« Bicycles are pieces of art. You get that combination of kinetic engineering, but then, besides the welds, the paint jobs, the kind of the sculpture of it all is quite beautiful. Bikes have such great lines, and all different styles. » — Robin Williams
I’ve been cycling a lot more of late. I’d been using my bike less frequently in recent years, unnerved by the increasingly frantic (and distracted, not a good combo) vehicular traffic of the city. But with my wife taking an interest in the activity, I found myself with a reason to get back in the saddle. This spring, we found a newly opened bike shop, earthy, grimy and unpretentious, where we got our bikes expertly tuned up.
I’ve always loathed those cliquish hipster joints that, in addition to selling overpriced junk, also seem responsible for the ubiquity of those middle-aged, over-equipped, spandex-clad Sunday cyclists, who feel it their sacred duty to pass you, whatever the pace, weather or road conditions, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages in their lycra casings. The sporting analogue, if you will, of the rich kid who ‘needs’ the most expensive guitar in the shop… never mind that he can’t play a note.
You hopefully will indulge me in this little exercise in nostalgia. I miss the days when our bikes got us around, granted us greater autonomy and kept us in shape. This lifestyle took a backseat in the 1980s, when the BMX craze began to overstate the extreme and the competitive facets of the sport. Now, it’s all ultimate sport this and boot-camp fitness that. Ah, whatever happened to plain old utilitarian fun?
Through much of the 1960s, Bendix (the corporation, not Bill!) commissioned a long-running series of custom ads featuring the Riverdale Gang, illustrated by resident Archie artist Harry Lucey.
As the 1960s drew to a close, another series of custom comics ads appeared — just under the wire. They spotlight the creations of the famous ‘King of the Kustomizers’, George “Barris” Salapatas (1925-2015), very much in demand thanks to his recent triumph with the Batman tv show’s Batmobile.
I switched to my backup, a hybrid bike I bought in 1987. It’s still running beautifully. In terms of value for money, a well-maintained bicycle is pretty unbeatable.
I leave you with a song, whence comes the title of this article. It’s from a lesser-known but excellent Donovan album, Open Road, from 1970.
« Theodor Geisel spent his workdays ensconced in his private studio, the walls lined with sketches and drawings, in a bell-tower outside his La Jolla, California, house. Geisel was a much more quiet man than his jocular rhymes suggest. He rarely ventured out in public to meet his young readership, fretting that kids would expect a merry, outspoken, Cat in the Hat-like figure, and would be disappointed with his reserved personality. » — Susan Cain
Today, we honour Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), born one hundred and eighteen years ago and better known under his nom de plume of Dr. Seuss (one of several, such as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, Dr. Theodophilus Seuss, Theo LeSieg, L. Pasteur, D.G. Rossetti, and Rosetta Stone. The man loved a good pseudonym.) And no, he wasn’t actually a doctor, though he contributed to more people’s well-being than most physicians could dream of. His alma mater, Dartmouth College, did bestow upon him an honorary doctorate, in 1956. Furthermore, it renamed, in 2012, its medical school (fourth oldest in the United States, founded in 1797) Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in recognition of the good man’s financial contributions over the years. Cool, uh?
« In these pages Dr. Seuss was already introducing us to his wonderful talent for creating unusual and delightful creatures. Hejji and his master “The Mighty One” would meet many an odd creature like Bearded Bees, Wombats, and the great Pitzu bird. All of these would be encountered in the attempt to impress the object of “Mighty One’s love, “The Fair One”. Unfortunately, as the legend goes, Seuss was let go during great depression job cuts by William Randolph Hearst. Of course Seuss would later go on to create his extraordinary children’s books including Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch that stole Christmas. Hejji pages are some of the rarest and most sought-after on the comic-strip market. Printed exclusively as Tabs and only carried in a few newspapers, their rarity is as great as the popularity of their creator. As a result, each and every page carries the highest premium. » [ source ]
« A kid one time fell asleep chewing Bubble Yum, and he woke up with his mouth full of spider eggs. » — Some nameless rumour-monger
The other day, a neighbour was asking me whether it was a safe for his Golden Retriever puppy to eat the worms it was digging up (I was impressed), the guy presuming that said worms were quite filthy and rife with germs. I replied that no, it’s probably all the rooting through the trash and gobbling up whatever it finds that’s giving the pup gastric distress. Worms, in fact, are considered a delicacy in many a culture, including some European ones. Not that I’ve indulged: just like The Kinks’ Apeman, I’m a strict vegetarian.
This brought to mind those 1970s rumours of earthworms serving as filler in McDonald’s burgers (never mind that worms are a far costlier ingredient than is beef). Which led in turn to the equally-outlandish notion that the secret of Bubble Yum’s softness (introduced in 1975 by Life Savers, it was the first soft bubble gum ever concocted) lay in its containing spider eggs. Again, steady procurement would have proved quite a daunting challenge.
But the bubble was about to burst (or at least deflate somewhat), as reported by The New York Times (March 29, 1977):
The Great Spider Egg Mystery remains unsolved but it may yet have several happy endings. The mystery concerns Bubble Yum, a popular new bubble gum that has, in a year, overtaken such symbols of earlier childhoods as Dubble Bubble and Bazooka. A few weeks ago came toil and trouble: the unexplained spread of lurid rumors among children in the New York area that, gasp!, Bubble Yum contained spider eggs (or, according to haughtier youthful accounts, caused cancer). Stores which had up to then been unable to stock enough to meet demand suddenly saw sales plummet. Last week, the manufacturer, Life Savers, Inc., took out full‐page ads in 30 area newspapers to combat the rumors.
This is not the first time the bubble gum business has been beset by evil rumor. When Jimmy Carter was a boy, youngsters in Sumter County, Georgia, were scared off by reports that bubble gum was made with snake oil —until they were reassured by an ad in the Americus Times‐Recorder. Nor is bubble gum normally regarded as the stuff of moral lessons. Its history, since it was invented by Walter Diemer in 1928, is marked by such milestones as packaging it with baseball cards (1933) or making it squeakless (1953).
But there is something more significant, and appealing, in the open way in which Life Savers has chosen to deal with its problem. We hope the spider egg rumors are expunged as successfully now as the snake oil rumors were then. And there will be a happier ending still if the subject is properly understood to be not bubble gum but canard. No consumer is too young to learn the malign effects of rumor or to understand that there will always be someone, not always in youthful innocence, eager to raise the cry—whether about Communists in government, environment, energy or bubble gum—of “spider eggs.”
Susan M. Smith wrote, in her 1989 thesis, Consumer Rumors and Corporate Communications:
Whether the rumor is isolated or widespread, the company must select media that reach the rumor’s community of interest, and particularly, its influential leaders. The importance of this is shown by what happened after a rumor episode in New York City for the Life Saver’s Company. The company conducted an all-out attack to combat a rumor in 1977 that the company’s innovative, new soft chewing gum. Bubble Yum, contained spider eggs. It sought publicity, inserted full-page newspaper ads, and sent letters with a copy of the ad to the city’s PTA groups, school principals, and retail outlets.
The campaign successfully stopped the rumor, but Bubble Yum’s New York sales did not recover for many years. It turns out that even though the company had blanketed the city with its rumor denial, it never spoke directly to product users, the school-age children, to bolster confidence in the product. The selection of inappropriate media makes the refutation message miss the rumour’s public allowing the rumor to continue to spread or delaying recovery from the rumor.
But I suppose all this controversy merely seems quaint now, what with all today’s heavy weaponizing of misinformation. Besides, the bubblegum market has been rather moribund in the past few decades, since apparently Nobody Likes to Chew Gum Anymore.
For a bit of sugar high nostalgia, I’ll leave you with a pair of vintage Bubble Yum ads: 1976’s brand introduction, featuring The Flavor Fiend;
I don’t know about you, but for me postcards are an intense evocation of nostalgia – so ubiquitous in the last century, and just a pale shadow of their former glorious selves in this day and age. Fortunately, a lot of them have survived through the years, and collectors have taken care to preserve these snippets of the past, whether crass or elegant, stunningly illustrated or just the barest sketch of an idea.
We’ll start with the oldest postcards of today’s post from quite a long time ago – the beginning of the 20th century in France.
These following two French postcards from 1910 are signed by “E. Orot”, though I wasn’t able to find out whose nom de plume that was. The back of the cards says “près des grands flots bleus” (near the great blue waves) which was the name of the seaside-themed series by this mysterious artist.
The following postcard is French, part of a series of images depicting France in the year 2000 as seen by artists in the early 20th century. These were first published as inserts in cigar boxes, and later given second life as postcards. This one is painted by Jean-Marc Côté. « There are at least 87 cards known that were authored by various French artists, the first series being produced for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Due to financial difficulties the cards by Jean-Marc Côté were never actually distributed and only came to light many years later after the science-fiction author Isaac Asimov chanced upon a set and published them in 1986, with accompanying commentary, in the book Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000. » To see more of these cards, visit A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000, which is also where that quote is taken from.
