Li'l Abner

Li'l Abner was a satirical American comic strip appearing in many newspapers in the United States and Canada, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the impoverished town of Dogpatch, Kentucky. Written and drawn by Al Capp (1909 - 1979), the strip ran from 1934 through 1977. Read daily by scores of millions of people, the strip's characters and humor had a powerful cultural impact.

Cast of characters

Main characters

Li'l Abner Yokum: The star of Capp's classic comic strip was hardly "little," Abner was 6-foot-3 in his stocking feet (if he wore stockings), and perpetually 19 years-old; a naive, simple-minded and sweet-natured hillbilly boy. He lived in a ramshackle log cabin with his pint-sized parents. Abner inherited his strength from his irascible Mammy, and his brains from his less-than-brainy Pappy. In Capp's satirical and often complex plots, Abner was a country bumpkin Candide - a paragon of innocence in a sardonically dark and cynical world. The loutish Abner had no visible means of support, but sometimes earned his livelihood as a "crescent cutter" for the Little Wonder privy company, (later changed to a "mattress tester", for the Little Wonder mattress company.)

Abner's main goal in life was evading the marital designs of Daisy Mae Scragg, the virtuous, voluptuous, barefoot Dogpatch damsel and scion of the Yokums' blood feud enemies, the (shudder!) Scraggs, her bloodthirsty, semi-evolved kinfolk. For 18 years, Abner slipped out of Daisy Mae's marital crosshairs time and again. When Capp finally gave in to reader pressure and allowed the couple to tie the knot, it was a major media event. It even made the cover of Life magazine on March 31, 1952 - illustrating an article by Capp entitled "It's Hideously True!! The Creator of Li'l Abner Tells Why His Hero Is (SOB!) Wed!!"

Daisy Mae (Scragg) Yokum: Beautiful Daisy Mae was hopelessly in love with Dogpatch's most prominent resident throughout the entire 43 year run of Al Capp's comic strip. During most of the epic, the impossibly dense Abner exhibited little romantic interest in her voluptuous charms (much of it visible daily thanks to her famous polka-dot peasant blouse and cropped skirt). In 1952, Abner reluctantly proposed to Daisy to emulate the engagement of his comic strip "ideel", Fearless Fosdick. Fosdick's own wedding to longtime fiancée Prudence Pimpleton turned out to be dream, but Abner and Daisy's ceremony, performed by Marryin' Sam, was permanent. Once married, Abner became relatively domesticated. Like Mammy Yokum and other wimmenfolk in Dogpatch, Daisy Mae did all the work, domestic and otherwise, while the useless menfolk generally did nothing whatsoever. Daisy Mae seldom complained, one of her countless virtues. Mammy Yokum: Born Pansy Hunks, Mammy was the scrawny, highly principled "sassiety" leader of the town of Dogpatch. She married the inconsequential Pappy Yokum in 1902; they produced two strapping sons twice their own size. Mammy dominated the Yokum clan through the force of her personality, and dominated everyone else with her fearsome right uppercut, (sometimes known as her "Goodnight, Irene" punch) which helped her uphold law, order and decency- as she saw them. She was consistently the toughest character throughout Li'l Abner. A superhuman dynamo, Mammy did all the household chores - and provided her charges with no less than 8 meals a day of "po'k chops" and "tarnips" (as well as local Dogpatch delicacies like "candied catfish eyeballs" and "trashbean soup"). Her authority was unquestioned, and her characteristic phrase, "Ah has spoken! ", signaled the end of all further discussion. Her most famous phrase, however, was "Good is better than evil becuz it's nicer." (Upon his retirement in 1977, Capp declared Mammy to be his personal favorite of all his characters.) Pappy Yokum: Born Lucifer Ornamental Yokum, pint-sized Pappy had the misfortune of being the patriarch in a family that didn't have one. Pappy was so lazy, he didn't even bathe himself. Mammy was regularly seen lathering and scrubbing Pappy in an outdoor oak tub. Ironing Pappy's trousers fell under her wifely duties as well, although she didn't bother with preliminaries, like waiting for Pappy to remove them first. While Mammy was the unofficial mayor of Dogpatch and could read, Pappy remained illiterate. Pappy was dull-witted and gullible, but not completely without guile - he had an unfortunate predilection for snitching "presarved tarnips," and smoking corn silk behind the woodshed.

Tiny Yokum: "Tiny" was a misnomer; Li'l Abner's kid brother remained perpetually innocent and 15 1/2 "yars" old - despite the fact that he was an imposing, 7-foot tall behemoth. Tiny was unknown to the strip until September 1954, when a relative who had been raising him reminded Mammy that she'd given birth to a second "chile" while visiting her 15 years earlier. (She explained that she would have dropped him off sooner, but waited until she happened to be in the neighborhood.) Capp introduced Tiny into the strip to fill the bachelor role played reliably for nearly two decades by Li'l Abner himself, until his fateful 1952 marriage to Daisy Mae threw the carefully orchestrated dynamic of the strip out of whack for a period. Pursued by local lovelies Hopeful Mudd and Boyless Bailey, Tiny was even dumber and more awkward than Abner, if that can be imagined. Tiny initially sported a bulbous nose like both of his parents', but eventually (through a plot contrivance) he was given a nose job and his shaggy hair was swept back to make him more appealing.

Honest Abe Yokum: Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae's little boy was born in 1953 after the celebrated marriage of his Dogpatch parents. Initially named Mysterious Yokum (there was even a doll marketed under this name) due to a debate regarding his gender (he was stuck in a pants-shaped stovepipe for the first 6 weeks), he was renamed Honest Abe (after President Lincoln) to thwart his early tendency to steal. His first words were "po'k chop," and that remained his favorite food. Though his uncle Tiny was perpetually frozen at 15 1/2 "yars" old, Honest Abe gradually grew from infant to grade school age, and became a dead ringer for Washable Jones, the star of Capp's early "topper" strip. He would eventually acquire a couple of supporting character friends for his own semi-regularly featured adventures in the strip.

Salomey: The Yokum's beloved pet, Salomey is the baby of the family. She's 100% "Hammus Alabammus" - an adorable species of pig - and the last one known in existence. A plump, juicy Hammus Alabammus is the most vital ingredient in "ecstasy sauce", an indescribably delicious gourmand delicacy - unfortunately for Salomey.

