ABSTRACT

In 1979, a two-page comic strip titled “A Short History of America” was published in an American magazine known as CoEvolutionary Quarterly. 1 In a space of only twelve panels, and without any text or commentary, cartoonist Robert Crumb condensed North America’s development from the arrival of the first Europeans to his present day in the 1970s. Crumb’s pictorial narration begins with an image of an untouched forest meadow successively transformed in the subsequent panels into an infrastructure dominated by smoking trains, highways, trams, antique cars and, ultimately, the Cadillacs of the 1970s. In the ninth panel, the last tree standing makes way for new streetlamps, traffic lights, telephone wires and advertising signs. Two years after his comic was first published, Crumb coloured it in and added three more panels (see Figure 13.1), each of which illustrates a prototypical vision of the future in an especially vivid manner. The first version has the title “Worst-case scenario, ecological disaster” and most clearly picks up on the previous panels. The street crossing visible in the initial panels is now depicted after an undefined ecological catastrophe. The history of modern lifestyle has come to an end: the sky is yellow, civilization is in ruins and it would appear that human existence has been wiped out. The second vision is called “The fun future: Techno-Fix on the march.” Here, colourful cars fly across the blue sky and over curve-lined futuristic homes in clean, manicured gardens where “homo faber” appears to have everything under control. The third version shows “The ecotopian solution.” The inhabitants of this future world shun the use of all electric and fuel-driven machines. In fact, they have returned to the woods, the lush sprawl of which recalls the forests depicted prior to the invasion of the Europeans. Here, the principles of evolution and growth have returned to a colourful prehistoric commune.