||[Feb. 13th, 2008|05:56 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#93 LI’L ABNER & THE BALD IGGLE – Al Capp
(Kitchen Sink Press)
"Yo' wants a $2.00 weddin'? -- But, thet's "Th' Cheapskate's Speshul"!! -- full o' sly insults, an' contemptuous remarks!!"
In the early days of Li’l Abner its storylines often revolved around attempts by the town of Dogpatch’s local beauty, Daisy Mae, to make Li’l Abner her husband. According to Dogpatch tradition, any bachelor caught by a spinster on Sadie Hawkins Day had to marry her. The strip was so popular – 70 million readers at its peak – that Spinster’s Balls in America became known as Sadie Hawkins Dances. The other half of the stories typically involved city slickers trying to outsmart the good-natured but dumb-as-planks rednecks of the town of Dogpatch.
The Bald Iggle storyline features both the annual Sadie Hawkins race and the untrustworthy big-city visitors, as Inspector Blugstone and other blustering officials arrive in pursuit of the Iggle. The Iggle’s a national danger, see, because anyone who looks into its eyes has to tell the truth. As the government warns, “[It] makes it impossible to carry on any kinds of courtship, many businesses, and most political speeches.” The blameless creature even makes an old critic admit he’s down on young people because he’s jealous.
This satirical parable has a much more complicated plot than the newspaper strips of today, with the two simultaneous chases and interference from notorious criminal Hatpin Harriet and those citizens most dependent on lies and exaggerations – scammers, politicians, advertisers, columnists and fishermen – who have formed hunting parties of their own. Something else unlikely to fly in today’s papers is the brutal, but inevitable, ending. Al Capp’s satires preferred to end with bite rather than heart-warming chuckles and this one's no exception. Sadly, in his later years Capp went from authority’s enemy to one of those old critics he’d parodied, dragging the strip downhill with him, but at his best he helped to show that newspaper strips were capable of social relevance and genuine wit. Contrasting that with the strips of today is left as an exercise for the reader.