Archive for the ‘lil abner’ Category

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

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.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

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.

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Exhibit: CAPPtivating Heroes: Jack Jawbreaker and Fearless Fosdick Fight Crime!

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Today, I’m proud to bring you another entry in Mike Fontanelli’s important series of articles on Al Capp’s life and career. It’s not good enough to bounce through a few pages of these stories and glance at the pictures. You have to sit down and READ them to get the full impact. If you don’t have time right now, bookmark this page and come back later. I’m sure you’ll find these stories as mind-blowing as I do! -Stephen Worth

Capp’s writing was first-rate, his characterizations were multitudinous and superb, his artwork was stunning, his compositions clever and arresting. For pure humor he was unequalled, and he blithely produced some of the most devastating satire and parody in our history. What elevates Capp even further… is his unfailingly prescient comments on human nature. –Richard Marschall, Nemo Magazine, April 1986

[Capp] was far more an intellectual than he allowed the public to see. ‘Li’l Abner’ was his joke on the dismal world around him. His humor welled- up from the melancholy pits of a strapping kid made an amputee at age nine- just when the other boys were learning to kick a football, and scruff along scattering leaves on autumn afternoons. –Milton Caniff, 1985

Li’l Abner was a comic strip with fire in its belly and a brain in its head. –John Updike, 1991

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Nearly all comic strips, even today, are owned and controlled by syndicates, not their cartoonist creators. But in 1947 Al Capp brazenly defied his own syndicate, United Features. He sued them for $14 million, publicly embarrassed them in Li’l Abner, and successfully wrested back ownership and artistic control of his creation.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

"Jack Jawbreaker Fights Crime!" (1947) may start out as an innocuous spoof of Superman, but don’t be fooled! It’s an angry and devastating satire of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s notorious exploitation by DC Comics…

Al Capp Lil Abner Jack Jawbreaker
Al Capp Lil Abner Jack Jawbreaker
Al Capp Lil Abner Jack Jawbreaker

Capp’s classic Dick Tracy parody, Fearless Fosdick, was in some ways his most significant creation- at least in terms of lasting influence. It was almost certainly Harvey Kurtzman’s major inspiration for creating his innovative, irreverent Mad magazine, which began as a comic book that specifically parodied other comics in 1952. That alone makes Fearless Fosdick, indirectly, one of the prime influences on postwar American popular culture.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Similarities between Li’l Abner and the early Mad are unmistakable: the incongruous use of Yiddish terms, the nose-thumbing disdain for pop cultural icons, the persistent "black" humor, and most unmistakably, the extremely broad visual styling. Even the trademark comic "signs" that clutter the backdrops of Will Elder’s panels would seem to have precedence in Li’l Abner- in the residence of Dogpatch entrepreneur Available Jones. Tellingly, Kurtzman resisted parodying either Li’l Abner or Dick Tracy in the comic book Mad, despite their prominence.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Sharp-eyed viewers of Warren Beatty’s big screen adaptation, Dick Tracy (1990) will have detected a direct, onscreen homage to Fearless Fosdick. The opera Tracy is attending when his 2-way wrist radio suddenly calls him to duty is titled "Die Schlmpf" on the concert program, after Elmer Schlmpf, the maniacal- albeit deceased- fiend from "The Poisoned Bean Case".

Like the Shmoo, Fosdick’s popularity would eventually rival that of the nominal star of the strip, Li’l Abner’s. So popular did Fosdick prove to be in his own right that he was licensed for use outside the strip, as a commercial pitchman for Wildroot Cream-Oil hair tonic. Fosdick’s image on tin signs and advertising displays became a prominent fixture in barbershops across America, as well as in animated TV commercials.

King Cole Trio

The Wildroot jingle- instantly familiar to radio listeners in the fifties- was performed by everyone from Bil Baird’s puppets to Nat King Cole, who once sang it on Woody Herman’s radio show. It went like this…

King Cole Trio: Wild Root Charlie
(AAC Audio File / 2 MB)

Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!
It keeps your hair in trim
Y’see it’s non-alcoholic, Charlie,
It’s made with soothing lanolin!

You’d better get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!
Start using it today
You’ll find that you’ll have a tough time, Charlie
Keeping all those gals away!

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

A long-running series of comic strip-format ads appeared in newspapers, magazines and comic books, usually featuring Fosdick battling his arch-villain nemesis, "Anyface". Anyface was a murderous, shape-changing scoundrel whose plastic features could be molded into any identity. He was always given away by his telltale dandruff and messy hair, however. The Wildroot print ads joined Li’l Abner’s national ad campaigns for Cream of Wheat cereal and Procter & Gamble detergents- and later, Hairless Joe and Lonesome Polecat’s supermarket pitches for Kickapoo Joy Juice- when Capp’s volatile moonshine concoctio
n was licensed as a soft drink in 1965.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

Here is an article from Pageant magazine from May of 1952 featuring a story on Fosdick’s father "Fearful Fosdick", and two of the more memorable run-ins with the mysterious Anyface…

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In 1952, a puppet show based on Fearless Fosdick premiered on NBC on Sunday afternoons. Thirteen episodes were filmed featuring the Mary Chase marionettes. The TV show was presumed lost for decades, but vintage kinescopes have recently begun to resurface. According to publisher Denis Kitchen, there are currently efforts underway to release these exceedingly rare Fosdick episodes on a set of DVDs.

Our next story first appeared in 1948- before Monty Python, before Mad and Humbug, before Woody Allen’s classic stand-up routine about TV sets and elevators. Even years before Ernie Kovacs and "The Goon Show", Capp was already doing the kind of demented and surreal "sick" humor that would come into vogue just a few short years later.

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick

The classic story "The Case Of The Chippendale Chair" was certainly ahead of its time. It shows Al Capp in peak form and at fever pitch, hitting on all cylinders…

Al Capp Fearless Fosdick
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To be continued…

-Mike Fontanelli 2008

Be sure to let Mike know in the comments what you think of these articles. -Steve

Cartoonist Eddie Fitzgerald comments on this post at his blog, Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner

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.