Flying Cars and the Social Comedy

30969711The Social Comedy is a 1902 collection of cartoons from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, apparently culled from Life magazine. The cover is strange — two geese rampant flanking a crown, dollar sign, and heart — but the contents are pretty much what you’d expect from the time: gag panels the way they were before The New Yorker innovated the modern form, with excellent art by Charles Dana Gibson, Henry Hutt, and others. The illustrations are more illustrative than cartoony, sometimes seem tangential to the gag at hand, and are accompanied by a comic dialogue of witty repartee. You can read it yourself on, and if you’re interested at all in classic comics (from the days before comic books) or Golden Age illustration, you’ll find it an excellent example of its kind. (Warning: Some racism.) This zingy exchange of barbs is crueler than most of the cartoons, perhaps, but representative of the way they operate.socialcomedy00life_0045

What was most interesting about the collection, though, was a pair of predictive cartoons looking straight from 1902 to the future. One is just customarily satirical, an absurd extrapolation based on current trends (and I apologize for the large size of these images, but they can get illegible when scaled down):socialcomedy00life_0068

The other, though, while still more whimsical than seriously predictive, is, well, look at this:

socialcomedy00life_0042Is that the first flying car? I mean, maybe it’s a flying gondola, but behind it is what looks like a flying Benz Patent-Motorwagen?

(Also, in the future perspective will apparently be wonky, or ladies who doff top hats will be giants.)

We all want to know where our flying cars are, but when did we start wanting them? Is there an earlier depiction that William Andrew Mackay’s here? I don’t know when this illustration first appeared (many in the book are dated from the 1890s), but 1902, the terminus ante quem, is before Kitty Hawk even.

What I’m saying is someone should find me an earlier depiction, please.

Let me add that The Social Comedy has occasional poems by Oliver Herford and others. This one, below, by the always witty Carolyn Wells, is clever enough that I wanted to preserve it here.


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