Welcome to the three hundredth and forty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week is an all Will Eisner edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed! Discover the bizarre tale of Eisner's "feud" with Al Capp! Learn the mystery of John Law! And was Midnight created to replace the Spirit?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-one.
COMIC LEGEND: Will Eisner was tricked into starting a "feud" with Al Capp.
In 1947, Will Eisner's the Spirit newspaper feature did a series parodying both Al Capp's world-famous Lil' Abner comic strip and Capp himself...
The story was a bit of a curiosity. It was never mentioned again after it first came out and Capp never responded.
Many years later, though, Eisner explained the bizarre situation. You see, he was asked to start a feud with Capp...by Capp himself!! Here's Eisner describing it...
Somewhere in 1947, I got a phone call from Al, whom I’d known professionally. ‘Will,’ he said, ‘you know I’ve been doing a satire of Dick Tracy [One of Capp's most popular bits in Lil' Abner was his parodies of Chester Gould and Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip as Lester Gooch and Fearless Fosdick], and I thought it would be a good idea if we did a satire of each other’s characters.’ Of course I was quite flattered, because Al was big time, the big man on the block, and I was just a little newcomer. So I said yes indeed, I’d be glad to do that, and I went ahead and did a story. I remember calling the syndicate, and they were quite excited, because in those days, the idea of a crossover – which is quite common in comic books today – was virtually unheard of, especially in the syndicated strips.
So I published the story and I waited, watching Abner in the newspapers, and the same week my story came out, Newsweek called and asked to do an interview with me. And they printed this whole story about Al, and the satire I’d done on him…but it was mostly on Li’l Abner, and Al’s problems with his syndicate. I found out later that Al had called Newsweek and told them I would be doing the satire, so they could do a story about him.
He never did satirize The Spirit in his strip. Of course, looking at it in hindsight, I had no real right to expect him to reciprocate at all. He was a big man and I was a little fellow; everyone knew Dick Tracy and comparatively few knew The Spirit, so he had nothing to gain from that. But, I’ve got to admit that my lower lip trembled for a few days.
Check out James Vance's site here for more information about the feud-that-wasn't, including a hilarious response from Harvey Kurtzman!