Welcome to a nightmare of identical high-rise towers, car-jammed highways and swarming supermarkets; a city gobbled up by a corporation which stamps its signature on everything from newspapers to nuclear weapons; a metropolis whose citizen-slaves are so uniform they may have been bred in incubators, and who all rise at 7am, pop happiness pills and open the front door to leave for work in unison.
Soft City was the future according to Norwegian artist Hariton Pushwagner back in 1969, when he started sketching the graphic novel of the same name. The invasion of concrete, steel and glass, the increase in mass housing, as well as the clashes between utopian and dystopian thinking, all fuelled the artist’s vision of the dark, unpalatable flip-side to Le Corbusier’s machine for living. More than 40 years on, his day in the life of a soft citizen in conveyer-belt-ville – half satire, half speculation, one senses – is just as potent. Gloomy times call for gloomy visions and presently dystopias and the apocalypse are everywhere – trouncing vampires in young adult fiction sales (thanks to The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road) and looming large in many a recent arthouse film (Tarr’s The Turin Horse, von Trier’s Melancholia).
Largely monochrome, with its minimalist pencil markings and smudges of Tippex, the drawings are the anthesis of the colourful, exaggerated mega-dystopias of most graphic novels. Repetition and conformity were the twin obsessions of many consumer-curious pop artists in the 1960s, and are undoubtedly shared by Pushwagner. Windscreens and rear-view mirrors are filled with a parade of indistinguishable hatted and suited silhouettes sat in office-bound cars. Meanwhile, tower-block homes are constructed simply with rows of roughly drawn squares disappearing off page, producing an epic, dizzying spectacle as Pushwagner moulds his city’s architecture to squeeze out any glimpse of the horizon. Peering through the windows in other scenes reveals the lives of the inhabitants within these duplicate interiors (complete with 1960s swivel armchairs) paused at precisely the same TV dinner moment.