Archive for the ‘Al Capp’ Category

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Exhibit: ReCAPP- A Bio Of The Creator Of Li’l Abner

Al Capp Li'l Abner

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Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l AbnerAlfred Gerald Caplin (aka Al Capp) was born September 28, 1909 in New Haven, CT. He was best known as the creator of the classic comic strip Li’l Abner. At the age of 9, he jumped off the back of an ice wagon directly into the path of an oncoming streetcar. As a result of the accident, he had to have his leg amputated below the hip. This childhood tragedy likely helped shape Capp’s cynical worldview, which, funny as it was, was certainly darker and more sardonic than that of the average newspaper cartoonist. Capp wore a prosthetic leg.  Rather than hide the fact, he openly joked about it all his life.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l AbnerCapp began his career in comics as an assistant to Joe Palooka cartoonist Ham Fisher. The relationship soon soured, and Capp launched his own strip, Li’l Abner in August, 1934. What began as a simple hillbilly burlesque soon evolved into a masterpiece of satirical fiction, renowned for its vivid characters and top notch draftsmanship. The outlandish storylines and biting social commentary make Li’l Abner unique among newspaper comics of the day.

The strip featured the adventures of Abner Yokum, a loutish, stupid, but good-natured hayseed who lived in Dogpatch, KY with his scrawny but superhuman Mammy, and shiftless, childlike Pappy. Abner was always in the marital crosshairs of Daisy Mae Scragg, his sexy, well-endowed but virtuous (to a point)  girlfriend. In 1952, Daisy Mae achieved her goal and the couple was married in the strip with great fanfare. This event was considered newsworthy enough to be featured on the cover of Life magazine.

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l AbnerCapp peopled his comic strip with an assortment of wonderful personalities, including Marryin’ Sam, Joe Btfsplk, Lena the Hyena, Hairless Joe, Lonesome Polecat, Evil-Eye Fleegle, General Bullmoose, and a host of others. Most notably, certainly from a G.I. standpoint, were the beautiful, full-figured women like Wolf Gal, Stupefyin’ Jones and Moonbeam McSwine- all of whom found their way onto the painted noses of fighter planes during WWII. Perhaps Capp’s most popular creations were the Shmoos, gourd-shaped creatures whose incredible usefulness and generous nature made them a threat to civilization as we know it.

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l AbnerThroughout his life, Capp volunteered his time to hospitals, entertaining patients, especially to fellow amputees. He set an example for them, proving that the loss of a limb did not mean that one couldn’t live a full and rewarding life.  He was also involved with the Sister Kenny Foundation, which did charity volunteer work for crippled children.

At its peak, Li’l Abner appeared in more than 900 newspapers, with an estimated daily readership of 80 million Americans. Around the country, colleges and communities staged "Sadie Hawkins Day" events. A Broadway play based on Li’l Abner opened in 1956, and was an instant success, and remains a favorite for local productions.  It was made into a motion picture in 1959.  In 1968 a theme-park called Dogpatch USA opened in Jasper, Arkansas based on Capp’s work and with his support.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Along with a team of assistants, Capp kept the adventures of the denizens of Dogpatch in the papers through the 1970s. The fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta penciled the Sunday page continuities from 1954 to 1962, when a salary dispute ended their professional relationship. Capp still wrote the stories, thumbnailed the layouts and inked the faces and hands himself.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l AbnerCapp revelled in taking jabs at hypocrites of all persuasions. In the mid-1960s, he turned his attention to liberal counterculture figures. He toured college campuses as a speaker, taking confrontational stands on current events. After witnessing student riots in his own neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts (near Harvard) he took on anti-war protesters and demonstrators with a vengeance. In 1971, Capp was charged with "attempted adultery" by a female student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The fallout cost him circulation, with hundreds of papers dropping his strip. Capp removed himself from public speaking and continued to produce Li’l Abner until failing health forced him to retire in 1977. He died two years later of emphysema, on November 5th, 1979.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

In 1946, Capp created an autobiographical comic book, Al Capp By Li’l Abner, which was distributed by the Red Cross to encourage thousands of amputee veterans returning from WWII…

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TO BE CONTINUED…

Let me know what you think of this article in the comments.
-Mike Fontanelli, 2008

Many thanks to Mike for this wonderful series of articles.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Al CappAl Capp

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit by Mike Fontanelli profiling the career of Al Capp.

