The Fontan(elli) of Youth

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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).

 

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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!

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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:

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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!”

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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.

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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!

 

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