All I was able to ascertain is that this postcard is British, from the 40s or possibly 50s. Are these women giantesses, or is this aquarium exhibit meant for children or possibly dwarves? We will never know.
The three following postcards are British, but from varying decades. The Bill going on a date is from the 1950s. Bill’s cold, octopus-like hands (is it the same Bill, some twenty years on?!) are from the late 70s, published by Kromekolor, which seems to have had a chunk of the British market, though very little information is available online. And the nameless guy playing around with a fishing girlfriend is from sometime in the late 60s, and I would not at all be surprised if his name was William.
We have talked about Donald McGill, the king of comic postcards (take a look here) before. I was delighted to find two tentacular offerings from the vast collection of postcards he has drawn.
Continuing in a British vein, this postcard is part of the Seaside Spooners collection by Tom Browne, (another extremely prolific British artist and very much a contemporary of McGill) and is entitled The Lovers’ Seat.
Moving on the good ole U.S. of A. – here’s a pair of American postcards from the 50s, with rather similar jokes.
And another postcard from 1954. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the illustrator is in either case. I like how Melvin looks puzzled, not scared, by this cephalopod intrusion.
I hope you enjoyed this little voyage! Until next Tuesday…
« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius
To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:
Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.
To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!
« This world is run by clowns who can’t wait for it to end. » — Too Much Joy, ‘Clowns‘
Well, the topic of this post kind of snuck up on me. I’ll explain: last Saturday, as we were out of Russian marinated mushrooms (a simply unacceptable state of affairs in this household), we ventured into a European deli in quest of something to tide us over until we could properly restock. They had some button mushrooms in oil, fair enough. As we reached the counter to tally up our purchases, something caught my eye: a display for a French confection called Carambar, which I’d known about for most of my life, but never encountered in the wild.
After a moment’s hesitation (which baffled my partner), we picked up a sample and added it to our bounty.
It happens that Caram’ Bar (as it was called until 1977, when the apostrophe was dropped) ties into a minor childhood incident whose recollection elicits, in equal parts, snickers of amusement and pangs of guilt. It was in, oh, the second or third grade. We were standing in rows, about to return to class after recess. I turned to my neighbouring classmate, and asked him whether he knew… oh, never mind — it went exactly like this:
Regrettably, the back of my hand connected with my classmate’s nose, not his cheek, and he wound up with a nosebleed. Désolé, Germain!
The preceding Super Caram’ Bar ad was quite unusual in that it was a full-colour three-pager, which must have cost the candy maker a bundle. Indeed, it only ran au complet once or twice; thereafter, only its concluding page appeared.
Looking back at this campaign, I wondered whether these clowns were merely company mascots, or something more. As it turns out, Sergio (né Serge Drouard in 1950, so 21 years old at the time) was in the early stages of a remarkable career in the circus, first as Clown blanc Sergio (here are a brief video profile from 1970 and a lovely 1975 performance at Paris’ legendary Cirque d’hiver) and then as ringmaster M. Fidèle. Now seventy, he more-or-less retired after the 2010-2011 season. As for poor Pipo, I’m afraid I don’t know. He’s similar to the famous Dutch clown Pipo de Clown, but they’re merely homonyms.
For my part, I’m not so eager to condemn en bloc. Your run-of-the-mill, unqualified local kids’ show, mall-opening Bozo is but a faint, hopelessly distorted echo of the great clowns of history. They were the fruits of a complex, nuanced and codified tradition with its thick, gnarled roots in early 16th century Italy’s Commedia dell’ Arte.
But I don’t need to reach quite that far: I grew up on Radio-Canada’s absurd, minimalist masterpiece Sol et Gobelet (1968-71). Sol (Marc Favreau) was a naïve tramp clown who creatively mangled language and logic and Gobelet (Luc Durand) was the poetic, reasonable, refined Pierrot type. Here’s a classic episode. Such is the duo’s cultural significance that a public library (Favreau) and a nearby public park (Durand) have been christened in their posthumous honour.
And since we’re on comics and clowns, here’s a bonus short tale.
While LCDC is the flimsiest of stories, just a troupe of stock characters going through their hoary paces, Grandenetti’s artwork elevates the affair. It’s as if, having precious little to work with, the artist opted to push against the material, moulding it oddly, imbuing the proceedings with unstated implications. Consider, for instance, how sinister is the depiction of the ringmaster. Nothing in the dialogue or plot indicates that the man is up to anything untoward or malicious, quite the contrary. The second panel of page four is quintessential Grandenetti.
