Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 Al Capp’s Own Crowded Life and Family 

 by Rick Marschall 

I knew Al Capp better through the conservative movement, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, than through cartooning. Nevertheless this Crowded Life I chronicle led me to interact in several ways and various times with him.

I also knew his brother Elliot Caplin, about whom not enough has been written in comics histories. Elliot was quiet, taciturn to the extreme; seldom registering emotion, forever with a pipe clenched between his teeth. He let his writing do the talking – Elliot, always anonymously, scripted a dozen or so strips through the decades.

… maybe more; some he co-created; some he scripted; some (like Broom-Hilda) he lived in a zone between plating a seed and “packaging” a syndicate presentation. Among the strips with his plots and dialog, or with various aspects of his fingerprints: Dr. Bobbs; Peter Scratch; Adam Ames; The Heart of Juliet Jones; Big Ben Bolt; Abbie an’ Slats; Long Sam; On Stage; Encyclopedia Brown; Best Seller Showcase; Dark Shadows; Buz Sawyer; post-Gray Little Orphan Annie; and others. More than Allen Saunders and Nick Dallis combined.

There was a third Capp brother, Jerry. For a while he handled business affairs for Al, but the L’il Abner creator largely considered Jerry a hanger-on, and for most of his career he hung around Elliot. Elliot himself was the quiet center of an active business career beyond his writing. He was on the staff of Judge magazine (“I put them to bed for good,” he dead-panned) and then was an editor of Parent’s Magazine. He parlayed his experience and Al’s success into Toby Press, named for his third child. It was a comic-book publisher mostly handling Li’l Abner titles.

A fourth Capp I knew, also. When I joined the staff of the Connecticut Herald out of college, as cartoonist and editor, there was an old fellow who shuffled through all the rooms every morning, dispensing lollipops to every desk. He had been with the paper since forever, I was told; probably since the 1930s in its glory days as The Bridgeport Herald. He was a pleasant old relic of the sales staff, and when, after a week or two, I became a recipient of Harry Resnick’s morning lollipops, I knew I had arrived.

Hesch Resnick had served as Al Capp’s agent when, as Alfred G Caplin, he proposed the L’il Abner strip to syndicates. It was Resnick’s advice to reject King Features’ meddling in the strip’s premise, and accept an offer from the smaller United Feature Syndicate.

It is not generally known that Elliot’s birth name was Elia Abner Caplin; so Li’l Abner was an in-joke from its inception. Al would refer to Eliot – never without his trademark wheezy laugh – as “that lovable idiot Elliot,” but affectionately. The pair had supreme admiration for each other. (Jerry became a Capp, legally.)

As I said, I knew Al Capp during the period when he multi-tasked, diverting attention from his strip to politics. Claiming he never changed his famously liberal stances that infused Abner for years, it was the leftward stampede in American politics that made him seem like a conservative.

Whatever. Almost overnight, as he lampooned hippies and limousine liberals in his strip, he found himself a favorite of William F Buckley; a guest on Firing Line and late-night talk shows; a newspaper columnist; and a speaker on the college circuit. Like Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro of our day, he was picketed and the object of protests. Allegations that he propositioned “co-eds,” as female students were then called, severely damaged his celebrity.

The recent issue of Hogan’s Alley has a first-person account of Capp’s lecherous advances (“amorous” is finally an inappropriate term in these cases); and there were other similar claims, most famously by Goldie Hawn from days before her own celebrity. Capp’s celebrity, but more importantly his credibility, was damaged.

The article has a sidebar reproducing a column by Jack Anderson, a prominent political writer of the day, about Capp’s peccadillo described by the writer. Another serendipitous connection (a "Crowded life," after all). I was Anderson’s editor for a while, believe it or not. Personal and political animosity fueled many of his “scoops.” His former boss, then partner, on the “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column was Drew Pearson, who observed, and skewered, everything from his far-left perch.

