29 Jul 2009

Graphic Perception: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW?

By Matt C

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW?
Writer: Brian Fies
Art: Brian Fies
Abrams ComicArts $24.95

I’m not quite old enough to remember the Space Race in its heyday but I’ve seen enough Christmases to remember a time when the possibility of man living on the Moon, and maybe even Mars, seemed very real and very likely to happen in my lifetime. The phrase ‘Where’s my jetpack?’ (or, if your Warren Ellis, ‘Where’s my fucking jetpack?!’) has become an irony tinged cliché in recent times but it’s impossible not to relate to its underlying sense of disappointment. Basically, there’s a whole lot of us out there wondering what the hell happened to the future we were promised.

Brian Fies wonderful, life-affirming graphic novel tackles this idea that somehow, as a race, we stopped trying to pushing things forward and reach for the stars. Beginning at the famous World’s Fair of 1939 and following the scientific leaps that eventually resulted in man walking on the Moon, this is the story of a father and son and how, over time, their relationship changes as optimism makes way for cynicism. If that sounds like it may read as a depressing acknowledgement that we have failed to explore the final frontier, it’s not – far from it in fact. For a start, Fies clean, cartoon-like art is bursting with such wonder and exuberance that it’ll undoubtedly bring a smile to the face. It cleverly nods towards a simpler style of illustration more frequently seen in comics aimed at kids (there’s something vaguely Archie-esque about the lead character!), nicely juxtaposing with the core theme of a loss of childhood innocence. It adapts itself well to ‘real world’ situations, incorporating (often recognizable) photographs that sit comfortably with the hand-drawn imagery, and a playful use of colour successfully evokes different time periods. Of particular note for comic book fans is the comic-within-a-comic trick, here using an archetypal character called Cap Crater, which breaks up the main story by cleverly reflecting the way the medium matured and changed over the decades. The real humdinger is that different, ‘inferior’ paper-stock is used for these pages for a more authentic four-colour feel.

This is not the only clever use of comic book conventions that will be appreciated by the observant fanboy however. The father and son don’t age naturally as the decades pass by, rather they age at the ridiculously slow pace more familiar in comics, a medium where characters essentially stay trapped in amber while time progresses forward around them. The two main members of the cast do age in this story, just very, very slowly, and while it is basically an admission that some standards of the form are somewhat ludicrous and illogical when taken out of context, they are essential not only for this narrative, but for the artform to survive.

The message that the book delivers, while hardly original, comes across clearly to the reader: the ‘future’ may not have turned out exactly as we envisaged but things have changed, huge advances have been made, they’ve just sort of snuck up on us without us realising. Just look at the technology we have access to these days: the mobile phone in your pocket is more powerful than the computers that put man on the Moon, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The World Of Tomorrow? We’re living in it, bub!

The brilliance of Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow? is that it reminds us something important that we may occasionally forget: mankind hasn’t given up on pushing itself forward, hasn’t stopped trying to better itself and look at the future with optimism. We may not be living on the Moon yet, but there’s still plenty of time left to make that happen and there’s no reason to believe we won’t one day return there and then continue onwards into the unknown. It’s a beautifully produced, affecting book that and deserves a place on any discerning comic fan’s bookshelf. 8/10

1 comment:

Justin said...

Hi Matt,

I was tempted to book this book up, but I think you just sold me on it. Adding it to the "to buy" list...

Justin