Hi readers! I know that I have more than one reader since I started posting the “Joanie Phoanie” sequence from L’IL ABNER. This week we have Jan. 16-Jan. 21 1967–Joanie runs in the Sadie Hawkin’s Day race. Mike Fontanelli, Cartoonist, Humorist and Al Capp collector, sent me a few quotations from Joan Baez’s biography about her reactions to Al’s unflattering caricature of her: (Joan Baez speaking)
“…I quit reading what the papers said about me because either they portrayed me as more self-sacrificing than I was, or they didn’t like me and said, in a variety of ways, that I was a fake. Al Capp, creator of the LI’L ABNER comic strip, launched the most imaginative of the negative attacks, introducing a character into his strip called Joanie Phoanie. She was a slovenly, two-faced show-biz slut, a thinly disguised Commie, who traveled around in a limousine singing “songs of protest against poverty and hunger for $10,000.00 a concert.” She put out albums like “If It Sounds Phoanie, It’s Joanie”, which included “Lay Those Weapons Down, McNamara,” “Throw Another Draft Card on the Fire!” and “Let’s Conga with the Viet Cong.” Looking back at both the strip and the situation, I have to laugh. At the time, I couldn’t. Mr. Capp was slandering my name, my causes, my music, and of course, my persona. I got huffy, and huff turned to rage. I never sued Al Capp. I asked for a retraction but did not get one. Al Capp publicly denied to all who asked that Joan Baez was Joanie Phoanie. Many years later, I would read: “The truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you could invent,” but at the time my righteous indignation came from feeling guilty about having money, even if I was giving most of it away. In my heart of hearts, I thought I should not have anything. And that’s where he stung me. Was Al Capp right? The puritan in me said that unless I learned to live free of possessions, like Gandhi, I was less than perfect. Gandhi’s aim was to be detached from all desire. I tried to be detached, but did not succeed. I was attached to my house, my boyfriends, my ever-changing wardrobe, and my demons. Mr. Capp confused me considerably. I’m sorry he’s not alive to read this. It would make him chuckle.”
“And A Voice To Sing With” – 1989
Here’s how TIME reported the dust-up between Capp and Baez:
WHICH ONE IS THE PHOANIE?
Joanie Phoanie is a sight. She has a roller coaster of a nose, unraveled hair, and sandal straps that look as if they’re devouring her legs. She douses herself with deodorant, wolfs down caviar in front of famished children. She sings of brotherhood to incite student riots. When one song triggers only three uprisings, she composes another she is sure will be a blockbuster: “A Molotov cocktail or two/ Will blow up the boys in blue.” Could it be Joan Baez? Joan Baez thinks so. In fact, she’s so sure Al Capp’s cartoon character is a take-off on her that she has demanded an apology and the immediate execution of the comic strip abomination. “Either out of ignorance or malice,” she wailed, “he has made being for peace equal to being for Communism, the Viet Cong and narcotics.” Just as captiously, the cartoonist growled that Joanie wasn’t Joan. “She should remember that protest singers don’t own protest. When she protests about others’ rights to protest, she is killing the whole racket.” She also protested all the talk in the strip about the amount of money a folk singer earns. “Capp must be jealous,” she sniffed. He may have reason. Now on a tour of Japan, Protester Joan is making $8,500 per appearance.
– TIME Magazine Jan. 20, 1967
In point of fact, Joan Baez DID attempt to sue Capp but was unsuccessful – as several different sources confirm, including Denis Kitchen: “The Joanie Phoanie character as written by Capp, sang protest songs and incited riots for huge profits. Joan Baez demanded a public apology which never came. In fact, Capp never acknowledged that the Joanie Phoanie character was a reference to Baez at all. Baez was so convinced the reference was about her that she filed a court case. The judge ruled that free speech works both ways and refused to tell Al Capp to stop.”
Here’s Mike Fontanelli on L’IL ABNER and how the strip influenced his work as a cartoonist:
I admit I am an unabashed fan, so maybe I’m not so impartial a judge. The guy’s ideas just kill me, especially the classic forties and fifties stuff. I remember reading him in the sixties and seventies (I was born in ‘61, so the strip was well past its prime by the time I’d gotten to it) and laughing until tears rolled down my cheeks. Decline or not, it was still the funniest, ballzy-est strip on the comics page. He and Walt Kelly were my heroes – they still are, actually. (I’m a cartoonist because of POGO and ABNER, basically – I’d probably be working in a bookstore if it weren’t for that stuff. And MAD, and Looney Tunes.)