And how was my first Carambar, you may ask. We both tried it, and… were singularly underwhelmed. Perhaps it was a question of freshness, but it was disappointingly brittle in the beginning, almost chalky, hardly what you’d expect from a caramel product. Then it just fell apart and faded, like third-rate taffy.
« I found something in one of my pockets. It was about as big as your shoe, but it was shaped like a rocket! » — a not-at-all ambiguous statement from litigious chuckler Bozo the Clown
« … a radical series of crappy jokes & trashy art mopped out of the Bowery’s least washed lavatories. Fueled on bologna sandwiches, black coffee & cheap cigarettes, these are the ugly buttons that scream ‘America‘ to an America that has forgotten itself. » — a tasty bit of hype from Goblinko
Fabled pulp illustrator Norman Saunders (a definite favourite around these parts) is legitimately appreciated for his body of work, but I do believe he isn’t sufficiently lauded for his humorous work. After all, he could hold his own against the likes of Basil Wolverton and Wally Wood, and how many of his peers could lay claim to such a lofty achievement?
A passage from his son David’s definitive monograph, the simply and fittingly titled Norman Saunders:
Ugly Buttons came out in 1967 to exploit the popular trend of protest buttons with witty sayings. The macabre humor of Ugly Buttons reflects their Halloween release date as well as the morbid comedy of popular TV shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters. Norm Saunders created half [ eleven, actually ] of the twenty-four images in this set, while Wally Wood created the other half.
Collectors find this set very difficult to complete. Although the series was a popular success in 1967, the buttons appear to have rarely survived. This is perhaps attributable to the design of the tin back pin, which was made in Japan with a hair-trigger clasp that instantly popped open and fell off.
By the way, I don’t know just how sanctioned these reissues are, but the cool cats at Goblinko have made these lovely buttons available once more, presumably sturdier and certainly at a perfectly reasonable price (forty times the original, I’ll grant you… but you do get to pick).
« When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself. » — Plato
The waning years of the 1950’s marked the beginning of the monster craze, which coincided with Mad Magazine’s ripest period of influence. Here, then, is a publication that sought to capitalize on both occurrences. Alas, chasing fads too eagerly always did land you all-too-promptly in the cultural ditch. Still… Thimk had its moment.
Thimk was a short-lived (6 issues, 1958-59) would-be Mad, also in the black and white magazine format.
Until the Beetle hit the market, automotive marketing copy was full of bluster, and the images (often illustrated) were flights of fancy, emphasizing low, long lines and a fantasy lifestyle.
The clean, simple photography on a white background that emphasized the Beetle’s compact, practical form may seem commonplace these days, but it was a revolution in a world where Americans grew up obsessed with muscle cars, horsepower, and tire smoke. Making the car small, when the convention was to make it fill the page, was also novel. The simplistic approach to design and layout was totally contrary to the advertising conventions of the time. [ source ]
While I object to the misuse of the rather pejorative “simplistic” to denote what is instead commendably strippeddown, uncluttered, or if one must, ‘simple‘… that’s the gist of it. After all, these folks are gearheads, not graphic designers.
One of the lesser-known components of the long-running campaign was a nifty 1967 promotional book that was graciously given away by one’s friendly Volkswagen dealer.
Many years after the fact, political caricatures are hard to appreciate properly, generally speaking – politicians’ names get forgotten, events become blurry in the collective memory, and what was surely witty and acerbic just seems incomprehensible. They’re of great historical interest, and often of considerable artistic merit, too, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. That being said, nothing rekindles my enthusiasm like an octopus, especially if he’s sprawled all over the map of Europe, or, heck, the whole world. Power is an aphrodisiac!
I have no system – I tried including images that aren’t seen too often in articles of this kind, or ones that are stylistically striking.
But let’s go back to the 19th century, seemingly the golden age of tentacled propaganda. The line between propaganda and social criticism is blurry, of course – with my environmentalist tendencies, I think of the following trio, all condemning stabs at Standard Oil, attacked for being an unlawful monopoly, as perfectly justified attacks drawing attention to a serious problem.
The following trio take on the same map, making for interesting compare-and-contrast material. The years may go by, but Russia continues to be grabby… Incidentally, as I am Russian, apparently these Tentacle Tuesdays of mine were pre-ordained by Fate.
Speaking of Russia…
And speaking of communism…
Lest I be accused of all this having no relevance whatsoever to today’s political climate… well, fortunately some traditions die hard, and tentacles as a representation of an all-encroaching evil are here to stay!
I wasn’t going to let the other party off the hook… Or is it one and the same?