Posts Tagged ‘Al Capp’

Quick Link: Al Capp’s FBI File


Friday, October 29, 2010

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Did you know that Al Capp’s FBI file (in slightly redacted form, alas) is available online? Go here.

An excerpt:

Both Al Capp (also known as Alfred G. Caplin) and John Kenneth Galbraith are, of course, well-known to the Bureau. In the past, Capp has been praised by the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) and its publications for some of his comic strips which have implied, among other things, that the American economy was being mismanaged by vicious tycoons, that several persons were converted to outcasts because of questioning concerning them by government investigators and like matters. In 1961, a Congressman criticized Capp for unfair attacks on law enforcement officers in his comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” and, that same year, Capp wrote in a column that during the 1930’s he was too poor to pay a membership fee in a social club that turned out to be the Young Communist League.

God forbid anyone think that the American economy was mismanaged by tycoons.


Class and Comics: Labour Day Notes


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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Reid Fleming: Working Class Hero

Labour Day is coming up, so let’s talk about social class:

1. In the R. Crumb Handbook, the creator of Mr. Natural writes: “Some of the other comics that Charles and I liked, Heckle and Jeckle, Super Duck, things of that ilk, featured very primitive stories on the crudest proletarian level….The super-hero comics of the 1940s also had this rough, working class quality. A cartoonist like Jack Kirby is a perfect example. His characters – Captain America, for instance – were an extension of himself. Kirby was a tough little guy from the streets of New York’s lower east side, and he and he saw the world in terms of harsh, elemental, forces. How do you deal with these forces? You fight back! This was the message of all the comic strips created during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from Popeye to Dick Tracy to Superman.” Crumb as usual is right: I’d add that the anti-comics movement of the 1940s and 1950s had a class dimension as well. Genteel, middle-class Americans were shocked by the plebian violence, crude sexuality and general spirit of irreverence of the early comic books.


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Doctor Doctor


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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“The real question is this: Are comic books good or are they not good? Now it all depends on what you want. If you want to raise a generation that is half storm-troopers and half cannon-fodder, with a dash of illiteracy, then comic books are good. In fact, they are perfect.”

Via Bill Kartalopolous, an audio file of a pretty terrific old episode of The Author Meets the Critics, featuring a debate with the infamous Dr. Frederic Wertham.

UPDATE: Oh, and gee, I should mention that this is a different episode than the one Tom Spurgeon highlighted the other day, which also featured Wertham, along with Al Capp.

Because of my dereliction of duty, let me point you to an article I only recently discovered was available online, Robert Warshow’s famous essay on Wertham and EC, in which he references the Capp/Wertham episode in question.

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Never Praise A Cartoonist


Friday, December 11, 2009

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On several occasions John Steinbeck extravagantly praised Al Capp, calling him the “best writer in the world.” How did Capp repay this kindness? He tried to seduce Steinbeck’s wife. Or at least that’s the story former Capp assistant Stuart Hample tells on the Inkstuds radio program, available here. Very much worth a listen.

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Al Capp at the Cusp


Saturday, December 5, 2009

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In 1959 Al Capp was still at the top of his game. Li’l Abner wasn’t just one of the most popular comic strips around, it was also one of the most celebrated. In the words of Jimmy Durante, Capp was “duh toast of duh intellectuals.” Although Peanuts was closing in fast and Pogo had its fans, no cartoonist had quite the same cachet as Capp. An extrovert in a profession saturated by shy guys, Capp was the public face of comics, the cartoonist who showed up most often in newspaper and magazine columns, on radio and television and the lecture circuit. The National Cartoonist Society was a great old boys network and Capp was at the center of that clique (along with Caniff and Walt Kelly).

Yet Capp wasn’t quite satisfied with his station in life. Despite all the praise and money he received he bridled at the low status of comics compared to the fine arts. And perhaps also, he was getting a bit tired of Abner: at that point he had done all he could with the strip and was increasingly leaving all the grunt work of cartooning to his army of ghosts.

In his 1959 book Comic Art in America, Stephen Becker penned a brief but highly perceptive portrait of Capp. In Becker’s account, you can see all the discontent that was eating away at Capp:

It is hard to say where Capp will go from here. A low rumble of discontent was heard a couple of years after Abner’s wedding, and certainly (as Capp knew it would be) an element of suspense and satire had to be abandoned when he married. Capp’s circulation – he is carried by United Feature Syndicate – remains enormous, and he has other strings to his bow. He is a good writer, and has appeared in national magazines, both egghead and meathead; for years he did the continuity for Roeburn Van Buren’s Abbie ‘n’ Slats, and he now does it for Bob Lubbers’ Long Sam. He is a good public speaker, and a public critic of public affairs. Somewhere in that cluttered, explosive mind more surprises are germinating. Somewhere in the darkness, an outrage lies in wait for some cherished American idiocy. Capp is bitterly resentful of the fact that Americans have become afraid to laugh at each other, and at their leaders, and at their own pretensions, and at their national icons. When that resentment comes to a head, he will strike back. Watch out.

We all know how the story ends: the explosion that was ready to explode was political. In the 1960s, Capp moved to the hard right, becoming one of the most vocal fans of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. As a glib Archie Bunker like pundit, Capp not only lost many of his old fans, he also disgraced himself by the persistent meanness he displayed (as in his famous run-in with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, where he went out of his way to insult Yoko). All this topped off by a squalid sex scandal.

Becker’s account of Capp is extremely valuable because it allows us to see what he was like at the cusp, going through a mid-life crisis and wondering how he would re-invent himself. The fact that Capp made all the wrong choices in response to his identity crisis doesn’t negate the fact that he was smart enough and creative enough to know in 1959 that something was wrong, that he needed to take a new tack on life.

We don’t yet have a good, solid account of Capp’s life, one that would answer the question of what went wrong, why did this smart and lively man destroy his own career and reputation? But anyone who wants to crack the Capp puzzle might want to take a look at the year 1959.


Time For Byrnes


Monday, June 4, 2007

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This has probably been going around the internet for a while now, but for some reason, it didn’t really sink in for me until today.

About a year ago on this blog, Dan recommended a book by Gene Byrnes, The Complete Guide to Cartooning. The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive started posting excerpts of it this March. Whenever you have some spare time, you should definitely check it out. Lots of great stuff. Part one alone includes Byrnes, Alex Raymond, Jeff Machamer, Al Capp, and Milton Caniff, among others. (And here’s part two. Follow the links for more.)

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