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Against a backdrop of the navy vacuum of the universe, a slim man encased in the halo of his space helmet traverses the slate gray lunar landscape. Such is the futuristic world presented in cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld’s newest graphic novel, “Mooncop.” The work showcases Gauld’s usual repertoire of science fiction and British humor with a touch of irony and sarcasm. “Mooncop” is a poignant tale of loneliness and the overwhelming speed of technological advancement, told through simple yet expressive drawings.
Throughout the novel, the eponymous mooncop wanders across the rocky barren moon, sometimes by foot and sometimes in his floating police capsule. As each day passes, the population on the moon dwindles, and his neighbors slowly move away. The lunar colonization venture, of which the book provides little background explanation, appears to be a passing fad and has already lost its allure within one generation. Our mooncop struggles to find meaning in his routine and to combat the growing loneliness of his ghost town. Amusingly, his routine is similar to that of a stereotypical small town policeman on Earth, compelling despite its lack of excitement.
Gauld’s artwork is stylistically distinctive, consisting of characters with chunky bodies and skinny limbs. Despite having no mouths and only dots for eyes, they still manage to be emotionally evocative and sympathetic. Even the robots and blocky buildings (which also often stand on thin stilts) seem to have personalities. The artwork is done entirely in a rich navy and a light blue-gray, with pinpoints of white. Everything is outlined in even black lines and textured with black cross-hatching. The effect is deliciously eerie and gives the impression of total stillness and silence.
Consistent with the sparse artwork, loneliness is a key theme of the graphic novel: Despite the alien world of the moon, the emotional currents in the novel are deeply relatable. Nearly everything is digitized or mechanized on the moon, and everyone must wear a spacesuit with a clear bulb around the head—even a dog goes around in a hamster ball-like sphere. As such, almost all interactions occur through one or multiple literal barriers of glass, much like computer and phone screens on earth. Robots are able to replace many jobs typically done by humans, and although the robots are friendly enough, they seem even less communicative than the mouthlessly drawn humans. All these features of lunar life create a separation between people, also presenting an intriguing critique on technology’s ability to connect and disconnect a community.
Indeed, technology plays a large role in “Mooncop” and is depicted with a thought-provoking dissonance. The scene on the moon is simultaneously extremely futuristic and primitive: The robots have fascinating capabilities and sometimes make the reader wonder what work is left for humans to do on the moon. The machinery often malfunctions however, and though there seem to be other robots equipped to fix some of their problems, the general feeling is that of a world continually falling apart and barely patching itself back up. Furthermore, the glimpses of screens all feature strangely old-fashioned text-based commands, like early computer models from the 1980s. Most of the machinery is already outdated, and when a newer model of robot is sent up to the moon, it is unable to charge its battery because it uses a different type of port. The lunar colonization itself appears to be a technological leap that lost steam and is slowly becoming abandoned. The landscape looks both post-apocalyptic and pre-colonized, as if it has never been touched by human influence. Gauld sets up an impressively complex and multi-faceted commentary on technology and society’s struggle to keep up with its advancement through such a simple story in just under a hundred pages.
Gauld’s graphic novel is bittersweet, and though futuristic, it still inspires an unexpected feeling of nostalgia. The world it depicts is solitary, dark, barren, and desolate, but upon completion, the book creates a lingering sense of warmth and optimism. Even in the gray and abandoned lunar landscape, a little glimmer of hope can be found.
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