What is this cartoon about?
A few days ago I was searching for something to look at from my bookshelf. I chose the collection of Chas. Addams' cartoons in Addams and Evil, first copyrighted in 1947. My 14th printing edition includes reprints of cartoons from 1940-47. Once again, I found an Addams' cartoon that left me wondering what the gag was.
An aspect of a cartoon that differs from an illustration, or even fine art, is that the meaning, or "gag," in a cartoon, is meant to be understood. The joke doesn't need to be blatantly obvious, a little mystery is fun, but the humor shouldn't be so perplexing that you need a PHD to research it. I am sure cartoon editors from the golden age of magazine cartoons were aware that people thumbing through a magazine just wanted a quick jolt of humor, to think, "I get it," and then to move on. This single panel cartoon by Addams had me stopped and stumped.
A disheveled man is collapsed on the doorstep of a tailor shop. A bottle labeled "Lord Calvert" is on the sidewalk near the passed out man's hand. Is Addams making fun of tailors, drunks, or Canadians? All I could think is that the joke must have something to do with the bottle, so I looked up a brand of whiskey I have heard of "Lord Calvert."
Pop culture is ephemeral. Images from the moment do not always speak loudly to the future. I found old advertisements for Lord Calvert Canadian Whiskey with the slogan reading, "For men of distinction." This must have been a popular ad campaign during the 1940's, one that most people then would have recognized. The gag must be based on comparing the image of the older, successful and sophisticated man in the ads to the everyman, drunk-of-distinction on the street.
AHH! With knowledge comes understanding and with understanding comes peace grasshopper. (How long will that pop-reference be grasped?) I can sleep tonight.
7/21/2015: I ran across this version of the cartoon. The drunk looks like a caricature of the man himself.