Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Let's Shmooze!

When someone asks me what my favorite comic strip of all time is, I do not hesitate. Sure, Pogo was great. So was Krazy Kat. Like a lot of modern folks I loved Calvin & Hobbes, too. My favorite one by far though, is Al Capp's Li'l Abner.

Li'l Abner, for those of you that are unfamiliar with the strip, featured the adventures of one Abner Yokum, a hillbilly boy/man, and the residents of his hometown, Dogpatch, U.S.A. I could waste endless paragraphs on the history of the strip, as well as the amazing characters, hilarious plots and incredible cartooning it featured. Instead, I think I'll let my pals at Wikipedia do the heavy lifting for me. If, for some tragic reason, you are so ignorant, you never have heard of this masterpiece, hang your head in shame and click here.

Why do I love this strip? Well for one thing, it's beautifully written and hilarious, something modern strip cartoonists seem to forget a strip is supposed to be. Even if the story lines in this strip were awful, though, I would still love it for its fantastic artwork. Capp was a brilliant cartoonist. His drawings are alive and funny and beautifully rendered. The pretty gals he drew were okay, too. It's well known that Capp had a lot of assistants on his strip (including Frank Frazetta and Jack Rickard!), but the style of the strip originated with him, so he deserves the accolades. I always loved his art, but now that I have attempted my pathetic "tribute" to him featured here, I am truly humbled by his genius.

Sadly, Li'l Abner ceased publication in 1979, but there have been lots of reprints of the strips over the years. Unfortunately, a lot of these reprints are really expensive, so I only possess a handful. Happily, though, the other day I was at the library (you know, that place that loans out the books that no one goes to anymore?), and I stumbled across a book entitled: The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo, by Al Capp. This gem contains two strips featuring one of Capp's most beloved creations, The Schmoo.

In the first story from 1948, Li'Abner discovers The Shmoos. The Shmoos were rapidly reproducing creatures that provided humanity with all of life's staples: milk, eggs and even pineapples! If you looked at a Shmoo hungrily, they dropped dead out of sheer happiness, and flung themselves into a pan. Boiled they tasted like chicken, broiled like steak, and there was no waste! Their bodies could be used as clothing or building materials (depending how thick you sliced 'em), and you could even use their eyes as buttons, and their whiskers  as toothpicks. No one needed to watch television anymore, either, as "Shmoosical Comedies" were  far more entertaining. Naturally, people having everything they desired for free is bad for big business, and the bulk of the first story deals with corporate types trying to exterminate The Shmoo.

The Shmoo were wildly popular back in the day, and Capp brought them back many times. They were so popular, in fact, that they became a merchandising phenomenon. Shmoos appeared on everything from toys to furniture to clothing. There was never a Shmoosical Comedy produced, though.  This volume also features one additional Shmoo tale, in another funny continuity from 1958. It also feature a rambling introduction by Harlan Ellison, but I'd skip that unless you want to read read precious little on Li'l Abner and Capp, and a whole lot about Ellison's first trip to NYC.

In case you can't tell, I highly recommend this collection. If your local library doesn't carry it (and I doubt they do, I think I  got lucky), you can snag a copy from Amazon. If you've never read Li'l Abner before, I envy you. You're in for a treat.

It might be the next best thing to having a Shmoo. Or two.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have trouble enjoying lil abner because i can't get past the fact that though capp was treated very badly by ham fischer when he was fischer's assistant, and capp was very bitter and vocal about the abuse he received, capp nevertheless went on to treat his assistants just as badly as fischer had treated him.

eet eed

April 9, 2010 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

eet eed-

Actually, I have heard firsthand the opposite about Capp's treatment of his assistants. In art school one of my teachers was an assistant to him, and I am friends with a very successful cartoonist who got his start with Capp. I don't feel comfortable mentioning their names without permission, but both of them told me that Capp treated them quite well, and both had nice things to say about him. Granted, they had some bad stuff to say too, but that stuff had to do with other aspects of Capp's life.

Heck, even Frazetta says SOME nice things about him!

NOTE: For those of you wondering what eet eed is talking about, read Capp's piece, "I remember Monster", reprinted in "My Well Balanced Life on a Wooden Leg", Capp's memoirs.

April 9, 2010 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger MikeH said...

I gotta me honest, those schmoos always sounded a bit digusting to me.

April 10, 2010 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...


You probably aren't cooking them right.

April 12, 2010 at 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Alyssa said...

More Al Capp here:

April 17, 2010 at 2:49 AM  

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