Supporting characters and villains

  • Marryin’ Sam: A traveling preacher who specializes in $2 weddings. He also offered the $8 "ultra-deluxe speshul", a spectacular ceremony in which Sam officiated while being drawn and quartered by four rampaging jackasses. He cleans up once a year - during Sadie Hawkins Day season, when slow-footed bachelors are dragged kicking and screaming to the altar by their respective brides-to-be. Sam was prominently featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1952 when he presided over the wedding of Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae. In the 1956 Broadway musical and 1959 film adaptation, Sam was perfectly played by rotund actor Stubby Kaye.
  • Moonbeam McSwine: The unwashed but shapely form of languid, delectable Moonbeam was one of the iconic hallmarks of Li'l Abner - an unkempt, impossibly lazy, corncob pipe-smoking, flagrant (and fragrant), raven-haired, earthly (and earthy) goddess. Moonbeam preferred the company of pigs to suitors - much to the frustration of her pappy, Moonshine McSwine. She was usually showcased luxuriating amongst the hogs, somewhat removed from the main action of the story, in a deliberate travesty of glamor magazines and pinup calendars of the day. Capp designed her in caricature of his wife, Catherine, who had also suggested Daisy Mae's name.
  • Hairless Joe and Lonesome Polecat: The proud purveyors of "Kickapoo Joy Juice" - a moonshine elixir of such stupefying potency that the fumes alone have been known to melt the rivets off battleships. Concocted in a large wooden vat by the inseparable cave-dwelling buddies Lonesome Polecat (he of the Fried Dog Indian tribe) and Hairless Joe (a modern, hirsute Cro-Magnon), the ingredients are both mysterious and all-encompassing, (much like the contents of their cave, which has been known to harbor prehistoric monsters.) When the brew needs more "body", the pair simply goes out and clubs one (often a moose), and tosses it in. An officially licensed soft drink called Kickapoo Joy Juice is still produced by Monarch Beverage of Atlanta, Inc.
  • Joe Btfsplk: The world's worst jinx, Joe Btfsplk had a perpetually dark rain cloud over his head; instantaneous bad luck befell anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity. Though well-meaning and friendly, his reputation inevitably precedes him, so Joe is a very lonely little man. He has an apparently unpronounceable name, but creator Al Capp "pronounced" Btfsplk by simply blowing a "raspberry", or Bronx cheer. Joe's personal black cloud became one of the most iconic images in the strip.
  • Senator Jack S. Phogbound: His name was a thinly disguised variant on "jackass", as made plain in his deathless campaign slogan (see Dialogue and Catchphrases). The senator was satirist Al Capp's parody of a blustering anti-New Deal Dixiecrat. Phogbound is a corrupt, conspiratorial blowhard; he often wears a coonskin cap and carries a ramrod rifle to impress his gullible constituents. In one sequence, Phogbound is unable to campaign in Dogpatch - so he sends his aides with an old hot air-filled gas bag that resembles him. Nobody noticed the difference.
  • Available Jones: Dogpatch entrepreneur Available Jones was always available - for a price. He provided anything from a safety pin to a battleship, but his most famous "provision" was his memorable cousin - Stupefyin' Jones.
  • Stupefyin’ Jones: A walking aphrodisiac, statuesque actress Julie Newmar became famous overnight for playing the small role in the 1956 Li'l Abner Broadway musical, without uttering a single line. Stupefyin' is so petrifyingly, drop-dead gorgeous that men who glimpse her literally freeze dead in their tracks - in a word: stupefied.
  • General Bullmoose: Created by Al Capp in June 1953 as the epitome of a mercenary, cold-blooded capitalist. Bullmoose's bombastic motto (see Dialogue and Catchphrases) was adapted by Capp from a statement made by Charles E. Wilson, the former head of General Motors, when it was America's largest corporation. He later served as Secretary of Defense under President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1952 Wilson told a Senate subcommittee, "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country." Li'l Abner became embroiled in many globetrotting adventures with the ruthless, reactionary billionaire over the years.
  • Wolf Gal: A feral, irredeemable, Amazonian beauty who was raised by wolves and preferred to live amongst them; she lured unwary Dogpatchers to their doom to feed her ravenous pack. Wolf Gal was possibly, and even probably a cannibal - although the point was never stressed since she considered herself an animal, as did the rest of Dogpatch.
  • Earthquake McGoon: Billing himself as "the world's dirtiest wrassler," the bearded, bloated McGoon first appeared in Li'l Abner as a traveling exhibition wrestler in the late '30s, and was reportedly partially based on real-life grappler, Man Mountain Dean. McGoon became increasingly prominent in the Li'l Abner Cream of Wheat print ads of the 1940s, and later, with the early television exposure of gimmicky wrestlers such as Gorgeous George. The randy McGoon often attempted to walk Daisy Mae home "Skonk Hollow style", the lascivious implications of which are never made specific.
  • The Scraggs: Hulking, leering, gap-toothed miscreants Lem and Luke, and their needlessly proud pappy, Romeo. Apelike and homicidal, the impossibly evil Scraggs were officially declared inhuman by an act of Congress. Kinfolk of Daisy Mae, they carried on a blood feud with the Yokums throughout the run of the strip. A long-lost kid sister named "*@!!*!"-Belle Scragg briefly joined the clan in 1947. Fetchingly-attired in a prison-striped reform school miniskirt, "*@!!*!"-Belle was outwardly attractive, but just as rotten as her siblings on the inside. Her censored first name was an expletive, compelling everyone who addressed her to apologize profusely afterwards.
  • The Square-Eyes Family: Mammy's revelatory encounter with these unpopular Dogpatch outcasts first appeared in 1956. The fable-like story was really a thinly-veiled appeal for racial tolerance, and was later issued as an educational comic book called Mammy Yokum and the Great Dogpatch Mystery! by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
  • Nightmare Alice: Dogpatch's own conjure woman; a hideous, cackling crone who practices Louisiana Voodoo and black magic. Capp named her after the carnival-themed horror film, Nightmare Alley (1947).
  • Ol' Man Mose: The mysterious Mose was reportedly hundreds of "yars" old, and lived like a hermit in a cave atop a mountain. His wisdom was absolute, and his sought-after Sadie Hawkins Day predictions - though frustratingly cryptic and infuriatingly misleading - were nonetheless 100% accurate.
  • Evil-Eye Fleegle: Fleegle had a unique and terrifying skill - the evil eye. An ordinary "whammy," as he called it, could stop a charging bull in its tracks. A "double whammy" could fell a skyscraper, leaving Fleegle exhausted. His dreaded "triple whammy" could melt a battleship - but would practically kill Fleegle in the process. The zoot suit-clad Fleegle was a native of Brooklyn, and his hilarious New York accent was unmistakable - especially when addressing his "goil", Shoiley.
  • J. Roaringham Fatback: The self-styled "Pork King" was a greedy, gluttonous, unscrupulous business tycoon. Incensed to find that Dogpatch cast a shadow on his breakfast egg, he had Dogpatch moved - instead of the egg. The porcine Fatback was, quite literally, a corporate swine.
