cover image Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary

Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary

Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen. Bloomsbury, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60819-623-4

Al Capp created one of the most successful comic strips of all time in Li'l Abner. The high school dropout was a "first-rate storyteller, comic strip artist, humorist,... [and] occasional liar" who conned his way into art schools and saw Li'l Abner appear in print, on stage, and on the screen. The strip about the Kentucky hillbilly Yokum family was no lowbrow affair; Capp "mined the literary world" of authors like Charles Dickens, and parodied pop culture to the extent of drawing threats of legal action from the likes of Margaret Mitchell and Joan Baez. Biographer Schumacher (Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg) relies on Capp's letters to friends and enemies, his unpublished autobiography, and numerous media accounts in presenting Capp's successful artistic and business acumen without idolizing, as well as his personal shortcomings without condemning. Cartoonist Kitchen offers an insider's perspective on the clannish but competitive world of comic strip and book artists. The combination provides an engrossing look into the life of an American luminary as well as the evolution of an art form. Photos, illus. Agent, David Black. (Feb.)