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.
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.”
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!