Seems to me as if it was only yesterday when Li’l Abner Volume 6 hit the stands, bringing us the “wonder” that was Lena the Hyena, but here I am, deep in the writing of introductory text for Volume 7, which I immodestly claim will be the high water mark of our Abner series—and not just because Al Capp has such entertaining stuff waiting for you. He does have those great stories coming, headlined by the arrival of the Shmoo, but we’ve unearthed some nifty information I’ll be folding into my essay. It’s always great fun to write these features when we get to shine the spotlight on juicy, fun tidbits, some which have not been discussed in prior Abner reprint efforts, others that may have been mentioned, but now get presented in a somewhat different context.
Sometimes we find things that, for one reason or another, won’t be included in our actual printed volumes. That’s OK, because we get to present several of those pieces here!
Case in point…
Li’l Abner‘s 1948 Shmoo storyline was, in many ways, the biggest hit in comics history up to that time. In Volume 7 we’ll discuss the magnitude of that hit and how it was also a financial and promotional bonanza for Al Capp. One indication of the magnitude of the Shmoo Saga’s popularity: Simon and Shuster rushed to get this story between two covers in time for 1948’s Christmas shopping season. Priced at a whopping one dollar, it was assumed the book would fly off bookstore shelves (you remember bookstores, right?), which is exactly what it did.
In San Mateo, California, the Peninsula Bookshop knew the Shmoo collection was going to be big—they took out this ad in the local newspaper, the Times:
Sometimes we discover something we absolutely love, but the condition of the artifact is such it may never be restored to a visual quality deemed worthy of printing. Check out this 1947 ad, run on October 7th in the Winnipeg Tribune, advertising the comics lineup in the Trib‘s weekend companion, the Standard.
There are a lot of things I like about this ad. First, note the sheer number of strips in this lineup that would eventually make their way into Library of American Comics editions. The ad gives its keynote position to Milton Caniff and Steve Canyon (ol’ Steverino was less than a year old on this date, in the midst of his tussle with Herr Splitz and Madame Lynx), but the Standard kept the old even while it embraced the new—both Canyon and George Wunder’s Terry and the Pirates were in its lineup! But of most interest for our purposes here, check out how Capp and Li’l Abner are positioned immediately beneath Ham Fisher and Joe Palooka. As we’ve discussed—and will continue to discuss in upcoming LOAC Abner volumes – Capp and Fisher engaged in a long and increasingly bitter feud, so think of Capp’s reaction if he saw this ad! The roof must have blown off the artist’s Boston studio and flipped 360 degrees in mid-air before settling back into place…
Capp’s story is a reminder that for some celebrities (and Al was a celebrity, make no mistake about it), no matter how much success accrues, there are always mountains to climb and enemies to combat—but despite the dark linings in his silvery cloud, this singular talent had an ability to entertain that was unmatched among comic strip creators, then or now. That’s part of what makes his story so fascinating, and part of what makes Li’l Abner a must-read for anyone interested in comic strip history.