There’s a small, sweet, sad and funny graphic novel that I read last fall, and now’s the right time to tell you about it. The arrival of the new year has made me pensive.
It’s Mooncop, published in 2016, and it’s just the loveliest, most endearing book I’ve read in quite a while.
Gauld’s book is an intimate tale set in a nostalgic future. Humans have built a colony on the Moon: a rather modest little colony that, as we join it, is at the waning end of its life cycle. What once may have been a thrilling destination for space explorers now looks more like a forlorn outpost.
Among the colony’s wonders are its buildings: mostly simple, geometric pods, some up on stilts and some right on the lunar surface. Mooncop lives in a building comprised of individual cuboid units stacked like children’s wooden blocks that are almost as easy to disassemble.
Though the modest habitats of the dwindling population and the dome-covered tiny gardens and parks are clustered, they’re still apart; separated by lonely spaces.
Our hero, Mooncop, is the sole officer of the law on the lunar surface, and it’s his job to maintain security. He spends a lot of his time patrolling each sector of the colony with his eyes on a monitor that pings each time something appears on its screen. He does this in a vehicle that floats above the Moon surface just like Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder—except for its bubble dome.
In his little book, Tom Gauld deftly mixes stark images, minimalist text, whimsy and melancholy, and the effect is both poignant and funny.
Mooncop’s regular patrols bring him into daily contact with the colony’s remaining population.
- There’s Mike, who guards Mooncop’s building.
- There’s Lauren and her dad who runs the Lunamart.
- There’s M-663, the ineffectual, malfunctioning android who will soon replace Lauren’s dad at the Lunamart.
- There’s the widow, Mrs. Henderson, and her dog Kaspar, who are also heading back to Earth.
- There’s Neil Armstrong the automaton in full astronaut regalia who has strayed from The Museum of the Moon.
- There’s THR-446, the Therapy Unit, who arrives in a module at Moon Port 1 and falls flat on his face as soon as he steps out, and says: “I’m not equipped for rough terrain.”
- And finally, there’s the girl at the counter of the new minicafé.
Gauld’s ironic humour is bone dry and just plain delightful. Most of the colony’s technology is inept. The vending machine that dispenses Mooncop’s daily donuts, chirping “Welcome to Lunar Donuts”, is riddled with systems errors, and the coffee dispenser is so undependable that it’s eventually upgraded to a minicafé. When Command becomes concerned that Mooncop may be depressed, it sends him THR-446, without the adapter necessary for him to plug in and recharge; eventually, he blows up, to which Mooncop responds: “So much for therapy”.
I think that Mooncop and his companions have more in common with Wallace and Gromit than they do with Han Solo or Mark Watney. A touching tenderness underlies all of their encounters.
Consider this conversation between Mrs. Henderson and Mooncop, who has just retrieved her stray dog Kaspar:
Mrs. Henderson: “My husband and I were amongst the first people to come and live here.”
Mrs. Henderson: “Oh yes. We were on the colony design team. Planning and public spaces. We had such high hopes. Living on the Moon. Whatever were we thinking? It seems rather silly now.”
Mooncop: “Not to me. I think what you did was wonderful.”
Mrs. Henderson: “That’s very nice of you to say, dear.”
But mostly, this wee book is as Scottish as its author. Gauld’s lunar landscapes are not so different from the Highlands, and while reading and re-reading Mooncop, I thought of Jimmy Perez in Shetland, and also of Hamish Macbeth, on their isolated and lonesome perches, moving from barren hilltop to remote inlet to be with pockets of people.
Anyone who has ever looked up at the night sky and been filled with a sense of optimism and wonder—in spite of history and science’s many setbacks and technology’s mixed legacy—will understand how sadness and joy can coexist as effortlessly as they do in Mooncop, whose eponymous protagonist is never referred to by any other name, and who never walks under anything other than a night sky—always under the stars which amplify the vast expanse, the quiet, his solitude and his search for companionship.
Note: Mooncop also has a Montreal connection, as it is published by Drawn & Quarterly. Take a peek at this video.