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Comic Strip / Li'l Abner

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A seminal and long-running (1934–77) newspaper comic strip by Al Capp, which detailed the bizarre lives and loves of the hillbilly inhabitants of Dogpatch, USA. The title character was the perpetually 19-year-old big-hearted lunkhead, the son of spitfire Pansy "Mammy" Yokum and the dull-witted useless Lucifer "Pappy" Yokum. For many of the early years of the strip, the marriage-fearing Abner was pursued aggressively by the lovely Daisy Mae Scragg; in 1952, Capp gave in and let her finally marry Abner. The strip was known for its vicious satire of current events, initially from a more liberal perspective though switching to a conservative bent in its twilight years as Capp grew older. Many of the storylines focused on the innocent Abner being placed in positions where he was easy prey for corrupt villains.

At its peak, Li'l Abner ran in over 900 newspapers in North America and Europe, and an estimated 70 million Americans read it every day. The wedding storyline became a major media event, even making the cover of Life magazine. Al Capp became a regular face on television during the height of the strip's popularity, and one of the few cartoonists to remain a public figure in his own right. Eventually, time took its toll, especially in the 1960s when he drifted into becoming a right wing crank sneering at young folk singers and political activists both in his strip and in public speaking appearance, even picking a public argument with John Lennon during his famous Bed-In. In 1971, that public reputation was shattered forever when he was arrested on sex related charges and papers began to drop his strip in droves. In 1974, Capp, feeling the previous five years of his strip were terrible and his health failing rapidly, called it quits. The strip's swan song received even more massive coverage in the press, with many calling it the end of an era. Capp himself passed away in 1979.

During the strip's run, it was adapted into two films, a Broadway musical (which served as the basis for the second film), a radio serial that ran from 1939 to 1940 and five short animated films made by Columbia Cartoons in 1944. While the series itself never became a television show (despite an unsold pilot airing just once on NBC in 1967), Fearless Fosdick, a ruthless parody of Dick Tracy, briefly spun-off into his own 13-episode puppet show that was swiftly canceled, while the Shmoo appeared in two Saturday Morning Cartoon series for Hanna-Barbera in 1979 and again in 1980–84 (both times sharing billing with Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble). A theme park, Dogpatch USA, opened in 1968, though it was largely unsuccessful for most of its life and closed in 1993 (though most of it is still standing). The strip is also credited with introducing several colloquialisms into the English language, including "schmooze", "irregardless", "druthers", and even the word "shmoo" has entered into at least four separate fields of science. The strip was also the original source of "Sadie Hawkins Day" dances.

Due to sheer length, a comprehensive reprint has yet to reach completion. Through the decades, numerous smaller collections of storylines were released, until 1988 when Kitchen Sink Press attempted the mammoth task of reprinting the series in its entirety, reaching 27 volumes before the company unfortunately went under in 1999, getting the series only to 1961. IDW began another attempt at a reprint in 2010, starting all the way from the beginning and so far having released 7 out of a projected 21 volumes.

United Features Syndicate continues to run free daily reruns of a select number of classic Li'l Abner strips on (though these are hardly complete, jump from plot to plot without conclusions to many of them, and rerun the same storylines over and over).

Provides examples of:

