I’ve mentioned Li’l Abner
, the classic comic strip created by Al Capp on this blog a few times (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.
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."