Newspaper ComicsNewspaper Comics
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Newspaper Comics.

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Exhibit: A CAPPital Offense- Fearless Fosdick and the Poisoned Bean

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

"They always want me to say who is the best writer in America today, and I can’t think of any name but Al Capp… One of the symptoms or diagnostics of literature should be that it is read, that it amuses, moves, instructs, changes and criticizes people. And who in the world does that more than Capp? I think Capp may very possibly be the best writer in the world today." -John Steinbeck, 1953

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

PLAYBOY: John Steinbeck once described you as "possibly the best writer in the world today". What’s your reaction to that?

CAPP: I revere John Steinbeck far too deeply to question his literary judgment!" –Playboy Interview, 1965

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

"Not many people know that I worked with Al Capp for a year at Terry-Toons on a cartoon adaptation of Fearless Fosdick. Capp is one of the great unsung heroes of comics. I’ve never heard anyone mention this, but Capp is 100% responsible for inspiring Harvey Kurtzman to create Mad magazine.

Just look at Fearless Fosdick- a brilliant parody of Dick Tracy with all those bullet holes and stuff. Then look at Mad’s "Teddy and the Pirates", "Superduperman" or even "Little Annie Fanny". Forget about it. Slam dunk. Not taking anything away from Kurtzman who was brilliant himself, but Capp was the source for that whole sense of satire in comics. Kurtzman carried that forward and passed it down to a whole new crop of cartoonists, myself included.

Capp was a genius. You wanna argue about it? I’ll fight ya, and I’ll win." -Ralph Bakshi, 2008

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Li’l Abner’s "ideel"- Fearless Fosdick- first made his bullet-riddled debut in 1942. As everyone knows, Capp’s famous strip-within-a-strip began as a direct parody of Chester Gould’s classic newspaper comic, Dick Tracy. But like all of Capp’s creations, it soon developed into a multi-leveled satire of contemporary American society at large.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Al Capp Fearless FosdickAl Capp Fearless FosdickFearless Fosdick provided a running commentary on, among other things, the lowly lives of policemen, the capriciousness of the general public, and the thankless role of society’s "heroes". With Capp, as with Chaplin, there’s always a social subtext to the fun, which in my opinion, separates the men from the boys in comedy. These themes are very much in evidence in our first Fosdick story pick, "The Poisoned Bean Case"…

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

"The Poisoned Bean Case" is, simply put, one of Capp’s masterpieces. It seems to be a special favorite with fans too, both for its astronomical body count and its sheer outrageousness. Believe it or not, this blood-drenched parody ran in family newspapers in the fifties, in Eisenhower’s America, on Sundays, no less!

In the following brilliantly demented pages, no one is spared Capp’s merciless needle. From the venality of the justice system to the crookedness of the media; from the corruption of big business to the fickleness and stupidity of a complacent populace. The diabolical plot, which concerns product tampering, presages the 1982 Tylenol case by some 30 years.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

As a cautionary note to readers encountering this story for the first time: you are hereby warned. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the maelstrom of fury that’s about to be unleashed. "The Poisoned Bean Case" doesn’t so much unfold, as simply detonate! For comics fans who like their irony dark, raw and relentless- we proudly present Al Capp at or near the peak of his powers…

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Fearless Fosdick in…

THE POISONED BEAN CASE

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TO BE CONTINUED…<

Let me know what you think of this article in the comments.

-Mike Fontanelli, 2008

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Many thanks to Mike for this wonderful series of articles.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Al CappAl Capp

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit by Mike Fontanelli profiling the career of Al Capp.

