Archive | Li’l Abner

It Takes All Kinds to Make a World …

In the text features for our LOAC titles we often quote from letters received by the cartoonist in question. Sometimes this is professional correspondence related to the business of syndicating or merchandising the strip and its characters, while other times we cite those individual readers who felt the burning urge to pen either high praise or high dudgeon and mail it to the artist.

But some letters are so far “off the beam” they would have no place inside our books. Let me share the highlights — and I use that term loosely — from one of my very favorites with you …

Postmarked from scenic Brooklyn, New York in September of 1955, the item in question arrived in an envelope bearing this address (pardon the extreme blurriness):

100_0943_cropped

Sent to, “Mr. Al Capp, Steve Canyon Cartoonist,” in care of the New York Daily Mirror, we see the first sign that something is amiss. As we know (but the writer apparently did not), Al Capp drew Li’l Abner. It was Milton Caniff who created and produced Steve Canyon!

The enclosed letter was typed all in capitals (before that approach was deemed to represent “shouting”). As you can tell from the envelope excerpt above, the copy of the letter I have is too blurred for good reproduction, but I carefully transcribed the contents of the original when I found it during one of our research trips to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University, so I’m able to replicate the all-caps format and include the various typos and misspellings, as well. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

The author begins:

 

DEAR SIR:

RUSSIAS CLAIMS ON PLANETARY DISCOVERY BY COSMIC SPACE SHIPS IN AN ARTICLE OF AUG. ’55 BY REUTERS NEWS DISPATCH, IS A LITTLE PREVIOUS.  IN AUG. OF ’53, PATIENT Z-125 IN WASHINGTON, D.C. REHEARSED THE STATE DEPARTMENT IN RIGHTS OF THE WORD OF  GOD ON FAR PLANETS.

THE EVOLUTION AND PROPAGATION OF THE THREE PLANETS NEAREST THE SUN-STAR ARE IN THE ICE, STONE AND BIBLE MAKING STAGES.  WIT H EARTH THE FARTHEST ADVANCED OF ORBIT EVOLUTION IN THE SUN-STAR UNIVERSE, THE BROTHER AND SISTER PLANETS HAVE BEEN IN COMMUNION WITH THE EARTH EVOLUTION.

BEING HINDERED IN STATIONING, AND ATMOSPHERIC PLANETARY ACCEPTANCE, W  WOULD BE A HURDLE RUSSIA MAY FIND DIFFICULT TO- OVER COME.

 

The author (who shall go nameless) then shifts to a discussion of the goddesses found in “GREEK FAIRY TALES” and a tale of The Resurrection cited as being revealed by “ST MATTHEW TO THE MULTITUDE IN EPISTLE C22.” In closing, the letter’s writer offers this:

 

POEM OF PROSE

A WEDLOCK BEING WAC, MARRIED AND M.D.,

IN THE 1st CHURCH BEILEVEING 6 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

NOW THERE’S 28 DAYS IN ONE MONTH;

BEING, TOO, WELOCKED IN 2nd CHURCH BELIEVING 22 DAYS FOR A MONTH.

THE LADY OF MONTHS THAT PASS.

THAT BEING NEAR THE PHYSICIAN.

THE LADY KNOWS HER Ps AND Qs.

THAT FAR MATHEMATICIAN KNOWS Y PLUS X = ZERO.

 

Finally, by way of apology, the correspondent concluded: “P.S. SORRY I’M NOT A GOOD ODE-IST, PLEASE FOR-GIVE MY SHORT COMINGS.”

Even a wit as keen as Al Capp seemed flummoxed by what he had just read. Still, because he was a swiftie, he saw in the letter an opportunity to throw a couple gentle jabs at his good friend, Caniff. He forwarded the letter to Milton along with a note dated September 22, 1955. In it, Al wrote:

 

“Dear Milt:

“Judging from the contents of this letter … this is one of your readers. It was sent to me because everyone thinks I do all the comic strips.”

 

That humorous note provided the perfect — errr-r-r — Capper to the original letter writer’s impenetrable attempt at communication. But the missive serves as a reminder that, just as in today’s 21st Century world of high-profile stars and instantaneous contact, where stories of “celebrity stalkers” or bedeviling on-line “trolls” regularly make the news, the classic penmen of the past received plenty of letters from those who fit the description of either cranks or crackpots. Technology changes, but the range of human response does not.

