarians,” says a man engulfed by books. In another strip featuring the two protagonists from Beauty & the Beast, Beauty is so delighted to be surrounded by many sumptuous volumes in the Beast’s massive library that she is oblivious to his dreadful warnings about her confinement. If you liked previous collections, you will be equally pleased to spend some time exploring all the jokes in these pages.