I'm God when I sit at this drawing board.
You've heard of the one-legged man in the ass kicking competition? He had a name. Al Capp.
My very first unwitting exposure to the work of this cartoonist would have been reprints of his celebrated comic strip Li'l Abner stinking of thin newsprint in a standard dusty stack of old Sunday papers. I hated it.
"The Dogpatch represents the huge mass of dumb, believing, inarticulate people who are constantly being booted around by enormous and powerful forces." Capp once explained to the notorious author of Seduction Of The Innocent and anti-comicbook advocate Frederic Wertham. The colorful wordplay of Li'l Abner is a visual tonic to some but an unlovable mess to me. Of particular passionate hatred is the repetitive use of the double exclamation mark. "When Li'l Abner speaks," said Capp "he speaks for millions of morons."
Li'l Abner ran for 43 years but I have no taste for the celebrated comic strip. I've come to appreciate the man, Al Capp, as being far more interesting than his actual output.
My first real introduction to Capp would be the film clip of his 1969 encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their Bed Peace anti war art statement. Capp was led into the room, besuited and affable, the standing opposite to his company. As the cameras rolled Capp proceeded to completely troll and deductively outpace the heated exchange of ideas with the normally quick-witted Lennon right on his own turf leaving him discouraged and breathlessly dejected. It was powerful to see this cartoonist of all things manipulating an opportunity so cleverly to his benefit. "He marked everything," comments Alexander Theroux author of The Enigma of Al Capp released digitally this week from Fantagraphics. "Kicking ass when he needed to and in a way that can't have been anything but fun."
Capp was a brilliant satirist. His most famous quote "If you can walk to the welfare office you can walk to work" only carries weight in that it's coming from a one-legged cartoonist who survived the Great Depression and became a self-made millionaire. When nationalism was on the rise in America he railed against it but when the counter culture emerged he suddenly switched to becoming a patriot. He never took the popular side, hated animals and gave few fucks.
For me, Al Capp will always be the endlessly quotable genius hype man who could hold you spellbound with his timing and unflappable turns of phrase. The man capable of peddling so much castigation at his enemy Ham Fisher, cartoonist of Joe Palooka, that Fisher finally having lost his dirty battle of attrition with Capp waddled down to an empty art studio and committed suicide. Such was the power Capp had.
Though his later years were marked with sodomy allegations and having to be escorted out of more than one city due to unwelcome sexual advances as well as stained with the company he began to keep with soggy ne'er-do-wells like the President Of The United States, Al Capp was an undeniable American success story. "No matter what else happens to me," wrote Capp "I'm God himself when I sit down at this drawing board."
Indeed he was.