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Sempé Fi (On Covers): Cars

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Pollux writes:

A flying car soars across a street jam-packed with conveyances of every description. The flying car, an Aerocar NX 59711, heads towards the entrance of a large parking structure, safely flying over a powerful burst of steam that explodes from a carriage.

This is part of an attention-grabbing automotive scene that car enthusiast and regular cover artist Bruce McCall has created for the September 28, 2009 cover for The New Yorker, called “Museum Parking”.

The cover is a car-lover’s delight. Flying cars, also known as roadable aircraft, are a reality, and there are cars from every decade and vehicles from past centuries. McCall’s proto-cars include horse-driven vehicles such as the chariot, covered wagon, and carriage.

As always, McCall delights in detail. As the Scraps of Literacy blog notes, “For Bruce McCall’s meticulous artwork, I look closer. I see the registration numbers on the tail of a flying car, the darkness inside the covered wagon, the stagecoach just entering the parking facility.”

Taking up a lot of space on the road is the Bordino Steam Carriage, introduced in 1854. Consisting of a carriage body attached to a boiler whose steam drove the Bordino’s twin cylinder engine, it required two drivers: one to stoke the boiler, the other to steer the vehicle by means of a tiller.

A light-colored Autobianchi Bianchina, to the right of a black Volkswagen, inches its way cautiously towards the Museum Parking entrance, while a Model T allows its faster and more powerful descendants to go through.

The street is crowded with vehicles, but not crowded with the tension that usually emanates from traffic situations. A red race car of the 1930s waits patiently behind a Roman charioteer. No one is speeding or yelling. No brakes screech; no insults are hurled.

Bruce McCall’s “Museum Parking” is a scene of calm. We drink in the length and breadth of human accomplishment in the field of automotive technology. We wonder about cars of the future and what they will look like. Will the Toyota Prius one day drive into a museum parking lot, to be replaced by something much better?

We realize that perhaps the best innovations have yet to come, if only the carmakers would stop scoffing at Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Something striking about McCall’s cover, besides the finely detailed automobiles, is the perspective. We are flying at same altitude as the Aerocar, giving us a God-like perspective on the history of automobiles.

I like the omniscient feeling that McCall’s choice of perspective gives me, but this point of observation sometimes disconcerted the first editor and founder of The New Yorker.

As James Thurber writes in his book The Years With Ross, during Tuesday afternoon art conferences at The New Yorker, Harold Ross would often stare at a cover and ask: “Where am I supposed to be? In a building across the street from that house, or up in an airplane or where?”

Where have these vehicles been? Are they returning to the museum once and for all, never to return to the road again? The museum parking structure is massive, practically eclipsing the museum itself, which lies in the distance from across the street.

Are we seeing how far we’ve come and how far we need to go in terms of car development? Did the vehicles leave the museum of their own volition? Do 1854 Bordino carriages dream of steam-powered sheep?


Nice write-up. A striking cover, made all the more fun by the details and background Mr. McCall obviously enjoys himself. Thanks for posting this.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree