Learn to Drawl

The Wayno/Piraro Bizarro from 6/20:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

The two big things in #1: the stereotype of Southern charm (associated here with the 2pl pronoun y’all and the “drawl” of Southern speech, plus a characteristic Southern drink, sweet tea); and the Learn to Draw family of advertisements (which evoke social worlds in which most people smoked cigarettes and in which earnest young people sought to advance themselves by taking risks to learn a new skill).

These are lost worlds: very few people smoke, and then only in highly constrained circumstances; and the US now appears to be close to be bottom of the developed economies for advancement in social class (of the sort that moved my family from the farm and factory floor to a distinguished university professorship in two generations).

Plus, a personal Wayno bonus in #1, an homage to Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski.

Southernness. The cartoon presents white Southerners as quaint and charming, via several stereotypes, some of them linguistic:

— the 2pl pronoun y’all, which many see as symbolically inclusive in a way that all-purpose you is not

— widespread aspects of Southern speech that are conventionally labeled as “drawl” (hence as being symbolically relaxed and friendly) — in particular, monophthongization of /aj/ (as in high) to [a:], diphthongization of /æ/ (as in trap) and /e/ (as in face), now being lost in favor of more General American variants (on the conventional uses of “drawl” and “twang”, see my 3/7/13 posting “twangs”)

Then there’s the tradition of sweet tea.  From Wikipedia:

Sweet tea is a popular style of iced tea commonly consumed in countries such as the United States (especially common in the Southern United States), and Indonesia. Sweet tea is most commonly made by adding sugar or simple syrup to black tea either while the tea is brewing or still hot, although artificial sweeteners are also frequently used. Sweet tea is almost always served ice cold. It may sometimes be flavored, most commonly with lemon but also with peach, raspberry, or mint. …

Sweet tea is regarded as an important regional staple item in the cuisine of the Southern United States … The availability of sweet tea in restaurants and other establishments is popularly used as an indicator to gauge whether an area can be considered part of the South.

In order to have the notion of sweet tea introduced into the cartoon, the Bizarro guys have the waitress offering the customer sweet tea. In real life, she’d just offer tea, sweet tea automatically being understood by this; you have to go to some trouble to get unsweetened tea.

And then a racial note: the stereotype of Southern warmth and charm presented here is of specifically white Southerners. But, despite two huge migrations of Blacks from the South to the North, the Black presence below the Mason-Dixon line is considerable; the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Estimate of Black population lists the following jurisdictions that are more than 20% Black:

DC 48%; MS 39%; LA, GA 34%; MD 33%; SC, AL 28%; DE 25%; NC 24%; VA 21%

Learn to Draw. Very much a trip back into the past.  From Wikipedia:

Art Instruction Schools, better known to many as Art Instruction, Inc., was a home study correspondence course providing training in cartooning and illustration. The company was located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The school was founded as the Federal School of Applied Cartooning in 1914 as a branch of the Bureau of Engraving, Inc., to train illustrators for both the growing printing industry and the Bureau itself. Artists who received this training through these home study courses entered the fields of newspapers, printing and advertising. Joseph Almars (1884–1948), who was born in Minneapolis, was both the vice president of the Bureau of Engraving and the president of Art Instruction, Inc. In 2016, the school announced it would not be enrolling new students. The school closed at the end of 2018.

… Art Instruction, Inc. was known to many aspiring artists as the Draw Me! School, because of the familiar “Talent Test” advertising campaigns seen in magazine ads, matchbook covers with Spunky the Donkey, TV commercials and online promotions with the “Draw Me!” ad copy.

(#2) Ad as it appeared in Modern Romances (November 1949)

(#3) A characteristic matchbook cover ad

(#4) A racier matchbook cover ad, obviously aimed at male prospective artists

As the company grew in popularity, it added instruction in cartooning, color, comics, composition, perspective and graphic design. The Fundamentals of Art course expanded to include all popular art techniques and contributions from Jay Norwood Darling, Charles M. Russell, Gaar Williams, wildlife artist Walter J. Wilwerding and cartoonist Frank Wing. The 12 textbooks also included contributions from J. C. Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson, Neysa McMein, Daniel Smith, A. B. Frost, John T. McCutcheon, Charles H. Sykes and Clare Briggs, plus illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, Russell Patterson, Franklin Booth, John La Gatta, Harry Townsend and Fontaine Fox. [this is quite an array]

… Two of the school’s instructors were cartoonist Mort Walker and Minneapolis native Charles M. Schulz (later of Peanuts fame). When Schulz was in high school, his mother saw an ad for the Art Instruction, Inc. talent test that asked, “Do you like to draw?” Schulz took the $170 course, a huge sum during the Depression, while his father labored to make the payments. After World War II, Schulz worked on Catholic comic magazines and then signed on as an instructor with Art Instruction, Inc. He was still employed there when he began sketching the characters that later were developed into Peanuts.

Two remarks. First, on matchbooks, which are not very common these days. From NOAD:

noun matchbookNorth American a small cardboard folder of matches with a striking surface on one side.

The point of a matchbook is to provide a safe collection of strikable matches in a size easily carried in a pocket or purse — especially for lighting cigarettes. In an age when so many people smoked, matchbooks were ubiquitous, and provided an obvious surface for displaying brief advertisements.

Then there is the promise of the working hard and earnestly to strike out on making a new life for yourself, in the conventional story of American grit, determination, and advancement (touchingly illustrated in the early history of Charles Schulz, above). Alas, actual advancement has, on the average, virtually stalled in the US. So the Art Instruction promises of a better life now seem as quaint as the custom of carrying matchbooks.

Sam Elliott at the diner. Wayno’s drawings very often incorporate images of his friends or people he admires. So it is with #1, where the guy at the counter being offered (sweet) tea is in fact the wonderful character actor Sam Elliott, as The Stranger in The Big Lebowski:

(#5) The perfect mustache, plus that gravelly voice

On The Big Lebowski and Dudeism, see my 12/21/12 posting “Dude Wipes”. And for an entertaining note on Elliott in the enterprise, see The Playlist site’s “Sam Elliott Was So Good In ‘The Big Lebowski’ The Coen Brothers Didn’t Want Him To Stop” by Charles Barfield on 2/12/19.


4 Responses to “Learn to Drawl”

  1. Dennis Preston Says:

    I’m afraiid the above list does not mention the vocalization of post-vocalic /l/ in syllable final position, so that “draw” and “drawl” are homophones. For me this was the most salient point lof the whole damn thing (he said from Louisville).

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    I didn’t think it was directly relevant; I’m pretty sure that for Wayno the draw / drawl thing is an imperfect pun, not homophonous, and he savored the imperfection. But the neutralization is certainly another Southernism (though not part of the stereotype).

  3. Mark Mandel Says:

    I see yet another item in there: “Sweet tea” as ≈ “Sweetie”. The expression on Sam Elliott’s face suggests interest in more than a sweet drink.

  4. Robert Coren Says:

    I saw this cartoon in the newspaper on its publication date, and presumably recognized the P.O. box number as one of the :odd symbols”, but it wasn’t until I saw it again here that I noticed the bonus in the form of the name of the town.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: