"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
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
"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
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.
Fearless 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"…
"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.
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…
THE POISONED BEAN CASE
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.
This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit by Mike Fontanelli profiling the career of Al Capp.
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Newspaper Comics.