Capp mercilessly lambasted Pearson (for many years a fellow liberal) in Li’l Abner. One time I asked Pearson about the bad feelings, and he would not confirm that when Pearson himself created (and thereafter "edited," but credited as a writer) the newspaper-reporter strip Hap Hooper for Capp's own syndicate, United, its hero was spoken of internally as a serious-world Li'l Abner type. A hillbilly who stumbled into situations. Capp was livid, even after the premise was somewhat revised – and the incident became one on a list of grievances Capp held against his syndicate for years.

It would not have been above, or beneath, Jack Anderson to be joyful in “exposing” the claims against Capp for his own “exposing” events. By the way, one of Anderson’s legmen in those days was Brit Hume, before ABC News’ White House beat, and as Fox News Channel’s Senior Analyst. Times have changed.

[Speaking of exposing, I have received many inquiries about me and Hogan’s Alley, prompted by my essays for Yesterday’s Papers and the announcement of Nemo Magazine’s imminent revival. Formally, I have not left Hogan’s Alley and in fact am on track to deliver an article for publication. I founded, or co-founded, the magazine, named it, invited the Art Director David Folkman to join the team; and I retain an equal-ownership position with Editor Tom Heintjes. Nevertheless this latest issue sees my name dropped from every category in the staff boxes. When Dorothy McGreal invited me to write for her excellent World of Comic Art, she specified that I should feel free to write elsewhere. After writing several articles for Cartoonist PROfiles, Editor Jud Hurd kindly blessed my writing elsewhere, and said his door was always open. The foregoing might answer the questions of some people, even if not mine.]

Back to Capp: Previous to the assault allegations, he had been discussed as a candidate against Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy… but all that collapsed.

So did his health and his leg. As a boy in New Haven, Al Capp was run over by a street car, and forever limped noticeably and bravely, and a bit awkwardly, on a wooden prosthesis for the rest of his life. In rare appearances toward the end, even at cartoonists’ events, he was “handled” by Eliot, helping Al walk and deflecting conversations, even from well-wishers.   

Back in cartooning’s turf, I acquired items from his crowded studio (organizational chaos must have run in the family: Elliot’s office in Manhattan was smaller than most people’s utility closets – but he never could lay his hands on proof sheets of his collaborations with, say, Lou Fine, Ken Bald, and Neal Adams – he knew how to pick ‘em!) and I conducted Al Capp’s last interview.

Some day, here, I will tell more of my interview, conducted after he very publicly retired Li’l Abner (“It simply is time for a fresh, new talent, to take my space”). Al was miserable. He had difficultly reaching the living room and settling in an easy chair; he complained of his emphysema – but chain-smoked (“It’s simple; I can give these up or stop breathing,” between drags). He complained, I tentatively recall, of diabetes. A joy for him, during that afternoon, was the presence of his granddaughter, a reporter for the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger. Tragically the following week she was killed by a car when she crossed a street.

He shared a lot with me that day. As I said, we’ll dive deeper in A Crowded Life, but I remember that he disputed the length of time Frank Frazetta assisted on Abner. And the wonderful answer to my question about the greatest humorists: he said the great American comic writers were all named Sol and Nat, representative of the anonymous radio-show staffers of the 1930s. He drew a terrific self-caricature for me that afternoon in Cambridge, looking as jolly as, sadly, he was not.

Al and Elliot liked the interview I conducted (published first in Cartoonist PROfiles) and wanted me to ghost-write Al Capp’s autobiography. So did Don Hudder, a friend who was Editor of Simon and Schuster. Tony Gardner, Al’s nephew and then agent, got involved, and eventually my modest fee was too high, and the book was published, “by” Al Capp. It was, frankly, a pastiche of my annotated interview in many places; and four-fifths strip reprints… from the recent past. The Best of Li’l Abner, which it was not; and scarcely claiming to be an autobiography. I still have Hudder’s letter apologizing for the slight and affirming that I could have made a good treatment even better.

I the meantime, it was, of course, a privilege to know and work with Al Capp – in two spheres of Crowded Lives, his and mine.



Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Great Debate –

Nassua, NY Newsday, 1971: At the station, (radio DJ Al) Doud goes into a studio to tape a segment of his show. His guest is Richard Schickel, movie critic for Life magazine, who wrote a book on Walt Disney a couple of years ago. His other guest is a cartoonist named Al Kilgore (Bullwinkle) who hates the book Schickel wrote on Walt Disney a couple of years ago. Kilgore has a copy of the book with about 800 markers in it noting the parts he wants to argue about. “It’s well-written,” says Kilgore as the taping gets under way, “but it’s the most vicious character assassination I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s hyperbole,” says Schickel. “Look, why are you making this semi-hysterical attack?”
Kilgore calls Schickel “Mr. Snide.” Schickel says, “This is preposterous.” The debate is not on the highest level. Schickel gets quite upset. Finally he stands up. “I’m not gonna take this,” he says. “Take your show and stuff it.” He walks out of the studio.
Doud turns to the microphone. “I’d like to say a word about Shop-Rite Supermarkets,” he says...
– Freak, By Lewis Grossberger


Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Paris Is Burning

by Rick Marschall

Caran d'Ache

I will take a little detour this week. These columns are largely personal – the running title gives me away – but I intend to present a fairly comprehensive, and behind-the-scenes, history of comics of the past 50 years or so.

This week, as Easter might distract us, properly so; and with the images of Notre Dame still seared in our minds, I will stroll down a largely pictorial lane.

I have been to Paris at least two dozen times, and visited Notre Dame at least half those times. Alone, as art historian and as gawking tourist; with family and with special friends; alone for concerts and worship. My pied-à-terre is the Hotel Esmeralda, directly across the Seine.

It is impossible not to love Paris. Comics historian Pierre Couperie wrote a book about Paris through the ages (it was published in America too, by George Braziller), each double-spread with a map of the village-turned-metropolis, surrounded by historical facts and data. On one visit he took me around Paris, held up old prints of certain sites – from the precise vantage-point where we stood, and related some history for me and my video camera.

Many friends, all related to comics, in the city. Nicole Lambert, who created the incomparable color strip Les Triplets (the cute upper-class tykes) for Madame Figaro… and animated cartoons, apparel, games, etc. Former model in the US, a wonderful friend back in her native France. I will profile her soon here.

Yves Rasquin ran the amazing comic shops called Album. His shop near my hotel was always my meeting place, and in 1991, when I was the American rep for the Angouleme Festival – arranging events in Paris, Angouleme, and Paris again for more than 125 cartoonists from the US – Yves hosted a memorable reception in his shop.

Pierre Couperie, who was a professor in Paris, has since died. So, too, and too young, Annie Baron-Carvais, student of comics and friend of cartoonists from the world over.

And so forth. Restaurants, concert venues, museums, parks. Concerts – performances of Fau’s Requiem; the Bach organ cycle over weeks on the city’s many church organs. Memories… none more precious than Notre Dame; incomparable. I cried, literally, as I watched on European TV channels the unholy holocaust. Personally, I believe the cause is yet to be learned; and I pray the restoration is just that – and not a further secularized Lego-built theme park.

Gee, I promised a brief and pictorial stroll. Too late for brief; but I will present some images now. Not strips or cartoons. I have complete runs of L’Assiette au Beurre and other French graphics/ cartoon journals… but they mostly are anti-clerical. Not for this week.

I also have a complete run of Figaro Illustré, 1892-1911 its glory days as an oversized, full color deluxe magazine of graphics, fiction, and art. In its amazing pages are special issues devoted to the new aeroplanes and automobiles; other cities like Rome and Berlin; historical themes, and holidays. In its pages, too, are works, much of them original for the magazine, by Mucha; Toulouse-Lautrec; Monet; Caran d’Ache; poster pioneer Jules Cheret; JOB; even the Americans E N Blue and Hy Mayer.

The volumes are too monstrous and heavy to try for the scan bed, so I took some photos of covers and spreads to share this week. A time when France, and the world, was more innocent; when artists celebrated more than their own dark sides; when Impressionism and Art Nouveau excited artists and public alike. Click twice to enlarge these. Please forgive the distortions of the camera.

