Saturday, April 23, 2011

Food, Inglorious Food

Believe it or not, there was something nearly as bad as Commons. In the middle of Cambridgeport (a neighborhood just up Mass. Avenue from MIT), there was a McDonald's. You could find its Golden Arches tucked into Inman Square behind Hi-Fi Pizza, about a block away from Purity Supreme (which MIT students called "Puberty Supreme"; it was one of three grocery chains in the Boston area and competed for the MIT undergraduate food dollar with Stop 'n' Shop, which was on the river). This Cambridge McDonald's was famous for hockey-puck hamburgers, soggy fries and shakes the consistency of wet concrete, and it made Twenty Chimneys look good. You could eat there, at your own risk.
In 1977, McDonald's had instituted an advertising campaign for their hamburgers with the tag line, "You - you're the one - having your Big Mac Attack", suggesting that ordinary innocents could develop a sudden irresistible craving for Big Macs at almost anytime. A local comedian turned that into a "Big Smack Attack" ("smack" being the street slang for heroin). I turned it into a cartoon about acute food poisoning instead.

If I were still cartooning, I could have all sorts of fun with slogans such as "Run for the Border" or done a send-up of the attempt by Taco Bell to invite its patrons to snack on high fat, high calorie food late at night during "Fourth Meal" (as if their patrons didn't have enough opportunities to gain weight). But I would have had to disclose a certain conflict of interest on my part - I got into the advertising racket myself. In the same November 1977 issue that contained the cartoon shown above was an advertisement for a local Somerville eatery called Dick's Deli that featured some familiar artwork.
Dick's not only paid for this half-page ad in thursday, but Dick himself showed up at the thursday offices personally to drop off a complimentary selection of overflowing roast beef and corned beef sandwiches, loaded with lettuce, tomato, pickles and dressing, on these huge slices of marbled rye. Dick made the tastiest sandwiches in town for a very reasonable price (even in 1977, a $2 sandwich was a comparative bargain, especially when it was easily triple the size of the typical fast food burger). The only problem was that Dick was not much of a businessman; about three weeks after this ad came out, we called over to Dick's, and he was now driving trucks. The newspaper was out about $100 in unpaid advertising, which wasn't a whole lot for anyone except a struggling student newspaper that lived hand-to-mouth, as it was.

I ended up getting a lot of requests for my art services while at school, and even after I had retired from the comic strip business in 1985, I ran into people willing to pay good money for my artwork. Among other things, my cartoons were used to sell vitamins to kids; however the product was not fated to become popular, so the paychecks were not very big.

When the "Big Mac Attack" cartoon came out, thursday was still riding the notoriety of the Consumer Guide to MIT Men, and had actually attracted a stable of five different cartoonists. Stickles was still the featured comic, but there were other popular strips such as Dybosphere, Snails, Goldberg and Ornblatt on the back page.
When thursday folded in 1979, both Stickles and Dybosphere were transferred to the Tech, which actually had a robust comics page in the '80s. One could say it was Super-sized.

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