Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 94 / MARCH 1988 / PAGE 25


Ervin Bobo

Requirements: Apple II series (reviewed here), Macintosh, Commodore 64, IBM PC and compatibles.

Many years ago there was a fad for comic postcards. These cards usually carried a message of wry humor or ironic understatement, and were illustrated by rather outlandish drawings—one might show an outhouse with a moon carved in the door and the caption "Wish you were here," or an ear of corn as big as the truck bed on which it rested and the caption "You should see the big ones."

Juvenile by today's standards of humor, back then they offered a quick and easy form of communication, a way of letting the folks back home know you had not only survived this far but were actually enjoying yourself. The price was five or ten cents, and postage was a one- or two-cent stamp—I told you this was long ago—and everybody in America probably received one at, some point between 1935 and 1955.

Lost now and only dimly remembered, save for a few collectors, the penny stamp and comic postcard gave way to higher postage and to the need for a flashy, full-color postcard showing the interior of Meramec Caverns or the faces on Mount Rushmore. Lost with it was a piece of Americana.

Recalling The Past

Fortunately, someone at Activision remembers older and simpler times and has brought these comic postcards back (but not the penny stamp) in a new program called Postcards. The program consists of a library of line-art images, a drawing program for customizing or enhancing the artwork, and a text processor for captions. Postcards allows you to print out a part of the past on a dot-matrix printer, paste it on postcard stock, and mail it to someone who will either appreciate the nostalgia or be buffaloed into thinking you've invented a new art form.

Testing the Apple version, I was pleased to find that the setup program first asks you for the type of computer you're using. The list of choices includes the Laser 128 and the Franklin 500, making Activision one of the first software companies to come to grips with the newer realities of the Apple software market. Following this, you are asked for the number of disk drives and the type of printer you are using. All this information is stored on the master disk.

The working screen is really two screens. You switch between them by pressing the 1 or 2 key. Running vertically along one edge of the screen is a list of commands. Each is as simple to implement as the page command: Strike only the first letter of the command word, and you are instantly there.

Bathing Beauties On The Moon

There are ten full-screen backgrounds from which to choose and more than a hundred pieces of clip art, the latter divided into such categories as People, Edibles, Animals, and Transportation. During the heyday of these cards, a great part of the humor was in juxtaposing subjects or scale. The Postcards libraries and the quick reference guide to them will suggest their own incongruities—bathing beauties on the moon, a kangaroo looking at the Eiffel Tower.

Properly, you should load a background onto the palette screen, then transfer clip art or drawings onto it from the Clipboard screen. This process is made easy through the use of a "rubberband" frame that is invoked when you use the Copy command. Stretch it around the clip art until you've included only what you feel is necessary and then click the joystick button to clip it. Press Esc to take you back to the working screen; next, switch to screen 2 and press P for paste. The picture reappears, "attached" to your cursor, and can be moved wherever you wish. Once there, it can be pinned down with another click of the fire button.

There seems to be no limit to the number of elements you can include in this manner, though you'll be the best judge of how much is necessary to express whatever wacky thought you have in mind. As an aid to keeping such built-up pictures coherent, the Copy command includes a Transparent mode, in which your background will not be blocked out by the white frame of your clip art.

The drawing portion of the program is strictly freehand. There are no premade circles or squares such as are found in stand-alone programs, but you'll probably find the drawing program adequate. While it will be possible for the more talented to draw their own pictures, the primary use of the drawing program appears to be as a means to enhance or personalize the drawings from the Postcards library.

Although the drawing program can be called minimal, I was pleased to find a Zoom feature which allows editing on a pixel level and a Fill command that will invoke one of six fill patterns.

Postcards offers ten different backgrounds and more than a hundred pieces of clip art for creating your own ready-to-mail postcards.

Words And Pictures

Completing the program is a text processor. You can type your message within the picture—which is framed—or outside the frame. Text is erased by using the backspace key, but that should be enough. Remember that we are creating captions, not documents.

Because we are dealing with a picture the size of a postcard, printing will be done quickly. The drawing is printed on standard paper, then cut out and pasted to the postcard stock included in the package. For those of us who can never seem to find the tools needed to do a job, a glue stick has also been included. After this, of course, you address the card, affix a stamp, and mail a piece of personalized nostalgia to someone who will appreciate it.

In bringing back an almost forgotten piece of Americana, Activision is to be commended. An outgrowth of the utility printing programs that began with PrintShop, Postcards has its own approach, its own subject, and, as evidenced by the library of drawings, its own sense of humor. As for being a utility, I think of it as more of a luxury, to be savored in the way one might savor a fine piece of carnival glass or a plaster miniature of the Empire State building.

One problem: When loading a sheet from the library, there is no warning that you will erase whatever else is on the active screen. For that reason, it is important to develop a routine for screen use and switching. Otherwise, your carefully crafted picture on screen 2 can be erased by accidentally loading clip art onto the same screen.

With that one exception, I think Postcards is well thought out, well documented, easy to use, and that it will fill an empty space in many hearts.

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