And if this little exchange provided you with a smile, remind me someday to reprint the letter Ernie Bushmiller wrote about one particular piece of fan mail …!

Found in My Far-From-Junk Drawer

Last time in this space I discussed growing up with a “junk drawer” in our home, a catch-all for things that didn’t easily fit in anywhere else in the house. I mentioned having a similar catch-all in my filing cabinets today. It definitely doesn’t qualify as a junk drawer, given the many wonderful outsized or unusual items that reside within it, but it serves a similar purpose to my father and mother’s original Fibber McGee-style drawer from my boyhood days.

A recent dive into that Far-From-Junk drawer brought me to the KFS booklet commemorating Bringing Up Father‘s 20th anniversary, and that sparked thoughts that resulted in the “character evolution” piece that ran here at the end of September. It occurred to me that perhaps you might like to see a smattering of the other items I keep in my Far-From-Junk Drawer, so this week I dived back in.

Since we began by considering Bringing Up Father, and since I’m a huge fan of all things George McManus, let’s start off this look with two of almost a year’s worth of 1934 BUF newspaper strips I own, clipped from the pages of the Kansas City Star. McManus always has a great way with animals, and here you’ll see Jiggs and Maggie have received a most unusual pet, given as a gift from nobility with whom they had recently rubbed elbows:

01_buf_a-from-kc-star

02_buf_b-from-kc-star

I always love gags about Maggie’s singing, and here the little pachyderm proves he has good taste regarding bad music!

A few years ago, Al Capp/Li’l Abner fan extraordinaire Mike Fontanelli sent me a C.A.R.E. package of all things Abnerian — some clipped daily and Sunday strips, a smattering of magazine articles, and other odds and ends, including a nice sampling of Cream of Wheat ads featuring the denizens of Dogpatch. Here’s a sample, which seemed especially appropriate since 2016, like 1944, is a leap year :

03_abner_cow-ad

Li’l Abner Yokum proves that Cream of Wheat not only tastes good, it’s good for you!

I also have some Ben Casey material, like this newspaper ad promoting the series, by the irrepressible Neal Adams, who continues to produce great-looking art today, *mumble-mumble* decades later:

04_ben-casey-promo

Neal Adams, of course, became an almost-revered figure in the comic book world for his work at both DC (on Superman, Deadman, and Green Lantern/Green Arrow) and Marvel (X-Men, Avengers, Inhumans, Thor). The superhero world’s gain was the comic strip world’s loss!

Not all the items in my catch-all drawer pertain to comic strips. I make no secret of my love for baseball, and here’s a fine copy of a photo of the young Jackie Robinson that I received as a benefit from being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame:

05_the-great-jackie-r

As the first African-American to play major league baseball, Robinson wore number 42. That number has now been retired from the sport, and no major leaguer will ever again wear that number without special permission from the Commissioner’s office.

Back in the comic book world, Jim Steranko moved away from doing work for Marvel Comics to publish magazines (Mediascene, Prevue) under his own company. He produced other products as well, like his bellwether History of Comics and stiff cardboard comic book “holders.” Here are the two facing sides of those holders, rendered as only Steranko can do it:

06a_steranko-box_side-1

06b_steranko-box_side-2

By the way, Steranko’s brilliant Introduction to our Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles is must-reading for any student of the artform.

Finally, during the 1980s and into the early ’90s, I was devouring Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales while it was initially being published by Kitchen Sink Press. How big an XT booster was I? So big that on a trip to Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I bought one of the boxes of “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” candy bars they were selling. The candy is long gone, of course, but here is the top of the box, plus one of its side panels, featuring series stars Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee amidst some heavy dinosaurian action:

07a_caddys-dinos-box-top

07b_caddys-dinos-box-side

Though the core comics series was published as Xenozoic Tales, a parallel series and a short-lived animated TV series both appeared under the “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” title.

Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed this peek inside my Far-From-Junk Drawer — and that you agree with my classification of its contents as definitely being anything but junk!