  • Gat Garson: Li'l Abner's double - a murderous racketeer, with a predilection for Daisy Mae.
  • Aunt Bessie: Mammy's socialite sister was the "white sheep" of the family. Bessie's string of marriages into Boston and Park Avenue aristocracy left her a class-conscious, condescending snob. Her status-seeking crusade to makeover Abner and marry him off into high society was doomed to failure, however. Aunt Bessie virtually disappeared from the strip after Abner and Daisy Mae's marriage in 1952.
  • Big Barnsmell: Lonely "inside man" at the Skonk Works. Scores have been done in by the toxic fumes of the concentrated "skonk oil" which is brewed and barreled daily by Big Barnsmell and his cousin, "outside man" Barney Barnsmell, for some unspecified purpose. His job played havoc with his social life, and the name of his famous factory entered the culture via the Lockheed Corporation.
  • Soft-Hearted John: Dogpatch's impossibly mercenary, thoroughly blackhearted grocer, the ironically named Soft-Hearted John gleefully swindled and starved his clientele - and looked disturbingly satanic to boot.
  • Smilin' Zack: Cadaverous, outwardly peaceable mountaineer with a menacing grin and an even more menacing shotgun. He preferred things quiet. Real quiet, that is - as in not breathing or anything.
  • Cap’n Eddie Ricketyback: Decrepit World War I aviator and owner/operator of the even more decrepit Dogpatch Airlines; Cap'n Eddie's name was a spoof of WWI fighter ace, Eddie Rickenbacker.
  • Weakeyes Yokum: Before Mister Magoo there was Dogpatch's own Cousin Weakeyes, who would tragically mistake grizzly bears for romantically-inclined "rich gals" in fur coats, and end a sequence by characteristically walking off a cliff.
  • Young Eddie McSkonk and U.S. Mule: Ancient, creaky, white-bearded Dogpatch postmaster and his hoary jackass mount. They were usually too feeble to handle the sacks of timeworn, cobweb-covered letters at the Dogpatch Express post office.
  • J. Colossal McGenius: The brilliant marketing consultant who charged $10,000 per word for his sought-after business advice. McGenius was given to telling long-winded jokes with forgotten punch lines, however - as well as spells of hiccups and belches which, at ten grand a pop, usually bankrupted his unfortunate clients.
  • Big Stanislouse: (aka Big Julius) Stanislouse was a brutal gangster with a childish fondness for kiddie TV superheroes (like "Chickensouperman" and "Milton the Masked Martian"). Part of a virtual goon squad of comic mobsters that inhabited Li'l Abner and Fearless Fosdick, the oafish Stanislouse alternated with other all-purpose underworld thug-types, including The Boys from the Syndicate, Capp's euphemism for The Mob.
  • Appassionata Von Climax: One of a series of predatory, sexually aggressive sirens who pursued Li'l Abner prior to his marriage, much to the consternation of Daisy Mae. Joining a long list of femmes fatales that included Tenderlief Ericson, Gloria Van Welbilt and The Tigress; Appassionata was memorably portrayed by both Tina Louise (onstage) and Stella Stevens (on film). Capp always wondered how he ever got her suggestive name past the censors.
  • Princess Minihahaskirt: Decades before Disney's Pocahontas, the sexiest cartoon Indian princesses could be found in Li'l Abner. The latest in a series of lovely native maidens who enticed the normally stoic Lonesome Polecat, the list also included Minnie Mustache, Raving Dove and Princess Two Feathers.
  • Pantless Perkins: A very late addition to the strip, Capp introduced Honest Abe's brainy pal Pantless Perkins in a series of kid-themed stories in the seventies, probably to compete with Peanuts. Poor Pantless didn't own a single pair of trousers; he wore an over-length turtleneck sweater to hide the fact, much to his embarrassment.
  • Rotten Ralphie: The kiddie version of Earthquake McGoon, Ralphie lived up to his name - he was the perfectly rotten Dogpatch neighborhood bully. Exceedingly large for his age, Ralphie always wore a cowboy outfit that was several sizes too small.
  • Jubilation T. Cornpone: Dogpatch's "founder" and most famous son, memorialized by a town statue, is confederate General Jubilation T. Cornpone - renown for "Cornpone's Retreat," "Cornpone's Disaster," "Cornpone's Rout," and "Cornpone's Hoomiliation." The hapless general is really best known for being the namesake of the rousing showstopper in the popular Li'l Abner musical, as sung by Stubby Kaye and chorus.
  • Sadie Hawkins: In the early days of Dogpatch, Sadie Hawkins was "the homeliest gal in them hills" who grew frantic waiting for suitors to come a-courtin'. Her father Hekzebiah Hawkins, a prominent Dogpatch resident, was even more frantic - about Sadie living at home for the rest of his life. So he decreed the first annual Sadie Hawkins Day, a foot race in which all the unmarried women pursued the town's bachelors, with matrimony as the consequence. A pseudo-holiday entirely created in the strip, Sadie Hawkins Day is still observed in the form of dances at which women approach (or chase after) men.
  • Lena the Hyena: A hideous Lower Slobbovian gal, referred to but initially unseen, or only glimpsed from the neck down in Li'l Abner. Capp invited readers to draw Lena in a famous nationwide contest in 1946. Lena was ultimately revealed in the harrowing winning entry, (as judged by Frank Sinatra, Boris Karloff and Salvador Dali) drawn by noted cartoonist Basil Wolverton.
  • Joanie Phoanie: An unabashed Communist radical who sang revolutionary songs of class warfare - while hypocritically traveling in a limousine and charging outrageous concert appearance fees. Joanie was Capp's notorious parody of protest singer/songwriter Joan Baez. The character caused a storm of controversy in 1966, and many newspapers would only run censored versions of the strips. Baez took Capp's implicit satire to heart, however, as she would admit years later in her autobiography: "Mr Capp confused me considerably. I'm sorry he's not alive to read this, it would make him chuckle," (from And A Voice To Sing With, 1987)
  • S.W.I.N.E.: Capp used Li'l Abner to satirize current events, fads, and ephemeral popular culture (such as zoot suits in "Zoot Suit Yokum" in 1943). Beginning in the mid-1960s, the strip became a forum for Capp's increasingly conservative political views. Capp, who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just a stone's throw from Harvard - satirized campus radicals, student political groups and hippies during the Vietnam protest era. The Youth International Party (Y.I.P.) and Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.) emerged in Li'l Abner as S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything!).
  • Al Capp claimed that he always strived to give incidental characters in Li'l Abner names that would render all further description unnecessary. In that spirit, the following list of recurring semi-regulars (and a few one-shots) are unreferenced: Tobacco Rhoda, Joan L. Sullivan, Romeo McHaystack, Hamfat Gooch, Global McBlimp, Concertino Constipato, the Widder Fruitful, Dr. Killmare, J. Sweetbody Goodpants, Bet-a-Million Bashby, Reactionary J. Repugnant, B. Fowler McNest, Silent Yokum, Fleabrain, Weakfish, Stubborn P. Tolliver, Idiot J. Tolliver, Battling McNoodnik, Slobberlips McJab, One-Fault Jones, Bounder J. Roundheels, Sir Orble Gasse-Payne, Loverboynik... and a host of others.

Fearless Fosdick

Li'l Abner also featured a comic-strip-within-the-comic-strip: Fearless Fosdick was a parody of Chester Gould's plainclothes detective, Dick Tracy. It first appeared in 1942, and proved so popular that it ran intermittently in Li'l Abner over the next 35 years. Gould was also personally parodied in the series as cartoonist Lester Gooch - the scrawny, much-harassed and occasionally deranged "creator" of Fearless Fosdick. The style of the Fosdick sequences closely mimicked Tracy, including the urban setting, the outrageous villains, the lettering style, even Gould's familiar signature was parodied in Fearless Fosdick.

The razor-jawed title character (Li'l Abner's "ideel") was perpetually riddled by flying bullets until he resembled a slice of Swiss cheese. The impervious Fosdick considered the smoking holes "mere flesh wounds", however, and always reported back to his corrupt superior, The Chief, for duty the next day. He never married his own long-suffering fiancée Prudence Pimpleton, but Fosdick was directly responsible for the unwitting marriage of his biggest fan, Li'l Abner to Daisy Mae in 1952. The bumbling detective became the star of his own NBC TV puppet show that same year. Fosdick also achieved considerable exposure as the long-running advertising spokesman for Wildroot Cream-Oil, a popular men's hair product of the period. (See also: Fearless Fosdick)

Setting and fictitious locales

Although ostensibly set in the American Ozarks, situations often took the characters to different destinations - including New York City, Washington D.C., Hollywood, the South American Amazon, tropical islands, the Moon, Mars, etc. - as well as some purely fanciful worlds.


Exceeding every burlesque stereotype of Appalachia, the impoverished backwater of Dogpatch consisted mostly of hopelessly ramshackle log cabins, "tarnip" fields, pine trees and hog wallows. Most Dogpatchers were shiftless and ignorant, the remainder were scoundrels and thieves. The menfolk were too lazy to work, yet Dogpatch gals were desperate enough to chase them (see Sadie Hawkins Day). Those who farmed their turnip fields watched Turnip termites swarm by the billions every year, locust-like, to devour Dogpatch's only crop, (along with their livestock and all their clothing.)

In the midst of the Great Depression, the hardscrabble residents of lowly Dogpatch allowed suffering Americans to laugh at yokels even worse off than they were. In Al Capp's own words, Dogpatch was "an average stone-age community nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills somewhere." Very early in the continuity Capp once referred to Dogpatch being in Kentucky, but he was careful afterwards to keep its location generic, probably to avoid cancellations from offended subscribing newspapers in Kentucky. Later Capp licensed and was part-owner of an 800-acre $35 million theme park called Dogpatch USA near Harrison, Arkansas.

Lower Slobbovia

As utterly wretched as existence was in Dogpatch, there was one place even worse: frigid, faraway Lower Slobbovia was fashioned as a pointedly political satire of backward nations and foreign diplomacy. The hapless residents were perpetually waist-deep in several feet of snow, and icicles hung from almost every frostbitten nose. The favorite dish of the starving natives was raw polar bear, and "vice-versa". Lower Slobbovians spoke with burlesque pidgin-Russian accents; the miserable frozen wasteland of Capp's invention abounded in incongruous Yiddish humor.

Conceptually based on Siberia, or perhaps specifically on Birobidzhan, Capp's icy hellhole was ruled by King Stubbornovsky the Last, later changed to King Nogoodnik. The Slobbovian politicians were even more corrupt than their Dogpatch counterparts. Their monetary unit was the "Rasbucknik", of which one was worth nothing, and a large quantity was worth a lot less, due to the trouble of carrying them around.

Other fictional locales

Skonk Hollow, El Passionato, Kigmyland, the Republic of Crumbumbo, Lo Kunning, Planets Pincus Number 2 and 7, Pineapple Junction, and most notably, the Valley of the Shmoon.

