Thursday, November 22, 2012

BOOKS REVIEW! FEARLESS FOSDICK and FEARLESS FOSDICK, THE HOLE STORY by AL CAPP (Kitchen Sink Press, 1990 and 1992 respectively)

I guess that all of the Al Capp sensory overload I've encountered these past few weeks was a tremendous enough shock to my psyche! Undoubtedly because of it, I dragged out these Kitchen Sink reprints of Capp's long-running "strip within a strip" FEARLESS FOSDICK if only to re-acquaint myself with the antics of "The World's Greatest Detective" who bore a strange resemblance to both DICK TRACY (physically) and DUDLEY DOORIGHT (mentally)!!! An' in no way could I say that re-reading these books was a tiresome task either...y'see, not only was the entire FOSDICK concept yet another true manifestation of Capp's satirical genius, but it was the first and best of the noted cartoonist's many comic strip spoofs to have appeared in ABNER, and besides that it was the only one which lasted within the confines of that strip from Fosdick's first appearance in 1942 until the strip's bitter demise a good thirty-five years later.

Not only that but the stories to be found within these pages sure bring back the comic strip memories many fold! Y'see, it was I while still in the single-digits mind you, who used to jump for joy when a brand-spanking-new FOSDICK adventure hit the funny pages, at first mystified at how close in proximity it came to TRACY (this being before I understood the concept of lampooning in my pre MAD days) before glancing over at DICK TRACY studying the similarities and exaggerations that Capp put into his rather clever take off. It might not seem like much to anybody these days, but back when I was eight it was pretty much ALL THE WORLD!!!

Ah, but those days are long gone, and come to think of it so are ABNER and FOSDICK, victims of killer time which catches up with everything no matter how hard we may try otherwise. But at least I have them memories to rely upon as well as these books, both of which not only reprint some of the better cases from the FOSDICK files but prove just what a comedic genius (and I ain't one to use that word lightly!) Capp was even if he sure made more than a few enemies throughout his career and got pretty much caught up in it all as a result.

These collections also prove just how adventurous and chance-taking not only ABNER, but the entire comic strip page in general used to be at least until the baby boomer generation that ironically was influenced by the likes of ABNER got hold of the reigns and began churning out strip after strip of such subpar sputum  that even those complaints people used to have about Chester Gould being such a lousy artist seem extremely unfair in the face of the one-dimensional drek that permeates the comics these days!

The first FOSDICK collection contains the earlier, and therefore better, FOSDICK strips back when Our Hero still wore a rather Tracy-esque fedora and was running up against villains sporting such grotesque monikers as Rat-Top and Carrot-Top, miscreants who naturally looked as strange as their names would imply. The sampling of stories in this 'un is also sure to startle, with Fosdick using his cunning wit to outfox some of his biggest adversaries from Anyface, the criminal who can make himself look like whoever he wants to the Atom Bum as well as the most baffling case of Sidney the Crooked Parrot, a feather-ruffling saga where Fosdick's own parrot turns to a life of crime in a revenge-filled campaign to see his former owner's downfall!

The absurdities and commentaries on real life, comic strip culture and generally the cult of the hero are so cutting at times I wonder why newspapers weren't dropping FOSDICK due to not only its violent nature, but the cutting critiques concerning everything from wanton violence to corrupt policemen! After all, if FEARLESS FOSDICK wasn't being presented as a humorous comic strip lampoon it very likely would have been banned (and I mean it!) due to the disturbing visuals that showed Fosdick killing hundreds of innocent people while trying to get to that elusive criminal (who more or less was walking on the grass) during the call to duty! Yeah, we all know that Capp was pulling our legs regarding violence and entertainment in a rather jovial if sick way, but with all of the Werthams out there who still are trying to make a better world you know these joke sometimes just doesn't come off the way they should!

A good example of the overuse of ultraviolence as cathartic humor in FOSDICK just has to be "The Case of the Poisoned Beans," a case where Fosdick, after learning that one can of Old Faithful Beans (the most popular brand in the unnamed city Fosdick lives in) has been tampered with, kills potential bean lovers citywide in order to "protect" them from eating the potentially lethal contents! Not that killing people wasn't part of the entire Fosdick credo...after all, the man's own dictum states that it is far better that thousands of innocent people go to the great beyond than one criminal should escape...but in order to "save" the city from coming across that one tainted can of beans Fosdick goes on a killing rampage mowing down not only the cans, but the people who are about to eat their contents! Since Fosdick's murderous rampage is all in the line of duty his superiors look the other way and proclaim him "harmless," at least until he "accidently croaked a cop" and is found, tried and convicted within the span of a half hour!  Really, someone should take a toll to see just how many people Fosdick killed throughout his run in ABNER, which might even be a more staggering one than the number of deaths at the hands of Lucas McCain on THE RIFLEMAN!

THE HOLE STORY, besides featuring a cover with actual bullet holes in Fosdick's body (which usually looks like Swiss Cheese when he takes his shirt off) features mostly strips from the fifties when Fosdick's appearance changed, he now looking more like a cheap house detective with his bowler hat and narrow shoulders rather than the bold plainclothesman in yellow raincoat oft seen in the forties. Maybe Capp wanted Fosdick to look as comical as his behavior warranted, but that wasn't the only change in now the strip began taking on some continuity it had previously lacked, with a regularly appearing mustachioed chief (who's naturally on the take even though Fosdick is too naive and innocent to realize it) and with Fosdick's long-suffering fiancee of seventeen years Prudence Pimpleton finally gaining a steady look---kinda foreboding in the face department but whoo...whatta typical sexy Al Capp female build! With a lotta these gals Capp delineated you may not have been too keen on their faces, but boy were they built like brick pizzerias!

These particular latterday sagas just don't pack the same punch the earlier FOSDICK psychocomedy/dramas do (perhaps because the former United Features Syndicate told Capp to tone down the violence, or was it because the earlier carnage just did not seem fit for the fifties?) but they still hold up extremely well with storylines dealing with Fosdick unknowingly turning into a revenge-seeking Mr. Hyde out to kill the judge who heavily fined him for parking illegally during a police shootout, a cheap criminal hiding a million dollar wristwatch inside Fosdick's head, a notorious hood fooling the police department into thinking Fosdick is 65 and due for retirement and my fave, Fosdick being replaced by a robot who can sniff out criminal activities and dole out justice thus knocking off half the police force! Loads of fun 'natch, and I gotta say much better'n spending a Saturday afternoon at the library pouring through microfilms while the librarian scowls at you since you told her you were doing a history report on Kruschev.

With my financial straits becoming even straiter as time rolls on it ain't like I'm going to be purchasing all of the ABNER reprints that I would love to have (monies being earmarked for the really biggies like DICK TRACY, ARCHIE and of course NANCY), but these old standbys do help out when I become misty-eyed for the days of yore when comic pages meant something in between the reruns and Dinky Toys. Perhaps a few ABNER collections which contain FOSDICK stories that don't pop up here might be something to save aluminum cans and plasma for, so if you see me scouring the highways for discarded Vienna Sausage tins some time please don't run me down! True you might be losing an ineffectual blogger, but you're also losing a midweek book review that'll brighten up your life more'n anything found on this sorry thing we call a web ever will!

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