The tale has traveled far and wide over the millennia. A sinister, gigantic force of evil is vanquished by a young shepherd with a sling and a small stone. The shepherd grows up to be King David, but we know so little about the nine-foot-tall soldier who was slain. What if his real passion was not killing and maiming but filing clerical paperwork?
In Goliath, Tom Gauld fills in a backstory for the titular character, turning him from a bloodthirsty warrior to a poor sap. Handpicked for a special military project due to his intimidating size, Goliath is like that kid who gets picked first for the basketball team because of his height but can barely dribble the ball.
Goliath is plucked from his clerical duties, given a shield and suit of armor—and a piece of paper with his one line. The challenge to the enemy is a one-on-one fight between Goliath and any warrior they choose.
Sparse style, both in artwork and narrative, makes this a tense yet quiet tale of war. The mere task of waiting is what takes the most toll. Goliath half-heartedly makes his speech and waits day after day, not at all confident in his ability for this task. He yearns to be back at his desk, sheltered by the very bureaucracy that shoved him to the front of battle.
Gauld's visuals owe much to Edward Gorey as both artists compose their characters stiffly. Even if they are slouching, there is a hint of overly-refined posture. I like the matter-of-fact nature of the storytelling. What you see is what you get, even down to the clear and concise all capital lettering in the word-bubbles. The person who chose Goliath talks up his strategy to the king like a shiny new, can't-miss marketing plan. Except for Goliath's challenge speech, everyone is plainspoken.
You know how this story ends, but you might have never felt such sorrow for Goliath's ultimate fate. By making him a civil servant in an no-win situation, Gauld gets you to feel for the big fella. I sure did.