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Books Tom Gauld: ‘I made three cartoons about Jane Austen before I actually read one of her books’

Tom Gauld, a cartoonist and illustrator, is the author of the books Mooncop, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack and Goliath. His work regularly appears in publications ranging from The Guardian to New Scientist. Gauld, who lives in London, recently published a new collection of comics, Baking With Kafka.

Why did you write your new book?

The book is a collection of my short cartoons which are largely about books, literature and reading. I made it because I love reading. I find it much more interesting to poke fun at the things I love than the things I hate. The cartoons have appeared separately in newspapers, magazines and online, but there's something nice about putting them together in a book, where they can play off each other and build a sort of world together.

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Whose sentences are your favourite?

I think that P.G. Wodehouse writes the most wonderful sentences. I can never remember which of his books I've read because the plots don't differ that much from one book to the next, but it doesn't matter because the writing is so good. The comic timing is impeccable, the dialogue is perfect and he always seems to have just the right word, phrase or absurd simile to light up whatever part of your brain registers joy. His description of a character as "a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'When!' " is delightful. I can't read half a page of his writing without feeling happier.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Perhaps "despise" is a bit strong, but I really didn't like The Three Musketeers. I had to read it because I was drawing a comic-strip cover for a Penguin Deluxe Classics edition. I didn't like the characters; d'Artagnan and the Musketeers seemed like arrogant blowhards and I resented having to spend so much time with them. I think this came across in my cover, which is perhaps why some Dumas fans didn't like it.

Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time travel?

It'd definitely have to be time travel. Invisibility has a kind of sneaky seediness to it which I'd rather stay away from, but time travel would be amazing. Aside from visiting Charles Dickens, Henry VIII and Tutankhamun, I could avoid deadlines by hiding in the past.

Which books haven't you read that you feel you should?

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So many! People assume, because I've made lots of cartoons about literature, that I've read everything. But I sometimes have to make a cartoon about a book that I haven't read, which is doable because I like the cartoons to play off general knowledge rather than specifics, but I do feel sort of guilty and make a mental note to read it one day. I made three cartoons about Jane Austen before I actually read one of her books. James Joyce's Ulysses is definitely in this category.

What's your favourite bookstore in the world?

I love Gosh Comics in Soho, London. I've been buying my comics there for 17 years and it's my idea of a perfect bookshop. The sort of place you know you'll come out with much more than the book you went in for.

What's more important: The beginning of a book or the end?

The end. There's nothing worse than a book with a great beginning that gets worse as it goes on. It's like talking to someone at a party who seems really interesting at first but you gradually realize is a crashing bore and you can't get away. Well, you can pretend you need to go to the bathroom and then go and talk to someone else, which, I suppose, is a bit like giving up on a book and reading a different one instead. When I'm writing something, whether it's a short joke or a graphic novel, I'm always much happier once I've figured out the ending.

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