It All “Ad”s Up

We sometimes have more artwork and photos than we can squeeze into the text features of our books. We’re just putting a wrap on Steve Canyon Volume 7, for example, and we have such an abundance of 1959-60 riches related to Milton Caniff and his creation that we’ll likely do a feature in this space showcasing some of the artifacts that didn’t make the cut as the book gets closer to its on-sale date.

Sifting through the files I’ve amassed related to a couple other recent books, I saw some newspaper promotional ads that we didn’t use. Here’s a “Kigmy”-related ad supporting Li’l Abner, circa 1949:

2_Abner Kigmy Ad_1949

And from that same year, an ad that does double duty, both as a promotion for Abner and as a contest pushing Proctor & Gamble products:

1_Abner Shmoo Naming_1949

I’m also partial to this 1933 ad for Tim Tyler’s Luck that we found while preparing our jumbo-sized LOAC Essentials/King Features Essentials Volume 2 devoted to Alex Raymond’s brief-but-memorable stint on that series.

3_TIM TYLER'S LUCK Ad_1933

Seeing those items, and given my own soft spot for this type of material, I thought I’d sift through a batch of newspapers and see what other comic strip promotional ads I could find. The earliest one I located was from the year of the stock market crash, 1929, and is hyping Percy Crosby’s delightful and influential kids strip, Skippy:

4_SKIPPY Ad_1929

Fans of Gasoline Alley (myself included) may get a kick out of this 1930 advertisement, suggesting readers send in their summertime addresses and get the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette delivered while on vacation in order to stay current with events in the Wallet household:

5_GASOLINE ALLEY Ad_1930

And I was delighted to find this 1934 ad from the Asheville, North Carolina Citizen as the paper prepared to bring Little Orphan Annie into its lineup of daily comics. The ad symbolically reminds readers how “Daddy” Warbucks’s red-haired charge typically ends up in hot water :

6_LOA_1934

Not every ad was as elaborate as the Annie, of course. In 1940, when this ad promoting the Golden Age Superman was appearing in client newspapers across America, The Man of Tomorrow was scarcely two years old. How many readers in 1940 could have imagined the strange visitor from planet Krypton would still be entertaining millions, more than seventy-five years after this modest advertisement saw print?

7_SUPERMAN Ad_1940

The sophistication and graceful action shown in this 1952 ad for Rip Kirby strikes me as resonating very closely with what Alex Raymond was presenting on the comics page as he chronicled the adventures of the ’50’s first modern detective:

8_RIP KIRBY Ad_1952

One of the strips I always enjoyed as a youngster was Andy Capp. I liked the “Englishness” of his world, its rough-and-tumble nature, and I’m heartened that Andy has successfully continued his visits to the local more than a decade after his creator’s death (Reg Smythe passed away in 1998). The copy in this 1967 ad from the Pittsburgh Press certainly reflects the tenor of those “Swingin’ Sixties” times, doesn’t it?

9_ANDY CAPP Ad_1967

Finally, here’s a March, 1971 ad for Doonesbury, only five months into its existence. It serves as a reminder of how the art style, themes, and characters in this sprawling, sometimes controversial, sometimes powerful, always-worth-reading strip have changed!

10_DOONESBURY Ad_1971

Keep watching this space, because we’ll be back soon with, as the Monty Python troupe used to say, “something completely different” …

A Few of My Favorite Things (Part I of II)

After several years and well over a hundred releases, I sometimes get asked about my favorite stories from the LOAC family of books. Sometimes the question is just that straightforward — “Which ones do you like best?” — and sometimes I provide that answer within the context of a larger inquiry, something along the lines of, “What stories would you recommend to get a new reader hooked on classic comic strips?”

Of course, there are certain stories that belong in the Comic Strip Hall Of Fame — “The Death of Raven Sherman” from Terry and the Pirates, for example, or Dick Tracy’s encounters with The Brow or Flattop. And certainly our friendly competitors have released their share of Must-Read sequences in several of their fine series. But I have other, perhaps less obvious favorites, and this seemed like a good time to share ten of them with you. In no particular order, here are the first five that have burned a warm place in my comics-fannish heart:

