On the Road Again

     When I was poking through my inventory of vacation-related postcards in quest of a subject for this column (and deciding I will not write about vacations as long as I am still wearing my winter coat when I venture outside) I noticed that every cartoonist has a personal way of drawing cars.  Cars have been essential to vacation cartoons at least since the late nineteen-teens, which is about when the observation on tourists at the top of this blog was published.

     It was obvious at the outset that some cartoonists really love drawing cars, and put a lot of thought and detail into their vehicle work, while others, while okay at car-drawing, would just as soon concentrate on something else.  This can also be reflected in the kind of car that appears in the picture.  Some artists wanted to stay as up-to-date in car design as possible, as this would appeal to the modern eye, while others went for their favorite jalopy as long as it was plausible.

     This vacationer, for example, is having his hot time somewhere in the late 1930s or thereabouts, but this model of car was on its last legs, at least as far as new cars were concerned.  In the world of used cars, this square-nosed model with running boards and fold-down top would stick around for a generation, As Jack Benny fearlessly drove his Maxwell into the Sputnik age, and Archie drove his pals around in one at least until the Reagan administration.

     Other cartoonists, however, quickly adapted the more streamlined look.  Note that the bumpers, fenders, and grille are far less square and tend toward the Art Deco or Airflow ideal.  (The joke dates to horseless buggy days, of course.)

     This is a more intermediate design.  It’s a visual cue similar to that used by Archie or, say, The Beverly Hillbillies.  The square, open auto helped emphasize how much you were piling in: the squarer design just implied weight and bulk.

     Round, though, was the wave of the future.  Something smooth and efficient could be just as much fun to draw, and could look just as anthropomorphic as that jalopy we saw smoking earlier.

     Even the larger models could be drawn to imply speed and elegance.

     Especially speed.

Artists who wanted to imply something else could slip in a few features of bygone models to suggest obsolescence.

     Those smooth, elegant lines could be made more angular to suggest long, hard wear.

     World War II interrupted to some degree.  Some people drove their rattling Model Ts for a few more years while those who had the sleek automobiles enjoyed their speed and elegance where possible.  (Note that this couple rides on the rims, the actual tires being stacked on top so as not to wear them out on the long vacation trip.)

     After the war, of course, that old streamlined look seemed too decade-specific.  Car designers started to look at the straight line again, breaking up the curves, prompted, according to some critics, by the resemblance of 1930s automobiles to helmets, which were an unpleasant reminder.  At the same time, the postcard was moving into its last days as a major tool of cartoon humor

     It wasn’t that people stopped piling things into and on top of the car for a vacation; they were just more likely to buy a card that showed where they’d been instead of how they got there.  Pity, really, as they were driving into the era of the Volkswagen Beetle, surely the most cartooned vehicle since the Model T.  I’m not sure that’s what this cartoonist had in mind but it sure isn’t a Corvette.

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