And breathe a Vive la France while we can.

Claude Monet

Conquest of the Air

E N Blue

Hiver - Winter

Jules Cheret


les Fleurs


The Storm

Toulouse Lautrec

Toulouse Lautrec



Friday, April 19, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

It All Started with Alice –

My Friendship with Virginia Davis

by Rick Marschall

Brochure cover page of the original Alice cartoons of Walt Disney

“It All Started with a Mouse” is a legend, logo, saying that is marketed at Disney theme parks and elsewhere – this colossal enterprise all around you, all around the world, really the Disney behemoth, all commenced with a simple cartoon mouse. 

Presenting Ginni Davis with a directors’ jacket embroidered with image
 of the original Alice in Cartoonland promotional image

In fact it really began before that, and there might not have been a “Disney” empire, nor a Mickey Mouse himself, if it had not been for a little girl from Kansas named Virginia Davis. I was blessed, during my Crowded Life in Comics, to know Ginnie, and even to introduce her to cartoon fans in Rome and in San Diego, and play a little role in shining the spotlight on her career in her last years.

She was not in complete obscurity when my old friend John Province made contact with her. Her Disney years were long in the rear-view mirror, and she lived in semi-retirement as a real-estate agent in Boise, Idaho. She was a footnote in some studies; mentioned at festivals; and received attention in the book Walt in Wonderland, published in Italy and co-published by an academic press in the US. But unjustly, not a household name.

 Virginia Davis, Rick Marschall, Jassanne Wallace 
of the Circle Gallery

John tracked Ginni down and I immediately assigned him to interview her for an early issue of Hogan’s Alley.

For those of you who don’t know the name Virginia Davis, I shall not get further ahead of myself. She was born in 1918 in Kansas City, and her family were neighbors of Walt Disney. He was a struggling cartoonist and aspiring animator, producing primitive Laugh-O-Gram commercials for merchants advertising in local motion-picture theaters. He aspired to make cartoon shorts for a national audience and conceived the novelty idea of having a live-action character cavort in an animated world – the opposite, really, of the popular Out Of the Inkwell series of the Bray Studio and managed thereafter by the Fleischer Brothers.

Exhibitors Trade Review, Mar-May 1924

Disney asked the Davises if their five-year-old daughter Virginia would play Alice in the Alice in Cartoonland series he envisioned. The first, Alice’s Wonderland, became his sample, sent to distributor Margaret J Winkler in New York. She and her husband Charles Mintz had success with Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat cartoons. 

At ExpoCartoon, Rome, Italy: Rick Marschall; Virginia Davis; Andrea Felice, 
for whose definitive history of Disney’s Silly Symphonies I had written a chapter.

In short order, Winkler ordered a series of Alice cartoons; Disney moved to Hollywood (invited by his convalescing brother Roy, and enticed by their uncle’s offer of his garage that could serve as their studio); and Walt asked if the Davises would move to California on the promise of multiple films in which Ginnie would star… 

At Comicon: Mike Peters (political cartoons, Mother Goose and Grimm); 
Rick Marschall; Virginia Davis 

The Davis family indeed moved West. Little Virginia starred in 14 Alice comedies (Disney produced 57 in all) and through the years remained close to the movie industry, if not swimming in the middle of that stream. She auditioned for the voice of Snow White; Walt himself had the studio train her for the ink-and-paint department, and she appeared in a few movies, like The Harvey Girls and Three On a Match. 

John Province and Virginia Davis

Oh, and another of myriad footnotes to her fascinating story: when the Davis parents needed their final household items and their Cadillac brought to Hollywood, they asked another Kansas City friend, who agreed for the task… and he never really left Hollywood afterward. That friend was Ub Iwerks. After chicanery and other factors caused Walt to move from Alice to Oswald the Rabbit to… Steamboat Willie, it was Iwerks whose conceptualization of Mickey Mouse and, later, technical and thematic innovations, made him an animation pioneer in Disney’s echelon.