  • Ambidextrous Sprite: A rare non-video game example; Li'l Abner had an odd design quirk where the part in his hair always faces the viewer, no matter which direction Abner is facing. When asked “Which side does Abner part his hair on?," creator Al Capp answered, “Both.”
  • Art Evolution: The earliest strips used a far more realistic style to the point that the characters were hardly recognizable.
  • Author Tract: When Capp started aging and subsequently got left behind in the generational gap, he would devote a great deal of time firing off Take Thats at left-wing political figures via the strip.
  • Breakout Character: The Shmoo species has been incredibly popular in the series. It soon spun off its own comic. Hanna-Barbera gave one of them a series in 1979. It was a Scooby-Doo knockoff but he was the main attraction. The next year he was in the Flintstone Comedy Show in the segment Bedrock Cops.
  • Cowboy Cop: Fearless Fosdick, fittingly enough as a parody of Dick Tracy.
  • Crapsack World: Dogpatch residents live in perpetual Barefoot Poverty, but they have it better than Lower Slobbovia, a mockery of Glorious Mother Russia where everyone is half-buried in snow.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: Gat Garson was Abner's double. More than that, Garson's parents were identical to Abner's parents...right down to the fingerprints!
  • Deep South: Dogpatch is inhabited with ignorant shoeless poverty-stricken hillbillies.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Stupefyin' Jones is an extreme case, in that she paralyzes any man who glimpses her.
  • Dub Name Change: In Sweden, the comic, and main character, was named "Knallhatten", a slang term for the percussion cap on rifles which at some point had become slang for the Swedish equivalent of "redneck" or "hayseed".
  • Emphasize EVERYTHING: The strip was notorious for having LOTS OF BOLD TYPE!! and often ending sentences with TWO EXCLAMATION POINTS!! Capp did this deliberately, since it made it easier for the strip to catch the reader's eye on the comics page.
  • Everybody Smokes: Many of the characters, especially the older men, have a corncob pipe permanently in their mouths.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Fearless Fosdick adversary, the Chippendale Chair, is, in fact, a sentient Chippendale Chair.
  • The Faceless: Lena the Hyena started out like this, but Capp finally held a contest to depict her, which was won by Basil Wolverton's infamous monstrosity.
  • Fanservice: Capp's work pre-dated the expression, but this strip still is a very strong example. The strip didn't rely on Rule of Sexy - it was genuinely humorous quite aside from the eye candy - but unlike almost any other media in The '50s, it reveled in this. The main character was a beefcake, his unwanted paramour was impossibly curvy, and they were far from the only ones.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Pretty much all of the women.
  • Funetik Aksent: Everyone that doesn't speak plain English, especially the main characters.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The student group SWINE (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything).
  • Hayseed Name: Li'l Abner, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, Daisy Mae... heck, just about everyone.
  • Gargle Blaster: Kickapoo Joy Juice moonshine, the fumes of which can melt metal rivets.
  • General Failure: Jubilation T. Cornpone, the founder of Dogpatch. It's implied he was so bad at his job, he's the main reason the Confederacy lost the Civil War!
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The strip within a strip Fearless Fosdick was often used to comment on the conventions of the actual strip. The story of Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae's marriage came about because Abner took a vow to do whatever Fosdick did in his strip, and Fosdick ended up marrying. Notably, this story also poked fun at the perpetual status quo of most comic strips: while Fosdick eventually wakes up and realizes that he wasn't married after all, returning to status quo, the same was not true for Li'l Abner, as Daisy Mae and Abner remained married for the rest of the strip!
    Daisy Mae: Look! In today's paper, Fearless Fosdick proposed, an' Prudence Pimpleton accepted!
    Abner: Haw! It don't mean nothin'! It's th'usual comical strip trick, t'keep stupid readers excited!
    (After Abner proposes)
    Daisy Mae: Oh, how mizzuble all this is! Th'biggest moment in mah life, an' it's jest a joke fum a comical strip!
  • Meaningful Name: Everyone in this strip had a name that either explained or made fun of their character.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Abner's younger brother Tiny is even taller and better built then his big bro, who's no slouch himself. Early on he looked more comical since he had inherited his father's big nose, but then his nose was broken, he got surgery and he ended up as traditionally handsome as Abner.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Daisy Mae has blond hair and a tiny hourglass figure. A whole bunch of others share these similar traits, and the men of the comic (save the title character himself) gawk at them just as much as the reader is invited to. Stupefyin' Jones is a weaponized variant.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Most of the villains and pretty much anyone Capp had a beef with wound up with a name like this. These include Nightmare Alice, Evil-Eye Fleegle, and Fearless Fosdick's syndicate, Squeezeblood Syndicate.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: All celebrity parodies had their names changed, mainly so Capp could use them whenever he wanted. One of the more notorious was Fearless Fosdick author Lester Gooch, a parody of Dick Tracy author Chester Gould. Gooch was frequently portrayed as mentally deranged, and only capable of writing well when he was insane. Another particularly vicious example was "Joanie Phoanie," who stood in for Joan Baez.
