I'm not sure where I first heard of Li'l Abner. Maybe some bits and pieces in a Comic Review Magazine or something.
The Shmoo was a character on the old Flintstones cartoons I used to watch, and Lena Hyena had shown up on the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I'd seen some iconic pictures of Daisy Mae and Moonbeam McSwine here and there for sure…
Probably even before that, my mom had used some expressions that apparently started in Abner - “Kickapoo Joy Juice” and “If I had my druthers”. I read about a “Sadie Hawkins Dance” in Archie comics - that was an invention of Li'l Abner as well.
But it wasn't until the age of the Internet that I put it all together and read about the elaborate world that existed in daily newspaper comics from 1934 to 1977(!), written and illustrated by Al Capp.
The characters were based on Deep South types Al Capp encountered while traveling through the Appalacian Mountains, apparently.
The main thrust of the story is Li'l Abner, the hunky but dimwitted hillbilly boy who enjoys eating pork chops, fishing, and avoiding the marital intentions of Daisy Mae.
Abner, Daisy, and the other hillbilly creations, living in the tiny town of Dogpatch, were also used as vehicles for satire of everything that was going on in the world at the time; the strips contain takedowns of big business, the movie and music industries, fashion, and many other targets. It was the Simpsons of its day.
The characters' accents are written phonetically, and I find I often have to read the strips out loud to understand what's being said. Ozoneocean has written some funny hillbilly scripts that use a similar, very amoozin' style!
At one point, Salvador Dali, Boris Karloff, and Frank Sinatra acted as judges in an artists' contest to draw the horrifying Lena Hyena. The wedding of Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae landed the cover of Time Magazine.
This was at a time when newspaper comics were HUGE, and their creators were big stars. And Li'l Abner was the biggest of them all, for a time.
The strips began switching from its Progressive ideals in the 60's, and began mocking the new Counterculture instead, as its creator found himself unable to relate to the changing times (or just became more Conservative). Sadly, Capp also got himself into some trouble over charges of harassment of several college aged women. The strip was dropped from more and more papers and Capp ended the epic run in the late 70's.
I remember seeing him for the first time in the John Lennon documentary “Imagine”. Capp is the miserable cuss who comes in and mocks John and Yoko for their bed-in-for-peace tour. Granted, this may have been worthy of mockery, but Capp was unnecessarily nasty and vicious.
Other than various artifacts and influences that I mentioned earlier (Lena Hyena, drawn by Basil Wolverton but conceived by Capp, appears all over the Internet), Li'l Abner is pretty much unknown by most these days. Massive hardcover collections of Abner are being released bit by bit and I'm buying them.
The main reason - Capp was a FANTASTIC cartoonist. And the stories are largely simple ones by today's standards, but these hicks are still as amoozin' as amoozin' cud be!
I enjoy resurrecting this little piece of forgotten comic history, even if it's just on my own bookshelf.
Banes at 12:00AM, March 3, 2016
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