Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Retro-Futurism 8: Another Great Web Comic - Tozo - The Public Servant

I09 has just reviewed a great Web comic that has been running since 2007: Tozo - The Public Servant.  The comic is an excellent example of Retro-Futurism. 

Tozo (2 March 2008). © By David O'Connell.

One of the defining aspects of the Millennial Zeitgeist is the mish-mashed ahistorical reference to empires and religions in the past, along with historical styles of clothing, combined with sci-fi jet-boots, flying cars and cell phones. Symbols of the past are taking on radical connotations when revived in futuristic scenarios and fantasiesI think these historical-futuristic mash-ups arise from the influence of the Tech Revolution, which has laid history onto one flat grid, with no linearity, sense of sequentiality or logical context. 

Retro-Futurism in Doom Patrol #8 (May 2010).

The style in this Web comic reminds me a lot of Matt Clark's Napoleonic designs for Oolong Island's guards on the current run of DC's Doom Patrol.  The Tozo style is Steampunk-ish, except the historical reference is not Victoriana; rather, it is Continental, but from the same fin-de-siècle period.

Tozo (9 March 2008). © By David O'Connell.
I09 confirms:
The webcomic Tozo: The Public Servant takes Hergé's visual style and transports it to a retrofuturistic universe where a murdered bureaucrat draws an earnest public servant-and his robot companion-into a web of political and religious conspiracies.

The tone for David O'Connell's Tozo is neatly set by the name of the city-state in which it is set: Nova Venezia. It's a Moebius-flavored city of grand architecture, airships (that alt-history staple), and, of course, the canals.

It's a charming mix of eras and genres with steam-powered vehicles that escape the steampunk aesthetic, a sinister figure who travels by robotic spider-legged egg chair, wisecracking miniature androids, and fatal femmes who seem borrowed from both Victorian thrillers and Indiana Jones.

It's in this world that we meet the comparatively simple figure of Tozo, a Nova Venezian detective inspector. "I am a public servant," he explains in the comic's opening panel. "Do not ask me to understand or comment on the workings of my masters – the rulers of this island city. Just believe that they work for the greater good."

But of course, Tozo's worldview can't remain that simple for long. Political and religious tensions are straining Nova Venezia as its doge maintains an uneasy peace with the ominously named Spider Empire, run by the mysterious Eternal Widow, the allegedly immortal focal point of the Spider faith. When forces conspire to place Tozo on the investigation of a murdered bureaucrat, he begins to unravel the threads that so delicately hold the city together – and is thrown in the path of secret societies, political revolutionaries, and Nova Venezia's own papacy, which vies with the secular doge for power over the island.
The hero's costume is changing over the course of the strip and becoming more modern.  It is one of many temporal visual cues that make this series fascinating.  If you want to see how mish-mashed time is creating an aesthetic that will one day be seen as Millennial style, read Tozo - The Public Servant.

Read all my posts on Retro-Futurism.
Other posts on Web comics you shouldn't miss here and here.
Read all my posts on comics.

All DC Comics stories, characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © DC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


  1. I've been listening to the Cramps recently, so I was even more receptive than usual for art that evokes the past without technically reproducing it. The Hergé comparison was the first thing to come to my mind. It's been a few years since I read "Tin Tin" (I know, shame on me; but there aren't any new ones!), but I could swear Tozo uses the same font as the English translations. (Perhaps Richard Starkings offers a cleverly named substitute, like "Belgian Wiffles"?)

    And yes, the vehicles and the hats-that-put-the-fun-in-functionary are definitely borrowing from Möebius, but are you familiar with Trina Robbins? I got to thinking of her when you ran the Wonder Woman post for The Revolving Door, since Robbins did the mini-series that put a coda on the career of the Golden Age Wonder Woman in 1986, after COIE. Prior to that, she was probably most famous for a serialized adaption of Sax Rohmer's "Dope" published by Eclipse. There was something about the figure of Tozo running down the stair that reminded me of her. The funeral scene brought to mind Jason Lutes, as well. Beautiful work.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment pblfsda, as always your remarks are fascinating and get me thinking about future posts (especially Möebius!). I have seen Robbins interviewed in a documentary on comic books but am less familiar with her work: