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Brian Fies Wonders Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow

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“Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? People believed in it for a long time. Then they gave up on it for a long time. And the, gradually, without even necessarily meaning to…they built it.”

Artist/writer Brian Fies, the author of Mom's cancer - the graphic novel that tracks the changes wrought upon a family that finds themselves facing a mother that has cancer - tackles the post war real world in his latest graphic novel Whatever happened to the world of tomorrow? Fies tracks the changes on different fronts: the real world, the cultural landscape and the emotional landscape. He cleverly uses the possibilities of comics storytelling to its fullest by mixing real world photographs, drawings and re-made pulp comics, getting the fullest out of reader identification. It is the first graphic novel under Abrams Books ComicArts imprint.

Spanning the period from the 1939 New York World's Fair to the last Apollo space mission in 1975, it is told through the eyes of a boy as he grows up in an era that was optimistic and ambitious, fueled by industry, engines, electricity, rockets, and the atom bomb.

The all knowing narrating voice that runs through the graphic novel ties all the elements together and keeps everything tight and focused. Fies never runs of the track but sticks to his (space-)guns going even so far as not to include any side-characters but focusing strictly on the boy and his father - the only two fictional characters in the GN so to speak - who weave the main thread, living through actual events. On the other hand, you have a mock up comic playing substitute to evolving cultural plateau, tracing the adventures of Commander Cap Crater and Cosmic Kid who in a nice touch, are drawn to look like the boy and the father, further cementing the real world events in the heads and emotional lives of the characters. The laser tight focus is really impressive in this comic, I must say.

All the different story elements though take a backdrop to Brian Fies' determination in tracking the technological advances and human frame of mind from the forties to the present and future. Sometimes, the characters feel a bit too much like puppets speaking for the master though, especially when the GN becomes overtly didactic like on the expansion about the probes to Venus and Mars. The captioned voice over overtly steps to the front to present the facts while the characters disappear completely. Though these scenes do interrupt the reading process a bit, jerking the reader away from the integrated dialogues and factual presentations, it must be said that Fies certainly has an enthusiastic voice and a relaxed style of writing. This prevents the voice over from becoming too boring or didactic.

Brian Fies' drawing style accurately reflects the innocent meanderings of the boy who grows up in the space age. It won't win any prizes for glamour or brush work but it is an adequate mix of the atomic style and the Dennis the Menace type of drawing. It is sometimes overly straight in its backgrounds leaving not much to the imagination, instead opting to just draw it all out. In a way though, that too fits the story since Fies is intent on explaining it all for the reader.

What you immediately notice is the design of the graphic novel, from an inventive dust cover with a die cut to the insides merging the drawings and photographs to a single coherent whole. Fies uses the design also to differentiate between settings. The more didactic scenes are merged with photographic materials, the scenes between the boy and the father become huge overblown panels with flat colouring (which I found to be a bit too flat in their approach) and the fake comic pages even go so far as to include different paper stock for the cover and the insides complete with fake ads and dotted colouring. I found it to be quite impressive.

And although the premise of Whatever happened to the world of tomorrow? builds off that old millennial doom-saying 'If it's the future, why don't I have my flying car and jet pack?' it does not seem all that interested in providing an answer beyond the current advances in communication technology and that other tired saying 'The future? We're already living it.' Added in there for extra emotional punch is a sniff of hope for the future and the realisation that Man will always strive for advancement. However it does even the path for an impressive sequence where Fies summarizes the technological progress, starting with a bird's eye view of a row of houses and through the process of complexity ends up with a close up of a computer chip. One of the best and concise scenes in the book.

Though it is not mentioned anywhere else, I did find myself wondering what the age group is for this graphic novel because - though it definitely is suited for an older audience - the style of drawing, writing and the straightforward factual presentation coupled with comic storytelling elements reek of an intent for a younger audience with a scholastic touch but I'm not sure if that is the case or not. It would be a good graphic novel to have laying around in the classroom, for sure.

With Whatever happened to the world of tomorrow? Brian Fies has created a true graphic novel. Graphic in the sense that the way the story is told can only be told by using the comic vocabulary and novel by intermingling the effects of real world technological achievements, human relations and the cultural landscape that happened during the fifties until the present in a nation.

Whatever happened to the world of tomorrow? by Brian Fies is published by Abrams Books. It is a 208 pages counting full colour hardcover graphic novel, retailing for €24.95 and is available in finer bookstores and comic shops across the world.

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