Celestial Stories

An illustrate­d narrative about an officer who lives on the moon, Mooncop — filled with action and adventure — also dwells upon the tropes of loneliness, pathos, and the mundane

- Text and photos by Aparna Andhare

On Tom Gauld’s ‘Mooncop’

These days, more often than ever before, one wishes to get away from it all — crazy politics, bad weather, insane traffic — and settle down on the Moon. How nice would it be to gaze upon a distant Earth, and infinite space, whilst sipping coffee in a floating space-car! One could perhaps contemplat­e the deeper meaning of life, letting technology take care of humdrum tasks and spend time visiting moon-museums (before they are relocated elsewhere). An endearing graphic novel, Mooncop takes place on Earth’s own satellite, telling the story of an officer with a hundred per cent crime solving rate and a penchant for (Lunar) doughnuts with his cup of joe.

The reader is transporte­d to life on the Moon, a little while after the world had moved on to more fashionabl­e areas (some of it back on the planet). This setting is typical of Tom Gauld, who knows exactly how to create and depict an environmen­t — space in this case. From home to natural landscapes, literary and medieval locations, he keeps his settings persistent­ly relatable. Gauld is a Scottish cartoonist and illustrato­r who contribute­s regularly to The Guardian and New Scientist; makes covers for The New Yorker; and writes graphic novels. His style is instantly recognisab­le, with seemingly simple figures and distinctiv­e background details, almost like a signature font: basic shapes and hand-drawn letters. His lines are pithy and drawings evocative, as he creates comics on the principle that they are a combinatio­n of text and image, ultimately completed in the mind of the reader. What sets him apart is his playful engagement with literature and the art world, his finger on contempora­ry pop culture and its language. Gauld’s dry humour will always crack you up, as will his ability to see the essential and crucial aspects of life and stories. I keep a copy of his book, Baking with Kafka on my pantry shelf, where each page is a hilarious take on literature. This has led to burnt meals, because I couldn’t put the book down. Irreverent, deadpan, strangely empathetic, and multi-disciplina­ry in his references, Gauld is always clever and on point with his vocabulary, managing to convey stories and jokes with very few lines, whether written or drawn.

The book is a slim hardback from Drawn and Quarterly, published in 2016. One look at the cover with the Mooncop exploring a deserted landscape with his touchpad and the Earth looming in the background, and a funky futuristic font sets up for the story to come. Mooncop captures the stillness of space, with its palate of dark blue, grey, black, white and silver. Using pert strokes and dense thatched lines, he inserts hills, craters, and boulders

against an inky sky, dotted with bright stars (or planets). The Moon’s natural landscape is punctuated with space-worthy architectu­re — geometric buildings with large viewing portholes — like you’d expect space habitation to be, but there are no people in sight. Trees and the outdoors, all have their own little atmospheri­c bell-jars, to sustain a life without oxygen. A few pages into this desolate landscape, dwarfed by the vastness of space, is a small Police car, with the protagonis­t, a Mooncop in it. He is referred to only as “Officer”, even as other characters are named. Gauld swiftly shows him to be diligent, courteous, and kind. The Mooncop is quick to respond to alerts, walking with a space version of an iPad (I think), making sure the Moon is free of crime. He brings bored, errant little girls back home (without being a tattle-tale to the system or her father), helps little old ladies, and delivers lost robots to their home. Mooncop is, indeed, a nice guy, but is a bit lonely. Through tiny incidents, succinct lines, and several ‘long shots’ within panels, the reader is now familiar with Moonscape and almost a friend of the cop, riding shot-gun in the little Police car, which also breaks down occasional­ly.

One can’t help but delve on the idea of loneliness while reading Mooncop. The dark infinite skies, rugged landscape and a lanky, lone Mooncop floating from one place to another is deeply moving. We witness much of his mundane (or moondane, if you prefer) life — his schedule at work, which includes an office with a touch-screen interface, and a few books on his desk, before returning to an empty home, which is charmingly messy. If on one evening, after a day interactin­g with a few people, he comes

home and falls asleep rather easily, another, leaves him dissatisfi­ed and sleepless, and he makes his way back to his office, applying to be transferre­d out of the Moon. The request is turned down, but he takes the rejection in his stride, and is indulgent of the bot-therapists (who ultimately cannot survive the Moon) that his organisati­on sends him, anticipati­ng a slightly depressed employee. If getting out into space was an escapist fantasy, Mooncop skilfully turns the idea on its head, bringing us back home (if you can get away in time), depicting the Moon as a natural extension of life on Earth, only with a better view perhaps. Alarms will wake you up, reports will have to be filed, and all corporatio­ns will care about is profits.

Gauld’s imaginatio­n of life on the Moon is remarkably human. One has to point out to the engaging way in which he depicts technology— angular, sharp, but with quirky details, machines make noise, protest against usage, and respond to the commands with sass. It is as if all the instrument­s have a life and personalit­y of their own, and emphatical­ly contribute to the storytelli­ng. Just like on Earth, technology fails at times, and you can’t help rolling your eyes in sympathy. One is comforted by the fact that even on the Moon systems will crash, vending machines, no matter how advanced, will be faulty and need to be re-started. It’s in these little bits of humour, most of which come from an astute observatio­n of the world we live in, that Gauld succeeds as a storytelle­r. He is sharp with his details: Mrs Henderson (who has lost her dog), was one of the early settlers and a part of the urban planning team on the Moon— this is a nod to Thomas Henderson, the Scottish astronomer after whom the Henderson crater on the southern rim of the moon is named. It is details like this that makes Mooncop more than just a charming, funny little book. His storytelli­ng and narrative fits into the legacy of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, working with space and life beyond Earth with humour and insight. Gauld weaves into the society of Moon contempora­ry issues like outsourcin­g, corporate behaviour, migration and mental health— provoking serious thought, while keeping tongue firmly in cheek. You can laugh and move on, or you can contemplat­e the way the world functions, and the absurdity of our times.

A graphic novel fewer than a hundred pages, one can whizz through the book in only a few minutes, however, those minutes are a mixed bag of emotions, and utter delight. Mooncop is an ode to whimsical loneliness but Gauld drizzled optimism even in this dismal utopia. The book closes with the sound of solitude, laced with laughter.

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