Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Past is a Foreign Country

In yesterday's review of Daimyo of 1867, I quoted the epigram, "the past is a foreign country." It's a phrase that's very true in my opinion and it's one I'm often reminded of when I have conversations with my children, especially my 10 year-old daughter. That are so many things that were a part of my own childhood that simply mean nothing to her, because the world today is different in obvious and subtle ways from the world in which I lived thirty years ago.

Here's a very minor case in point. We were out driving on the highway and I saw, for the first time in ages, a van. And I mean a real van, not a mini-van or a delivery vehicle, but an honest to goodness 1970's-style panel van. I expressed my surprise at this sight and offhandedly commented that "All you need is Conan on the side and you're set for some serious cruising." My daughter looked at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about, because, well, she had no idea what I was talking about. Airbrushed van murals aren't something you see much anymore, especially fantasy-inspired van murals.

So I had to explain to my daughter what they were and why they were created, in the process pointing out to her the frankly implausible notion that, prior to the 1970s, fantasy wasn't mainstream like it is today. In many ways, she finds that idea even more bizarre than the idea of artwork on the side of a van. Afterward, I decided to poke around the Net to see if I could find some photographs of some classic van art from the 70s, but, oddly, I actually found it rather hard to do so, certainly none with Frazetta Conan art on the side, which I distinctly recall seeing as a kid. Anyone out there got some better links to this stuff to share?

33 comments:

  1. There is a van parked on a street near my house with a broadsword-wielding viking painted on the side. A viking standing in front of a *galaxy*.

    I'll try to send you a picture.

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  2. Throughout most of my life, my uncle and aunt lived and worked in Toronto as practicing artists, and because of their proximity I spent much time with them. I have a clear memory from the mid-seventies of finding a book in their book-case that was, essentially, a coffee-table book of "van art".

    Automobile and motorcycle "custom paint" reached a hey-day with panel vans in the seventies, and it's interesting that, at some point, it completely faded out of prominence (presumably, roughly coincident with the panel van as a relatively inexpensive mode of transportation).

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  3. I always wanted a van with the Frazetta picture of the warrior on an ice sled pulled by polar bears! It would be great to bring to cons!

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  4. Go to YouTube, search "custom van ad", click on the first search result, and then check out all of the similar search results on the right-hand side of the screen - a veritable cornucopia of van art. On a side note, I lack the words to articulate how much I wanted a customized van when I was a kid...

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  5. On a related note, I was trying to explain Arduin to somebody not too long ago, and the best distillation of it that I could come up with was "custom van fantasy".

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  6. I am surprised, given in this day of Photoshop and wrapping a car not being absolutely prohibitively expensive, that you don't see more of this.

    I wonder how the TL would look with Frazetta's "Sorcerer" on it...

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  7. I really wanted a "Conan-ized" van in the 70s, when I was in high school... Aw, heck. I still do. :)

    A van painted with a (iirc) barbarian queen with polar bears on a leash figured in an episode of Supernatural two seasons ago, I think. Brought back memories, it did.

    Security word: "quene," the name of an obscure rock band struggling to get around trademark law.

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  8. How about we find a gamer with an old van and nominate them for 'Pimp my Ride'. Then we'll get full-on fantasy paint job and a dungeon interior (although I think that would also be popular for a different sort of roleplaying).

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  9. Wow. I gotta say I did not see or know about this 30 years ago in mid/southern Maine. Saw painted vans maybe two or three times. Conan as a common subject matter? Absolutely never heard of that before.

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  10. This kind of sled pimpin' is still rampant in some quarters of Latin American. I wish I had pictures of all the weird fantasy murals I've seen on Panamanian buses...

    I remember when I was a kid growing up in a rural desert area of Southern California there was a van frequently parked in front of the local Denny's that not only had a Conanesque mural, but a MACE mounted on the outside in a wooden rack. Along with the TRIKE GANG in the local trailer park I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

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  11. Here is a whole Flickr group about it:
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/767996@N22/pool/

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  12. I always loved this commercial:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mohTaIaZhDU

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  13. I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it, but I haven't seen a van with a mural on it in years. At age ten, I was determined to someday own one, complete with disco ball and waterbed in the back...

    On a related note, my daughter and I were discussing bad movies. She asked how I'd come to see so many of them. I told her I'd seen most of them on the late movies.

    At this point, I had to explain to her what "the late movies" WERE. She grew up in the Age of the Infomercial, in a time when movies shown all night on television was pretty much a thing of the past...

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  14. James -

    We have our differences about a huge variety of things, but I think this kind of post does you real credit. When you let your wonderment, hope, and joy in recollection stand in your writing, without resorting to lamentations about the fallenness of (etc. etc. etc.), something lovely shines through. After all, it's the wonder and desire to share the past that constitutes the authentic reaction - the elegiac narrative is editorializing.

