Pushwagner, born Terje Brofe, had an irregular life, preoccupied with bohemianism, we are told in the afterword of the book. Upon first reading Pushwagner’s Soft City, originally drawn between 1969 and 1975, I am struck by the boundlessness of its illustration. When something is represented, like a man waving goodbye to his children, or driving to work, it is represented 1000 times. What Soft City seems to stress the most is this mass sameness—go-to-school-get-a-job-start-a-family—that society is preoccupied by. At first I am surprised by Pushwagner’s lack of color in the volume—How can something be both boundless and lacking color? Shouldn’t we expect a little more pizazz from something that was drawn on LSD trips?—but I come to the conclusion that a monochrome palette is best for representing this monotony.
The first person represented in Soft City is a baby, wide eyes and all. The book begins with the baby trying to figure out “what’s happening” as it gazes out a window surrounded by hundreds of windows just like the family’s own. While we eventually lose the outline of the baby, and their overarching thoughts strung across the page, the outlandish grandiose of adult life seems as if its been processed and regurgitated by an infant. As the parents climb out of bed, they’re already occupying their simplistic roles within the binary—the mother thinks “I must look for the baby,” while the father insists simply, “I must shave.” Soft City presents a dizzying, infant-POV understanding of our places in the world that is at once intriguing, and rather depressing. Every family in their apartment complex has one wife and one child, supporting their family by occupying the same job at the same corporation, Soft Corp. It seems that the only person who has somewhat escaped this cycle is their boss, who works in a private office, phoning in to his wife and kid who are somewhere on a beach, as well as the family’s child, who seems hesitant about this lifestyle.
When the men go to work, they control weapons of mass destruction behind a giant screen using video game like controls. Aside from a depiction of mass sameness, the book’s other main commentary seems to be on war and weaponry. At one point a figure on a TV screen declares, “Heil Hilton” which seems ominous in the stretch of time leading to the presidency of a different hotel mogul. While the language used while the men are at work is more mature with its authoritarian tone, the words remains simple and garbled like that of a child. The sentences are repetitive coos, at times the words’ meanings are more important for their emotional value rather than the way they function within each sentence fragment.
While Pushwagner’s Soft City is aged, released long after its completion, it seems just as striking as ever. Beginning with the sunrise and ending with the rise of the moon, the book proves that even in organized chaos, our cycles continue to repeat. “How strange the world seems,” the unnamed baby reflects.