10. Scorchy Smith in Northern Africa. Our big Noel Sickles retrospective/Scorchy Smith reprint remains one of my very favorite books. I like to think we brought well-deserved new attention to the major and important talent that was “Bud” Sickles, and the wealth of artwork we were privileged to see and publish (more of the former than the latter!) was a rare treat. Thanks to this book, Sickles’s virtuoso efforts on Scorchy are now also preserved for future generations to savor, and while there are several delightful moments throughout the run, I’m especially partial to the 1936 sequence that sees “Scorcher,” his sidekick Heinie Himmelstoss, and their charge/employer Mickey LaFarge touring Northern Africa and the Middle East. In this lovely strip from March 25, 1936, set in Algiers, Mickey’s foreboding is well-founded, since she and her aviator pals will soon run afoul of the evil Ali Hamman in the Syrian desert …

SCORCHY

9. The King Aroo Seal of Approval. Something else within the LOAC oeuvre I’m especially proud of is our two-volume set of King Aroo. I’ve loved Jack Kent’s winsome style and smart, snappy writing since my first encounter with the King and his Myopean subjects in the Nemo magazines of the 1980s; it was both a delight and an honor to offer over ten thousand words of biography devoted to the man, and to help get hundreds of his King Aroo comics back into print (I’ve also been fortunate enough to acquire an Aroo original from 1960, which proudly hangs on a wall in my home!). There are many, many King Aroo sequences I’d eagerly point to as a favorite, a big grin on my face as I do so, but I have special fondness for the October-to-December, 1951 storyline in which Professor Yorgle drinks Wanda Witch’s magic potions by mistake and turns into a seal. Great sight gags ensue, series regulars serve up all variety of amusing reactions to the change in their friend, and new characters are introduced such as “Rube,” the flea who is now a theatrical agent. Rube has all the contacts Professor Yorgle needs once he decides to embark on a new career — as a trained circus seal! King Aroo is a singular accomplishment within the comics firmament, and I can’t give this storyline, and the strip in its entirety, enough praise.

KA511115

8. The Rocky Road to Motherhood. Within the past year mainstream and comics media have reported on Marvel Comics’s decision to feature first a pregnant Spider-Woman, then that character as a new mother. Taking nothing away from this turn of events (how many mothers get whisked off Earth by the Skrulls, after all?), yet let’s not forget that Marla Drake, AKA Miss Fury, was a superhero who became a parent about seven decades before Marvel’s Jessica Drew gave birth. Yes, Marla went the adoption route, but that still put her ahead of heroes like Bruce Wayne, who was content simply to serve as guardian to his youthful ward, Dick Grayson. This Sunday page from February, 1945 is an excerpt from the story that puts Marla on the path to adopting a young son. The diabolical Doctor Diman has perfected an acid as clear as water, but capable of destroying every trace of the organic matter it touches. At least, he thinks it is — it’s passed all the preliminaries and is now ready to be tested on a human subject — in this case, a curly-headed toddler in the doctor’s care. Miss Fury intervenes and saves the boy from an horrific fate. Shortly afterward, she adopts the lad as her son, Darron Drake, never suspecting the boy’s mother is one of her greatest enemies, and his father is the man she once almost married! Cartoonist Tarpe Mills’s unique mix of intrigue, soap opera emotion, high fashion, and derring-do make this Miss Fury escapade a fun and frothy reading experience!

MISS FURY

7. Li’l Abner‘s Attacks on Ham Fisher. This is a selection from Li’l Abner Volume 8, on sale soon and a book I personally feel no serious comic-strip collector can do without. In it we take a long look at the Al (Abner) Capp/Ham (Joe Palooka) Fisher Feud and the Sunday continuities in its pages feature a pair of stories, spanning three consecutive months, in which Capp went for his nemesis’s jugular. The longer of the two plots involves Sam the centaur, a horse race, and an old plug named “Ham’s Nose Bob” — which was Capp’s way of letting the world know that the vain Fisher had recently had plastic surgery on the ol’ schnozzola. After Sam returns to Olympus, Abner runs afoul of “Happy Vermin, the World’s Smartest Cartoonist,” in a savage satire that set off waves of controversy through whole segments of the newspaper industry, receiving coverage in Walter Winchell’s popular syndicated column and elsewhere. Li’l Abner is one of comics’s bonafide masterpieces, and these anti-Fisher Sunday pages — plus the information on the Feud upon which we focus, information spotlighted nowhere else that we have seen in our research — plus the other fun and fanciful tales from 1949 and 1950 make Li’l Abner Volume 8 a book I most heartily recommend. These anti-Fisher screeds are some of the most arresting, significant, and (on a few levels, at least) fun comics I’ve read in a handful of years.

