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A seminal and long-running (1934-1977) newspaper comic strip by Al Capp, which detailed the bizarre lives and loves of the hillbilly inhabitants of Dogpatch, USA. The title character was the perpetually 19-year-old big-hearted lunkhead, the son of spitfire Pansy "Mammy" Yokum and the dull-witted useless Lucifer "Pappy" Yokum. For much of the early years of the strip, the marriage-fearing Abner was pursued aggressively by the lovely Daisy Mae Scragg; in 1952, Capp gave in and let her finally marry Abner. The strip was known for its vicious satire of current events, initially from a more liberal perspective though switching to a conservative bent in its twilight years as Capp grew older. Many of the storylines focused on the innocent Abner being placed in positions where he was easy prey for corrupt villains.
At the height of its popularity, it ran in over 900 newspaper in North America and Europe and an estimated 70 million Americans read it every day. The wedding storyline became a major media event, even making the cover of Life magazine. Al Capp became a regular face in television during the height of the strip's popularity in the golden age of newspaper comics, and one of the few cartoonists to remain a public figure in his own right. Eventually, time took its toll and in 1974, Capp, feeling the previous five years of his strip were terrible and his health failing rapidly, called it quits. The strip's swan song received even more massive coverage in the press, with many calling it the end of an era. Capp himself passed away in 1979.
During the strip's run, it was adapted into two films, a Broadway musical (which served as the basis for the second film), a radio serial that ran from 1939 to 1940 and five short animated films made by Columbia Cartoons in 1944. While the series itself never became a television show (despite an unsold pilot airing just once on NBC in 1967), Fearless Fosdick, a ruthless parody of Dick Tracy, briefly spun-off into his own 13-episode puppet show that was swiftly canceled, while the Shmoo appeared in two Saturday Morning Cartoon series for Hanna-Barbera in 1979 and again in 1980-1984 (both times sharing billing with Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble). A theme park, Dogpatch, USA, opened in 1968, though it was largely unsuccessful for most of its life and closed in 1993 (though most it is still standing).
While far more obscure in the decades since its ending, the strip left a legacy at extreme ends of the pop-culture spectrum by introducing both Sadie Hawkins and Julie Newmar to the world, as well as endless productions of the musical in high schools around the United States. It is also credited with introducing several colloquialisms into the English language, including "schmooze", "irregardless", "druthers", and even the word "schmoo" has entered into at least four separate fields of science.
Due to the sheer length of the comic, a comprehensive reprint has yet to reach completion. Through the decades, numerous smaller collections of storylines were released, until 1988 when Kitchen Sink Press attempted the mammoth task of reprinting the series in its entirety, reaching 27 volumes before the company unfortunately went under in 1999, getting the series only to 1961. IDW began another attempt at a reprint in 2010, starting all the way from the beginning and so far having released 2 volumes out of a projected 21 volumes.
United Features Syndicate continues to run free daily reruns of a select number of classic Li'l Abner strips on comics.com (though these are hardly complete, jump from plot to plot without conclusions to many of them, and rerun the same storylines over and over).
Provides examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Sadie Hawkins and Lena Hyena.
- Author Tract: When Capp started aging and subsequently got left behind in the generational gap, he would devote a great deal of time firing off Take Thats at left-wing political figures via the strip.
- Art Evolution: The earliest strips used a far more realistic style to the point that the characters were hardly recognizable.
- Butter Face: Sadie Hawkins
- Chaste Hero: Abner
- Cool Old Lady: Pansy Yokum
- Cowboy Cop: Fearless Fosdick
- Crapsack World: Lower Slobbovia. Dogpatch iteslf is only slightly better.
- Creator Breakdown: As noted, the times moved on, and Al Capp couldn't.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Stupefyin' Jones
- Does Not Like Shoes: Daisy Mae, much to the fact of her going barefoot.
- Deep South: Dogpatch (couldn't get much deeper..)
- Evil Eye: Evil Eye Fleegle
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Fearless Fosdick adversary, the Chippendale Chair, is, in fact, a sentient Chippendale Chair.
- Farmers Daughter: Pretty much all of the women.
- Funetik Aksent: Everyone that doesn't speak plain English, especially the main characters.
- Fun with Acronyms: The student group SWINE
- Gargle Blaster: Kickapoo Joy Juice
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Even Al Capp openly wondered how he got Appassionata Von Climax past the censors. Not only did she appear in the strip as one of the many sexually aggressive femme fatales pursuing Abner, but also as a villain in the musical... meaning her name snuck past the Hays Code as well.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Abner, at least at first
- Hello, Nurse!: Stupefyin' Jones
- Honest John's Dealership: Available Jones
- Issue Drift: See Creator Breakdown
- Let's Meet the Meat: The Shmoos
- Meaningful Name: Everyone in this strip had a name that either explained or made fun of their character.
- Ms. Fanservice: Daisy Mae, and a whole bunch of others. Stupefyin' Jones is a weaponized variant.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Most of the villains and pretty much anyone Capp had a beef with wound up with a name like this. These include Nightmare Alice, Evil-Eye Fleegle, and Fearless Fosdick's syndicate, Squeezeblood Syndicate.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: All celebrity parodies had their names changed, mainly so Capp could use them whenever he wanted. One of the more notorious was Fearless Fosdick author Lester Gooch, a parody of Dick Tracy author Chester Gould. Gooch was frequently portrayed as mentally deranged, and only capable of writing well when he was insane.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Fearless Fosdick
- Orphanage of Fear: One storyline in the late 1930s had Abner go to an orphanage after his parents are (supposedly) dead. It exaggerates the whole trope to its ends: he's forced to change into a new "uniform" (rags), the orphanage master gives bare bones to the orphans with lots of food for himself and whips the orphans, but Abner and the orphans ultimately stage a mutiny.
- Our Founder: Confederate General Jubilation T. Cornpone, who in the musical even gets his own song about his "great" deeds in The American Civil War. He was, in fact, such a horrible general that at least according to the musical, Abraham Lincoln credited him with single-handedly helping the Confederacy lose the war.
- Personal Raincloud: Joe Btfsplk
- The Pig Pen: Moonbeam McSwine
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: This pretty much defined the first 18 years of the strip when it came to stories about Daisy Mae. Two years after they finally tied the knot, Capp tried to recreate the dynamic by introducing Abner's 15 and a half "y'ars" old brother Tiny, who was then endlessly pursued by Hopeful Mudd and Boyless Bailey.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Nogoodniks (the evil version of the Shmoos) had "li'l red eyes". They devoured "good" Shmoos, were the sworn enemies of "hoomanity," and wreaked havoc on Dogpatch.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Schmoos, which spawned a merchandising mania... until Capp finally got so tired of them overshadowing his strip that he had them all killed off.
- Ruritania: Lower Slobbovia
- Show Within a Show: Fearless Fosdick, which eventually became famous in and of its own right.
- Strawman Political: Again, lots of them.
- Take That: Whatever or whomever had recently pissed off Al Capp.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Fried Shmoo.
- We Want Our Nutcase Back: Lester Gooch was once cured of his insanity, leading to horrible Fearless Fosdick plotlines and his readers bailing. His syndicate eventually put him through various forms of torture, ending with making him watch soap operas, until he finally went insane again.
- Writer Revolt: Al Capp wiped out the Schmoos.
- Your Heart's Desire: The schmoos.