Finnish cartoonist Tommi Musturi recently concluded Future, his solo anthology series, with the release of its 10th issue. The series mostly examines immiseration of the consumer class under capitalism, as projected through the lens of fantasy and science fiction. Musturi pulls no punches in showing how the modern condition alienates us from each other, how it destroys our creativity, how it changes our nature, and how it will spur our demise. He places the grimness of the subject matter in the foreground, situating Future in the realm of the philosophical and the allegorical, and prioritizing vibes over character-driven concerns in order to riff upon a series of high-concept scenarios. He gives us alcoholic magicians, guerrilla art squads, mutant reality television hosts, and incel archaeologist-astronauts, among many others. The protagonists of his stories are cowed and trammeled. They are given voice only so they may elucidate their miseries.
That’s not to say Future isn’t funny. Musturi’s simmering apocalypse is more MAD magazine than Mad Max. Above all, it’s a showcase of his bravura versatility as a cartoonist. Throughout the series, Musturi channels a century’s worth of cartooning techniques and tropes to make his case. He imbues the familiar with a sinister, acid energy, often invoking the squash and stretch of well-known (even beloved) characters, removed from their friendly context. They become husks, detritus on the pile.
In “Stoners”, one of the newspaper-style strips that Musturi puts forth intermittently, a Fred Flintstone analog struggles violently to operate a computer. On the cover of issue #3, a paunchy, Goofy-shaped vagrant strides merrily among heaps of trash, his arm tied off with a computer cord tourniquet. Behind Goofy, a Pluto-like figure clothed in rags grins gleefully, placing a pill on his tongue. On the back cover, a more traditional version of the dog, colored blue and towering over Mickey Mouse, rends the flesh from his owner. On the cover of issue #6, what appears to be a Charlie Brown doll is clutched in the talons of a sagging, Tintin-headed demon. Jaws hang, tongues wag, drool dangles in long, thin strings. Stacks of cash stick out of pockets and out of asses. Banana peels, puddles of slime, bones and skulls; Musturi locates our humanity in folds of loose flesh and heaps of refuse. “Culture” is the word that is most often invoked in Future’s pages to encompass Musturi’s concerns about how we live our lives and spend our time. It’s an effective descriptor, but it’s the strength of his vision that renders it more of a gravitational force than part of a log line.
Future’s greatest success is its assemblage. What better framing device for a meditation on humanity’s trash-strewn waning days than a comic book: that embodiment of low culture? In using this device, Musturi directs the reader toward considering Future’s content as the means to a commercial end - and from that, he utilizes editorial facets of the form as vehicles for world-building.
For example, each issue features a preamble that hearkens to the EC days of American comics—or perhaps the 2000 AD of Musturi’s youth— delivered by the Warehouse Keeper, a character who seems to function as both a custodian and archivist for FINC, an agency responsible for the curation of all the culture in time and space. It’s hard to say whether the Warehouse Keeper is deteriorating or transcending his corporeal form as the series progresses. By the logic of Future, it could be both. A letters column, “Future Forecast”, punctuates each issue, stemming from an official Gmail address proffered by Musturi. The column features missives and observations from “readers”—some real, some not, by Musturi’s account—who address their questions to IDA (Imperial Datum Analyzer), the authoritative artificial intelligence ostensibly guiding the magazine’s publication from a far off space and time. These correspondences tend toward musings on how humanity is changing to co-exist with its fast-advancing technology. Musturi, writing as IDA, addresses these concerns by arguing for laziness and for divorcing our creativity from commercial ends. As humans, he argues, our reach exceeds our grasp. The inertia of human progress has rendered us tools of the systems we built to impose order upon our existence and it will only get worse. He writes, for example:
The next generation will have survived outsourcing memory, feelings and identity and won’t see their life as maelstrom. Instead, their overdosed life consists of blindly assisting with the objectives of capitalism in the extreme. You can simulate this by observing the crash cars in an amusement park.
Fatalism is a through line of Future. It often feels like an invocation to indulge in the spectacle of the void (to borrow a phrase from author David Peak), rather than a call to turn the tides. This apathetic quality can sometimes dull the bite of the work, though it does generally highlight the dangers of overconsumption and the questioning of conventional wisdom. While the execution, reliant in part on pop culture touchstones, channels the likes of '80s/'90s luminaries like Geof Darrow, Charles Burns and Gary Panter, underground comics have trafficked in these concerns from their inception, and the spirit of '60s forebears like Robert Williams burns bright. A decade in the making and published over the last five years, Musturi’s process allowed for concurrent production in Finnish and English, with assistance from colleague Tuomas Rantala (billed as T. Rantala in the indicia). The limitations and idiosyncrasies of the translation add an additional jarring layer to the English-reading experience, rendering some of the passages stifling-but-vaguely-inspirational blocks of text à la the label on Dr. Bronner’s All-One Magic Soap.
Musturi also self-published the series under his Boing Being label, but it must be noted that the model employed here differs wildly from the vast majority of self-publication in America. Future was funded through a combination of grants by the government of Finland and Finnish foundations. In emails to me, Musturi explained that this type of funding is a common method by which European governments try to vivify their culture. While comics are a relatively new venue for arts funding, Musturi credits this system for Future’s scope and for the amount of time he was able to devote to it. He also notes that as European governments skew further to the right as years pass, the model may not be around for long. As it stands, this level of support stands in stark contrast to the status quo in America, where the biggest recent discussion in comics was #ComicsBrokeMe on Twitter, following the untimely and tragic loss of artist Ian McGinty. Under this grim hashtag, industry veterans and newcomers alike expounded on the horrific deadlines under which they make comics, and the insulting pay they receive for it. They also spoke, sadly, about the sunk costs they’ve invested in their careers, and the lack of a social safety net that prevents them from stepping away or pivoting.
Perhaps it's through the long production lead time allowed by grant funding, as well as the coherence of his mission, that Musturi avoids the problem of unevenness that typically ensnares solo anthologies. Throughout the series, he employs wildly disparate styles and techniques, demonstrating his versatility without the vapid self-congratulation that typically (too often, of late) comes with “celebrating the medium”. He shifts gears with little fanfare and minimal segue, save for the occasional title caption marking the start of a new story. Not until reading a few issues can the reader parse that what Musturi is offering are concurrent narratives. Taken as whole, reading Future is like doomscrolling the carefully curated For You page of an irony-poisoned depressive - one that isn’t spoiled by the intrusion of algorithmically-served content.
The stories do not resolve, exactly. The momentum the narratives accrue amounts to a centrifugal force, allowing the factors that shape them to self-perpetuate. Resistant to this pull is “Centra”, Musturi’s representation of an El Dorado of the heart, mind, and soul. Presented in serial installments throughout the series, "Centra" is the calm at the center of Future, the eye of the storm, where days are long and languid and concerns are few and small. Musturi renders it in fine, gentle lines, and a gauzy sunset palette. Like many cities of legend, Centra is revealed to be an act of creation and the expression of an ideal. It is elusive, but it is whole and welcoming to those who can find it.