Bruce McCall explains the artist's drive for absurdist retrofuturism

Here's artist Bruce McCall explaining the aesthetic of his retrofuturistic "serious nonsense" illustrations, which nostalgically recall futures that never came to past. It's a very sweet TED talk, and really nails the appeal of old ads, especially old technology ads.

Bruce McCall: Nostalgia for a future that never happened (via Making Light)


    1. I like in the brochure after explaining all the leisure activities for the various classes, golf, ponies, gymnasium, chariot race, ballroom, they offer “There is a deck of cards in the Steerage Tuck Shop”.

    1. I’m with you on the Zeppelins.  There was once commercial lighter than air travel from Berlin to Rio.  Talk about going in style…

    2.  If they can figure out the bad weather issues, the first application is likely to be heavy lifting. When a single air vehicle can haul a freight container from a random field across the globe, things get interesting.

  1. Okay, with monochrom it was kinda explainable as them just being monochrom and being subversive and purposefully turning a TED talk into a salespitch, but McCall as well? All he did was get up on stage and show off his body of work, sprinkle in some buzzwords like Retro-Futurism (which he oddly claims to have invented?), then plug his new book.

    When did TED talks go from being about discussing novel ideas on ways to positively affect the future of the planet, to being an advertising platform?

  2. I like his ultra-realistic car ads. I drive a ’58 Chevy, so I can relate to the Bulgemobile. Too many compound curves.

    My stepfather worked for GM at the time, and he said that it was the strongest passenger car GM ever built. In my opinion, it was one of the ugliest, too, surpassed only by the ’58 Buick.

    1. In 1958, the carmakers were making cars sooo big, that they were told they had to shorten the car width.  The cars were sooo wide that it was hard to keep it in ONE lane; it would straddle the lines!

      Good post nixiebunny!

      1.  I had a VHS tape of some 1950s car commercials. One of them shows a broomstick being placed from side to side inside a 1958 Lincoln; it fits, while the same stick placed in a 1958 Cadillac is several inches longer than the interior is wide. I’m sure the Caddy people were egged on by this, because the 1959 Caddy (which I had once) could seat eleven.

        The other feature of the ’59 was that you could fit two Christmas trees in the trunk – and close it.

  3. You have no idea how happy you’ve made me! My brother and I would pore over Zany Afternoons when we were kids. We thought it was real stuff at that age and imagined a world of Tank Polo, Musical Firing Squads , Giant Ocean Liners that Dwarfed the Statue of Liberty and Pyramid Racing. After we went off to college my Mom cleaned out the huge amount of books we had collected and our tattered paperback of Zany Afternoons went into the trash. Horribly we had forgotten the name of the book, and had been trying to find it ever since. This morning as I saw the  tank polo preview on BB and immediately looked up Bruce MacCall and ordered the book from Amazon. My brother will be so Jealous! Thank you.

  4. McCall’s stuff was one of* my favorite things in National Lampoon.

    I have a few of his books, but so far the funniest stuff hasn’t been reprinted.

    (My most favorite was Trots & Bonny. Someone needs to reprint those.)

  5. Love Bruce’s artwork, but saw him on the Letterman show once where he appeared a bit too scatterbrained and seemed unable to give simple background on his outstanding illustrations. Artist talking or writing about their own art is’nt always a good idea. But he’s still my favorite retrofuturist

    1. I thought that, and then I thought if the correct expression is ‘come to pass‘, that actually means exactly the same thing. Then I felt confused and got a bit of a headache.

  6. Perhaps a return to those big cars would be a safer alternative. 
    A 2003 study by  the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that 
    “weight reductions in the most popular SUVs—those weighing less than 5,000 pounds—would make travel significantly less safe for vehicles’ occupants. Most SUVs are used by families to transport their children.The study also determined that the most fuel-efficient cars have a fatality rate twice that of even the smaller SUVs, and four times the fatality rate of minivans. A 100-pound reduction in the weight of small passenger cars, such as the Toyota Corolla, would result in 597 additional deaths every year. For the popular light and midsized SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer, a 100-pound reduction in weight would result in 234 additional traffic fatalities every year.”
    Let’s demand Detroit add more fins and chrome and bling!

    1.  So we should all drive M1 tanks?

      If we all drove small cars, rather than some people driving SUVs and some people driving small cars, wouldn’t things even out?

  7. The whole series of BugleMobile ads are priceless. They reveal a keen insight into the thoughts of the wealthy of the period. Not to mention the spot-on idiom.

    I really, really miss National Lampoon. America as a whole is lessened by its passing.

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