Mammy Yokum, Pappy Yokum, and Fearless Fosdick

Posted by | February 9, 2007

In 1934 25-year-old cartoonist Al Capp took his hillbilly idea to United Features Syndicate (creating a lifelong public feud with Ham Fisher, whose popular boxing strip “Joe Palooka” he’d been ghosting) and “Li’l Abner was born. The comic strip starred Li’l Abner Yokum, the lazy, dumb, but good-natured and strong hillbilly who lived in Dogpatch with Mammy and Pappy Yokum. Whatever energy he had went into evading the marital goals of Daisy Mae, his well-endowed girlfriend, until Capp finally gave in to reader pressure and allowed the couple to marry. This was such big news that the happy couple made the cover of Life magazine.

Abner was carried at first by only eight newspapers, but his hapless Dogpatchers hit a nerve in Depression-era America. Within three short years it climbed to 253 newspapers, reaching over 15,000,000 readers. Before long he was in hundreds more, with a circulation exceeding 60,000,000 (the entire US population then was about 180 million.)

Connecticut born & raised, Al Capp had traveled the mountains of West Virginia as a child, and drew from those experiences to speckle his wild narratives with unforgettable characters – among them heartless capitalist General Bullmoose; human jinx Joe Bfstplk, who was followed by his own bleak rain cloud; Evil Eye Fleegle whose double whammies could melt skyscrapers; cave-dwelling buddiesLonesome Polecat and Hairless Joe who concocted Kickapoo Joy Juice, the ultimate moonshine; Mammy Yokum, the sweet old lady who could outbox men twice her size; fumbling detective Fearless Fosdick, whose bullet-riddled body resembled Swiss cheese; and the gorgeous but odorous Moonbeam McSwine who preferred the company of pigs to men. And when readers thought there was no sadder and poorer place than Dogpatch, Capp would take his readers to frostbitten and poverty stricken Lower Slobovia.

Besides entertaining millions, Capp permanently affected the popular culture. In 1937 he introduced the annual Sadie Hawkins Day race into his strip. It quickly inspired real life girl-asks-boy dances across America and Sadie Hawkins Day became a national institution.

Sources: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2841
http://www.lil-abner.com/cappbio.html

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