“You may, as we did, guffaw” – Department of Mind-Blowing Theories by Tom Gauld

If you’ve previously dabbled with either Baking with Kafka or You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, you’ll have an inkling of what to expect from Tom Gauld’s latest, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories. We should also say, of course, that if you’re familiar with the two previous books, you won’t need any recommendation from us to urge you in the direction of his new book. You’re there already, am I right? Tom Gauld’s cartoons are (still) like a secret, but as soon as the secret is known to you, you’re a fan (I’ve genuinely yet to meet anyone who – once introduced to his cartoons – would not consider themselves a fan). For the fans, then: Department of Mind-Blowing Theories is a collection of the cartoons he has produced for New Scientist magazine. If you’re not scientifically inclined and feel worried that maybe just maybe this will be a collection of more esoteric cartoons with punchlines and jokes that might be over your head – worry not! If you consider yourself a fan of Tom Gauld, this is as good as you could hope it would be.

For the rest of you – first, my commiserations. Your life up to this point has been Tom Gauld-less. I struggle to imagine life without Tom Gauld’s cartoons. Particularly in the current climate. His work is solace, comfort, guilty pleasure, joy, thrill, pleasure palace. But then (calloo-callay) you get to discover Tom Gauld! You get to read Mooncop and Goliath and The Gigantic Robot. In the words of Michael Palin, you lucky, lucky, lucky bastard etc. It may be, though, that my word alone, my Tom Gauld recommendation, is not yet quite enough to propel you in the direction of such many and varied delights. Let us open the door an inch or so and give you a glimpse of what you an expect within the pages of Department of Mind-Blowing Theories shall we?

First, there are cartoons in which Gauld riffs on imaginary books – so, for example, page 1 is ‘Unpopular science books’ with titles like ‘Mathematics that is way over your head’ and ‘Quantum theory and why you’ll never truly understand it’. There are cartoons that feature objects – such as ‘The melting ice has revealed…’ which includes ancient bacteria, crashed UFO and entrance to the underworld. Another staple is illustration with key – so you get, for example, ‘Products of the reaction’ which shows a machine of some kind with various coloured goos, they key telling us that there is gunk and sludge and slop and muck and ooze and dregs and slime. These are all smile cartoons. If you like Gauld, these will make you smile. If you’ve yet to be convinced, these are starters. The real gold of Gauld (do you see what I did there?) is in the snippets of narrative – see ‘The asteroid and the comet secretly hate each other’, ‘Doctor Frankenstein fills out a post-experiment analysis report’ and ‘Archimedes of Syracuse’. There are also a great many cartoons that appear as title-less single frames, a one punch punchline containing a joke that your brain will get its tentacles around in about a half second. You may, as we did, guffaw at said cartoons. You have our blessing.

Any Cop?: In times such as these, someone who can make you forget your troubles, who can make you laugh out loud, who creates work that will have you yelling to the people you’re self isolating with, hey, listen to this one… well, that person falls into the national treasure category for us here at Bookmunch Towers. So thank you Tom Gauld and thank you to Canongate for publishing. There quite literally has never been a better time to get on the Gauld wagon.

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