Ben Marks of Collector's Weekly says, "We have published an article on World War II bomber-jacket art. One of the people we spoke to was John Conway, who co-authored a book on the topic [American Flight Jackets] and explains why these unofficial uniform tweaks were permitted, as well as where the imagery on A-2 bomber jackets came from."
“We don’t have any concept today of what losses are like,” he says. “We hear, ‘We lost six guys in Afghanistan today,’ and it’s horrible. But it’s not the same as losing a hundred B-17s in one raid, each one with 10 guys on it. That was happening day in, day out. In the old British Army, all the guys would come out of one town for each regiment. When they went to World War I, there were several cases where in one day, every man in a town was wiped out. So they stopped that old regimental system. During World War II, the attitude of the U.S. Army was, ‘Let’s do whatever we can, try to keep these guys happy, they might not be here next week.’”
Bugs Bunny and other characters from Looney Tunes and Walt Disney cartoons were particularly popular motifs with young pilots, as were the Vargas Girls from Esquire magazine. (Disney artists, for what it’s worth, designed many of the squadron patches or insignias.) Conway says we have to remember that American pop culture was a lot smaller and a lot more homogenous at the time. No one had the Internet, cable, or even a TV. The A-2 and nose art imagery tended to come from radio programs, newspaper funny pages, comic books, magazines, and cartoon reels shown before movies, which served as a common language for young Americans.
“Again, you’re talking about guys who were 18, 19 years old,” Conway says. “And this was the first place they’d ever been besides home. They tended to cling to things that were familiar to them. A lot of those guys read comic books and the comic strips in the newspapers when they were kids, and that stuff just stayed with them. They listened to popular radio shows like ‘The Lone Ranger’ and ‘The Shadow,’ and then they would visualize characters from those programs and paint them on the aircraft."
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.
MORE: art & design