think small!

« It did not occur to me that I might be a writer until I flunked out of my first year as a chemistry major, and found work as an apprentice writer of Volkswagen ads. » — Peter Carey

Ah, the delicate art of the soft sell.

You’ve surely heard of the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency’s revolutionary think small campaign for Volkswagen, launched in 1959. You haven’t? Well, it’s only considered, by its industry, to be the greatest advertising campaign of the 20th century.

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 stripped down, 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.

They gathered all the big guns and asked them to think small. Illustration by Charles Addams.

Let’s take a look inside.

One by perennial bon vivant Eldon Dedini, working one of his pet motifs, but with his customary panache. Under Eldon’s pen, the car’s lines acquire a lusty fluidity.
A beauty by local favourite Virgil Partch (1916-1984). Such a graceful line the man had. Simple… not simplistic!
Don’t be confused: like the Porsche and the Corvair, the VW Beetle’s trunk is located in the front of the vehicle. Cute details: the booted husband’s still-smoking pipe and his glasses remain in the garage. VIP delivers, as usual. Read how he met his demise.
An adorable entry from long-time The New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin, who passed away last June at the age of 94. I can just hear the German accent.
Another Playboy regular, Phil Interlandi (1924-2002) stretches out a bit, and very successfully at that.
Yet another WOT favourite, Gahan Wilson (1930-2019). Here’s a birthday homage I wrote a little while back.
One from the book’s royal guest, Charles Addams (1912-1988). It’s a fine joke, but I find that many people don’t get it; it would have benefitted from a more vertical composition. Still, trust Uncle Fester to know what’s going down.
A second dose of Mr. Addams. I wasn’t going to say no to a giant mutated toad and toadstool. Here’s our earlier sampler of his macabre wit, from (un)naturally, our first Hallowe’en Countdown.
The couple of decades he spent drawing his successful syndicated strip about unceasing marital strife, The Lockhorns (whose début came the following year!) have perhaps dimmed the critical reputation of William ‘Bill’ Hoest (1926-1988). But he was quite good, when given a chance to stretch out a bit. It’s been since proven that women are the better drivers, incidentally.
And finally, a bat-entry from John Gallagher (1926-2005), a then-ubiquitous panel gag cartoonist in many of the biggest names in magazines: Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, True… I love the absurd size ratio between the members of The Dynamic Duo. That’s one sidekick you could accidentally kick aside!


Celebrity Car Crash Corner!

« You gave me so many problems
You made me crash in my car
I’ll have a martini cocktail
And then we’ll see where we are… » — OMD, Bloc Bloc Bloc

In the year 1995, crafty budget movie maven Roger Corman somehow wound up with a comics line bearing his name, Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics. Around 20 issues of various titles saw print, consisting of graphic adaptations of current (Caged Heat 3000, Bram Stoker’s Burial of the Rats) or classic (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Little Shop of Horrors) Corman-directed-or-produced films… and one sequel (Death Race 2020, after Death Race 2000), which is the one that concerns us today, after a fashion.

Death Race 2020 managed to be a pretty good series… for three issues (read ’em here!) The original creative combo was aces, three veterans from Brit SF institution 2000 AD, namely Pat Mills and Tony Skinner hatching the plots and Kevin O’Neill conveying them to visual glory. O’Neill scampered off after three issues (returning only to craft the series’ final cover), and things just weren’t the same without his sordid, madcap touch. It takes a special talent to depict compellingly *and* with a finely-tuned, subversive tone, this level of carnage and mayhem. Such talent, obviously, is ever in short, and possibly dwindling, supply.

But… we’re not here for the main feature. Buried in the back pages amidst the ads (mostly touting the alt-rock of the day) was a regular one-page hi-concept feature crafted by a succession of young (or young-ish) artistic iconoclasts. I suspect it was the fevered brainchild of former The Comics Journal managing editor Robert Boyd (1989-1990), also the editor of Death Race 2020. If this were Facebook, I’d show you my favourite example and move on to the next pretty shiny bauble. But through the pixie magic of blogging, I can afford to be utterly profligate and fling the whole delirious jumble your way. And so…

Story and art by Dave Cooper, from Death Race 2020 no. 1 (April, 1995).