Thank you for reproducing the famous (some would say infamous) Joanie Phoanie strips, which I’ve always heard about but never had the opportunity to read before. (I’ve gotta laugh at “Molotov Cocktails For Two” and “Let’s Conga With The Viet Cong”! Sure it’s mean – and over the top, I guess. But it’s also, after all, just Capp being Capp.)
I’m sorry that ASIFA is stuck with scanning ABNER continuities that are already available elsewhere, but we don’t currently have the resources or the access to anything better. (Coming up, however, is a hilarious continuity called CHICKENSOUPERMAN!, a spoof of TV superheroes and their sponsors that, as far as I know, has never been republished since it originally ran in 1966.)
Our real intent was to introduce Capp to a new generation, one that’s grown up with the likes of FOXTROT and DRABBLE, and so has no idea that newspaper comics were once intelligent, dynamic, beautifully drawn and well worth reading. (After Capp, we hope to do comprehensive tributes to Willard Mullin and Walt Kelly.)
It’s very gratifying to receive letters from teenagers and twenty-somethings who were bowled over by the Loverboynik strips. (Wait’ll they see Fearless Fosdick, I keep telling them…)
The Capp retrospective will stretch out to around a dozen posts, because the material is so great, and because, frankly, his reputation could use some rescuing.
(I’d like to Google search Al Capp someday and find references to his work for a change, instead of his cantankerous cameo in IMAGINE and his sexcapades with coeds. I’d also like to see Denis Kitchen resume his pet project one day: the republication of the complete LI’L ABNER.)
After all, we can’t let the kids go on believing that CATHY and SALLY FORTH are all there is, can we?
(Mark here:) Make sure that all you Al Capp fans check out ASIFA’s Animation History website at www.animationarchive.org for more classic Capp strips. Here is another person’s reation to the “Joanie Phoanie” reprints, Bill Warren, Internet Film Reviewer and author of the book, “Keep Watching The Skies!”: “Al Capp, like Charlton Heston, was one of those implacable guys who planted a flag right HERE and defended that position as the best possible place to be–while unaware they’re sliding steadily to the right. That Joanie Phoanie stuff is really repellent; not only does it falsify the hell out of Baez, but it’s mean, contempt-laded writing. Capp was always very smug as a writer, but he had flexibility early on. He utterly ossified by the time of the Joanie Phoanie crap. Al Capp jumps the shark, big time. Did you ever see that video of him smirking at John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they were doing their protest from a bed? (Recently posted on Cartoon Brew-MK) Capp obviously thinks he’s winning everything, but he’s just a mean old bastard who doesn’t know he sounds like a preening bully. I always liked Li’l Abner, but I also was wary of it. Even though Abner is always a decent guy, he’s also always a stupid guy, and stupid because he’s a hillbilly. General Bullmoose is a financial tyrant, but he’s not stupid. There was a certain elitism in the strip, all the time. Interesting that he became so envious of Charles Schulz, since in the past, Ham Fisher had become so envious of Capp. I was puzzled that Chester Gould also evidently became jealous of Schulz, with his “Sawdust” strip-within-the-strip. I don’t recall seeing any traces of that kind of stuff in Schulz’s work.(Mark again:)
Please excuse all the type face size variance, I don’t know how to make all the fonts uniform. I’m very happy that the Joanie strips attracted such good comments! Thank you, Mike and Bill for taking the time to make this post one of my better ones. I think it’s a good contrast between the opinions of a cartoonist who appreciates Capp for his art, and a film reviewer and scholar who sees Capp predominately as a satirist who fell apart by the late 1960s. Remember, you may comment on anything you see here by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other strips this week are MARVELOUS MIKE from 6-2-56 to 6-9-56, sorry that 6-7 is among the missing. Little Mike is going to make his adopted father look like a hero very soon. I also have the first two pages of the Felix story, “Tale of a Fish” from Felix the Cat #4, by the madcap cartoonist, Jim Tyer. I know he drew these stories, but I’m not sure about the writing. Maybe Gaylord Dubois was doing the scripting, does anyone know?