By Denis Kitchen and Michael Schumacher
Bloomsbury, $30.00, 320 pages
This is a very interesting book on a fascinating man who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful comic strip artists in American history, until his life of philandering and bizarre behavior ended his long career.
As Al Capp grew up, he made money by drawing caricatures and bawdy comics for his school friends. Capp dreamed of writing his own comic strip. He went from paper to paper trying to sell his ideas.
“The comic strip was now appearing in seven hundred newspapers, with a circulation of forty million.”
One day he met Ham Fisher, creator of Joe Polooka, which in 1932 was one of the top comic strips in the country. They struck up a relationship, but “both would come to bitterly regret the day they ever crossed paths.” While working for Fisher, Capp began developing his own strip, called Li’l Abner. Soon Capp’s new strip boasted a larger circulation than Joe Polooka. Capp used Charles Dickens’ characters as models for the Li’l Abner Appalachian townsfolk.
In 1937, Capp introduced Sadie Hawkins Day to his fictional town of Dog Patch. Life Magazine reported that 201 colleges in 188 cities celebrated Sadie Hawkins Day in 1939.
In his personal life, Capp had a number of long-term relationships with women outside of his marriage. The beginning of the end was an exposé that accused Capp of arranging to meet four coeds under innocent auspices who then found themselves confronted by Capp making suggestive comments and exposing himself. Capp was eventually charged with morals law violations. Other infractions included a violent attack against Grace Kelly, who accused Capp of trying to rape her. As a young actress, Goldie Hawn also found herself forced to flee from Capp’s company.
Capp died on November 5, 1970. For many years, Li’l Abner was one of the top comic strips in the United States. Despite his behavior, there’s no denying his talent as a cartoonist and satirist.
Reviewed by Brian Taylor