Thursday, February 17, 2005

DA CAPPO. There was some discussion of Al Capp in comments to a previous post -- and in the context of David Horowitz, no less! Allow me to say that Capp's was one transit from liberal darling (William Faulkner wrote the intro to one of his compilations!) to raving wingnut that I can appreciate and respect. I will explain.

As a political philosopher, Capp was a moron. (Read the 60s-vintage Capp quote here -- it's such damned-hippies boilerplate as would make Michael Totten blush.) I assume Capp didn't get dumber as he went along. But he had a strong feeling about the relationship of the powerful to the powerless, and when he perceived the power flowing from the rock-ribbed Republicans of earlier days to the Great Society crowd, he flipped to the other side.

That doesn't make him right -- merely understandable, if you know how artists sometimes work. When he stopped making fun of General Bullmoose ("What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!") and started making fun of Joan Baez (aka "Joanie Phonie," who upon regarding Dogpatch cries, "Those poor wretches! I'm giving them $1,000,000... in protest songs!"), Capp was no better or worse an analyst of social conditions than he had been. He was simply addicted to irreverence, and took the most obnoxious position he could find. And he was a sport about it; he did a photo shoot with Joan Baez for Time magazine. (The published photo shows Baez singing and Capp wincing theatrically, with his fingers in his ears.)

In the 1960s Capp used to give talks on college campuses -- this while he was mercilessly parodying the whole student movement with SWINE (Students Wildly Indignant About Everything). The kids hated him -- the man who invented the Sadie Hawkins Day their older brothers and sisters had made flesh! -- but Capp kept a-comin', perhaps as much for the collegiate pussy (he pleaded no contest to allegations of sexual misconduct, including an attempted rape) as for the chance to piss off hippies and get paid for it.

In any event Capp didn't indulge in the whiney woe-is-me-I'm-being-persecuted crap Horowitz and his acolytes specialize in. He seemed to like being an outsider; not for him the dogged insistence upon respect that distinguish his far-less-talented progeny. And he kept making funnies, not all of them informed by 60s politics. He kept up the "Fearless Fosdick" strip-within-a-strip, in which the impossibly upright and sexless Fosdick finds his only release in absurd cartoon violence. I personally recall a strip in which Abner's son, brainwashed by TV advertising, begs for a "Junior G.I." war-game kit. "Alright, son," declares Abner. "I'll give yuh the week's food money!" Abe walks into a toy store with a dollar bill but is laughed off -- "You can't even buy a toy dollar with that!" -- and so wanders into an army surplus store, where his dollar buys him a real flame-thrower, with which he causes havoc.

This has more to do with Happy Hooligan and The Katzenjammer Kids than with (God help us) Mallard Fillmore. Capp's 60s comics weren't his best -- go to his 40s and 50s stuff, much of it beautifully collected, for primo Li'l Abner -- but they were comics of the old school. And mourn the days when Li'l Abner and Pogo lived together on the funny pages, and cartoonists understood that if you want to grind an axe in public you'd better make some pretty awesome sparks doing it.

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