Bruce McCall, the Canadian-born author and illustrator whose work adorned 83 New Yorker covers and who was, according to Car and Driver, “one of the funniest men ever to write about cars,” died on May 6, four days shy of his 88th birthday. He had recently completed “Safe Travels,” the gouache illustration that appears on the cover of the New Yorker’s May 15 issue.
McCall’s specialty was “retrofuturism,” a word he claimed to have coined. (The OED awards that honor to a 1988 issue of Inland Architect magazine. The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael used “retro-futurist” in a 1986 review of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.) As McCall defined it, retrofuturism entails “looking back to see how yesterday viewed tomorrow”—in McCall’s case, with sly faux-nostalgia and a keen eye for hucksterism and hyperbole. His first job after dropping out of high school was at a Toronto ad agency, and he later wrote copy for a Detroit agency that represented Chevrolet; he drew on those experiences to concoct automotive inventions with fanciful names like Bulgemobile and Bongo Beatnik Ferlinghetti Turbo-Hipster. Many of McCall’s delicious, fictitious car promotions originally appeared in the National Lampoon and were later included in The Last Dream-o-Rama: The Cars Detroit Forgot to Build. McCall also wrote about his automotive career in a memoir, How Did I Get Here?, which was excerpted—with wonderful illustrations—in the New Yorker.
In McCall’s imagining, Bulgemobile models included the Fireblast, the Blastfire, and the Firewood (“For the man who has everything and just needs something to carry it in!”).