Abner500528

6. Call Him Dexter, Though His Name is Corrigan. Mix one of my all-time favorite writers (Dashiell Hammett) with one of my all-time favorite artists (Alex Raymond) and the result is, for a number of reasons, less than the sum of the talents involved. Still, the original Secret Agent X-9 is anything but dogmeat. Their long inaugural tale is filled with bits of business that would have been right at home in Black Mask and the Street & Smith hero pulp magazines. The young Raymond, still deep in his Matt Clark Period, displays bravura flashes, especially in his eye-catching single-panel panoramas. “The Martyn Case” gives X-9 hints of an origin that other creators would borrow, flesh out, and make good use of throughout the ensuing years as they created adventure heroes of their own, everyone from The Avenger to The Punisher. Still, I’m perpetually fascinated by “The Torch Car Case,” from 1935. This represents Hammett’s last work on Secret Agent X-9, and while some scholars have claimed he never contributed to the story at all, I submit this March 13, 1935 strip gives X-9 the sort of sarcastic, wryly-humorous quip that was a Hammett hallmark — and reflects a skill with dialogue that few of King Features’s writers of the day demonstrated (and that Alex Raymond, who would do uncredited scripting on the series until The Saint‘s Leslie Charteris was brought in, was likely not yet capable of). “The Torch Car Case” is a creditable swan song for the superstar Hammett/Raymond team.

X9_350313

Having reached the halfway point in this unscientific, purely subjective countdown, I’ll wrap up here for now. Please watch this space in coming days for Part II, and five more of my favorite LOAC stories!

Abnerian Artifacts

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:

Sam_Mateo

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.

WinnipegTRIBUNE

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.

 

The Fontan(elli) of Youth

I5_A

What does Stimpy have to do with LOAC? Read on…!

Dean, Lorraine, and I have appeared in this space many a time reporting on our research trips to university libraries on both coasts and in the great American heartland. The treasures held in places like UCLA and the Mugar Archives at Boston University have enhanced LOAC’s Bringing Up Father and Little Orphan Annie releases; as they supply material that helps make possible books like Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles and Steve Canyon, we always enjoy visiting and catching up with Jenny Robb, Susan Liberator, Marilyn Scott, and the other dedicated staff members at OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, as we do with old pal Randy Scott at Michigan State University for Rip Kirby and other series.

The schools provide us invaluable assistance. We equate the finding of rarely-seen George McManus or Harold Gray artifacts to the feeling Indiana Jones gets when he finds those lost antiquities (though we miss out on all the murderous Nazis and pits of deadly snakes, thank goodness)—yet LOAC does not subsist through academia alone.

Another resource that helps add luster to our line of books is the readers who have been true to their favorite classic cartoonists for years, often for decades. These staunch fans have amassed an amazing variety of clipped strips, newspaper and magazine articles, merchandise, and sometimes actual correspondence; moreover, they have been unstintingly kind in their willingness to loan prized pieces from their collections so we can publish them and share them with all of you.

And sometimes, they give us certain artifacts outright…

A time or two in past features, we’ve mentioned the name Mike Fontanelli. Mike is an Emmy Award-nominated animator, designer, writer, and layout man who has been involved with familiar programs such as Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Simpsons, and Ren & Stimpy. (See? We tol’ja you’d find out what Stimpy had to do with LOAC. Keep reading for the full story…) Mike is also a major Al Capp/Li’l Abner fan, and when he recently e-mailed me to say, “I’m cleaning out some extras and duplicates from my files of Cappiana-just let me know if you’d like ’em and they’re yours,” you can bet I burned up a few electrons getting my “Yes, yes, oh please Please PLEEZ yes!” reply back to him.

Mike, true to his word, quickly sent this big ol’ envelope full of goodies winging its way to my doorstep. We’ll save some of the material Mike provided for inclusion in future Li’l Abner volumes, but there’s too much nifty stuff for us not to give you a sneak-peek at a handful of items right now.

