Soft City by Hariton Pushwagner. Introduction by Chris Ware. Afterward by Martin Herbert. New York Review of Books, 2016. 9781681370460. 166 beautifully oversized mostly black-and-white pages.
First, this book is worth buying based on the size alone. Amazing graphic novels deserve to be published in an oversized format like this, and I always feel like buying them or checking them out from my library will encourage publishers to consider editions larger than 6” x 9”. This book also has a backstory: it was drawn by the Norwegian artist Pushwagner between 1969 and 1975 and then “lost” until it was finally published in 2008. If it had been published when originally drawn, I agree with Ware, it would have been miraculous.
The apartments in Soft City are industrial. Everyone has the same life, the same furniture, the same job, the same clothes. It’s not unpleasant, but it looks like IKEA and Madmen created a style virus and everyone caught it. Like the city, everything is branded: Soft Clean Bacon, Soft Inc, Soft Work…
The whole story is simple, and reminded me a bit of the opening scenes of Tom Hanks’ office life in Joe vs. The Volcano, though it’s not at all funny. A baby crawls out of its crib to see its parents start their day by taking their pills. When Mom swings her baby in her arms, through the window all the other mothers are doing the same thing. When Dad puts on his hat and coat and heads out to work, he’s in sync with all the other dads, who head off in horrendous traffic to the truly hellish parking lot of the offices where they all work. Of course there’s a boss at the top. And there seems to be some truly awful stuff going on in the world, which we see via stills of video/news feeds. It’s not clear if Mom and Dad have access to those, or if the pills they take keep them from seeing what’s really going on.