Newspaper ComicsNewspaper Comics
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Newspaper Comics.

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Exhibit: CAPPs Off- Li’l Abner Without Apologies

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Some comic artists are appreciated because of their antiquated charm, the musty perfume they carry from another age. But Capp strikes us more and more as timeless, priceless and ageless. -Richard Marschall, NEMO Magazine, April 1986

Today, we’re happy to be able to introduce a series of posts on one of the greatest cartoonists ever to grace the funny papers with his presence… Al Capp. Mike Fontanelli has been a fan of Li’l Abner since he was very small. He’s grown up to be a fine cartoonist and an authority on Capp’s life and work. He’s digging into his personal collection of "Cappiana" to illustrate these posts. Thanks, Mike!

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CAPPS OFF!

Li’l Abner Without Apologies

Al Capp was an individual of no small complexity, and his intricate personality could be off-putting to say the least- or even downright contradictory. Two books on the artist published recently, The Enigma Of Al Capp (by Alexander Theroux) and Capp’s autobiographic book, My Well-Balanced Life On A Wooden Leg tell polar opposite stories.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Capp’s star seems to have fallen recently. Contemporary critics seem inclined to recall only his controversial later years, which were marked by divisive anger and a bitterness of the kind to which satirists seem particularly susceptible. Unfortunately, this oversimplification of Capp’s complicated persona has overshadowed his creation, invalidating his real legacy. The body of work Capp left behind tells another story, one that’s been neglected- or worse, suppressed- in recent years. Those who are aware of Capp’s true importance to the history of cartooning can’t help but feel a critical reassessment is long overdue.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Revisiting the pages of Li’l Abner today, modern readers will be aghast at the still astonishing plotlines, highly original concepts, and vivid, hilariously ludicrous characterizations. As you’ll see in the examples we’ll be presenting over the next couple of months, Li’l Abner went where no other comic strip has ever dared to go before or since.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

By any modern standard, Li’l Abner must be reckoned an American masterpiece of cartoon satire. The best of Capp’s great body of work could arguably hold its own against any classic work of satire, from Candide to Gulliver’s Travels, from The Pirates Of Penzance to CATCH-22. While no less an authority than John Steinbeck once recommended Capp for the Nobel Prize in literature, (and he duly deserved a Pulitzer Prize before Gary Trudeau was even born) Capp’s rightful place as a modern American equal to Jonathan Swift has still to be recognized.

Al Capp Li'l Abner
Al Capp Li'l Abner

"With Li’l Abner," writes Richard Marschall, "Capp was calling society absurd, not just silly; human nature not simply misguided, but irredeemably and irreducibly corrupt. Unlike any other strip, and indeed unlike many other pieces of literature, Li’l Abner was more than a satire of the human condition. It was a commentary on human nature itself."

Al Capp Li'l Abner

While Al Capp presented himself to the world "warts and all", there’s been an effort of late to portray only the warts. We at Animation Resources are grateful for this opportunity to present the rest of the story.

To start out, here is one of the finest stories in the history of the strip, "Loverboynik, or Ketch A Critic By The Toe". It’s a timely spoof of two diametrically opposed pillars of mid-20th century manhood: Charles Atlas and Liberace. According to Capp, Liberace was “cut to the quick” when this story first appeared in 1956, and even threatened legal action.

Al Capp Li'l Abner

This superb example of Capp’s masterfully controlled plotting technique, breathlessly combines humor and suspense into a seamless whole. The tension doesn’t let up until the hilarious and characteristically bizarre resolution. It also showcases some of the most memorably harrowing aspects of the strip (gulp!) Sadie Hawkins Day, (gasp!) Nightmare Alice, and (shudder!) The Scraggs…

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TO BE CONTINUED…

Mike Fontanelli, 2008

Let Mike know in the comments what you think of his article!

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Al CappAl Capp

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit by Mike Fontanelli profiling the career of Al Capp.

Newspaper ComicsNewspaper Comics
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Newspaper Comics.