Al Capp redux

While going through the archives at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum looking at Will Eisner materials, I kept running across items relating to Al Capp. Pictures of Capp and Eisner discussing the Cartoonists Society, letters between the two.  What caught my eye; included in a batch of  comics given to Eisner by the U.S. Labor department as examples was Lil Abner and the Creatures from Dropouterspace.  It was drawn by Frank Frazetta and is one of the few complete comics that features his art throughout.  He was with Al from 1952 to 1961 and is credited with a huge amount of work for Lil Abner, as well as his work on Long Sam, a strip about a baseball player. Capp had many assistants throughout his career, including  MAD’s Jack Rickard.

Capp led an interesting life and a full-length, objective biography, on the order of David Michaelis’ masterful Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, has yet to be written. Capp started in the comics as an assistant to Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka). After Capp wrote about his experiences with Fisher, Fisher went nuts and accused Capp of drawing obscene comics. He went so far as to collect “examples” of these comics which were introduced as evidence in court. They later turned out to be faked, and after Capp was exonerated and Fisher humiliated, Fisher killed himself. Al Capp’s career was brought down in the 1960s after accusations of (and at least one arrest for) forcing himself on coeds during his college lecture tours.


Columnist Jack Anderson got sworn affadavits from several undergraduate women accusing Capp of trying to rape them. And throughout his career Capp was alleged to have forced himself on a number of Hollywood starlets including Grace Kelly and Goldie Hawn. Capp’s diatribes against the younger generation are especially noted. Witness Capp’s lp of monologues, Al Capp on Campus.  The record has been digitized and both sides are available for download. Capp was an interesting populist, and one person said this about him, “You got your money’s worth with Al Capp, but when the milk went sour it could really curdle.”



Today’s story on NPR about landmines in Laos reminded me of the U.S. Army’s distribution of a comic, Land Mine Awareness that included  a tear-out center fold one could use to flag or mark potential landmine locations.  SGM Herb Friedman (retired), who runs an interesting site on the psychological operations of the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict, has some other examples of comics the U.S. military handed out during that period, as well as a nifty photo of Austrialian G.I.s stapling/assembling comics/pamphlets for distribution. UNICEFhas also distributed comics for children, warning them of the dangers of landmines, and the government comics collection includes them as well.

John Mason Brown vs. Al Capp

189In 1955, America’s Town Meeting of the Air (an ABC radio show) released an lp of highlights.  Among the great issues between 1935-1955 that were selected, a short speech by John Mason Brown decrying the effects of comics on culture, given in 1948.  The acolyte of Frederic Wertham famously declared comics to be “the marihuana of the nursery, the bane of the bassinet, the horror of the home, the curse of the kids, and a threat to the future.” Al Capp’s retort is a complete smackdown, pointing out that reality is much more violent than any comic book. His proud admission to his contribution to juvenile delinquency shows just how cool he was. Audio of these brief speeches has been uploaded to

Art Spiegleman mentions Capp’s response to Li’l Abner being pirated in Tijuana Bibles as a sign that he’d arrived. Capp was also cool enough to lend his characters and talents to the U.S. federal gov’t. To the right is a U.S. Saving’s Bond from 1949.  Li’l Abner appeared in a Toby Press giveaway about joining the navy, two civil defense comics (Operation Survival and Natural Disasters), and as illustrations for a U.S. Dept. of Labor bulletin.


Over on the comic scholars discussion list there’s an interesting thread about early ‘comics’- prompted by Frederick Schodt’s re-publishing of Yoshitaka Kiyama’s The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco 1904-1924. * In refuting any claims of “firstness” and easing into “early”, someone pointed out Journey to the Gold Diggins by Jeremiah Saddlebags written & drawn by the Read Brothers,  from 1849.  I found a microfilm copy in our Western American collection, digitized it, and posted at


*Cataloging side-note: Our library uses LC call numbers, and it’s located in the Fs (F869. S39 K5913 1999, to be exact).  Why not in the PN 6700s? I also notice we have a collection of Joe Coleman paintings in our PNs and not in the Ns- any thoughts on this reversal?

A Sign


Originally uploaded by comics.unl

One day a staff member contacted the library about donating his personal comics collection. He had a fair amount of comics that represented the 90s collectible craze. At first I was hesitant, but then decided it would a relevant addition, since it represented a midwestern youth’s interaction with popular culture and could be of interest to scholars.

When I lifted the lid of the first long box, it contained quite a few musty comics from the 60s and 70s. I’m guessing that these were probably the first ones he owned, given to him by older siblings or friends. Carefully flipping through the stack, I pulled a random one out and was instantly glad to have accepted the donation.

The comic was From Beyond the Unknown, No. 23. Featuring a talking/pistol-packing gorilla threatening a librarian. The cover was by Nick Cardy, but the actual story was done by artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella. No mention of Terry Pratchett.

That series had a thing for monkeys, check out –

Doing it “in-house”

cover Typically, a government agency will contract  with an established comic publisher, or have a formal internal department to handle the production of its comics. In the case of Here’s How,  the commanding officer of the Personnel Separation Center at Norman, Oklahoma, appeared to have utlized the cartoon and drawing talents of an enlistee. Signed H. Phares, 18 single-panel cartoons explain and demonstrate the various stages and routine of being stationed at the PSC.

Ted Kooser, poet laureate and comix contributor


Originally uploaded by comics.unl

Ted Kooser contributed this single panel to an underground comic printed in 1974 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Entitled Comix Trip, it featured a wide variety of styles and stories by various local authors. Kooser drew an “interactive” cartoon that pokes fun at the fervent sports culture that persists today in Nebraska’s capitol.  An acquaintance of S. Clay Wilson, Kooser went on to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 2005 and  serve two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States.  He teaches at UNL.

Flickr Photos


July 2018
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