The great American diplomat and Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson may have well been talking about Li’l Abner creator Al Capp when he said, “Nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation.” In the final decade of his life, Capp launched vitriolic attacks against everybody and anything that didn’t adhere to his extremist views, even going so far as to label student protests against the Vietnam War as “mugging, vandalism and thievery.” Another example is this video clip of Capp going to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono just so he could verbally berate them:
Capp’s antics became the subject of a colorful documentary–This is Al Capp–that premiered on NBC’s “Experiments in Television” on March 1, 1970. What makes it especially relevant to Cartoon Brew is that the special was co-directed by animation designer and director Ernest Pintoff, who created classic cartoons like Flebus and the Oscar-winning Critic. (Pintoff and his writing partner Guy Fraumeni also directed two other documentaries for the series–”This Is Marshall McLuhan” and “This Is Sholem Aleichem.”)
Somebody has posted onto YouTube the first twenty minutes of the Al Capp documentary (update: it was deleted, but the first six minutes are below). Capp comes across as a one-man Fox News Channel–reactionary, naive, and intellectually vapid. Still, it’s somehow entertaining to hear such hostile bile coming from the mouth of a famous cartoonist. After all, I think this may be the only instance of a cartoonist’s political ideas being the subject of a documentary on network television. The special also features quotes from John Steinbeck, and onscreen appearances by legendary cartoonists Milton Caniff and Walt Kelly, underground cartoonists Spain Rodriguez and Trina Robbins, and other notables like William F. Buckley, Paul Krassner and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
The presentation of the material is topnotch, and even in live-action, Pintoff’s animation sensibilities come through loud and clear. He employs energetic quick-cuts, intimate close-up interview shots and cheeky juxtaposition of image and sound. The results are playful enough to make even Capp’s rantings seem semi-tolerable.
UPDATE: Cartoonist Scott Shaw! wrote a comment about seeing Al Capp speak in person at the University of San Diego in the late-1960s:
I was present at Al Capp’s memorable presentation at UCSD in San Diego in 1968 or 1969, at the height of his anti-hippie bias. It’s a long story, but the short version is that Capp came out and engaged the audience of long-haired students (including myself – a huge fan of LI’L ABNER, despite the fact that I, too, was a hippie – and a small group of comic fans, most of whom formed the first San Diego Comic-Con). Things seemed very friendly and upbeat until Capp suddenly took offense at someone clapping (after the cartoonist called an end to the surprisngly good-natured back-and-forth verbal jousting). He walked out on the huge audience, which soon dispersedâ€¦except for my still-in-shock group of fan-friends. We hung around inside the gym for a few minutes, not realizing we were there aloneâ€¦when Capp re-emerged from wherever he’d been to deliver his speech to our tiny group of less than a dozen people. I imagine that he had been just informed he wouldn’t be compensated for his presentation if he didn’t deliver it.