CARtoons magazine was an eccentric graphic anthology, published regularly if sporadically (monthly, quarterly, bi-monthly, bi-quarterly) by famed automotive publishing house Petersen from 1959 until 1991. As its name implies, it featured cartoons about cars, but it was imbued with the kind of slapstick and winking editorial commentary on issues like politics, the generation gap, and technology – as well as rampant sexism and misogyny – familiar to readers of contemporaneously published periodicals like Mad.
Now, following in the footsteps of other formerly unsung media that have entered into the high art canon—photography, industrial design, fabric arts, furniture—comics are getting their due via inclusion in notable cultural institutions. The Milwaukee Art Museum launched a groundbreaking exhibit of comic art a decade ago. New Yorkercartoonist Roz Chast was recently the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of the City of New York, as was graphic novelist Art Spiegelman at the Jewish Museum. Now, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is following suit, in a manner befitting its location in car-centric L.A., with a six month-long exhibition of prints, cover art, and ephemera from CARtoons‘ decades-long run.
“This show tells not just the story of these important elements of west coast car culture, or the lost history of these great and talented artists,” says Britt Salvesen, LACMA’s head curator of photographs, prints, and drawings, who organized the show. “It tells the story of graphic design from before computers.” She points at the original drawings and paintings that line the gallery’s walls, tacked up bulletin-board-style as they would be in a print magazine’s editorial offices. “They show all the paste-out, and Letraset, and Ben-Day dots, the physicality of the process of creating something before digitalization.”