Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marveltown by Bruce McCall - review

Marveltown by Bruce McCall
When I plucked this big sunny square off the Professional Review shelves at work and surveyed the faux- Fifties Futurist paintings, I flashed back to pulling old books on rocket science off my Dad's shelves when I was a kid. The illustrations in those books were so intriguing - immense curved structures with impossibly thin floors and spires, a few tiny humans scratched in to give them scale; cratered surfaces and craggy mountains; big control rooms stocked with banks of giant flanged capacitors and oversized dials... but the books would always disappoint. I would expect breathless stories full of firecracker surprises, but... there was a lot of nonfiction in our house. Those books would actually be about rocket science. Lots of parabolas and charts.

I shook my head paging through Marveltown, thinking that Bruce McCall had a lot of fun creating a catalog of outscale inventions, and thinking that just drawing lots of cool stuff does not make a book.

What a fantastic surprise, therefore, to turn a page and, beneath a painting of a huge control room with banks of flanged capacitors and oversized dials, see the words, "Until one quiet midnight..." A story! A robot rebellion! Yeah!!

I couldn't wait to get Marveltown home to my boys. I wanted to see whether my enthusiasm was purely based on my retro-futurist nostalgia - ideas of the future that were old when I was a kid: Helmut Karl Wimmer's paintings from the old Hayden Planetarium, which came down when I was working at AMNH; the illustrations of Frank Tinsley and Chesley Bonestell; the villain's control room in old Bond movies; silly stuff from very old MAD magazines. There's a picture in Marveltown of a terrified guy in a hat, his pipe flying from his mouth as he runs screaming, that I think is a direct quote from a Kelly Freas painting.

The interesting thing about Bruce McCall, in this context, is that Wikipedia says the man is 73 years old - same age as my Dad. These illustrators that I am all nostalgic over... their careers overlapped his. These ARE his visions of the future. Makes Marveltown extra-sweet to me.

So let's hear from our panel. Here's what the boys said as Mao read the book aloud:

"It's supposed to be the kids are the run-away-ers and the grownups are the stayers, but it's the opposite!"

"How about they don't make living robots, they just make working robots?"

"Whoa, that's what somebody invented?" (about a tall crack-the-whip Maypole kind of thing that... ok yeah I can't describe it)
"That is totally better than a big robot."

"The ripple-rug was my favorite invention."
"The metal dog who ate everyone's homework was my favorite, because he was a great guard dog."

Does it make you want to invent things?
"Makes me want to want to turn our LEGOtown into Marveltown! With giant robots! With a couple different things, with the robots only attacking three grownups - bad guy grownups - not Skeletor, because he's dead. They would attack Larry Jenkins, 50-foot Spreitel, and The Boss."

Ok, so... any questions?


Melissa said...

Yep: how can I get more hours in a day so I can read everything I want to read?? :)

I'm glad my library is on the ball enough to have this one.

web said...

Oooo, my little guy is gonna want to see this one!

Anonymous said...

I love Bruce McCall's New Yorker drawings and now I want to see this book!

I heard an interview with him on the radio a few weeks ago; he's an interesting and thoughtful guy.

Anonymous said...

Bruce McCall used to be in advertising. This is probably why his artwork reminds you of those old "future" paintings--because some of them are likely HIS!

I love his artwork; he's done a bunch of covers for The New Yorker magazine, all of which have that same level of whimsy and humor that make Marveltown so much fun.