Thursday, November 06, 2008
No, of course he didn't. Harvey Kurtzman did, but according to Mike Fontanelli there would nevertheless have been no MAD without Capp. Writing for the ASIFA-HOLLYWOOD ARCHIVE site, Mike says Mad's idea of making fun of comic strip characters, which is how Mad got started, came directly from Capp's running parody of Dick Tracy, "Fearless Fosdick."
Now that I've had a chance to think about it, that doesn't surprise me at all. Capp influenced Mad, Mad influenced Saturday Night Live, and SNL influenced...well, a sizable chunk of modern American comedy and culture
Dick Tracy was made for parody. Look at him: banana hat rim, razor-sharp profile, weirdly-graded hairline, an almost-too-good-to-be-true dedication to his work...
...and a delight in beating up criminals.
Fosdick doesn't just beat them up, he shoots them! It was really nice of Chester Gould to let Capp parody his character to such an extreme (above, click to enlarge). He never asked Capp for money, and never leaned on Capp to dilute the humor.
Fosdick was enormously popular with the public and newspaper editors alike. According to a Pageant Magazine the syndicate begged Capp to do Fosdick as a regular second strip, along with "L'il Abner." Capp declined. He was afraid that a too frequently appearing parody would soon run out of gas.
With the popularity of Fearless Fosdick, other comics parodies began to appear. Most fell flat but one was a spectacular success.
That one was Kurtzman's Mad. I don't mean to imply that Mad was a rank imitator. You can see from these first three pages of "Superduperman" (above) that Kurtzman and Wood added a lot to the Fosdick idea. Even so, the influence is obvious. The parody is pushed Capp-style to it's absolute, over-the-top limit. Kurtzman parodied lots of strips, not just one like Capp, so he didn't have to worry about running out of ideas.
Mad had its work cut out for it. It's hard to go farther over the top than Capp.
But Mad tried, and the public loved it. These were the days before political correctness when fun wasn't a crime.
Capp was amazing. Here (above) the criminal mastermind is a talking chair. Of course every crime boss has a dame and the chair is no exception. I'd have guessed that a chair might have a stool for a girlfriend, but nope...the girl is a real, live, human female. I wonder what their dates were like.
There's a lot more to Mike's article than appears here. Check it out at the ASIFA-Hollywood archive: