Sometimes, even in a house with thousands of books, I'm not sure what I'd like to read. So I pick up something old and familiar. When I was a kid, my favorite comic strip, hands down, was Li'l Abner, and the other night I decided to revisit the strip through a couple of paperbacks.
The book on the far left is a collection of popular episodes, including the one in which Li'l Abner finally marries Daisy Mae. (I followed his narrow escapes for years, and when I was a teenager, I was even invited to a couple of Sadie Hawkins' Day dances.) The book itself is a look at how the sad future of comic strips as it crams six panels onto one page, making them about the size they are now in the daily papers. Capp's panels are so crammed with detail that the reduction pretty much ruins them.
The stories are still amusing, and of course very unPC. They're timely, too. "Jack Jawbreaker" is about two guys who create a strip by that name and about how they're cheated out of pretty much everything. It'll remind you of Men of Tomorrow and A Killing in Comics.
The timely bit in The Life and Times of the Shmoo comes in this dialog between two captains of industry: "Psst! These poor ignorant wretches will be grateful to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for $7 a week. They've never heard of anything better -- And (chuckle) we'll never tell 'em!!" "Oh! You're a bright lad!! The Board may well give you a $500,000 bonus again this year!!"
The Shmoo book, by the way, is a nice example of how comics should be handled in paperback. Two panels per page, or one in the case of the bigger panels. The pages in this old Pocketbook are printed on acid-free paper, I guess. They're as clean and as bright as if they'd rolled off the presses yesterday.
The Shmoos were my favorite characters in Li'l Abner, among a gallery of wonderful characters: Moonbeam McSwine, Mysterious Yokum, Pappy and Mammy Yokum, Daisy Mae, Stupefyin' Jones, the Skraggs, Joe Btfsplk, and the list goes on and on. Great stuff, and if you don't believe me, well, read John Steinbeck's intro to the Li'l Abner book.