Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Microreview: Mooncop

Tom Gauld has more up his sleeve than just funny cartoons

Without me even realizing it, Tom Gauld had become a part of my internet. I recognized, instinctively, a very particular art style with dotted eyes, pointy noses, and oftentimes a distinct lack of mouths. I savored this comic, about how the ‘respectable’ literary establishment views our genres, and this one about the limits of ‘write what you know.’ I had never really put a name to him, however (the fate of so many artists, musicians, writers, and other creatives) as his work slid in and out of feeds until I had found his book Mooncop in a local library.

Mooncop is a slim volume; I read it in a single sitting, and I think most people could do it in a rather short amount of time. It is, in a sense, exactly what it says on the tin, being about a policeman on a lunar colony sometime in the not-too-distant future. Even the title feels like Gauld, in some way, with a bluntness that only obscures the greater depths of the work with a seeming irreverence towards standard titles.

The plot is rather simple, but laden with subtleties in a way that is frankly masterful. It concerns the titular lunar law enforcement officer as he makes his rounds through what is clearly something of a ghost town, visiting diners and doing quotidian beat tasks that are generally not the sort of thing that fictional police officers do. It’s not exciting, far from it, but it has something very compelling about it, especially as it becomes clear that this little town on the Moon is changing, and not for the better.

Gauld’s art lingers on scenic moonscapes, reminiscent of any number of painters’ depictions of the American West, but with a distinct lack of cacti. These panels, with Mooncop’s police rover in the foreground, a mere fraction of the scene, break up the dialogue often. The end result is this overwhelming feeling of quiet, of solitude, of isolation. It is a feeling that is so fitting for the cold of outer space, a place where nobody can hear you scream (but Mooncop will probably hear the report on his radio). The sheer scope of the moonscape emboldens the whole enterprise, doing with pictures what Kim Stanley Robinson loves to do with his prose, be it of Mars or of the High Sierra of California. Gauld’s art makes all this cozy, rather than threatening; I never thought a place with no breathable air could feel like a blanket in its own strange way, but he did it.

What is threatening in Mooncop is the impermanence of all things. The world that this extraterrestrial policeman has clearly come to love in a reserved, quotidian way is coming to an end, and as loath as he is to say it, he is in pain. All these silences that Gauld uses provide not just calm, but distress. You get the feeling that he’s ruminating on things, like we do when we are trying to fall asleep and our melatonin hasn’t kicked in yet.

Mooncop is what I’d imagine the experience of a retreat at a monastery feels like, in comic book form. It reminded me of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, of non-self, of the conditioned nature and impermanence of all things and all situations. It’s about Mooncop’s attachment to his home and to his community, and how that, like everything else, is bound to end. Mooncop has to grapple with this as he is set to lose everything he loves, and he does so in a way that is painfully real to anyone who has lost anything (and I believe that is everyone, on whatever celestial body they may be on).

Mooncop is about the necessity of serenity and stillness in a world that demands so much attention and energy. It is a profoundly meditative experience, something I had never encountered in a comic book, or in any book, really. It is living proof that this internet jokester has far more in him than jokes, than mere silliness, and has something actually quite profound to say about the human experience. It’s an engrossing read.

Highlights: The ability to be so vast and yet so intimate.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10.

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.

Reference: Gauld, Tom. Mooncop [Drawn and Quarterly. 2016].