Bingo, a baby, wakes up to leave its crib and looks out onto giant tower blocks. Cars of commuters, chock-a-block, moving slowly, relentlessly to the office. Every worker, briefcase in hand, filing in and sitting down simultaneously in Soft Inc.: “They are ready.”
A classic work of dystopia satire—made in the twilight of the counterculture of the ’60s and thought lost for a quarter century—Hariton Pushwagner’s Soft City (1969-75) returns to stupefy and unnerve.
Pushwagner’s inky outlines of bodies and vacant eyes only make this routinized world more hollow.
Bingo’s parents—presumably just like all the other adults in all the other apartments, stretching up and out beyond the page—take a “Life” pill first thing in the morning and a “Sleep” pill at night as they get back into bed. In between are paper headlines bleeding into slogans—“Super-De-Lux-Atom” or “Spray-Peace.” Identical-looking commuters, nearly all male, entering their building’s elevators, their cars in the street below, and then the office together to sit down at endless rows of desks, while women are off supermarket-shopping in hypnotized unison, carts in hand as they walk, lock-step, down the aisles.
There’s a quaint fable feel to this over-sized book—it’s a twisted children’s tale of mass consumption and mass work. Here’s a world infantilized and turned soporific, its sheer mass-ness incredible: mass buildings, mass workers, mass manufacture of weapons (which the boss, offering German phrases, watches on a giant screen.) Vanishing points and low-angle perspectives—making Bingo or his dad seem, occasionally, like tottering statues—only make this world seem more endlessly, chillingly immense. And yet it’s so much smaller than life, too—for life no longer has any vitality and hardly any individuality (just a few workers’ dreams bubble up into the air—one is of being a fighter pilot.)
Chris Ware, in his introduction, offers comparisons to dystopia novels and films such as Modern Times, Brave New World, 2001, and more. The Norwegian Pushwagner (born Terje Brofos) also seems to be predicting Swede Roy Anderssen’s Songs From The Second Floor here. Martin Herbert, in his afterword, offers some background and influences: Burroughs, Pushwagner’s acid trips, the fading ’60s. It may well be, though, that in its vision of a collapsed European social project, Soft City remains horribly eerie.
New York Review Comics
167 pp, $47