Dystopic and anomic

More from my blog backlog: two books from a review by Douglas Wolk,“The Season’s Best New Graphic Novels” (covering eight books), in print 1/1/17. Hariton Pushwagner’s Soft City and Tom Gauld’s Mooncop.


Cover of Soft City

Dystopic. From Wolk:

Created by the Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner between 1969 and 1975, then unseen for decades, the astonishing cartoon treatise Soft City (New York Review Comics) has finally arrived in the United States. Its oversize pages depict city life as an identity-annihilating, cookie-cutter horror, observed by a baby named Bingo. After waking up and taking their daily “Life” pill, countless identical men in hats wave to their wives and babies, go to their identical cars and flow in a river of traffic to mammoth parking garages and grids of office workstations. The women push carts down the aisles of gigantic supermarkets in a mute frenzy of consumption; a powerful boss watches scenes of tanks and factories on an enormous screen. Then everyone repeats the pattern in reverse. At home, they watch military atrocities on TV, retreat to their beds and take a pill marked “Sleep.”

That’s not much of a story, but the point of “Soft City” is the obsessive execution and scale of Pushwagner’s vision. Bingo and his parents, at the beginning and end, are blank, looming forms; in the commuting and work scenes that make up the bulk of the book, Pushwagner draws thousands of vehicles or desks or workers in symmetrical perspective with a thin, uneasy line, receding into infinitesimal marks at the horizon. Occasionally, there’s a flash of narration — “We are secure. You have to be secure” — or thought-balloon babble — “Soft bartender cream feeling. Streamline first class business taste of life!” Labels abound: “soft park,” “soft TV,” “soft meat.” Everything in Pushwagner’s inferno is comfortable, and nothing is bearable.


Illustrations from Mooncop

Anomic. Featuring cartoonist Tom Gauld, who’s appeared on this blog enough times to have his own Page. From Wolk:

Tom Gauld’s Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly) is a much quieter, more playful treatment of human alienation and technological chilliness. The nameless title character is on an extended assignment to police the first lunar colony — but there’s nothing to police, since almost everyone has already given up and gone home to Earth. Gauld’s characters have no visible mouths, and dots for eyes. A few boxy buildings dot their desolate landscape; there’s a doughnut vending machine, a floating car that mostly works, a handful of settlers who’ve decided they’d probably be happier elsewhere, and various robots including a sort of audio-animatronic Neil Armstrong, endlessly narrating his lunar landing. Eventually, the lonely cop is assigned a therapy robot (“Don’t worry,” it says, “I’ve prepared a very relaxed treatment schedule for you”) who arrives without the right power adapter.

There’s something of Chris Ware’s bitter “Tales of Tomorrow” cartoons in Gauld’s deadpan compositions and precise geometric forms, but “Mooncop” steers clear of Ware’s fury. This is a light, rueful comedy, whose motor is the absence of anything happening. (It occasionally feints at offering the sort of adventure its premise suggests — an alarm goes off, or there’s a foreboding computer error — only to immediately resolve the problem.) There are long, lovely silent passages as characters cross the abandoned lunar plains, which are rendered with mannered crosshatching, the sky behind them a field of dark blue pricked with white-dot stars. Even when dreams don’t quite work out, the book suggests, it can still be possible to find beauty in them.

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