Shmoos and other mythic creatures

The Shmoo, introduced in 1948, was a fabulous creature whose generous nature and incredible usefulness ironically made it a threat to capitalism, to western society, and perhaps to civilization itself. Li'l Abner featured a whole menagerie of allegorical animals over the years - each one was designed to showcase another disturbing aspect of human nature. They included:

  • Kigmies - masochistic creatures who loved to be kicked, and thereby satisfy all human aggression - up to a point.
  • Nogoodniks - or evil shmoos.
  • Bald Iggles - guileless little critters whose soulful gaze compelled everyone to tell the truth, including lawyers, politicians, fishermen, and used car salesmen
  • Mimikniks - birds who sing like anyone they've ever heard. (Those who've heard Maria Callas are valued. Those who've heard George Jessel are shot.)
  • Money Ha-Has - aliens with heads shaped like taxi horns, they lay U.S. currency in place of eggs.
  • Turnip Termites - looking like a cross between a locust and a piranha, billions of these insatiable pests swarm once a year to their ancient feeding ground, Dogpatch.
  • Shminks - valued for making "shmink coats". They can only be captured by braining 'em with a kitchen door.
  • Pincushions - alien beings from "Planet Pincus Number 7". They looked like flying sausages, with pinwheels on their butts.
  • Abominable Snow-Hams - delectable but intelligent beings, presenting Tiny Yokum with an ethical dilemma. Does eating one constitute cannibalism?
  • Slobbovian Amp-Eaters - this luminous beast consumed electric currents; a walking energy crisis.
  • Bashful Bulganiks - timid birds that are so skittish they can't be seen by human eyes, and are thus theoretical.
  • Stunflowers - murderous, thoroughly malevolent anthropomorphic houseplants.
  • Fatoceroses - the only defense against a stampede of these bloated pachyderms was a steaming plate of lethally addictive "mockaroni".
  • Bitingales - fiendish little devil birds whose hellish bite causes unbearable heat - for 24 years.
  • Shmeagles - the world's horniest creatures, they pursue their females at the speed of light - sometimes faster!
  • Hammus Alabammus - an adorable species of pig. The only one in existence resides with the Yokums - their beloved pet, Salomey.

Dialogue and catchphrases

Al Capp, a native Northeasterner, wrote all the final dialogue in Li'l Abner using his approximation of a mock-Southern dialect, (including phonetic sounds, nonstop "creative" spelling and deliberate malaprops). He constantly interspersed boldface type, and included prompt words in parentheses (chuckle!, sob!, gasp!, shudder!, smack!, drool!, cackle!, snort!, etc.) as asides - to bolster the effect of the printed dialogue balloons. Almost every line was followed by two explanation points for added emphasis.

Outside Dogpatch, characters used a variety of stock Vaudevillian dialects. Mobsters and criminal-types invariably spoke slangy Brooklynese, and residents of Lower Slobbovia spoke pidgin-Russian, with a smattering of Yinglish. Comic dialects were also devised for offbeat British characters - like H'Inspector Blugstone of Scotland Yard (who had a Cockney accent) and Sir Cecil Cesspool, (whose speech was a clipped, uppercrust King's English). Various Asian, Latin, Native American and European characters spoke in a wide range of specific, broadly caricatured dialects as well. Capp has credited his inspiration for vividly stylized language to early literary influences like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Damon Runyon, as well as Old-time radio and the Burlesque stage.

The following is a partial list of characteristic expressions that reappeared often in Li'l Abner.

  • “Amoozin' but confoozin'!”
  • “Yo' big, sloppy beast!!” (also, “Yo’ mizzable skonk!")
  • “Ef Ah had mah druthers, Ah'd druther...”
  • “As any fool kin plainly see!”
  • “What's good for General Bullmoose is good for everybody!”
  • “Thar's no Jack S. like our Jack S!”
  • “Oh, happy day!”
  • “Pearly gates, open wide!”
  • “Th’ ideel o’ ev’ry one hunnerd percent, red-blooded American boy!”
  • "Wal, fry mah hide!"
  • “Ah has spoken!”
  • “Good is better than evil, becuz it's nicer!”

Toppers and alternate strips

Licensing and advertising

Al Capp was a master of the art of product endorsement, and Li'l Abner characters were often featured in American advertising campaigns. Dogpatch characters pitched products as varied as Grape Nuts cereal, Kraft caramels, Ivory soap, Oxydol, Duz and Dreft detergents, Fruit of the Loom, Orange Crush, Nestle's cocoa, Cheney neckties, Pedigree pencils, Strunk chainsaws, Head and Shoulders shampoo and General Electric light bulbs. There was even a Dogpatch-themed family restaurant called Li'l Abner's in Louisville, KY.

Capp himself appeared in numerous print ads. A chain-smoker, he happily plugged Chesterfield cigarettes; he appeared in Schaeffer fountain pens ads with his friends Milton Caniff and Walt Kelly; pitched the Famous Artists School (in which he had a financial interest); and, though a professed teetotaler, he personally endorsed Rheingold beer, among other products.

  • Cream Of Wheat: During the 1940s and '50s, Abner was the spokesman for Cream of Wheat cereal in a long-running series of magazine ads.
  • Wildroot Cream-Oil: (See also: Fearless Fosdick)
  • Kickapoo Joy Juice: The lethal brew known as Kickapoo Joy Juice, featured in the strip and characterized as "moonshine" or bootleg liquor, has been a brand in real-life since 1965, produced by the Monarch Beverage Company. As with Mountain Dew, another euphemism for moonshine, the actual product is a soft-drink. To this day the product's label features Capp's characters Hairless Joe and Lonesome Polecat; while distribution currently includes the United States, Canada, Signapore, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand.
  • Toys and Licensed Merchandise: (See also: Shmoo)
  • Dogpatch USA: In 1968, a theme park called Dogpatch USA opened at Marble Falls, Arkansas, based on Capp's work and with his support. The park was a popular attraction during the 1970s, but was closed in 1993 due to financial difficulties. Several attempts have been made to reopen the park but at present it lies abandoned. As of late 2005, the area once devoted to a live-action facsimile of Dogpatch (including a lifesize statue in the town square of Dogpatch "founder", Jubilation T. Cornpone) has been heavily stripped by vandals and souvenir hunters, and is today slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding Arkansas wilderness.