Story and art by Pat Moriarty, from Death Race 2020 no. 2 (May, 1995).

Story and art by Bob Fingerman, from Death Race 2020 no. 3 (June, 1995).

Story and art by Shane Oakley, from Death Race 2020 no. 4 (July, 1995). As everyone… used to know, the Girl Can’t Help It.

Story and art by Jay Stephens, from Death Race 2020 no. 5 (August, 1995).

Story and art by Fábio Zimbres, from Death Race 2020 no. 6 (September, 1995). In these troubled days, I imagine many a Brazilian pines for the halcyon days of JK, faced with the reality of JB.

Story and art by Jaca Weiss and Robert Weiss, from Death Race 2020 no. 7 (October, 1995). For a look at some actual Rick Griffin art, look no further than here.

Story and art by Matthew Guest, from Death Race 2020 no. 8 (November, 1995).

To wit… a prime example of the aforementioned. By now, I’d like to think that most people have come to realize that the gendered driver question is a complex and fraught one. Here are some relevant statistics, if that’s your thing. You guessed it, things aren’t fair.

Drive safe, folks, and keep your eyes and mind on the road. The rest of us will appreciate it.

« Technology is constantly improving our lives. Look at the cellular telephone. Just ten years ago, virtually nobody was able to get into a car crash caused by trying to steer and dial at the same time; today, people do this all the time. » — Dave Barry


Virgil Partch’s Captain’s Gig

With a jump and a start, we realized that we haven’t written a proper post about Virgil Partch. Not even one lousy little post! How embarrassing.

Virgil Franklin Partch (1916-1984), mostly known as VIP, is legendary, and I’m not one to use this description lightly. One can spot his work a mile away by his surreal sense of humour and a kinetic, unhinged-yet-clean style. He was also prodigiously prolific, the gag-man of his day. VIP not only wrote and drew tons of cartoons for magazines in the 40s and 50s (Collier’s Magazine, True, the Man’s Magazine, The New Yorker, Playboy…) but also provided glorious art for LP covers; illustrated other people’s books, as well as releasing collections of his own cartoons with invariably entertaining titles (The Wild, Wild Women; Cork High and Bottle Deep; Relations in Strange Locations, etc.). His doodles also adorned merchandise – my favourite being, of course, cocktail glasses!

Detail from cover of the True Magazine Bar Guide paperback (1950). « Flinging himself into the study of this challenging matter, Vip left no glass unturned, no drink unbottled, no bottle undrunk, etc. Leaving statistics to the statisticians, analysis to the analysts, facts to the factories, data to the dataist, Vip went straight to the sources. Often he worked until the wee small hours of the night, crawling home exhausted from his studies, numb with the impact of startling discoveries, quivering and all but incoherent with surmise… » Quote from the introduction to Bottle Fatigue (1950).

« Almost at once, wherever his cartoons appeared, Partch’s manic artwork inspired alarm because of his nonchalance about ordinary anatomy. He may have been among the first to discard such niceties almost entirely, striving instead for approximations of the human figure that served his comedic purposes and no other. A frequent objection was made to his unabashed disregard of the number of fingers that are customarily issued with each human hand.  With the giddy abandon of footloose youth, Vip produced hands with fistfuls of fingers—five, six, seven, however many fell, uncounted, from his pen or brush. To those who carped about his anatomical irresponsibility, Partch reposited patiently: “I draw a stock hand when it is doing something, such as pointing, but when the hand is hanging by some guy’s side, those old fingers go in by the dozens.  And why not?  At Disney’s studio, I spent four years drawing three fingers and a thumb.  I’m just making up for that anatomical crime.”» (excerpt from Making the World Safe From Insanity by Bob Harvey)

Aside from his magazine work, Partch also tried his hand at newspaper strips (after his friend Denis Ketcham, creator of Dennis the Menace, suggested it, I might add). I could launch into an examination of Big George, the successful syndicated comic strip about an average American husband-and-father and his daily struggles with neighbours and family. But this blog (as you’ve probably noticed) likes to tantalize its readers with the obscure, so today’s post is about Captain’s Gig, another syndicated (also by Field Enterprises, like Big George) strip that never got much traction and is nearly forgotten by now. VIP clearly toned down his oddness down a bit for Big George… he even started drawing people with five fingers! Captain’s Gig, on the other hand, is considerably  weirder and more surreal. No, it’s not on par of VIP’s height of glory in the days of magazine cartoons – but this strip definitely has its charms.

