REVIEW: Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
By Brian Fies
208 pages, $14.95, Abrams ComicArts
The future never turns out like people predict. Nostradamus was wrong. Authors, philosophers, painters, and clergy have all been wrong about what the world of tomorrow will turn out to be. Depending upon when you were born and where you were raised, the future is either shockingly surprising or deeply disappointing. Brian Fies’ Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? falls into the latter category.
The 2009 book is now out in softcover and a personal essay on what the world has become since the 1939 World’s Fair, which also parallels the development of geek culture since, after all, that was the first place Superman made a personal appearance as his popularity was just beginning to soar. The sky was the limit, it seemed, and the World’s Fair promised peace and prosperity at a time that war was already being fought in Europe and Asia. The fair seemed to be willing to war to stay away from our shores.
The promise of space adventures, which first appeared monthly in the pulp magazines, took off at this same period thanks to adventure serials in newspapers, radio exploits doled out in fifteen minute installments and then fifteen chapter serials shot on a shoestring but told at a such a breakneck pace you just had to come back next week to learn what happened next. At the same time, war shook America out of the Depression doldrums and forced manufacturing, technology, and science to stay one step ahead of the Axis powers.
Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, the long-awaited follow-up to Mom’s Cancer, is a unique graphic novel that tells the story of a young boy and his relationship with his father.
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. An insightful look at relationships and the promise of the future, award-winning author Brian Fies presents his story in a way that only comics and graphic novels can.
Interspersed with the comic book adventures of Commander Cap Crater (created by Fies to mirror the styles of the comics and the time periods he is depicting), and mixing art and historical photographs, this groundbreaking graphic novel is a lively trip through a half century of technological evolution. It is also a perceptive look at the changing moods of our nation-and the enduring promise of the future.
Fies, best known for his award winning Mom’s Cancer, followed up with this look back at the promises of the past and the failure of the future to deliver. The story stretches from the World’s Fair to the final Apollo mission in 1975 and is told entirely from the point of view of Pop and Buddy and thanks to the miracle of comic book storytelling, the two age incredibly slowly while the world moves ahead in real time. It’s a conceit, using them as metaphors not actual characters, that doesn’t entirely work despite an Author’s Note up front, but it’s at worst a minor annoyance.
Interestingly, the book also tells the story of American society by showing the mindset as world events changed around us, going from the anything is possible 1940s to the disillusioned 1960s. Also reflective of this evolution are a series of faux comics featuring Commander Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid. Imitating the styles of the 1940-1970s, these stories also show how comic books have grown ever more sophisticated in reaction to the changing readership. Fies does a terrific job matching the bad color registration and subtly adjusts the paper yellowing to reflect the ages as well as the ever more complex indicias.
The book also nicely integrates actual photography from space or of the fair along with images taken from the great futurist artist Chesley Bonestell. The storytelling, artwork, layout, pacing, and color are terrific and does a nice job taking us era to era even as our main characters oh so slowly grow and age. Dad remains representative of an American society whose time has passed and maintains his conservative stance which ultimately causes conflict with Buddy, who yearns for the future to be here now.
It’s the 1960s when everything changes as the Russians reach space before the Americans and it has become clear that the promises of the 1930s will not be kept. There’s a sense of anger and loss at this realization which also makes the 1970s a sad period when there’s little to believe in.
Still, Fies offers up an optimistic ending, pointing out the current technology boom of the last 10-15 years has once more awakened the endless possibilities offered in the years ahead. We may not be getting jet packs and interplanetary travel any time soon, but we are reminded there is a lot to look forward to.