Awards and recognition

Fans of the strip ranged from novelist John Steinbeck, who called Capp "the best writer in the world" in 1953, and even earnestly recommended him for the Nobel Prize in literature - to media critic and theorist Marshall McLuhan, who considered Capp "the only robust satirical force in American life." Charlie Chaplin, John Updike, William F. Buckley, Al Hirschfeld, Harpo Marx, Russ Meyer, John Kenneth Galbraith, Ralph Bakshi, and (reportedly) even Queen Elizabeth admitted to being fans of Li'l Abner. (See also: Al Capp)

Influence and legacy

Sadie Hawkins Day

An American folk event, Sadie Hawkins Day made its debut in Li'l Abner on November 15, 1937. Capp originally created it as a comic plot device, but in 1939, only two years after its inauguration, a double-page spread in Life proclaimed, "On Sadie Hawkins Day Girls Chase Boys in 201 Colleges." By the early 1940s the comic strip event had swept the nation's imagination and acquired a life of its own. By 1952, the event was reportedly celebrated at 40,000 known venues. It became a woman-empowering rite at high schools and college campuses, long before the modern feminist movement gained prominence.

Outside the comic strip, the practical basis of Sadie Hawkins Day is simply one of gender role-reversal. Women and girls take the initiative in inviting the man or boy of their choice out on a date - unheard of before 1937 - typically to a dance attended by other bachelors and their assertive dates. When Capp created the event, it wasn't his intention to have it occur annually on a specific date, because it inhibited his freewheeling plotting. However, due to its enormous popularity and the numerous fan letters he received, Capp made it a tradition in the strip every November, lasting four decades. In many localities the tradition continues.

Additions to the language

Sadie Hawkins Day is one of several terms attributed to Al Capp that have entered the English language. Others include Skunk Works and Lower Slobbovia. The term shmoo has also entered the language; used in defining highly technical concepts in no less than three separate fields of science. In economics, a "shmoo" refers to any generic kind of good that reproduces itself, (as opposed to "widgets" which require resources and active production.) In microbiology, "shmooing" is the biological term for the "budding" process in yeast reproduction. In electrical engineering, a shmoo plot is the technical term used for the graphic pattern of test circuits. (The term is also used as a verb: to "shmoo" means to run the test.)

Capp has also been credited with popularizing many terms, such as "double whammy", "natcherly", "druthers", and "nogoodnik", "neatnik", etc. (In his book The American Language, H.L. Mencken credits the postwar mania for adding "-nik" to the ends of adjectives to create nouns as beginning, not with beatnik or Sputnik, but earlier - in the pages of Li'l Abner.)

Franchise ownership

"Capp was an aggressive and fearless businessman. Nearly all comic strips, even today, are owned and controlled by syndicates, not the strips' creators. And virtually all cartoonists remain content with their diluted share of any merchandising revenue their syndicates arrange. When the starving and broke Capp first sold Li'l Abner in 1934 (only 8 newspapers initially subscribed) he gladly accepted the syndicate's standard onerous contract. But in 1947 Capp sued United Feature Syndicate for $14 million, publicly embarrassed UFS in Li'l Abner, and wrested ownership and control of his creation the following year." (Denis Kitchen)

In October of 1947, Li'l Abner met Rockwell P. Squeezeblood, head of the abusive and corrupt Squeezeblood comic strip syndicate. The sequence, "Jack Jawbreaker!", was a devastating satire of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's notorious exploitation by DC Comics. It was later reprinted in The World Of Li'l Abner (1953).

Social commentary in comic strips

Through Li'l Abner, the American comic strip achieved unprecedented relevance in the postwar years, attracting new readers who were more intellectual, more informed on current events, and less likely to read the comics (according to Coulton Waugh, author of The Comics, 1947). "When Li'l Abner made its debut in 1934, the vast majority of comic strips were designed chiefly to amuse or thrill their readers. Capp turned that world upside-down by routinely injecting politics and social commentary into Li'l Abner," wrote comics historian Richard Marschall in America's Great Comic Strip Artists (1989). With adult readers far outnumbering juveniles, Li'l Abner forever cleared away the concept that humor strips were solely the domain of adolescents and children. Li'l Abner provided a whole new template for contemporary satire and personal expression in comics, paving the way for Pogo, Feiffer, Doonesbury, and Mad.

Capp was also an outspoken pioneer in favor of diversifying the National Cartoonist Society by admitting women cartoonists. The NCS disallowed female members before 1949. According to Tom Roberts, author of Alex Raymond: His Life And Art (2007), Al Capp authored a stirring monologue that was instrumental in changing the rules, finally allowing female members the following year.


Fearless Fosdick was almost certainly Harvey Kurtzman's major inspiration for creating his irreverent Mad magazine, which began as a comic book that specifically parodied other comics in 1952. Similarities between Li'l Abner and the early Mad are unmistakable: the incongruous use of mock-Yiddish terms, the nose-thumbing disdain for pop culture icons, the persistent black humor, and- most unmistakably- the extremely broad visual styling. Even the trademark comic "signs" that clutter the backgrounds of Will Elder's panels would seem to have a precedent in Li'l Abner, in the residence of Dogpatch entrepreneur Available Jones. Tellingly, Kurtzman resisted parodying either Li'l Abner or Dick Tracy in the comic book Mad, despite their prominence.

Parodies and imitations

Li'l Abner was parodied (as "Li'l Melvin") in the pages of EC Comics' other humor publication, Panic (1954), edited by Al Feldstein. Kurtzman eventually did spoof Li'l Abner (as "Li'l Ab'r") in 1957, in his short-lived humor magazine,Trump. (Both the Trump and Panic parodies were drawn by EC legend, Will Elder.) In 1947, Will Eisner's The Spirit satirized the comic strip business in general, as a denizen of Central City tries to murder cartoonist "Al Slapp", creator of "Li'l Adam".

Li'l Abner's success also sparked a handful of comic strip imitators. Ozark Ike (1945 - '53) and Cotton Woods (1955 - '58), both by Ray Gotto, were clearly inspired by Capp's strip. A derivative hillbilly feature called Looie Lazybones, an out-and-out imitation (drawn by a young Frank Frazetta) ran in several issues of Standard's Thrilling Comics in the late 1940's. Later, many fans and critics saw Paul Henning's popular TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962 - 1971) as owing much of its inspiration to Li'l Abner, prompting Playboy Magazine to ask Capp about the similarities in a 1965 interview.

