Artie is a cute little robot in an apocalyptic, post-human landscape, roaming through a desert on Earth with a single job, that, frankly, seems a bit pointless. He has one friend, another robot, who pushes him to learn and discover more about his world, to break out of his programming, and to save something important.
I had to check the dates on Jon Nielsen’s graphic novel Look , because the parallels with the Pixar movie Wall-E were so obvious that I wanted to believe this was from the late ’90s and it was all parallel development. But no: this is a 2017 joint, so, unless I assume Nielsen (a fairly prominent web cartoonist) was living in a media-free cave during the Aughts, those parallels must be built-in, part of some plan.
Look is not officially a book for young readers, but it’s tone is very middle-grade and it’s entirely kid-friendly; I expect it has already found its way into a lot of school GN collections. And that means being similar to a twenty-year old movie might not be a problem. Ten-year-olds don’t know automatically which robot story came first, or have a deep knowledge of robot stories to begin with (oh, some ten-year-olds will have a deep and abiding passion for robot moves, or any other random thing, definitely) – or care.
Back to Artie. He’s the guy on the cover. His job is to circle a desert, endlessly, looking for something. Accompanying him, with a history we don’t know at first, is the vulture Owen – who, quirkily, seems to have a problem remembering things, like a different Pixar character.
The story here starts when Owen goads Artie into breaking his routine, going to The Village to talk to “Mr. Hew” (who turns out to be a wise old turtle – oh, and this may be a minor SPOILER, but every last character in this book is actually a robot, even if they look biological). Artie has realized that he doesn’t know what he’s looking for in the desert, just that he’s looking for something, and would like some more direction.
Mr. Hew doesn’t know what Artie is looking for either, and sends him to The Factory. Artie turns out to be defective – that should probably be in quotes; but you know what I mean; you’ve seen stories like this a thousand times – and the large scary robots at The Factory try to reprogram him to forget everything he’s learned and destroy his emergent personality.
Artie gets away, with Owen’s help. They head out of the desert to see what else is in the world. And then the rest of the plot happens; I won’t go into all of the details. It follows the path I mostly expected, though with some quirky surprises (ecological messages, sure, but a functional city portrayed positively?) and the requisite happy ending.
This is pleasant and zippy; Nielsen draws with thin crisp lines and gets a lot of life into the body language of his robots. It is a story pitched at that Pixar or kid-GN level, so don’t expect deeper insights or more complexity than that. But it’s just fine on that level, if possibly just a bit second-hand and familiar to an adult.