Friday, November 27, 2009

Graphically Speaking: Whatever Happened To The World On Tomorrow

Words: Seth Kushner

Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow follows fifty years of technological revolution, as seen through the eyes of a boy who is promised a particular idealized future by a trip to the 1939 World’s Fair. The book opens on the boy and his father on the way to the fair and the story is told by author Brian Fies in a clean, retro, “cartoony” style. Fies utilizes big, mostly full-page panels, leading to concise storytelling. Much of the text is in caption boxes and the writing does a fine job of conveying the boy’s own sense of wonder. The reader is given a tour of the fair as the boy and his father make their way through the exhibits and Fies manages to effectively incorporate photographs from the World’s Fair through the father taking pictures of the boy at the fair, combining the photos with his illustration.

While at the fair, the boy is given a comic called Space Age Adventures featuring Cap Crater and then the book’s pages change to yellowed newsprint, mimicking the look and feel of a golden age comic, completely with big printing dots, giving the look of Lichtenstein-esque pop art.As the story moves forward through different eras the comic returns, each time with era appropriate art; the one from 1965 evokes Jack Kirby, 1975 is an homage to Neal Adams, and so on. The story catches up with the boy once every decade and events of the time are played out. 1955 has the boy and his father having moved from the city to the suburbs (as many did then), and building a bomb shelter. The section taking place in 1965 has the main characters at a Gemini rocket launch.In each period the boy still dreams of the flying cars and jet packs he saw at the World’s Fair, until 1975, when the Apollo Space program is winding down, and then he realizes that the future promised to him – and to all of us— is not coming. The final section has the boy, now a grown man, living in the distant future, and explains how what the future the we actually got, (our present) is wondrous, clever and effective.

Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow is a handsome book, as one would expect from Abrams Comic Arts. Designer Neil Egan uses the bookjacket in an inventive way, creating a narrative between it and the cover beneath.

The main drawback of the book, at least to me, is that it sometimes reads a bit like a textbook. Fies, I believe, is looking to educate the reader and it sometimes comes off as heavy handed. Regardless, Fies does very well with creating a sense of nostalgia and he’s a fine visual storyteller and draws the architecture, clothing and furniture of each time period accurately, giving the reader a good sense of time and place. He also develops the relationship between the father and son and it feels honest.

I've been a World's Fair enthusiast for a long time and was very excited when I originally saw this book solicited. Happily, it delivered for me.

Now, where the hell are my flying car and jet pack?

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow
is the book of discussion at the Abrams Book Club, held at Bergen Street Comics on December 3 at 8 PM. Bergen Street Comics is at 470 Bergen St, located near the Bergen Street stop for the 2 and 3, and blocks from the Atlantic/Pacific station.

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