Popularity and production

At its peak, Li'l Abner was read daily by 70 million Americans (when the U.S. population was only 180 million) with a circulation of more than 900 newspapers in North America.

During the extended peak of the strip, the workload grew to include advertising, merchandising, promotional work, public service and other specialty work - in addition to the regular six dailies and one Sunday strip per week. Capp had a platoon of assistants in later years, who worked under his direct supervision. They included Andy Amato, Harvey Curtis, Walter Johnson and, notably, Frank Frazetta - before his fame as a fantasy artist.

Sensitive to his own experience working on Joe Palooka, Capp frequently drew attention to his assistants in interviews and publicity pieces. A 1950 cover story in Time even included photos of two of his employees, whose roles in the production were detailed by Capp. Ironically, this highly irregular policy has led to the misconception that his strip was "ghosted" by other hands. The production of Li'l Abner has been well documented, however. In point of fact, Capp maintained creative control over every stage of production for virtually the entire run of the strip. Capp himself originated the stories, wrote the dialogue, designed the major characters, rough penciled the preliminary staging and action of each panel, oversaw the finished pencils, and drew and inked the faces and hands of the characters.

"Many have commented on the shift in Capp's political viewpoint, from as liberal as Pogo in his early years to as conservative as Little Orphan Annie when he reached middle age. At one extreme, he displayed consistently devastating humor, while at the other, his mean-spiritedness came to the fore — but which was which seems to depend on the commentator's own point of view. From beginning to end, Capp was acid-tongued toward the targets of his wit, intolerant of hypocrisy, and always wickedly funny. After about 40 years, however, Capp's interest in Abner waned, and this showed in the the strip itself." (from Don Markstein's Toonopedia)

Li'l Abner lasted until November 13, 1977, when Capp retired with an apology to his fans for the recently declining quality of the strip, which he said had been the best he could manage due to advancing illness. "Oh hell, it's like a fighter retiring. I stayed on longer than I should have," he admitted." When he retired Li'l Abner, newspapers ran expansive articles and television commentators talked about the passing of an era. People magazine ran a substantial feature, and even the comics-free New York Times devoted nearly a full page to the event. Capp died from emphysema two years later, at his home in South Hampton, New Hampshire, on November 5, 1979

In 1988 and 1989 many newspapers ran reruns of Li'l Abner episodes, mostly from the 1940s run, distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Association and Capp Enterprises. Following the 1989 revival of the Pogo comic strip, a revival of L'il Abner was also planned in 1990. Drawn by cartoonist Steve Stiles, the new Abner was approved by Capp's widow and brother, Elliott Caplin, but Al Capp's daughter, Julie Capp, objected at the last minute and permission was withdrawn.

Li’l Abner in other media

Radio and recordings

With John Hodiak in the title role, the Li'l Abner radio serial ran weekdays on NBC from Chicago, November 20, 1939 to December 6, 1940. The radio show was not written by Al Capp - but by Charles Gussman. However, Gussman consulted closely with Capp on the storylines.

  • The Shmoo Sings with Earl Rogers - 78 rpm Allegro (1948)
  • Li'l Abner (Original Cast Recording) - LP Columbia (1956)
  • Li'l Abner (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - LP Columbia (1959)
  • Interview With Al Capp - EP Folkways (1959)
  • Li'l Abner Fo' Chillun - LP 20th FOX (circa 1964)
  • Al Capp On Campus - LP Jubilee (1969)

Comic books and reprints

  • Tip-Top Comics series (St. John) 1936 - 1946
  • Li'l Abner series (Harvey / Toby Press) 1947 - 1955
  • Al Capp's Shmoo Comics series (Toby Press)
  • Wolf Gal series (Toby Press)
  • Dogpatch series (Toby Press)
  • Al Capp by Li'l Abner - Public service giveaway issued by the Red Cross (1946)
  • Yo' Bets Yo' Life! - Public service giveaway issued by the U.S. Army (circa 1950)
  • Li'l Abner Joins The Navy - Public service giveaway issued by the Dept. of the Navy (1950)
  • Mammy Yokum And The Great Dogpatch Mystery! - Public service giveaway issued by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (1956)
  • Operation: Survival! - Public service giveaway issued by the Dept. of Civil Defense (1957)
  • Natural Disasters! - Public service giveaway issued by the Dept. of Civil Defense (1957)
  • Li'l Abner And The Creatures From Drop-Outer Space - Public service giveaway issued by the Job Corps (1965)

No comprehensive reprint of the series had been attempted until Kitchen Sink Press began reprinting the dailies in hardback and paperback, one year per volume, in 1988. The demise of KSP in 1997 stopped the reprint series at volume 27 (1961). More recently, Dark Horse Comics reprinted the limited series; Al Capp's Li'l Abner: The Frazetta Years, in four volumes covering 1954-1961. Since his death, Al Capp and his work have been the subject of close to 40 books, including three biographies. Underground cartoonist and Li'l Abner expert Denis Kitchen has published, collaborated on, or otherwise served as consultant on nearly all of them. (See also: For further reading)

Animation and puppetry

Beginning in 1944, Li'l Abner was adapted into a series of color theatrical cartoons for Columbia Pictures. Al Capp was reportedly not pleased with the results, and the series was discontinued after five shorts.

In 1952, Fearless Fosdick proved popular enough to be incorporated into a short-lived TV series. An ambitious puppet show created and directed by Mary Chase, Fearless Fosdick premiered on Sunday afternoons on NBC. 13 episodes were produced, featuring the Mary Chase marionettes.

Stage, film and television

The first Li'l Abner movie was made at RKO in 1940, starring Jeff York (credited as Granville Owen), Martha O'Driscoll, Mona Ray and Johnnie Morris. Although this movie lacked the political satire and Broadway polish of the 1959 version, it gave a fairly accurate portrayal of the various Dogpatch characters up until that time. Of particular note is the appearance of Buster Keaton as Lonesome Polecat, and a title song with lyrics by Milton Berle. The story concerns Daisy Mae's efforts to catch Li'l Abner on Sadie Hawkins Day. Since this movie predates their comic strip marriage, Abner makes a last-minute escape, (natcherly).

