Al Capp (September 28, 1909 – November 5, 1979) was an American cartoonist best known for the satire comic strip, Li'l Abner. He also wrote the comic strips Abbie and Slats and Long Sam. He won the 1947 National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award for the comic strip Li'l Abner, and their 1979 Elzie Segar Award posthumously.
Born Alfred Gerald Caplin of Jewish heritage, Capp was the eldest child of Otto and Tillie Caplin, and a native of New Haven, Connecticut, Connecticut. He lost his right leg in a trolley accident at the age of nine.
Capp spent five years at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Connecticut without receiving a diploma. The cartoonist liked to tell how he failed geometry for nine straight terms.http://bridgeport.ct.schoolwebpages.com/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=5111"Al Capp" Web page of Bridgeport Central High School Web site, accessed August 13, 2006, cited Comics and Their Creators by Martin Sheridan (1942)
Ten years later, A. G. Caplin went to New York and found work drawing Mister Gilfeather, a one-panel, Associated Press-owned property. He did this long enough to hate the feature and meet Milton Caniff before leaving town abruptly, moving to Boston and marrying Catherine Wingate Cameron (whom he had met earlier).
Leaving his new wife with her parents in Amesbury, Massachusetts, he subsequently returned to New York. There he met Ham Fisher, who hired him to help on Joe Palooka.
During one of Fisher's extended vacations, Capp's Joe Palooka story arc featured a stupid, strong hillbilly named Big Leviticus, a prototype for Li'l Abner. And, during this period, Capp was also working on samples for the strip that would become Li'l Abner.
Leaving Joe Palooka, Capp sold Li'l Abner to the United Features Syndicate and the feature was launched on Monday August 13, 1934.
The comic strip starred Li'l Abner Yokum, the lazy, dumb, but good-natured and strong hillbilly who lived in Dogpatch with Mammy and Pappy Yokum. Whatever energy he had went into evading the marital goals of Daisy Mae, his well-endowed girlfriend, until Capp finally gave in to reader pressure and allowed the couple to marry. This was such big news that the happy couple made the cover of Life magazine.
Abner's home town of Dogpatch was peopled with an assortment of memorable characters, including Marryin' Sam, Wolf Gal, Lena the Hyena, Indian Lonesome Polecat, and a host of others, notably the beautiful, full-figured women Stupefyin' Jones and Moonbeam McSwine. Perhaps Capp's most popular creations were the Shmoo, creatures whose incredible usefulness and generous nature made them a threat to civilization as we know it. Another famous character was Joe Btfsplk, who wanted to be a loving friend but was "the world's worst jinx", bringing bad luck to all those nearby. Btfsplk always had a small dark cloud over his head.
Li'l Abner also featured a comic-strip within the comic-strip Fearless Fosdick (a parody of Dick Tracy).
The Dogpatch residents regularly combatted the likes of city slickers, business tycoons, government officials and intellectuals with their homespun wisdom and ingenuity. Situations often took the characters to other parts of the globe, including New York City, tropical islands, and a miserable frozen land of Capp's invention, "Lower Slobbovia."
At its peak, Li'l Abner was read daily by 70 million Americans (when the US population was only 180 million). Many communities staged "Sadie Hawkins Day" events, after a similar annual event in the strip.
The '40s & '50s
During and after World War II, Capp worked without pay going to hospitals to entertain patients, especially to cheer recent amputees and explain to them that the loss of a limb did not mean an end to a happy and productive life.
In 1940, a motion picture adaptation starred Granville Owen as Li'l Abner, with Buster Keaton taking the role of Lonesome Polecat. A frenetic musical comedy adaptation of the strip opened on Broadway theatre in 1956, and was made into a motion picture in 1959.
In one run of strips in 1957, he lampooned the comic strip Mary Worth (comic) as "Mary Worthless", depciting the title character as a nosy do-gooder. The creators of the Mary Worth strip returned Capp's fire with the introduction of the character "Hal Rapp", a foul-tempered, ill-mannered cartoonist. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,893653,00.html
The '60s & '70s
Capp and a platoon of assistants kept the strip going throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. No matter how much help he had, Capp insisted on drawing the faces and hands himself, and, as is usual with collaborative efforts in comic strips, his name was the only one credited. Frank Frazetta, later famous as a fantasy artist, drew the beautiful women in the strip's later years.
In the '60s, Capp's politics swung from liberalism to Conservatism, and instead of caricaturing big business types, he began spoofing counterculture icons such as Joan Baez (in the character of "Joanie Phoanie", a wealthy folksinger who offers an impoverished orphanage one million dollars' worth of "protest songs"http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,843312,00.html). He also attacked student political groups, such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) as "Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything" (SWINE). He became a popular speaker on college campuses during the era, attacking anti-war protesters and demonstrators, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their Bed-In. http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/i/imagine-john-lennon-script-transcript.html
In 1971, he was charged with attempted adultery by complaint of a female student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It developed that there were similar allegations from other campuses. Capp pleaded nolo contendere and withdrew from public speaking. The resulting bad publicity led to hundreds of papers dropping his comic strip http://dir.salon.com/story/books/feature/2002/09/30/capp/index.html?pn=.
Li'l Abner lasted until 1977, and Capp died two years later from emphysema, at his home in South Hampton, New Hampshire.
In 1968 a theme-park called Dogpatch USA opened at Jasper, Arkansas, Arkansas based on Capp's work and with his support. The park was a popular attraction during the 1970s but was abandoned in 1993 due to financial difficulties and remains unused and in disrepair.
His younger brother Elliot Caplin also became a comic strip creator, best known for writing the soap opera strip The Heart of Juliet Jones.
Al Capp designed the sculptures of Flintabbety Flonatin that grace the city of Flin Flon, Manitoba.
For further reading
Sheridan, Martin, Comics and Their Creators (1942)
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/