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Comic Strip / Andy Capp

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"Heh, heh, heh... Oh, Andy Capp. You wife-beating drunk."
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, "Marge vs. the Monorail"

Andy Capp is a British comic strip set in Hartlepool, created by Reg Smythe in 1957 for the London Daily Mirror. It also was syndicated in the United States by Creators Syndicate, starting in 1963.

In its early days, the Andy Capp strip was accused of perpetuating stereotypes about Britain's Northerners, who are seen in other parts of England as chronically unemployed, dividing their time between the living room couch and the neighbourhood pub, with a few hours set aside for fistfights at soccer games. Even his name is a perfect phonetic rendition of that region's pronunciation of the word "handicap" (which the cartoonist chose because a handicap is exactly what Andy is to his hard-working wife, Flo). But Smythe, himself a native of that region, had nothing but affection for his good-for-nothing protagonist, a fact which showed in his work. Since the very beginning, Andy has been immensely popular among the people he supposedly skewers. (Maybe the comic should be criticised for glorifying such negative behaviour instead.)

By the way, Smythe claimed he modelled his main characters after his own parents. But it seems unlikely that his father, who built boats for a living, could possibly have been very much like Andy, or his family would have starved. It's also been suggested that Andy Capp owes something to Ally Sloper, Britain's first successful comics character, also a lovable lowlife.

The first British paperback reprints of the strip appeared in 1958, and American reprints started in the early 1960s. In both countries, the volumes now number in the dozens. Andy has also been the star of a minor TV series; its six episodes featured James Bolam in the title role and Paula Tilbrook as Flo, and were aired by ITV in 1988. It's arguable that the series died a death because it was trying to be a three-dimensional comic strip rather than a conventional Sitcom.

The strip even had a spin-off of sorts in 1960, Fleetway Publications, which was owned by The Mirror, launched a successful comic book titled Buster, whose main character was supposedly Andy Capp's son (though this family connection was never mentioned in the strip itself and was later forgotten in the comic book as well). Andy was even animated once, when he crossed over with Family Guy in the episode "And the Wiener Is...", which first aired on August 8, 2001.

Reg Smythe wrote and drew Andy Capp, both daily and Sunday, until his death in 1998. Since then, the strip has been continued by unnamed successors, though for years, Smythe's signature remained affixed to it. Since November 2004, it's been signed by Roger Mahoney and Roger Kettle. It now appears in over 1,400 newspapers worldwide — not quite in the range of top strips like Peanuts, Blondie (1930), Hägar the Horrible and Garfield, but well ahead of B.C., Dennis the Menace (US), FoxTrot and other very successful comics.

And it's translated into 13 different languages, proving that Andy's appeal goes far beyond the minor regional stereotype he supposedly represents.

He is also the mascot for a line of snack foods.

Tropes present:

  • The Alcoholic: Andy is a mild version.
  • Art Evolution: Andy and Flo looked very different in the early years of the strip.
  • Aside Comment: Frequent for delivering an observation that serves as the punchline.
  • Awful Wedded Life
  • Barred from Every Bar: Andy is a shiftless lush, mooching his wife's wages to pickle himself in British pubs. His principal haunt is The Rose and Crown, where proprietor Jack often tosses a pickled Andy into the street at closing time. Andy has also gotten himself ejected from other pubs, mainly for being a combative, impatient jerkass.
  • Big Ball of Violence: Is used to represent fights, with (at least sometimes) limbs of the combatants sticking out symmetrically at the four "corners" of the cloud. (Perhaps a more common stylistic way of depicting a fight is to show the participants just above the ground but not standing on it, facing each other inside an imaginary circle, limbs in an aggressive stance, and rolling along the ground or in place.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone.
  • Domestic Abuse: Although it's been toned down considerably from the strip's early years.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: Andy has always worn his cap to obscure his eyes, even while Reg Smythe adjusted his character models.
  • It's All About Me/Jerkass: Andy is incredibly self-centred and selfish, but does not see it that way at all. Oddly, it gives him pause when someone else implies that he thinks this way ("I know, it could have been worse, it could have happened to you.") Even though he says almost exactly the same thing on another occasion himself, this time it makes him wonder whether that's really how other people see him.
  • Kavorka Man: Andy. Though his attempts onscreen often fail, he nevertheless seems to find new girlfriends younger than himself all the time — even though he's a short, poor-ish, impolite, sexist, self-centred creep, not to mention married. It may be just due to the sheer amount of trying.
  • Lazy Bum: Andy's days seem to consist of lying on the couch while his wife goes to work, then going to the pub. The only job he's seriously tried to apply for is at the brewery.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Andy is a lazy, self-centred, hard-drinking and violent asshole who habitually beats and cheats on his wife.
  • My Local: The Rose and Crown, Andy's home away from home.
  • Never Bareheaded: Andy is always seen wearing a cap. Funny how that works.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Andy and Flo's marriage.
  • Print Long-Runners / Outlived Its Creator: Strangely, it was still credited to Smythe after his death.
  • Punny Name: As mentioned above, a play on "handicap ('andicap)".
  • Spin-Offspring: The weekly Anthology Comic paper Buster headlined the eponymous Buster, "Andy Capp's Son." His parents got cameos and mentions in the first few years, but eventually this aspect of Buster's background was dropped.
    • Buster may well have grown up, married and had children, carrying the Capp family into a third generation. The Daily Mirror runs a strip in similar art style called Mandy Capp. Mandy is an attitudinal single mother who is notionally Andy and Flo's grand-daughter.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Clothing rationing in Britain was not ended until 1949, therefore availability was limited and choice was poor. Many demobilised British servicemen still preferred wearing the best of their uniform items (made of hardwearing cloth and manufactured to higher standards) and the early strips reflect this. Even well into the 1950's, Andy is portrayed as wearing his Army greatcoat with DLI - Durham Light Infantry - on the shoulder patch. His readers would have understood this completely.
  • Throw the Book at Them: A shop owner calls Andy some bad names. Andy quips "Words can't hurt me, mate." He is hit in the head with a dictionary the shop owner throws at him.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: By now, it should be abundantly clear that Andy's one who puts even the likes of Basil Fawlty to shame.
  • Unusual Hiring Practices: * One strip has him go to an interview for a job he doesn't want:
    Interviewer: You afraid of hard work?
    Andy: Petrified.
    Interviewer: A clockwatcher?
    Andy: Can't keep me eyes off it.
    Interviewer: Come in, you're the first honest lad we've had all week.
  • The Vicar: Who even Andy treats with a measure of respect.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Andy and his mate Chalkie White enjoy each other's mishaps.
  • The Voice: Andy's mother-in-law. We see at most her leg, and even that's a rare occasion, but she delivers as many creative insults to Andy as he to her.
  • Wishing Well: Flo drops a coin into a wishing well in the strip for Sunday 29 February 2004. Andy sneers, "You don't believe in those things, do you?" Flo turns to gaze pointedly at him, and replies, "Not any more."
  • Would Hit a Girl: The strip ran into some controversy as the years passed due to the often... physical outcome of Andy and Flo's arguments. It should be said that it wasn't just one sided abuse, as it was often full fledged fights between the two. The strip didn't seem quite able to decide whether Flo was capable of standing up for herself physically or not; sometimes she was, sometimes she wasn't.