Tuesday, February 26, 2013

AL CAPP: A LIFE TO THE CONTRARY by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen

The new biography of LI'L ABNER cartoonist Al Capp hits the stands this month.

AL CAPP: A LIFE TO THE CONTRARY by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen (Bloomsbury Press, $30) chronicles the polarizing man in all his glory.

A New Haven, CT high school drop-out who lost his leg in a trolley accident, Capp went on to art school and college (sometimes telling whoppers to the administration about his finances), landing a gig as Ham Fisher's assistant on the then-popular JOE PALOOKA daily strip. Their relationship ended on a bad note, with Fisher claiming that Capp stole the idea of a hillbilly comic strip from him. Capp denied this. The feud continued throughout Fisher's life.

Jim Higgins, writing for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, recaps Capp's life in "Book draws complicated, difficult life of 'Li'l Abner' cartoonist Al Capp" and the challenge Mssrs. Schumacher and Kitchen had:

Capp said he dreamed up the title character of "Li'l Abner" during a youthful road trip through the South. As Schumacher and Kitchen note, the cartoonist was a wonderful storyteller but often not factually reliable. Nonetheless, the adventures of his strapping hero and the other inhabitants of Dogpatch became destination reading for Americans.

Capp would create iconic characters and phrases for the strip during its 43 year run: Sadie Hawkins Day, the Schmoos, Fearless Fosdick, Lena Hyena, Kickapoo Joy Juice.

USA Today writer Bob Minzeheimer reminds us that Capp came up with phrases like "hogwash and "double-whammy."

He made the covers of Life and Newsweek when that was a big deal. In 1947, he was the subject of a two-part profile in The New Yorker. John Steinbeck's introduction to The World of Li'l Abner(1952) said Capp "may very possibly be the best writer in the world today." He compared Capp to Cervantes and Rabelais, although Steinbeck may have been satirizing the satirist.
... In 1968, Capp confronted and insulted John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their famous anti-war "Bed-In for Peace" in Montreal. 
Forty-five years later, I wonder what Capp, a master of marketing and self-promotion, would make of their current reputations. Lennon's lyrics and music are widely played and celebrated, but who remembers Al Capp?

Related links:

If you have never seen it, here's Al Capp with John Lennon and Yoko Ono from their 1969 "bed-in" for peace from the CBC archives:

Al Capp's granddaughter Caitlin Manning shares her documentary work in progress (which is a great introduction to the influence of LI'L ABNER and includes some old film of him drawing):

"He doesn't put his best foot forward, always, but what foot he does put forward is one of his own," says his friend Walt Kelly in the opening for the THIS IS AL CAPP TV special.


Some rarely seen Al Capp press photos from 1946 to 1971.

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