  • No One Should Survive That!: Lil' Abner has survived virtually everything - death by poison gas, bullets to the chest, innumerable cases of falling damage, quicksand, and so on. Rather than rely on unlikely coincidence, Capp preferred Refuge in Audacity.
    Abner: That were a long fall! Goo' thing ah landed on my haid, or I could have got hurt!
  • Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You: In a story, this was inverted. Li'l Abner has escaped what seemed like certain death, and goes to Dogpatch to find some of its citizens singing a funeral hymn for their poor deceased Li'l Abner. When he sees this and learns that they're mourning him, he starts singing along in a very sad tone of voice, because who wouldn't feel sad at his own funeral?
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Fearless Fosdick suffers several to the point that it's a Parodied Trope.
  • Orphanage of Fear: One storyline in the late 1930s had Abner go to an orphanage after his parents are (supposedly) dead. It exaggerates the whole trope to its ends: he's forced to change into a new "uniform" (rags), the orphanage master gives bare bones to the orphans with lots of food for himself and whips the orphans, but Abner and the orphans ultimately stage a mutiny.
  • Our Founder: Confederate General Jubilation T. Cornpone, who in the musical even gets his own song about his "great" deeds in The American Civil War. He was, in fact, such a horrible general that at least according to the musical, Abraham Lincoln credited him with single-handedly helping the Confederacy lose the war.
  • Personal Raincloud: Joe Btfsplk always appears with one of these hanging over him.
  • A Pig Named "Porkchop": Salomey the pig's name is a play on "salami."
  • The Pig-Pen: Moonbeam McSwine is a physically stunning woman, but prefers to lounge around in literal pig pens.
  • Poverty for Comedy: One of the staples of the comic. Everyone in Dogpatch is ridiculously poor and on the brink of starvation, and it's all Played for Laughs. Al Capp himself grew up poor and took a fair bit of inspiration from his childhood — just exaggerated to comical extremes. Lower Slobbovia makes Dogpatch seem downright wealthy in comparison.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Abner himself is one of the few characters who actually wears shoes, while virtually everyone else goes barefoot.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Nogoodniks (the evil version of the Shmoos) had "li'l red eyes." They devoured "good" Shmoos, were the sworn enemies of "hoomanity," and wreaked havoc on Dogpatch.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Shmoos, which spawned a merchandising mania... until Capp finally got so tired of them overshadowing his strip that he had them all killed off.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: A curious example in Tiny, Abner's younger brother. While he never replaced Abner in the strip itself, he did take on the Unresolved Sexual Tension part after Abner and Daisy Mae got married, and notably became the protagonist in the annual Sadie Hawkins Day Race strips.
  • 'Tis Only a Bullet in the Brain: Getting shot in the head is a minor injury for Abner, because his head contains nothing that he can't function normally without.
  • Torso with a View: Any man or beast that gets shot tends to be left with large clean round holes where the bullet passed.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Dogpatch women who weren't either elderly (Mammy Yokum) or positively hideous (Lena the Hyena) tended to fall into this category, but Moonbeam McSwine, who provides the page image for the trope, is worth special mention. Lil' Abner himself is a male example.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: This pretty much defined the first 18 years of the strip when it came to stories about Daisy Mae. Two years after they finally tied the knot, Capp tried to recreate the dynamic by introducing Abner's 15 and a half "y'ars" old brother Tiny, who was then endlessly pursued by Hopeful Mudd and Boyless Bailey.
  • Wham Episode: The storyline where Li'l Abner pledges to marry Daisy Mae if Fearless Fosdick marries his sweetheart. The story constantly lampshades the fact that Status Quo Is God and that marriage storylines are always fakeouts... but this time it isn't, and Abner is as surprised as the reader to discover that he and Daisy Mae are actually, permanently married.
  • Your Heart's Desire: Shmoos were a species discovered by Li'l Abner in the Valley of the Shmoon. They loved humans unconditionally, had a phenomenal rate of reproduction, and provided humanity with everything they needed for subsistence. They gave milk, laid eggs (a few had even mastered laying hard-boiled eggs, and one even managed an entire cheesecake), and acted as pets and beasts of burden. A human could cause a Shmoo to commit Shmooicide just by looking at it hungrily, at which point its skin could be cut thin for cloth, thick for leather, boiled to harden into a timber substitute; its eyes used for buttons, its whiskers for toothpicks: also, of course, its flesh was boneless, and delicious in several different ways, depending on how you cooked it. As soon as this miracle animal became known to the outside world, American big businessmen attempted to wipe them out, since a solution to world hunger and suffering would have destroyed their profits.