Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Li’l Abner Takes on Peanuts – October 1968

Courtesy DenisKitchen.com
I’ve mentioned Li’l Abner, the classic comic strip created by Al Capp on this blog a few times (here and here). It was my favorite comic strip in the late 1960s, and I really looked forward to reading it every night back then in the Journal.

My other favorite strip was Peanuts. Unfortunately, the Journal didn’t carry it in the 1960s, so my exposure to Charlie Brown and Snoopy was limited to the TV specials and the paperbacks that reprinted the strips.

Anyway, Li’l Abner poked fun at popular culture, and eventually Al Capp got around to lampooning Peanuts – 47 years ago this month, resulting in a highly publicized fracas with Charles Shultz.

In Al Capp’s satire, the strip (as well as the character based on Charlie Brown) was called Pee Wee. Like Peanuts, Pee Wee’s humor was based on very adult and intellectual things coming out of the mouths of little kids.

Here’s the plot. Hilariously, it’s revealed that the only reason that Bedly Damp, the cartoonist (drawn to look like Charles Schulz) was able to make his kid characters talk like that was because a psychiatrist lived next door and was always talking to Damp while he drew the strip. When the psychiatrist moves away, the strip loses its intellectual influence, which is a disaster. The syndicate (worried about their highly profitable business based on the success of the strip) then consequently fires Bedly Damp, and hires the psychiatrist to write it! Seeking someone with no artistic talent (a dig at Charles Schulz’s simple style) to draw it, they end up hiring Li’l Abner, who can barely draw at all.

Pee Wee himself is drawn as a goofy-looking, buck-toothed kid with a belly. His dog Croopy fantasizes being “Captain Eddie Rickenbarker, the flying ace,” but instead of “flying” on top of his dog house as Snoopy does in Peanuts, he merely flaps his ears to get airborne.

Here are the strips, which ran on successive Sundays in October 1968. (They appear here courtesy of kmunson-mac.blogspot.com.) Click on each for a larger, slightly more readable version.

Alas, the series ended right there, as Al Capp pulled the plug on the storyline because of Charles Schulz’s unhappiness with the whole thing.

Here is the short article (below) that appeared on the front page of the Journal on October 17, 1968 explaining it all.

Cartoonists at War Over Parody of Peanuts
By Jack Smith
The Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Cartoonist Al Capp, whose Li’l Abner strip has lampooned American heroes from Dick Tracy to Lyndon Johnson, said yesterday he has dropped a sequence that parodies the wildly popular Peanuts.

“It is blasphemy, isn’t it?” Capp laughed in disclosing that Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts strip, had protested the parody which first appeared in last Sunday’s comic pages.

“I told him I was flattered by the attention,” Schulz said, “but I didn’t think it was very funny.”

Capp, in a telephone interview, said two more Sunday strips in his Peanuts parody had already been distributed through his syndicate but he has drawn no more.

CAPP SAID he had received a letter from Shultz expressing displeasure over the Li’l Abner takeoff on the Peanuts gang.

In the first parody Capp suggests that Schulz’ Peanuts children talk the way they do because Schulz lives next door to a psychiatrist who always talks to him as he works.

The Li’l Abner spoof also caricatured the Peanuts success in other fields – books, clothing, theater, advertising tie-ins – with a fictional “Pee Wee Unlimited.”

“I DIDN’T THINK it was very clever,” Schulz said. “I don’t mind parody if it’s clever. I thought it was rather dull and heavyhanded.”

“I guess there really are some subjects that one doesn’t laugh about," Capp said.

Capp praised Schulz as humorist and an artist, and indicated he was dropping the Peanuts parody only because Schulz was a fellow cartoonist.

Schulz expressed doubt that Capp abandoned the Peanuts parody only out of respect for his feelings.

“IF THE TRUTH were known,” Schulz said, “he probably couldn’t get anything funny out of it and went on to something else.”

I don’t know if I agree with Schulz or not, as I thought the Pee Wee storyline was pretty hilarious when I was a kid, reading it in the Sunday Plain Dealer.

Nevertheless, if you’d like to read an excellent behind-the-scenes analysis of this historic comic strip confrontation, click here to visit Kim Munson’s blog and read “Al Capp & Charles Schulz: Clash of the Titans."


Wireless.Phil said...

I never really saw the point in the comics strips, none of them were funny to me.
Years later I've read them and I just don't get it?

Dan Brady said...

Hi Phil,
You’re probably not the only one who felt that way! I always liked it though, especially “Fearless Fosdick!"

Anonymous said...

MAD Magazine spoofs of Peanuts back in the 70s was hysterical.

I had several comic strips I liked to look at as a kid and adult. Now I can only bear to look at "Garfield", the rest are an unfunny blur........

Dan Brady said...

Those Mad Magazine Peanuts parodies were great. I still remember one where Shermy had moved away or something and is suddenly back in town and checking up on his old pals, who were now rich and famous. Charlie Brown is a big shot who has Violet as his secretary, Snoopy is sleeping on top of a small mansion, etc. In another one, similar to the Pee Wee plot line, they act like real kids and thus are shown babbling away about mundane things, being mean to Snoopy, etc.

Anonymous said...

The ones I was thinking of had Linus as an adult hippie asking Violet to split the concert with him and go make out in the woods, saying "Why do you think I still carry around this blanket?". Another one had a mustached Charlie Brown looking through a trunk and going through old memories, and saying at the end "I sure hope Lucy lets me out of the attic when her bridge club leaves." I wonder if Charles Schultz got a laugh out of these.