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:


JohnK said...

That's some great stuff!

Remember when cartoons were about drawings?

deniseletter said...

The Mad's origins revealed!The motivation:to parody.

Kirk Nachman said...

And... Wood used the old Fosdick bullet-through-the-head endlessly, and a times to better effect than Capp, (in my humble view)- made it his own, as it were.

Anonymous said...

"Fearless Fosdick" was never animated, was it? Let's hope not.

Stephen Worth said...

Ralph Bakshi mentioned to me that when he was at Terrytoons, he was working with Capp on an animated adaptation of Fosdick.

deniseletter said...

BTW This is for you,Will political comedy be easier or more difficult?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Denise: My guess is that political comedy will take a sharp decline. That might be a good thing if it clears the way for other kinds of comedy to flourish.

Steve: Fascinating! I wish I knew the details!

BTW, thanks for putting up the great Capp article! Come to think of it, thanks for putting up all the really good stuff you've done lately. The ASIFA archive is on my list of sites to visit every day!

Asterius said...

Hmm, is that where the Tick's Chairface Chippendale came from?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Rudy: I commented on your blog!

Anonymous said...

Eddie, can you do something for me (I don't want to be a pest, at all)?

I wanted to know what you think of my blog, Theory of Santa. It's a joke blog basically pointing out obvious things against the great fatman of presents.

I don't wanna be a pest, and I wanted to know what you thought. Leave a comment please.


Kirk Nachman said...
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Kirk Nachman said...
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Hans Flagon said...

Seeing as I rate Kurtzman as one of the most influential people of the 29th century in forming social attitudes and popular culture, I often forget, and it is always nice to be reminded that other people were doing just about as much before him. Its elephants all the way down!

Similarly, I hold Forrest J Ackerman, in promoting nerd movie culture that brought us Speilberg, Landis, San Diego ComicCon, etcetera.

I swear I have seen some attempt at animating Fosdick somewhere. It was naturally stiff as any of those mid sixties Kirby based Marvel Cartoons that were little more than cutouts from the comics moved roughly and minimally around. Because Fosdick as a model was practically the same profile; because Capp was making fun of Gould almost never drawing Tracy any other way than in profile.

mike fontanelli said...

[I swear I have seen some attempt at animating Fosdick somewhere...]

There was at least one animated Wildroot Cream-Oil TV commercial produced featuring Fearless Fosdick. It's just a few seconds long, though. It was commercially available on a 1993 video cassette called "The Best Classic Commercials from the 50's & 60's - Volume Two", distributed by Moon River.

I'll been trying to track down others, but so far I haven't had any luck. If more Fosdick cartoons existed, they either haven't survived, or are otherwise unavailable for viewing.

BTW, you may be thinking of the Dick Tracy parody from EC's PANIC, ("The only authorized imitation of MAD") - done by Will Elder and Al Feldstein. In it, Tracy is taunted by images of Fosdick on bottles of hair tonic, and the full-face frontal image of his head is revealed in the last panel to be razor thin.

Hans Flagon said...

Mike, I don't have too many issues of Panic, and I don't think I have the Russ Cochran collection either, so I am not sure I've seen Tracy being haunted by Fosdick but it seems so familiar.

Although Feldsteins cheap copy of Mad was the precursor of the post Kurtzman Mad, I found PANIC a difficult read as a color comic. Damn that machine lettering.

deniseletter said...

"My guess is that political comedy will take a sharp decline. That might be a good thing if it clears the way for other kinds of comedy to flourish."

Very interesting!

Craig said...

The Fearless One starred in a puppet pilot with marionettes by Paul Ashley for Mary Chase Productions. I have a copy.

CartoonSteve said...

I don't remember an animated Fosdick but vaguely recall a Dick Tracy comic parody on a 60's or 70's Mad special on TV. Anyone else remember seeing that?

Maybe it could be found on a tape trading collector's site.

margotdarby said...

Brilliant and eye-opening. I was just thinking about Al he gave the reader his money's worth, the way no one does today. Capp was a nasty piece of work when you saw him on the talk shows, but the man was a promethean workhorse (imagine how he'd draw that). Mad's "satire" was actually parody that had a narrative life of its own and had production qualities (writing, drawing) that were equivalent to or better than the original being parodied. This is why it was different from college humor or New Yorker casuals. And it was Al Capp who set the bar high.