The death of Norwegian pop artist and cartoonist Hariton Pushwagner (real name Terje Brofos) hardly made waves on the global media, but his work deserves at least some attention. His most famous book, Soft City, was only published forty years after completion, and it depicts a society that is directed by consumption and distraction. People are mere production units for a single company, Soft inc. They no longer eat or drink, but consume daily soft pills that render them apathetic but hard working, and allows the company to exploit their dreams.
Dystopian vision can go one of two ways: either it depicts a future society as a hell on earth, with blatant exploitation and tyranny, fear and violence (think 1984, or Judge Dredd), or it goes a sneakier route and paints a rose-coloured future without any wants or needs, but also without any freedom or drive (Brave New World and indeed Soft City). Indeed, there are quite a few parallels between Pushwagner’s magnum opus and Aldous Huxley’s novel, but what set it totally apart is the amazing artwork. Pushwagner tells his story in full page spreads that stress the repetition and endless loop of the lives of modern men and women, all without distinctive features, in a world that again is nothing but repetition upon repetition as far as the eye can see.
Even though the book starts with a narrative of a child waking up in the morning, the book has no obvious story, but rather aims at evoking this soft nightmare of passive inertness, of endless turning, where small incidents are no more than rest symbols in a symphony of drudgery.
Pushwagner started working on the book in 1969 in the small Norwegian town of Fredrikstad and later in London, but it was never published until 2008, when the only copy was found after having been lost for 20 years. In 2016 an English edition was published by The New York Review of Books with a cover by Chris Ware. In the mean time, Pushwagner had worked on several other projectgs, such as A Day In The Life Of A Family Man (1980) and his Self Portrait (1973-1993). He gained international fame as a pop artist and exhibited his work all over Europe. in 2015 he was one of the guests of honor at the Fumetto festival in Luzern.
On April 24, Hariton Pushwagner died of lung cancer. He was 77 years old.
(based on an article by Jana Jakoubek in Tagesspiegel)