A much more successful musical comedy adaptation of the strip, also entitled Li'l Abner, opened on Broadway at the St. James Theater on November 15, 1956 and had a long run of 693 performances, followed by nationwide tours. The stage musical, with music and lyrics by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, was adapted into a motion picture at Paramount in 1959 by producer Norman Panama and director Melvin Frank, with Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish, Julie Newmar, Stella Stevens, Stubby Kaye, Billie Hayes, and cameos by Jerry Lewis, Valerie Harper and Donna Douglas. The musical has since become a perennial favorite of high school and amateur productions, due to its popular appeal and modest production requirements.


  • LI'L ABNER (1940) RKO
  • KICKAPOO JOY JUICE (1944) Columbia
  • AMOOZIN' BUT CONFOOZIN' (1944) Columbia
  • A PEE-KOOL-YAR SIT-CHEE-AY-SHUN (1944) Columbia
  • PORKULIAR PIGGY (1944) Columbia
  • SADIE HAWKINS DAY (1944) Columbia
  • PEOPLE ON PAPER (aka MGM PASSING PARADE #55, 1945) (cameo by Al Capp)
  • THIS IS AMERICA: FUNNY BUSINESS (1948) RKO (cameo by Al Capp)
  • FEARLESS FOSDICK (1952) NBC-TV (series) 13 episodes
  • WHAT'S THE STORY? (1953) DuMont (series, hosted by Al Capp)
  • ANYONE CAN WIN (1953) CBS-TV (series, hosted by Al Capp)
  • THAT CERTAIN FEELING (1956) Paramount (cameo by Al Capp)
  • LI'L ABNER (1959) Paramount
  • LI'L ABNER (1966) Unsold television pilot with Sammy Jackson and Judy Canova
  • DO BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN? (1967) NBC-TV (special)
  • THIS IS AL CAPP (1970) NBC-TV (special)
  • LI'L ABNER (1971) NBC-TV (special)
  • IMAGINE: JOHN LENNON (1988) Warner Bros. (cameo by Al Capp)

Beyond the comic strip

  • The 1989 film I Want To Go Home (Je Veux Rentrer A La Maison, screenplay by Jules Feiffer) has a scene where the main character, a cartoonist played by Adolph Green, makes an unexpectedly emotional appeal for Al Capp.
  • The original Dogpatch is a historical part of San Francisco dating back to the 1860s that escaped the earthquake and fire of 1906.
  • Al Capp always claimed to have effectively created the miniskirt, when he first put one on Daisy Mae in 1934.
  • Li'l Abner was censored for the first, but not the last time in September of 1947, and was pulled from papers by Scripps-Howard. The controversy, as reported in Time, centered around Capp's portrayal of the US Senate. Said Edward Leech of Scripps, "We don't think it is good editing or sound citizenship to picture the Senate as an assemblage of freaks and crooks... boobs and undesirables."
  • Li'l Abner has one odd design quirk that has puzzled readers for decades: the part in his hair always faces the viewer, no matter which direction Abner is facing. In response to the question “Which side does Abner part his hair on?", Capp would answer, “Both.”
  • The Shmoo character was used in two Hanna-Barbera produced Saturday morning cartoon series in the 1970s and 1980s. First in the 1979 The New Shmoo cartoon series (later incorporated into Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo) and then from 1980 to 1984 in the Flintstone Comedy Show in the Bedrock Cops segment.
  • "Natcherly", Capp's bastardization of "naturally", turns up occasionally in popular culture - even without a specifically rural theme. It can be found in West Side Story, for instance, in Stephen Sondheim's original lyrics to Gee, Officer Krupke.
  • In the last panel of a Little Annie Fanny story, a preview bill on a wall announcing an act appearing soon shows Lonesome Polecat and Hairless Joe, with the caption, "Coming--The @??!!!#$%??&*!!"
  • A Fred Lincoln-directed pornographic movie titled Daisy May was released in 1979 and was loosely based on Li'l Abner.
  • In the popular film The Notebook (2004), the characters Noah and Allie go to the movies to see Li'l Abner on their first date.

For further reading

  • Capp, Al, LI’L ABNER IN NEW YORK (1936)
  • Sheridan, Martin, COMICS AND THEIR CREATORS (1942)
  • Waugh, Coulton, THE COMICS (1947)
  • Capp, Al, THE WORLD OF LI'L ABNER (1953)
  • Mikes, George, EIGHT HUMORISTS (1954)
  • Capp, Al, AL CAPP'S FEARLESS FOSDICK: His Life And Deaths (1956)
  • Capp, Al, AL CAPP'S BALD IGGLE: The Life It Ruins May Be Your Own (1956)
  • Brodbeck, Arthur J, et al "HOW TO READ LI'L ABNER INTELLIGENTLY" from MASS CULTURE: The Popular Arts In America (1957)
  • Capp, Al, THE RETURN OF THE SHMOO (1959)
  • White, David Manning, ed. FROM DOGPATCH TO SLOBBOVIA (1964)
  • Berger, Arthur Asa, LI'L ABNER: A Study In American Satire (1970)
  • Robinson, Jerry, THE COMICS: An Illustrated History Of Comic Strip Art (1974)
  • Marschall, Richard, CARTOONIST PROfiles #37 (March 1978)
  • Capp, Al, THE BEST OF LI'L ABNER (1978)
  • Van Buren, Raeburn, ABBIE AN' SLATS - 2 Volumes (1983)
  • Capp, Al, LI'L ABNER: Reuben Award Winner Series Book 1 (1985)
  • Marschall, Richard, NEMO Magazine #18 (April 1986)
  • Capp, Al, LI'L ABNER DAILIES - 27 Volumes (1988 - 1997)
  • Capp, Al, FEARLESS FOSDICK (1990)
  • Capp, Al, FEARLESS FOSDICK: The Hole Story (1992)
  • Caplin, Elliot, AL CAPP REMEMBERED (1994)
  • Marschall, Richard, AMERICA'S GREAT COMIC STRIP ARTISTS (1997)
  • Theroux, Alexander, THE ENIGMA OF AL CAPP (1999)
  • Capp, Al, AL CAPP'S LI'L ABNER: The Frazetta Years - 4 Volumes (2003)
  • Kitchen, Denis, ed. AL CAPP'S SHMOO: The Complete Comic Books (2008)


See also

External links

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