After last week's epic, let's just keep it nice and relaxed this time out...
COMIC OF THE WEEK : SOFT CITY
By Harrington Pushwagner
Published By NYRC
The quiet horror of the modern condition has not been expressed quite as hypnotically and succinctly as it is in Norwegian artist Harrington Pushwagner's astonishing Soft City. Identical men and identical women leave identical homes, get into identical cars and begin the long commute past seemingly never-ending towers and skyscrapers to arrive at their identical office jobs where they sit for the day, quietly daydreaming escapist fantasies. They then return home, only to inevitably repeat the process again the next day and the day after that and the day after that. Welcome to just one of those days, contained within the space of a gigantic hardcover edition and highlighted by a series of astoundingly immersive point-of-view double-page spreads.
Created between 1969 and 1975, Soft City's pages were somehow lost, only to reappear in 2002, first published in 2008 and now officially debuting in English thanks to publishers NYRC. It's a huge comics artefact -- 9.7 inches x 13.6 inches -- and comes with new design and introduction by Chris Ware (Building Stories, Jimmy Corrigan). Ware's admiration for Soft City should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work, similarly obsessed as it is with size, scope, detail and societal observation, and Ware's summation of Soft City as "The Stanley Kubrick comic book" feels perfectly apt.
Soft City’s anti-consumerist themes are hardly original, even by 1969 standards, but it's Pushwagner's obsessively detailed visual exploration of conformity and banality that makes this project so strikingly unique. Page after page of meticulously drawn buildings, crowding all the way to the horizon and the little people on the ground, packed into their little street-clogging cars,fills this strange, massively-sized book and the slow, inevitable crawl forward down Soft City's choking freeways allows the reader to soak up every little repetitive detail in all its sterile, manufactured state, each little window a panel within set within the confines of a building, the building set within the confines of other buildings, and all of it contained within Pushwagner's pages.
Life in Soft City is set by the clock - the alarm clock, the clocking in and out of work, the schedule of TV programming for the evening. Presiding over his human drones is Mr. Soft, corporate overlord and near totalitarian leader, who keeps the plasticity of existence and the hum of industry turning endlessly, a most human supervillain, a man who has the masses cowed and docile. As depressing as all this sounds, and it is, Pushwagner's Soft City is one of those rare comics that actually "reads" like an experience -- it is felt as sensation more than it is digested as visual and narrative information and it's little wonder Pushwagner's initial impetus to create the work came following a psychedelic experience. Its huge double spreads, filled with boxy buildings and boxy cars and wide-eyed workers are utterly absorbing. The crude scratchiness of Pushwagner’s art lends an off-kilter, almost uncanny valley feeling - everything is recognisable, yet simultaneously turned up in size and scope but turned down in detail - the clipped narration adding to the strangeness as time seems to slow to a crawl.The death of affect in full-blown widescreen.
As unending apartment buildings spring up around us and our (well, mine certainly) daily commute at times feels like an unending purgatory, it's a shame that Soft City, a book over 40 years old, doesn’t not feel like a cliché from a bygone age. Outside from the fact that far more women are in the workforce than Pushwagner depicts, little has changed for so many of us. Soft City is still our city -- a blander, a little more lo-fi, a little more Sisyphean in its vision of a cycular corporatised work schedule -- but it's still a portrait of life that rings too honestly. Particularly daring readers may want to pair Soft City with another 2016 fave (and yet another book seemingly destined to remain out of print), Jeff Nicholson's harrowing Through The Habitrails, for a little bit of extra salt in the wounds caused by everyday routine. Taken alone, however, Soft City is one of the year's most striking and important releases - a reminder to the world at large that at its best, this medium is capital-A Art.Soft City proves, yet again, that there is nothing else quite like the comics medium.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : ORIGINAL BUILDING STORIES PAGE
By Chris Ware
From dizzying cityscapes to the most intimate and human of buildings, here's a page of original art from Chris Ware's astonishing Building Stories. The endless cycle of tenants coming and going over the building's fifty-plus year rental history is created on a single page through Ware's clever use of caption placement, taking readers from the roof, down through the walls, in through the front door and finally up into a vacated room, creating an almost mechanically conveyer-belt feeling to the human hum within Ware's old building. People come and people go but the building (and the rent, apparently) stay forever fixed in place.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : URASAWA NO MANBEN MANGA DOCUMENTARY S2E2 2016 - HANAZAWA KENGO
Grinding gears severely, as we're in October, it's fitting we start to bring the horror comics...
As we await the imminent arrival of the second English omnibus edition of the manga zombie epic, I Am A Hero, you may want to check out this great episode of Manben featuring the creator himself, Kengo Hanazawa, at work.
Hosted as always by Naoki Urasawa (he of Monster and Master Keaton fame), my personal favourite moment of this documentary comes as host and subject together watch footage shot deep into the night of final deadline and Hanazawa reveals he's only 80% done. "Ah, this is awful," says Urasawa, a man who's battled the deadline demon for over thirty years, "I hate watching this." Great stuff.
Be warned, there's a plot spoiler for I Am A Hero here but I don't think it's that much of a big deal particularly as the chance to watch the construction of pages from a climactic scene is on offer. Besides, the English version of this particular moment is probably five years away - you'll have forgotten all about it by then. In an earlier episode, Urasawa describes his Manben series as being all about "capturing the battle" and that's possibly never more true than what's happening right here.
See you next week