    Anyhow, just a note of thanks and encouragement, recognizing that I don't share enough of those things.

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  15. JM, if you lived in Venice Beach you would be seeing these vans all the time.

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  16. The ultimate in customization is the Japanese tractor-trailer.

    http://www.rogersnider.com/galleries/bigrigs/dekotora.php#

    "I am surprised, given in this day of Photoshop and wrapping a car not being absolutely prohibitively expensive, that you don't see more of this."

    Probably due to the relative lack of real estate. A little Conan on a Volvo's door just wouldn't have the same impact.

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  17. In the neighborhood I grew up in as a kid, there was a guy we all called "slayer" who lived across the street. He cleaned carpet for a living. He had two amazing G series vans, one had a wizard sitting on a frog on the side, and the other had a skull with wings. I probably have pictures at home.

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  18. "I am surprised, given in this day of Photoshop and wrapping a car not being absolutely prohibitively expensive, that you don't see more of this."

    I have seen a couple of fast and furious style Hondas with anime chicks on the hoods or across the side.

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  19. Isn't this type of van called a "conversion" van? Always wondered why they were called that...

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  20. When I was growing up in the '80s, I seen a few, but mostly unicorns and pegasus - or both. What really got my head turning as a kid were the mobile art galleries that had a whole bunch of junk thrown on them - mostly because one of them used He-Man toys in the decoration. I use to see a few of them on the streets of San Fransisco, and quit often, but I think that sort of thing died down because of fears loose and fly objects, by the cops. SanFran always like to do things a little different and offbeat.

    Save for all the Lisa Frank-styled stuff I grew up to, I think fantasy-inspired van murals are so awesome!

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  21. Funny you should mention this, James. My wife & I just saw a beast of a van on the interstate this past weekend. I didn't get a real close look at it, but it was covered with purple glitter paint, had a space-like theme, & a flaming chariot overlay. I couldn't really make out *who* or *what* was driving the chariot, though; the driver of the van was flyin' down I-75 (must have been going 90mph+).

    I'm only 32, but even I remember seeing vans like this out & about when I was a wee one. My wife is a few good years younger than I am, so she's always amazed at seeing blasts-from-the-past like this.

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  22. On a related note, I was trying to explain Arduin to somebody not too long ago, and the best distillation of it that I could come up with was "custom van fantasy".

    That's such a pitch perfect evocation of Arduin I don't think it can be beaten. Seriously, Emperor's Choice Games should use that in their advertising campaign.

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  23. Along with the TRIKE GANG in the local trailer park I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

    A trike gang is the coolest thing ever.

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  24. Dungeoneering Dad,

    That's awesome! Thanks for sharing that link. Some good photos there.

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  25. JM, if you lived in Venice Beach you would be seeing these vans all the time.

    I'm glad to see that there's somewhere on this continent where the classics are still revered.

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  26. Years ago, someone requested I submit one of my photos to the Flickr group "MAN with VAN". That seems like a good place to look.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/manwithvan/pool/

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  27. Conversion Van on Wikipedia

    Basically it refers to the fact that the van went to a third party company to be converted from stock to the customer’s needs...or desires.

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  28. My personal favorite van commercial...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A3fSXSxIo0&feature=related

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  29. I remember in the 70s buying magazines that had pictures of nothing but "shag wagons". My brother and I thought they were tooootally cool. They could have a water bed in the back, shag carpet on the floor and walls, and maybe a little fridge, bubble window, centre line mags, and, yes, some decent air brush art the side. Oh, and maybe a chromed anchor chain steering wheel. I may not think they're cool now. But the feeling of boundless possibility and freedom, when we were looking at those magazines from Dundern Variety carried us aloft.

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  30. Damn...I miss this kind of thing...

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  31. In Russia, the Seventies live.

    Russian car art:
    http://englishrussia.com/index.php/2009/06/21/cool-car-art/

    http://freshpics.blogspot.com/2007/05/russian-car-art.html

    There's a ton of pictures of this sort of thing, if you look around. Some of them are really amazing, and many of them are based on specific fantasy or sf novels, Western or Russian. Movie scenes are also popular.

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  32. If there is a God, he or she will ordain a 70s fantasy van revival. Please?

    Here's a link you missed:

    http://cyclopeatron.blogspot.com/2010/07/more-fantasy-van-murals.html

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  33. Growing up, there was a guy in my neighborhood who had a brown van with a Frazetta-ish viking scene on it... but some time in 1979, he repainted it stark white with a giant Darth Vader and Death Star scene.

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