Wichita Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Kleyman
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Alfred G. Caplin, the creator of the comic strip Li’l Abner, was better known by his pseudonym Al Capp. His cartoon strip about the hillbilly community of Dogpatch and its irascible characters debuted in 1934 and reached a peak syndication of more than 900 newspapers. Li’l Abner became so popular that it was translated into a Broadway play, Abner, then into a movie, and provided Capp with a vast audience on radio, television, and the lecture circuit.
Al Capp began his artistic career with the intention of becoming a serious landscape painter. He studied art at the Boston Museum School and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The precise reason for Capp’s abandonment of his original ambition is unknown. According to legend, the young artist may have responded to the advice of a country critic during a summer sketching trip in southern Kentucky. Capp was working on a landscape scene when he was approached by a hillbilly boy and asked, “Whatch—a—doin?” “Embalming this landscape for posterity,” Capp replied. “That don’t make sense,” the boy commented.
The satire of Li’l Abner touched upon numerous aspects of American life including the family, sexual relationships, and politics, and evoked considerable controversy over the strips thirty-four-year run. Capp often portrayed world-famous personalities in his cartoon and barely disguised their identities with outrageous names. Early in the history of Li’l Abner conservative readers criticized Capp for what they considered his too liberal views. In the 1960s representatives of the political left condemned Capp for the cartoonist’s tirades against what Capp labeled S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything.)
During the 1960s Al Capp’s interest in his creation declined and he assigned more and more of the cartoon work to assistants. He finally discontinued the strip in 1968. Following a long illness, Al Capp died in 1979.