And that’s exactly what happens in Hariton Pushwagner’s curious graphic novel, which was originally drawn between 1969 and 1975 and then, for decades, disappeared without a trace. But it’s not the story (or anti-story) behind Soft City that makes this book so fascinating. Pushwagner’s artwork is childlike but also strangely hypnotic. Watching the inhabitants of Soft City rise mechanically from their beds, travel to work with wide unblinking eyes, sit down zombie-like behind their desks and then return home again after mindlessly following the Boss’s instructions and, no doubt, having unconsciously hastened their own destruction, has a weirdly brainwashing effect on the reader. We don’t participate in the book, we simply let it wash over us. And, while it washes over us, the occasional errant thought bubble that drifts across the page – a Soft City drone dreams of the beach while another drone imagines himself as a fighter pilot, no doubt wishing he could blow all his fellow drones out of the sky – is strangely disaffecting. Even a random blink-and-you’ll-miss-it act of violence on the motorway tucked away in a corner doesn’t jar us as much as it should. And is it any coincidence that the Boss, so completely removed from his hordes of identically somnambulistic employees, receives sinister messages from an invisible controller wherein English and German are combined and a ticker-tape with the skull and crossbones on it orders him to ‘Sieg Spray!’? “Where is the mind when the body is here?” wonders another drone, in a window high above the street, and that seems to be the question Pushwagner wants us to consider, while simultaneously reinforcing the suggestion that the distance between the reader and the inhabitants of Soft City is not so distant after all. It’s almost as if he is trying to implicate us in his character’s complacency.
Soft City is a mind-trip and should come with the warning that once you start thinking about what it means, the more complicated and troubling it becomes. For that reason, it’s also a work of genius.
SOFT CITY / AUTHOR: HARITON PUSHWAGNER, CHRIS WARE / PUBLISHER: THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, INC / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 17TH