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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...

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: [GENERAL BULLMOOSE DEBUTS], LI'L ABNER (1953)

There are almost no scans online for me to pirate for this week's essay, except this one:



And it happens to be the same scan I used in an earlier essay: the cover of Kitchen Sink's nineteenth collection of LI'L ABNER strips, where I reviewed the continuity I entitled "D. Yokum's Visit." In contrast to the relative unity of "Visit," the next six months is something of a motley group of loosely associated plotlines, of which the most important one is the introduction of Capp's menacing magnate, General Bullmoose. There also aren't many scans of him, which seems odd given that he's one of the few support characters whom an earlier generation knew pretty well, if only thanks to the 1959 film.  Here's one not from the "Debuts" continuity:




Most of the plotlines are exemplars of what I've called "lateral meaning," for they have no point except to engage the reader in terms of both kinetic and dramatic potentialities: "If the Reader Likes Character D, he'll be interested in seeing how Challenge K affects him." They go like this:

(1) Shortly before the birth of the first child of Abner and Daisy Mae, perennial jinx Joe Btfsplk wanders back into Dogpatch. He's warned to keep away from the expecting parents, lest he jinx their unborn child. He descends into an underground cave, but the cave happens to tunnel down under Abner's house, so that bad things start happening to the Yokums anyway.

(2) To better support his future offspring, Abner tries to find work, without success. However, perhaps due to the jinx, two strangers from the quasi-Russian realm of Slobbovia show up in Dogpatch. One is female wrestler Tara Legoff-- one of Capp's many statuesque beauties-- and her manager-father, Rip Von Legoff. They want to find a quintessentially American female sparring partner for Tara, but for some damn reason, the only one who meets their requirements is Li'l Abner. So Abner dresses up in drag and goes on the road, and Rip helps him fake his death so that Daisy Mae won't miss him, or something like that.

(3) Thanks to the newspapers covering the gorgeous lady of wrestling and her dolled-up sparring partner, the great financier General Bullmoose decides that he wants his puny son Weakfish to marry whoever wins in a bout between Tara and "Li'l Anya." The Slobbovians, hot to marry into money, decide to have Tara use a killer-move on Abner, and though he doesn't die, he does lose. 

(4) His job terminated, the big lummox decides to go back to Dogpatch, only to find out that his bereaved wife has chosen to remarry, in order to give Baby Yokum a father. Abner faces assorted delays that keep him from Daisy Mae's side-- not least an encounter with Capp's zoot-suited evildoer Evil-Eye Fleegle-- but in the end, Abner returns and stops the wedding. Daisy Mae then gives birth without ever showing any visible evidence of being pregnant.

Now, all four of these plot-threads satisfy the reader's need for lateral meaning, but only in Plot #3 does Capp "go vertical." Some of his vertical meaning consists of discursive "overthoughts," like naming the manipulative multi-millionaire after the Bull Moose Party, which ran Theodore Roosevelt for president in 1912, and having the character use a motto based on a saying attributed to General Motors: "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the country." But there's a deeper level of "underthought."

The Roosevelt reference is actually more meaningful than the motto, for Capp draws Bullmoose as a huge, muscular old man with a walrus-mustache. He's intensely turned on by the photos of Tara and Li'l Anya, but knows he can't mate with them anymore ("If only I were eighty again"). He chooses to defer his lust to his son Weakfish, a puny fellow who protests, "But father-- I'm only 52." What we have here, then, is a literary myth with both psychological and sociological ramifications: one in which a powerful father somehow gives birth to a sickly son. Oddly, Bullmoose never brings up the most logical motivation-- that he wants Weakfish to marry a "wild beast of a woman" so that he'll sire a son better than he is. The only motivation he gives is that such a marriage will supposedly make Weakfish capable of running Bullmoose's empire if Bullmoose should ever drop dead. Weakfish, however, is in love with a specimen of femininity as puny as he is: "Olivia de Backache." (Possibly this was Capp's little shot at Olivia de Havilland's portrait of Melanie Wilkes, the dishrag-like character from 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND.) Weakfish musters just enough courage to try eloping with Olivia. However, Bullmoose finds out, and with "two phone calls" he reduces Olivia's father to penury. Weakfish, agreeing with his father that the Bullmooses cannot "have a pauper's blood in our family." jilts Olivia-- though no one brings up the fact that neither of the "lady wrestlers" are of the moneyed classes.

While Abner/Anya has no desire to marry Weakfish, Tara is clearly interested in Weakfish's money. Thus the outcome of the match works out well for the two contenders, though not for Bullmoose's shrimpy son. He's last seen running out of the wrestling-hall as Tara chases after him. That's how Capp leaves them, the picture of an unmasculine man being pursued by a super-feminine woman. The only good thing in Weakfish's future is that, unlike the Dogpatch males who get ambushed and married by predacious women during Sadie Hawkins' Day, the scion of the Bullmoose line will probably get killed on his wedding-night.


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