The ranks of illustrators have spanned many different genres and styles, but Mercedes-Benz models have been a common feature across the comic world. Indeed, many artists have made even more prominent use of them than Hergé. The black paintwork of a Fintail, for example, shines out in almost cinematic wide-angle splendor from Seron’s “Les Petits Hommes”, while André Franquin lays on a “who’s who” of Mercedes models – from the “Ponton” to the W 124 – in his “Spirou and Fantasio” and “Gaston” series. The “Michael Vaillant” racing driver comics, meanwhile, see the C 291 Class C racing sports car and McLaren Mercedes’ Formula One racer bring a dash of glamour to proceedings alongside the dependable, but more prosaic sedans.
Despite the detailing, comics do not always display full views of the sedans and trucks, the vehicles often cut off by the borders of the picture panels to leave the reader mired in a guessing game. The hallmark stylistic feature of Mercedes-Benz sedans is, of course, the three-pointed star on the radiator. However, when Franquin blurred out the front end of a W 116 for a dynamic driving scene in the “Gaston” album “Le gang des gaffeurs”, the car’s identity still remained as clear as day. Indeed, even when the star is not there as a giveaway clue, there are still any number of timeless design details which quickly highlight the car as a Mercedes-Benz. The striking rear end of a W 110, for example, was also featured in “Gaston” – if only as a shadow. It does, though, require rather greater knowledge of the brand’s products to single out the steering wheel with central three-pointed star depicted on a page of the Italian comic “Dylan Dog” as belonging to a W 201.
The beauty of the Fintail models and the brute strength of the Unimog in comic adventures of yesteryear retain an appeal which extends beyond the ranks of classic car enthusiasts. And the semitrailer tractors and sedans, sports cars and vans with the three-pointed star are more than merely props or background decoration as the plot unfolds in front of them. Instead, they have their own stories to tell and are an expression of the technical development, advances in mobility and attitudes to automobiles which characterize their particular era. In contrast to American super-hero stories – with their fantasy cars – and blithely abstract takes on the automobile in series like “Fix & Foxi”, comics with reality-based illustrations present the automobile as a commentary on its time, with all the associations which a particular vehicle conjures up. As a result of having such a wide spread of models across all areas of personal and goods transportation, Mercedes-Benz will inevitably figure frequently in comics.
The various automobiles depicted in comics can be grouped together according to the decade and model series involved. For example, comics from the 1950s focused on the beauty of the SL models. The “Ponton”, on the other hand, was the first Mercedes sedan after the Second World War to win over drivers around the world as a modern and sensible car. And the W 100 launched in 1964 made its name in Europe and the Middle East in equal measure as an extremely prestigious state limousine. Spanish comic author Francisco Ibáñez Talavera caricatured the opulence of the W 100 in his “Mortadelo y Filemón” series, adding a new item to the equipment list: “chauffeur in various trim variants: formal, sports or business”.
Their appearances in comic-books showed Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles in a similarly international light. The Unimog, for example, can be spotted in French ports, serving the fire brigade in Great Britain and on international rallies. And then there is the classical short-hood truck, which established itself as the modern template for truck design in 1959 at the expense of the old models with long hoods. For a long while after it went out of production, this type of truck continued to serve as a reliable load-lugger in modern-day comics, at work in the African desert, for instance, and negotiating precarious mountain passes in South America.