Archive for the ‘comic strips’ Category

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Exhibit: CAPPital Ideas: The Modus Operandi of Li’l Abner

Al Capp in Life

Al Capp in LifeAl Capp in Life
Al Capp in LifeAl Capp in Life
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Al Capp in Life

"I think [Al Capp] had a lot of talent, no question. He was a good artist. He could capture the peak expression- what made something ultra-funny or ultra-nasty or ultra-cute. He was a very brilliant guy, although a little screwed up. But he was talented, no question. I think he was quite the artist." –Frank Frazetta, Comics Journal Feb. 1995

Al Capp Promo Brochure
Al Capp Promo Brochure

Al Capp Lil Abner PuzzleAl Capp Lil Abner PuzzleAl Capp had been the uncredited and underpaid ghost for Ham Fisher on Joe Palooka, an experience so unpleasant that he made it a point to value his own assistants. Some of them, like Andy Amato and Harvey Curtis, made whole careers with him. Capp’s key assistant staff received a generous incentive- ten percent of the profits the strip generated, on top of their regular salaries.

Beginning in 1954, a young Frank Frazetta was paid the then princely salary of $500 a week- primarily to pencil the Sunday sequences from Capp’s roughs. By his own account, Frazetta enjoyed a one-day work week for years, allowing him to play baseball the other four days! Capp eventually put a stop to Frazetta’s 8-hour work week by halving his salary. But Frazetta quit instead, in January of 1962.

Al Capp and Bob Lubbers Long Sam
Other artists, like Moe Leff and Bob Lubbers, who drew Long Sam, Capp’s alternate hillbilly comic strip (see above) were tapped to assist as well, especially on the extensive specialty, promotional and licensed commercial work. The Cream Of Wheat and Wildroot Cream Oil magazine ads alone numbered in the hundreds.

Al Capp in Life

Frazetta expert David Winiewicz has described the everyday working mode of operation of Li’l Abner from its golden period:

"By the time Frazetta began working on the strip, the work of producing Li’l Abner was too much for one person. Capp had a group of assistants who he taught to reproduce his distinctive individual style, working under his direct supervision. Actual production of the strip began with a rough layout in pencil done by Al Capp, from Capp’s script or a co-authored script, and the page would pass to Andy Amato and Walter Johnson. Amato would ink the figures, then Johnson added backgrounds and any mechanical objects. Harvey Curtis was responsible for the lettering and also shared inking duties with Amato… In order to make sure that the work stayed true to his style, the final touches would be added by Capp himself. He enjoyed adding a distinctive glint to an eye or an idiosyncratic contortion to a character’s face. The finished strip was truly an ensemble effort, a skillful blending of talents."

Al Capp in Life

Capp’s latter-day reputation for using assistants is ironic. Nearly every great comic strip artist (with the exception of Charles Schulz) utilized anonymous, behind-the-scenes assistants. But no other cartoonist engineered media coverage of them, complete with photographs, in a major national magazine piece. Capp did, in a November 1950 issue of Time magazine, when he insisted that the article also feature his colleagues Andy Amato and Walter Johnson. Publicizing one’s assistants was unheard of at the time, and is still considered highly irregular. As a direct result, Capp is often remembered today for not having worked on his own strip, a persistent myth that the assistant artists themselves refuted.

Al Capp in Time
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Al Capp in TimeAl Capp in Time
Al Capp in TimeAl Capp in Time

The evidence indicates that Capp had the leading hand in the creation of Li’l Abner. Original strips I’ve seen have often included Capp’s pencil doodles on the back. They show his thought process clearly, and are the origin of the material on the other side. Many of Capp’s exploratory sketches survive in just this way, to show that Capp designed the characters carefully and thoughtfully himself.

Al Capp Lil Abner PuzzleAl Capp Lil Abner PuzzleThe only time Capp really gave an assistant a free hand visually was in an early (1954) Frazetta-penciled story. Capp was curious to see him bring a fresh look to the daily strip, especially in terms of more lavish and realistic Johnny Comet style inking. Frazetta was also allowed to design a lead villain- a self-caricature, even named "Frankie". (see below) When editors complained about the experimental stylistic departure, the Capp look was reinstated.

Al Capp Frank Frazetta

Capp orchestrated his assistant staff much like an animation director, according to their individual strengths. At the same time, he maintained creative control over every stage of production. Capp himself originated the stories, finalized the dialogue, designed the major characters, rough penciled the preliminary staging and action of each panel, oversaw the finished pencils, and inked the faces and hands of the characters- for 43 years. Yet to this day, Capp’s detractors still falsely claim that Capp "never touched the strip" in an inexplicable ongoing effort to discredit him.

Al Capp Lil Abner PuzzleAl Capp Lil Abner PuzzleAlthough a team effort production-wise, few comic strips were as uniquely personal a creation as Li’l Abner. The finished product reflected the singular personality of its creator- Al Capp. As any fool kin plainly see…

In these two sequences, Capp kids his fellow cartoonists- Mary Worth writer, Allen Saunders and longtime pal Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon) The pitch-perfect parody, Steve Cantor was scripted and laid out by Capp, penciled by Frazetta, probably inked by Amato and Johnson, and lettered by an actual assistant at the Caniff studio- probably Frank Engli– it all blends seamlessly to create a truly classic Sunday sequence from 1957…

Al Capp Mary Worm Steve Cantor
Al Capp Mary Worm Steve CantorAl Capp Mary Worm Steve Cantor
Al Capp Mary Worm Steve CantorAl Capp Mary Worm Steve Cantor
Al Capp Mary Worm Steve CantorAl Capp Mary Worm Steve Cantor

Even in the later years, Capp would occasionally knock one out of the park. The following hilarious continuity appeared in 1967, long after the strip’s nominal heyday. The jaw-dropping Lips Of Marcia Perkins is no less than Capp’s covert, satirical commentary on venereal disease! It could only have gotten past the censors because they didn’t understand it…

Al Capp Lips Of Marcia Perkins
Al Capp Lips Of Marcia PerkinsAl Capp Lips Of Marcia Perkins
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Al Capp Lips Of Marcia PerkinsAl Capp Lips Of Marcia Perkins
Al Capp Lips Of Marcia PerkinsAl Capp Lips Of Marcia Perkins
Al Capp Lips Of Marcia PerkinsAl Capp Lips Of Marcia Perkins




TO BE CONTINUED…

Special thanks to my pal, Atlanta-based animator Joe Suggs, for some 9th inning pinch-hit assistance on this article. -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, July 10th, 2015

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

Al Capp Li'l Abner

Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l Abner

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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Al Capp Li'l AbnerAl Capp Li'l Abner

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.

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

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

Al Capp Fearless FosdickAl Capp Fearless Fosdick
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Al Capp Fearless FosdickAl Capp Fearless Fosdick
Al Capp Fearless FosdickAl Capp Fearless Fosdick

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.