Mike sent along a handful of 1970s clipped dailies. This first one, dated January 1, 1973, shows a familiar Abnerian gag, the basic premise of which we’ve already seen him use several times over (take a look at the New Year’s entries in some of our prior volumes).

 

I5_1

Al Capp always knew a good thing when he found it…

And check out this little sampler from late April/early May of 1973: years before Evan Dorkin’s inspired characters saw print, Pappy Yokum was leading a parade of Li’l Abner characters who would have fit right into Dorkin’s Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, & Role-Playing Club!

I5_2

I5_3

I5_4

Like so many of us, Pappy dreamed his comic books taught him all he needed to learn about scrappin’!

Merchandising and advertising work was an increasingly important part of Al Capp’s portfolio-one can claim Capp was not the artist his friends Milt Caniff and Walt Kelly were, and one can perhaps argue that he wasn’t their equal in the writing department (although that’s a much more difficult argument to make), but he left them both in the dust when it came to maximizing the value of his characters and his own value as a celebrity cartoonist through licensing and commercial contracts.

Take Cream of Wheat, for example. Capp had a long-running contract with the cereal to produce ads featuring Li’l Abner and his Dogpatch pals. The majority of series installments begin with a panicked Daisy Mae, rushing into frame in classic damsel in distress manner; a steaming, hearty bowl of Cream of Wheat invariably figures into the solution to the problem at hand, as in this example:

I5_5

Cream of Wheat —it even prevents your hide from being blasted off when it’s being battered by a high-pressure fire hose!

 

A rarer example of the artist’s advertising work is the series of newspaper ads he produced touting Nestlé’s Hot Cocoa Mix, titled Al Capp’s Corner. “Reddy” is the recurring character in the campaign, though of course the typical (and widely admired) Capp Cuties were also prominently displayed. I get a kick thinking that surely there were kids haranguing reluctant mothers in grocery stores across America, wheedling to get Nestlé’s Hot Cocoa added to their shopping basket—until the fathers (recalling the pulchritudinous females in Capp’s ads) chimed in something like, “Oh f’crineoutloud, Edna-let the kid get his cocoa!”

I5_6_600

Though not as famous as his Wildroot Cream Oil or Cream of Wheat ad campaigns, Capp’s ads for hot cocoa have a certain…undeniable charm.

So, both our caps and our Capps are off to Mike Fontanelli for providing such a CARE package of joy amidst a snowy month of February that was dismal in many ways…and just to complete theRen & Stimpy connection, Mike personalized the mailing envelope with his renderings of those two beloved (is that the right word?) characters.

I5_B

Mike Fontanelli was lobbing Capp creations cross-country to me; Stimpy was lobbing – well – something else across the envelope to Ren!

The Golden Age of Li’l Abner is upon us again! Volume 6 in our series is now on sale, and just ahead in Volume 7, it’s the first coming of (*gasp!* *choke!*) the Shmoos! Just ask Mike Fontanelli-he’ll tell you it’s great stuff!

 

Remember When…

Al Capp was such a good writer that even his throwaway gags were brilliant. Here’s the opening to a 1946 Sunday series in which the 1933 newspapers FINALLY make it to Dogpatch—thirteen years after the fact. Capp uses the “news” to skewer the 1930s isolationist Republicans and Democracts as represented by the Yokum’s own official blowhard, Senator Fogbound.

Click on the Sunday for a larger, more readable version.

Abner461013_600

Recommended on the Shelves

We occasionally pause to recommend books that should be of special interest to Library of American Comics readers. This is one of those occasions.

In February Bloomsbury published Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary, by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen; as both a Capp devotee since Denis’s 1980s series of Li’l Abner reprints and the current co-editor and writer of text features for LOAC’s current Abner hardcovers, this is a book I eagerly looked forward to reading.

K4_CAPPDJ

Having finished reading it this week, I can tell you I was not disappointed and if you’re a Capp/Abner fan, I suspect you won’t be disappointed, either. There is a whole lot to like between these two covers.

Capp’s life is a story worth the telling, the sort of story that often makes one ask, “If this is the price of fame, is it a price worth the paying?” Michael and Denis take an unflinching look at that life, touching upon the highs and the lows, the times when Capp was to be lauded for his actions and his creativity as well as the times he operated in a deplorable manner and perhaps was less devoted to his comic strip duties than to his celebrity and his political connections.

