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!

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l Abner

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

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.

6 Responses to “Exhibit: CAPPs Off- Li’l Abner Without Apologies”

  1. Snorre Mathiesen says:

    …Today (September 28, 2009) Al Capp would've turned 100 years. You left too soon, but a million thanks for sharing your humor, imagination and characters with us.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I'm looking for an image of Silent Yokum WITHOUT A HAT. Does anyone know if one exists? My friend's dad is a WWII vet who was at Iwo. A buddy in boot camp painted Silent Yokum on the back of a denim jacket for him. It was immediately stolen! I would like to replace it this Christmas but the only image I have is from Life Magazine and the nose of a plane! I think they are the same image.

    I've emailed the Al Capp site, the Smithsonian and U of Michigan comic Art Collection but haven't heard anything back. I tried to call U of Mich but was on hold for 15 minutes!

    Help! I'd really like to get this done. If I don't hear from anyone I guess Silent will be wearing a hat!

  3. Wow, this is cool stuff! I’ve heard about this comic, but didn’t know it was this rich and impressive! Thanks for bringing it back into the limelight, Steve and Mike!

  4. Brian O. says:

    Great article! The criticism of Capp’s later years make the timid shy away from his work for fear they’ll become a right-wing curmudgeon. Nonsense.

    Thank you for leaving the tabloid out and just reminding us of the originality and FUN Capp brought the world.

  5. Shooshie says:

    I’ve collected as many of Capp’s comics, interviews, and stories as I can find, and I had never seen that story “Oh Happy Day”. Thanks for that. And thanks for keeping Al Capp’s legacy alive. When I go back and read my collections of Lil Abner, I’m always amazed that they seem no more odd or out of place now than they did at the time. By that, I mean they are timeless, because Capp’s story lines were concerned with humanity at its core. As fads and fashions come and go, the hominids beneath them stay pretty much the same, still self-pitying, jealous, self-aggrandizing, greedy, revisionist (another way of saying that we humans lie about the past), and in special moments, tender-hearted, compassionate, generous, and loving. (Oh Pansy Yokum and Daisy Mae, we miss you).

    What a thrill to find this little repository of great comics (I’m Pogo’s and Kelly’s #1 fan, by the way) here. I’ll be back.

    Shooshie

  6. bill walker says:

    I ‘grew up’ on Lil Abner. Liked it as a kid in the 1930s & loved it as an adult. Al Capp was a genius.

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