Virginia was in her spry eighties when I met her. She was grateful for the Hogan’s Alley interview; I invited her as a special guest to ExpoCartoon in Rome, the breakaway festival of Lucca. The director Rinaldo Traini usually issued two invitations to America guests, and Ginnie brought her teenage granddaughter. Virginia Davis was feted grandly and received a special Yellow Kid award.

Ginni Davis at the Hogan’s Alley table signing autographs, 
Comicon 1995

When Hogan’s Alley was new I invited special guests to appear at our Comicon table and in special programs. One year it was Ginnie; and the magazine arranged a special evening in her honor at the Old Town Circle Gallery in San Diego. I had several directors’ jackets embroidered with an image from an Alice cartoon, the early Disney logo, and the legend “It All Started With a Mouse” crossed out to read, “It All Started with the Alice Comedies.”

 At venues in America and Italy I hosted Ginni in interview 
sessions and walking fans through her cartoons

It is a treat, a rare privilege, to know someone who embodies a rich heritage. Virginia Davis was the last surviving link with the seminal days of Walt Disney; she was “walking history,” in a literal sense. Humble, giggly… not too far, I often thought when with her, from the little girl in pigtails who was a star before anyone ever heard of Mickey Mouse.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cartoonist Arthur H. Lindberg (“Lyndell”) and Gulf Funny Weekly –

🙶 Wings Winfair, Speed Spaulding and 
This Wonderful World

🙶 It’s my favorite picture. He made those pastels, the colors were amazing.  As a kid I wanted to play with those pastels, but couldn't ...🙷  – Pam, Lyndell's granddaughter

[1] Mar 26, 1937
The earliest comic book to see the light of day was The Funnies (subtitle: “Flying – Sports – Adventure”), a dime weekly which carried original art and stories rather than newspaper comic reprints. Printing was done by Eastern Color. It ran from January 16, 1929, to October 16, 1930, a total of 36 issues. Each issue had 16 pages of four color material printed on newsprint.

Three years later Eastern Color’s sales manager Harry I. Wildenberg approached the Gulf Refining Company to produce a weekly giveaway, titled Gulf Comic Weekly. The Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries gives the date of the first issue as April 28, 1933. The title changed to Gulf Funny Weekly with No. 5, May 26, 1933. The premium comic was produced until May 23, 1941, ending at 422 issues.

Previously I noted that the lead serial ‘WINGS WINFAIR’ was originally credited to Stan Schendel (writer) and the unknown artist Lyndell. Recently the granddaughter of  ‘Lyndell’ wrote me identifying the unknown artist as Arthur H. Lindberg, well known in his time as a fine artist. He was born September 29, 1895 and passed away on July 23, 1977. Pam H. writes “My older sister is cleaning out her house to sell. It used to be my grandparents house and has been in the family since 1941.  Last night she brought over many portfolios of my grandfather's works... and in it are his cartoons he did as Lyndell.”

One other piece of comic art was saved — a Sunday SPEED SPAULDING strip.  Speed Spaulding was a curious strip based on the book When Worlds Collide, by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, drawn mostly by Marvin Bradley, who would go on to work on Rex Morgan, M.D. The strip was distributed by John F. Dille Co., Chicago and would run under several different artists in the Famous Funnies comic book in the forties. The muddled history can be explored HERE and HERE. Since Arthur H. Lindberg only saved one original example it is likely the Sunday was drawn on speculation and never saw print.

[4] Speed Spaulding, John F. Dille Co., circa 1940
[5] Speed Spaulding, Marvin Bradley, Jan 29 1940
[6] Famous Funnies advertisement, cartoonist unknown, June 1940
[11] July 30, 1937
[12] Aug 6, 1937
[13] Sept 10, 1937
[14] Sept 24, 1937
[15] Oct 8, 1937
[16] Nov 26, 1937
[18] Lyndell, July 30, 1937
[19] Fred Meagher, July 22, 1938

Wings Winfair and Gulf Funny Weekly HERE

Gulf Funny Weekly Scans courtesy Arthur Lortie.

Coming soon: Pulp Western Illustrator Arthur H. Lindberg

Special thanks to Pam H.