Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today... to put an unfortunate miserable critter aWAAAAAY! (better he were hung first)

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One eBay auction I don't feel badly about mentioning here, even with my dearth of recent posts, is this one: the first four volumes of Kitchen Sink Press's Li'l Abner. Li'l Abner is one of the most influential and important comic strips in comics history, with a range and significance that almost no strip has ever equalled. This is four solid years of Li'l Abner, starting from the very first strip and going through the inaugration of the Sadie Hawkins Day Race (and the running of the second race, which established it as a tradition, and led to nationwide "Sadie Hawkins dances" for decades to come).

Li'l Abner reached a point where the wedding of Abner and Daisy Mae actually made the cover of Life Magazine (at a time when Life was the seminal journal of record for news and events. There's nothing comparable to this in today's society.) There is a point -- I swear to Christ -- when it's estimated that 39% of all Americans read Li'l Abner every day. Honestly. 70 million Americans out of a then population of 180 million.

Kinda puts Penny Arcade into perspective, doesn't it? Or C.S.I., for that matter. Or any popular entertainment appearing regularly in any media today. Or the top ten popular entertainments in any media combined. Seriously.

These books are like a master class in establishing characters and voices, running gags, satirical events and establishing continuity without being beholden to it. Al Capp helmed the adventures of the good people of Dogpatch for fifty-four years. Fifty-four years. That's longer than Peanuts, for the record. And while Peanuts was certainly one of if not the most important comic strips of all time, specific story events in Peanuts never galvanized the nation the way events in Li'l Abner did.

I mentioned the cover of Life for the marriage of Abner and Daisy Mae. Well, some decades later, an episode of M*A*S*H featured Col. Potter trying to get news through a news blackout because it seemed like this time Abner and Daisy Mae would get hitched, and he'd be damned if it happened without him knowing about it. It was an important enough event that a television show about the Korean War namechecked it.

That doesn't even count the broadway musical it inspired -- one of the most successful in history, I would add. Or the movie that they made of that. Or the serials and other movies they made of Li'l Abner earlier. The musical itself continues to be produced all around the country. A much younger Eric A. Burns actually acted in a production of Li'l Abner in Fort Kent, Maine. I played Marryin' Sam (if you're a bachelor, pack up yer satchel're I'll have you pushin' a pram!) and our production killed. This despite an audience largely made up of people born after Li'l Abner had faded from the scene -- the characters were strong enough that you didn't need more than the musical's introduction.

If you're a student of comic strips, you want to read these things. If you're a cartoonist, you really want to read these things. If you're a fan of laughing your ass off, see above.

As sheepish and ungracious as it is to shill with such a long absence, this here's worth owning. Honest to God.

16 Comments

Oh, I thought this was going to be a funeral post for Hermione. Or Haggrad.

I used to call my ex-girlfriend "Stupefyin' Jones," for appropriate and positive reasons. She was flattered, because she'd been in the musical in high school.

And don't forget there was also a Dogpatch Themepark.... either in Arkansas or Missouri, I don't remember which, but we used to go there every year.

It was cheap.

Are you referring to Silver Dollar City? It was there before Branson became Nashville West.

Hooray! I'm useful!

Dogpatch U.S.A. was in Northern Arkansas -- the closest decent-sized town on the map is Harrison. It had the misfortune of getting off the ground as the comic strip was winding down and the characters faded from memory. Combine that with high gas prices in the 1970s, the lack of a nearby airport, and the increasingly wider variety of attractions in Branson, Mo. (located about an hour's drive to the north), and the park always struggled.

By the time it closed in the mid-1990s, it had abandoned the Dogpatch characters because of the licensing expense, and it had gone to a ticket-based pricing structure instead of an entry fee for the whole park. It's still possible to drive by and see a lot of the buildings, although the statue of Jubilation T. Cornpone has long since been moved away to protect it from vandals. Much better histories of the park can be found with a search for "Dogpatch U.S.A."

I know all this because I'm an Arkansan, but my family only went to the park once in the 1970s, when I was about 5 years old and it was still relatively new. It's probably just as well I didn't go there in my teen years, because they did have actors playing the characters and interacting with visitors. Being in the same vicinity as a real-life Daisy Mae probably would have caused my hormones to knock me unconscious.

Thank you, Fellow Arkie, for backing me up.

Ahh! You mean I can't be smug for being the one Arkansan on Websnark!? NO!!!

And I had no idea that such a park existed. But then, it was apparently before my time. Oh well.

Heck, L'il Abner is also the inspirational source for the term Skunk Works. (Hail Kelly)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_works#Term_origin

It's certainly earned it's place in engineering history.

I can confirm that the name "Sadie Hawkins" is still kicking around high schools. The photography studio at which I work handles at least two Sadie Hawkins dances by name. (Other schools have gone to "Switch.")

Gotta love the BDSM references creeping into public high schools. :P

Hello, I am working on a documentary on al Capp and would like to locate the MASH episode you mention. Do you have any more info?

Hello,
Do you have any more info about the MASH episode that referred to the marriage of Li'l Abner?
I am woring on a documentary on al Capp.
Caitln_manning@csumb.edu

Hello,
Forgive me if this is a duplicate post. It appears that each time I attempt to post I get an error message, so here goes again:
Do you have info about the MASH episode mentioned above regarding marriage of Lil Abner and Daisy mae
Thanks
Caitlin_manning@csumb.edu

The M*A*S*H episode in question is the one titled Communication Breakdown (Season 10, 1981), in which Charles gets everyone in camp mad at him by refusing to share his newspapers. M*A*S*H is available on DVD in season sets and in an omnibus. Check your video rental or your library.

Thanks for the MASH Info!

very nice article thanks...

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