Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Number 1218: Capp slapped by the Spirit

Here are a couple of questions for knowledgeable Pappy readers. Some years ago I read an interview with Will Eisner where he told a story of being contacted by Al Capp. The Li’l Abner creator told Eisner he wanted to trade satires of each other’s strips. Eisner said Capp never followed up. So what I’m wondering is, where did I read that, and is this the strip Eisner used for his satire, or is this an Eisner “Slapp at Capp” after feeling betrayed?

Either way, this is Eisner going after the big boys of comic strip syndication. I would think either Harold Gray (Elmer Hay) or Chester Gould (Hector Ghoul) might feel insulted, not to mention Capp. As satire it seems more than just a friendly nod or gentle nudge in the ribs. A particular target of Eisner's satire is the Dick Tracy/Fearless Fosdick situation. Gould felt that Capp over-reached by making Fearless Fosdick — who began as a one-off caricature of the Dick Tracy comic strip — a semi-regular character in Li’l Abner. I assume he was further aggrieved when Fearless Fosdick got commercial endorsements like Wildroot Cream Oil, which made $$$ for Capp, none for Gould. As for Harold Gray, I have no idea what he thought of The Spirit.  Maybe Gray didn't care what Eisner did. Maybe he never saw it. Unlike Gray’s large following, there were only a few papers carrying the Spirit's Comic Book Section.

This is an interesting Spirit story, and I'd love to know the background of this particular episode.

Originally published July 20, 1947. This is scanned from The Spirit #1 (Warren, 1974):


coj said...

Eisner gave the background to this strip in the notes in the Kitchen Sink reprints (No. 20 1986). Here's a link to those pages of notes

but briefly, as you say Capp contacted him and suggested they have a feud. This was Eisner's contribution and he also mentioned the 'feud' in a Newsweek interview. Capp never followed up and Eisner eventually realised he had been tricked into giving Capp some free publicity. The 'Stacy' strip within a strip was drawn by Jules Feiffer. Jerry Grandanetti did the backgrounds.

Kirk said...

Funny seeing the Spirit paint over Punjab's blanked-out eyes.

Lysdexicuss said...

That article probably appeared in a Kitchen Sink publication or the defunct Comics Scene magazine; I remember reading it too. Love them artist's stories, would be fun to see a week's worth of theme-related Artist/Artist stories.

Keir said...

I have so much work to complete tonight, and I wasted an hour reading this post, researching the legend of Fearless Fosdick, reviewing my knowledge of The Spirit, and trying to hunt down other stories. What artwork!

Brian Barnes said...

I have no idea what the situation with Eisner was, but Gray and Gould were portrayed as a sympathetic characters while Capp was a pretty shady if not evil character.

The jokes at Gray's expense were just nudges -- like the painting in of the eyes -- same with Gould. But for Capp, wow, Eisner really let him have it, and there wasn't even an attempt to mask who he was about to slap around. He must have really been angry! I could be wrong, but I can't see this as anything but outright shot at Capp.

It even goes further as to expand and Gould's problem and take sides.

BTW, everybody, no matter what kind of artist they are, should study stuff like page 1. Very few people expanded graphic story telling like Eisner did.

Pappy said...

Thanks to all for the comments.

coj, thanks for pointing me at the interview. Yep, it's the one I remember, and I still have the magazine in my files.

Regarding the tone of the Spirit strip and the idea of a feud, I wonder if Eisner's contribution put Capp off. Perhaps Gould's problem with Capp's Fearless Fosdick was a sore point with Capp. He could be vindictive. But why do nothing? He could have attacked Eisner and the Spirit in return but didn't. Maybe he figured it would be worse for Eisner, who was still sore about it decades later.

(I have often thought that the best revenge is sometimes to say and do nothing. You can drive your enemies crazy waiting for the shoe to drop.)

Or maybe he did nothing because he had forgotten the feud or was using Eisner for publicity, or just moved on to something else.

I'm still waiting for someone to invent a time machine I can use to go back and ask people the answers to the questions I have.

Pappy said...

Keir, really? You “wasted” an hour on Pappy's? I'm not sure if I should be proud or offended.

Kirk said...

One more thought about Al Capp.

In the late '60s, he took on Charles Schulz in a series of Sunday strips. Unlike with Gould, this may have been motivated by more than the simple desire to parody another popular comic strip. In the 1950s, Schulz and Capp belonged to the same syndicate. Capp switched syndicates (he owned his strip by then) supposedly because he was piqued that Peanuts had topped Li'l Abner in the number of suscribing newspapers. Where did I get this information? From an interview with Schulz himself, whom I should caution was a master at tooting his own horn in the self-deprecating manner possiple

Pappy said...

Kirk, I believe in Schulz's version of history over Capp's, and your anecdote rings a bell (I've also spent a lot of time on Charles Schulz's life story).

Capp was an egoist, and came off that way in interviews. Schulz came off the exact opposite. (I also agree that Schulz was self-promoting even though he had a folksy and modest way of doing it.) I have no doubt that Capp would have felt aggrieved that Peanuts was outselling Li'l Abner. Capp's time at the top was long, and yet it was inevitable — in the way of the public and its attention span — for another strip to gain ground on him and overtake him.

rnigma said...

I recall Capp had staged a feud with Allen Saunders - he had Li'l Abner meet "Allen Flounder," creator of "Mary Worm"... meanwhile, Mary Worth had met a rascal named "Hal Rapp."

Li'l Abner also found himself in the comic "Steve Cantor" drawn by "Milton Goniff."

Keir said...

Capp certainly appears to have been a talented, gifted, charismatic, and utterly obnoxious individual with some troubling accusations made about him, especially later in life. But growing up in Manitoba, I was always chuffed that he was responsible for the statue of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin way up north in Flin Flon.