I never thought I’d become the type of person who actually purchases old newspaper pages to get some comic, but what is a girl to do when this stuff hasn’t been reprinted at all? However, I only have a few of Captain’s Gig (and quite a bit more of Big George) – it seems that people mostly didn’t feel it was worth saving – so this post has both scans of the newspaper pages I have as well as some original art found online (and cleaned up).




« Virgil Partch burst onto the scene in the nation’s magazines with his zany, sometimes surreal but always hilarious cartoons. Known to millions by his signature, “Vip,” this comedic genius was unlike anything the world had seen before. His unique brand of humor and trendsetting approach to cartooning ushering in a new era of the gag cartoon and pioneered a standard of madcap humor across the spectrum of comedy that was reflected in the cutting-edge sensibilities of comedians and the trailblazing pages of Mad magazine. Inspiring a new breed of cartoonists, Vip became the more sought-after cartoonist of his generation, as well as one of the most prolific and influential cartoonists of his era. » (introduction from Fantagraphics’ VIP: The Mad World of Virgil Partch )


It appears no-one caught the typo in the *title*; well, the “Captan” bears an awfully smug expression, so perhaps he did.

An ad for for Captain’s Gig from March 1977, just shortly before the strip’s launch. It sang its death song and went down in December 1979, according to Stripper’s Guide.

And now for some scans of original art (not owned, O woe!, by me):






Ger Apeldoorn, who has been doing the purchasing-and-scanning-newpaper-pages thing for longer than just about anyone, has a nice selection of strips over at his blog, The Fabulous Fifties. That being said, I hope to be forgiven for including two strips scanned and posted by him, both because they illustrate the point about VIP’s surreal sense of humour and because they made me laugh out loud.



~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Educated Cephalopod Seeks Damsel in Distress

This is the slimiest, creepiest day of the week: Tentacle Tuesday. Hurrah, hurrah, all hail the Chthonians.

It would be a long post indeed if I tried making an exhaustive list of comics in which buxom females are being groped by grabby tentacles. Still, let’s make a (small) dent in this category. Here’s three candies with sweet fillings of adventure, fun, and sex.

Let’s start things slow (but entertaining) with this playful octopus from Virgil Partch‘s madcap pen.

Liberty Magazine, 1946. Frankly, I think she’s better off with tentacles than with the unshaven and blasé Mr. Smeech.

Next up, we have Brenda Buckler who seems to be rather enjoying her captivity. Tous les goûts sont dans la nature!

« It’d been a long time since anyone touched Brenda. As the dry, scaly tentacle encircled her body, it touched something deeper than flesh… »  Eerie no. 60 (September 1974), painted cover by Ken Kelly (a gallery of his paintings can be found here).

Plot spoiler: the tentacled monster is actually her husband! Ain’t nothing wrong with bestiality as long as it’s sanctioned by the holy institution of matrimony. Brenda is the protagonist of the cover story, “The Man Hunters”, written by Gerry Boudreau and illustrated by Wally Wood (with colours by Michele Brand). Don’t worry, though: there’s a happy ending in store for her (aside from the whole “watching your shipmates eaten alive by a giant monster” thing). Moral of the story, never underestimate the erotic potential of “filth-encrusted tentacles”.

A coloured (and quite colourful) version of “The Man Hunters” was reprinted in Warren’s Comix International no. 2 (1975), and you can read it here:

The wrap-up for today is scanned from a comic series I just finished reading, The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror by Roger Langridge as author and J. Bone as illustrator. It was published in 2012, and collected as a paperback and hardcover in 2013. Aside from the healthy helping of tentacles it serves its readers, this comic features some top-notch writing from Langridge and some nice art. I don’t pretend this stuff is deep, but it’s a pleasurable romp with pretty girls, evil scientists, and a goofy-but-lovable hero. Recommended for some fun reading (although I admit I spoiled it a bit by featuring two of the main action pages)…

I like a girl who can admit when she needs rescuin’.

Am I the only one that feels sorry for the monster, even if it *is* a robot?

Tentacularly yours,

~ ds