Pushwagner’s Soft City animation

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‘Pushwagner’s magnum opus, the graphic novel Soft City, is as feverish as a nightmare acid trip. Across 154 now-yellowing original sheets, in thin pen lines, a numbed world unfolds in relentlessly repetitive detail. It pictures identical family units en masse, going about identical lives, in apparently infinite identical flats and offices, in tower blocks that stretch upwards and outwards forever.

The story is simple and circular: get up, take a pill, kiss the baby, go to work, punch in, punch out, go home, kiss the baby, go to sleep. Everyone frogmarches to the same rhythm, ruled by the clock (if you’re late, you’re fired). Everyone drives – the multistorey car park is a major fixture. Everyone’s happy: for Soft City inhabitants, the mind is as much a prison as the routine lifestyle and oppressive architecture. There is no sky; there is no way out.

Soft City was created in the 1970s, fuelled by a dystopian vision the artist shared with his friend and mentor, the counter-culture novelist Axel Jensen, whose celebrated science fiction books he illustrated. The graphic novel then disappeared for decades, in which Pushwagner’s life went on a downward spiral from making art to marital breakdown, heavy drug use and, in the late 1990s, two years sleeping rough.

In his native Norway, the septuagenarian is now a celebrated square peg, as notorious for his wild lifestyle as he is for his unforgiving comic art. Literally “picked up from the gutter” by his manager, Stefan Stray, he’s only been more widely appreciated in the last decade. The recently rediscovered Soft City was one of the standout works in the 2008 Berlin Biennale, while a Norwegian documentary released last year chronicled his topsy-turvy life.’ By Skye Sherwin, Guardian 09/08/2012

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