The Perfect Hot-Rodding Coffee Table Book Is Now Available In The Shop
Head over to the Petrolicious Shop to order your own limited edition copy here
As far as cultural symbols go in America, hot rods rival apple pies and baseball, but their early days saw the general public decreeing the car modification movement as an outlet of hooliganism and rebellion. Hot-rodders were often lumped in with the groups that you didn’t want to approach alone. Tom Medley changed that perception, brought humor and artistry to the culture of customization, and along with the rest of the early-years staff at Robert Petersen’s encapsulating magazine, HOT ROD, he helped sway the opinions of those outside the scene while simultaneously being a torchbearer for the insiders.
Tom was one of the first employees at the publication. As capable with a pen as he was with a wrench, an accomplished photographer, and having already displayed his natural and practiced gifts of drawing and visual story-telling, he joined the magazine for its second issue as a cartoon and humorist. This was in 1948, and after marching on Berlin in the weeks leading to V-E Day, he remained abroad as part of the occupying post-war force. Throughout all of this though, he was sketching and drawing for infantry newsletters, and of course, trading cigarettes among his fellow G.I.s in order to fund the mail-order stash of hot-rodding parts he was piling up back in the States.
After returning home and joining the staff at HOT ROD after getting involved with the scene while studying at the ArtCenter in Los Angeles, it wasn’t long before his famous Stroker McGurk character came to life. The character embodied the ingenuity and scrappiness of the people building customs at the time, but more importantly than that his creation brought levity to the culture. The antics of Stroker are boundless, and so is the creative mind who drew the thousands and thousands of comic panels he lived in. Tom Medley was prolific in his many crafts—photography, writing, painting, building, and of course, drawing—and unlike so many others who share this trait, he also saved, almost all of it.
The legacy of a seven-decade-long career was more or less collected in a grid of boxes in his garage, each brimming with old negatives, writings, correspondence, and drawings and sketches marked onto just about every medium that would take a pen or a pencil. In a stroke of bad luck followed by the opposite, the garage his work was kept in burned down along with his custom ’40 Ford Coupe. The good luck? The boxes of art boards and film were more or less okay, having been shielded by other possessions that didn’t have such a lucky fate.
Tom had always wanted to craft a book out of the vast collection of his work, and this near loss of the lot of it helped get that ball rolling. He was in the process of collecting and curating his pieces together for publication when he passed in the spring of 2014, at the life-well-lived age of 93. He was pursuing his craft and passion until the very end.
There was still much to be done though, and after salvaging and drying the mostly intact corporeal legacy of the man’s art, his son Gary teamed up with graphic designer Tod Guenther to develop the look and feel for the book, while David Fetherston guided the publication process and Kathy Fiskum worked on the digital production. The small group proves what can be accomplished when genuine dedication and interest are involved, and the history of one of hot-roddings earliest champions and trend-setters is now beautifully written, illustrated, and most importantly, preserved. The book features scans of all his original artwork, tons of notes and anecdotes, never before seen sketches, and the whole package is thoughtfully arranged both visually and textually. As Gary says, “If he could flip through it today, he would surely smile and utter his catch-all phrase of approval: ‘Bitchin’!’”