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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, March 10, 2017

NEAR MYTHS: ["THE WOLF GAL"], LI'L ABNER (1946)

Since I gave an example of a LI'L ABNER mythcomic this week, I decided to recycle a portion of an earlier FEMMES FORMIDABLES essay as a means of clarifying why Capp's "Wolf Gal" wasn't nearly as mythic as his Shmoos, despite possessing equal potential.



Here's the relevant excerpt from the original essay:


In 1946 Al Capp created a feral female with no such convenient inhibitions: the Wolf Gal, who lived in one of the forested areas neighboring Dogpatch with a pack of wolves.  She and her human-eating pack perpetually prey on any humans who venture too close to their territory, and though Wolf Gal could speak as well as any Dogpatch hillbilly-- which isn't saying much-- she thinks of herself as another wolf and considers all other humans her enemies.
Up to this point Capp had created many predatory females, but their mode of predation concerned attempting to seduce Li'l Abner Yokum before his true love Daisy Mae could link him to her in marriage.  Wolf Gal has some leanings in that direction, but the thing that gets her on Abner's trail was somewhat more involved.  When Wolf Gal turns eighteen, she and her pack manage to corner an old crone in her secluded cabin.  Bargaining for her life, the crone reveals that she knows Wolf Gal's nature: that at birth she was born with a "wolf's heart" despite the otherwise normal natures of her hillfolk parents.  A nearby wolf-pack senses that the child is a kindred spirit, so the pack attacks and devours her parents-- much to the delight of the infant child.  In addition to revealing Wolf Gal's origins to the lupine Amazon, the crone also makes a prediction: that Wolf Gal will only know the meaning of "love" under certain circumstances.  Wolf Gal, stung by curiosity, begins to study human mating rituals, as well as catching her first sight of Abner.  She interprets the prophecy to mean that she must kill Abner to learn what love is.
There follows one of the quickest transformations from "nature" to "culture" ever shown in fiction.  Wolf Gal decides that the only way she can get close to Abner in his Dogpatch milieu is to educate herself in the ways of women-- and not hillbilly women, but "sassiety ladies."  She journeys to some big city, locates a finishing-school, and by threatening the teacher's life forces the woman to give Wolf Gal the appearance of a well-bred woman. 

There are three strong myth-kernels here: (1) the continuing opposition of "nature" and "culture," (2) the association of hillfolk with all manner of deviant practices, including cannibalism, and (3) the association between love and death. Yet, there's something blandly functional about Capp's treatment of Wolf Gal's initial arc. It's as though he couldn't quite deal with the blatantly transgressive aspects of the wolf-child myth, and so he reduced it to just another of his many plotlines involving either the romantic seduction or attempted murder of Li'l Abner. I've found this to be an almost syndromic fault among classic American comic strips, in that they so often focus only upon "lateral meaning" as opposed to either "overthought" or "underthought:"

...  my verdict on the narrative story-strips of the classic era is that though they had greater potential for complication-- which I've elsewhere called "amplitude"-- because they could run at great lengths, they often did not use it  because they were so concerned with "straightforward linear narrative." -- STRONG CONTINUITY, WEAK CONTINUITY, PT. 2.
Thus, following the line of thought I've established in the LINE BETWEEN FAIR AND GOOD essays, the "Wolf Gal" sequence is only "fair" because it too is akin to "a disorganized essay with a strong theme statement."

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