Any story is only as good as the talent telling it, and the authors do yeoman work throughout. They kept this reader turning the pages—even when I knew what was about to happen, I was interested to see how they were going to frame and describe the events in question. Newcomers to Capp will find several surprises along the way as they read this book (some of them pleasant, some not).

Perhaps the best tribute I can offer Michael and Denis for their work: I wish there was more of it. Certainly, given the amount of research that went into the writing, the authors had to choose what to leave in and what to omit, what to emphasize and what to treat in summary — kudos for making me wish they’d been able to include the omissions and expand on the summarized incidents. More artwork would also have been welcome, though certainly the included material forms a nice representative sampling of Capp’s output across the years, and there are many excellent photos. There’s nothing wrong with living up to the wise old adage: “Always leave ’em wanting more.”

Abner5_pr

This fine book is a definitive word on the talented creator of Li’l Abner, though it won’t be the lastword, since I’ll continue to write about Al Capp and his Dogpatch cast of characters in our Li’l Abner reprint series (and others Cappian scholars will, I hope, follow these authors and me in the years to come). Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen have definitely set me a high bar to clear if my work is to be on a par with Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary. Bravo to them!

The Flowering of Talent

I’ve been spending time of late in Dogpatch, preparing material for Li’l Abner Volume 3, where 1939 and 1940 bring us what I consider to be the first truly great storylines of Al Capp’s comedic masterwork. Does that mean the stories that came before, say, The Grapes of Wrath parody are somehow second-stringers?

Hardly. That first Gat Garson continuity in April ’36 or the Sunday trip into Africa two years later, with Sir Cecil Cesspool leading an expedition to the land of the Mukoy (“eht dnal fo eht Mukoy,” in their primitive tongue) can provide a lift on almost any down day. Funny is funny, after all.

A cartoonist’s earliest efforts are seeds planted in the fertile soil of the nation’s newspapers, sprouting into more daring and audacious future material, and ultimately being harvested into collected editions. Part of the fun of working on (and reading) Library of American Comics material is watching Al Capp’s talent and confidence grow from the straightforward “City Mouse/Country Mouse” content of Abner’s earliest visit to New York to Fearless Fosdick’s increasingly-sophisticated strip-within-a-strip or the layered spoofery of Abner’s first trip to Lower Slobbovia in 1946. Long before superhero “universes” were de rigueur, creators like Al Capp were building complex, self-contained worlds of their own, four panels at a time, day by day by day.

Abner400822

Al Capp loved to introduce catchphrases into Li’l Abner. Here he uses the return of that Dogpatch Don Juan,
Adam Lazonga, to try out “Yo’ big fat sloppy beast!!”

Nor, of course, is Capp the only talent we’ve seen bloom as we look across LOAC’s editions. Neither Poppy Joe nor The Skull cracks anyone’s top ten list of great Terry and the Pirates villains but they serve an important purpose, allowing the youthful Caniff to determine what worked and what didn’t, to refine his level of melodrama, to fine-tune the mixture of comedy to adventure. By the end of his first year on the job Caniff has Pat Ryan embroiled in his romance with Normandie Drake in the dailies, while introducing the wonderful Captain Blaze to give the increasingly-sophisticated Dragon Lady a run for her money in his Sunday sequences. The rest, to borrow the cliché, is history.

Terry360324

And later this year, when our first Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim volume debuts, it will be great fun to contrast the efforts of the fledgling Alex Raymond to the work of the fully-polished professional who launched Rip Kirby in 1946.

Jim340520

RK560224

Compare the composition and figure work on display in these two examples
from Alex Raymond’s
Jungle Jim and Rip Kirby.

It can be argued that the explosion of modern media and the intense competition for the public’s entertainment dollar has raised the median talent line in the marketplace and lifted the overall level of craftsmanship on display. Yet reading series like Li’l Abner, Terry, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, and Rip Kirby in collected editions shows us that we lost something when the heyday of comic strips disappeared, while reminding us that the material being plucked from that long ago garden of newspapers stands the test of time and repays reading, so many decades after its initial publication.

 

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes