Li'l Abner

From Academic Kids

Li'l Abner was a comic strip in United States newspapers, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the town of Dogpatch. Written and drawn by Al Capp, it ran from 1934 through 1977.

The comic strip starred Li'l Abner Yokum, the dumb but good-natured hillbilly whose main goal was evading the marital goals of Daisy Mae Scraggs, his well-endowed girlfriend. Capp finally gave in to reader pressure and allowed the couple to marry. This was such big news, 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 (creator of "Kickapoo Joy Juice", presumably based on the real patent medicine "Kickapoo Indian Sagwa", a product of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company of Connecticut completely unrelated to the real Kickapoo Indian tribe of Oklahoma), and a host of others, including the statuesque beauties Moonbeam McSwine, Stupefyin' Jones and Appassionata von Climax.

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", and always had a small dark cloud over his head.

Senator Jack S. Phogbound was another memorable character. A blustering Southern politician ("There's no Jack S like our Jack S!") who wore a coonskin cap and carried a rifle to impress his constituents, Phogbound is Capp's parody of the Southern Democrats who opposed the New Deal, of which Capp was a supporter. At one instance in the strip, Phogbound was unable to campaign in Dogpatch, so he sent his aides with a large balloon filled with hot air -- and nobody really noticed the difference.

Li'l Abner also featured a comic-strip within the comic-strip, titled Fearless Fosdick (a parody of Dick Tracy). The razor-jawed title character ("Li'l Abner's Ideal") might take a bullet in the chest and declare it a mere "flesh wound".

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." Conceptually based on Siberia, or Russia in general, the worthless land was ruled by "King Stubbornovsky the Last". Their monetary unit was the "Razzbucknik", of which one was worth nothing, and a large quantity was worth a lot less, due to the trouble of carrying them around.

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 an annual race in the strip in which the unmarried women were allowed to keep any man they could catch. The unstatuesque and plain Sadie Hawkins inspired the race.

With John Hodiak in the title role, the Li'l Abner radio serial ran weekdays on NBC from November 20, 1939 to December 6, 1940. A musical comedy adaptation of the strip opened on Broadway in 1956 and was made into a 1959 movie musical with Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish, Julie Newmar, Stella Stevens and Donna Douglas.

In 1968 a theme park named "Dogpatch USA" featuring Capp's characters opened in northwest Arkansas and remained a popular attraction until it closed in 1993. Several attempts have been made to reopen the park but at the present time it lies abandoned.

Capp had a platoon of assistants in later years but always drew the faces and hands himself. Lena the Hyena was designed by MAD artist Basil Wolverton. Frank Frazetta, later famous as a fantasy artist, drew the beautiful full-bodied women in the strip's later years. Li'l Abner lasted until 1977, and Capp died two years later.

A planned 1990 revival of the strip in the capable hands of cartoonist Steve Stiles was approved by Capp's widow and brother, Elliott Caplin, and all parties involved were ready to sign with a syndicate when Al Capp's daughter, Julie Capp, objected at the last minute and permission was withdrawn.

In 1995, the strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative postage stamps. Li'l Abner is also the name of a famous steak house in Tucson, Arizona. Named after the comic strip character, its only options are one and two-pound steaks.

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