Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 24, 2017

FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE SHORT LIFE AND HAPPY TIMES OF THE SCHMOO

The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo by All Capp (2002)


I have some vague memories of Al Capp appearing on Boston television in the 1960s, where he struck me as a bitter, old, one-legged man.  This was a time when the cartoonist was getting more and more acerbic and when stories of his sexual misconduct were beginning to rise.  But Capp was a man of contrasts:  even during his time as a right-wing iconoclast, Capp remained a strong and generous supporter of a number of liberal causes.  No matter what sort of person Capp had become in his later life, he remained the genius who helped shape American culture in the mid-twentieth century -- this he did through his brilliant comic strip L'il Abner.

Abner Yokum, a simple, muscle-bound innocent, along with the other denizens of Dogpatch, Kentucky, captured the hearts and imaginations of America from 1934 to the nineteen seventies.  Abner, Daisie Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, Marryin' Sam, the hapless Joe Btfsplk (whose name, according to Capp, was pronounced by blowing a raspberry), and others were welcome guests in homes throughout the world -- even Queen Elizabeth was a fan.  Capp and Li'l Abner also gave two more wonderful characters:  the Dick Tracy lookalike fearless Fosdick (one of my favs) and the incredible Shmoo.  Of those two, the Shmoo (plural, Shmoon or Shmoos) was certainly the most popular. 

From Wikipedia:

"Schmoo dolls, clocks, watches, jewelry, earmuffs, wallpaper, fishing lures, air fresheners, soap, ice cream, balloons, ash trays, toys, games, Halloween masks, salt and pepper shakers, decals, pinbacks, tumblers, coin banks, greeting cards, planters, neckties, suspenders, belts, curtains, fountain pens and other shmoo paraphernalia...Close to a hundred licensed shmoo products from 75 different manufacturers were produced in less than one years, some of which sold five million units each."

In 1949, the Shmoo replaced Mickey Mouse as the face of Children;'s Savings Bonds, backed by a $16 million advertising campaign.

The have been Shmoo books and comic books, Shmoo-themed records, and animated television shows (including Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo).

So who/what are the Shmoo/Shmoon?  The Shmoo is a fast-breeding animal that looks a bit like a bowling pin (or, perhaps, male genetalia; potato, potahto).  They are happy, cheerful critters who exist only to make people happy.  They require only air.  And they are a perfect food source.  They lay eggs, bottles of milk, butter; when cooked they can taste like chicken, steak, pork, or catfish, depending on how the are cooked; raw they taste like raw oysters on the shell.  Their pelts make perfect leather or house timbers (depending on how thick you cut them).  Their whiskers make wonderful toothpicks and their eyes can be used as suspender buttons.  They have no bones so 100% of the Shmoo can be used; there is no waste.  If a Shmoo senses that you are are hungry, they happily drop dead so you can eat them.

I wonder what PETA thinks of the Shmoo?

Capp claimed there was no hidden message behind the Shmoo, but many have felt it was a stinging jab on capitalism; others felt it was a swipe at socialism.  For millions of readers, it didn't matter; after the first story arc with the Shmoo appeared, L'il Abner's circulation doubled.

The original sequence was published in 1948 as The Life and Times of the Shmoo sold 700,000 copies that year alone.  The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo includes both the original story and its sequel, "the Return of the Shmoo."  As a bonus, there's an introduction/appreciation from Harlan Ellison that is worth the price of the book in itself.

Li'l Abner happens to stumble on the Valley of the Shmoon, where he is warned that the Shmoo is the "greatest menace to mankind that's ever existed."  There are billions of them in the valley, and more are born every second.  These cute creatures take a shine to Abner and follow him back to Dogpatch, where Abner gives the quickly-multiplying animals to every family in Dogpatch.  The Shmoo provide for every need.  Now no one needs to buy food any longer and, thus, do not need to work.  As the Shmoos spread throughout the country, America's economy tanks.  While some businessmen see this as an opportunity, others -- including J. Roaringham Fatback -- are determined to solve the crisis.  D. D. Teasdale, professional pest exterminator, is hired to eliminate the Shmoon.  Teasdale's ace employee, Dan'l Shmoone, who with his Shmooicide Squad, is dispatched to Dogpatch, where the Shmooicide Squad (the SS?) riddle the animals with Fosdick-like bullet holes.

Li'l Abner, however, has managed to save two Shmoon.  He thinks they are both males but Daisie Mae informs him the one is a female Abner is a simple-minded soul).  She wants the Shmoos to marry and have billions of little Shmoos.  Abner, long a proponent of bachelorhood, is opposed.  Daisie Mae and the female Shmoo have their chance at the upcoming Sadie Hawkins Day race.  To complicate things, The Wolf Girl makes a surprise appearance, hoping to land Abner for herself.

The Shmoo go back to their isolated valley.  Abner remains a bachelor for the time being.  Eventually he does marry Daisie Mae and they have a son, Honest Abe.  The Shmoo have long been forgotten but one day Honest Abe finds one and soon there's another national Shmoo emergency.  Nothing the government and the army does can stop the Shmoon, so it's up to Abner to save the day.  He does, but there's always the possibility that the Shmoo might return...

(They don't, at least in the comic strip.)

Broad humor, subtle humor, marvelous artwork, and a deus ex Yokum combine to make this book a true delight.

7 comments:

  1. Never heard of this, Jerry. So thanks for introducing a piece of cultural history.

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  2. Al Capp was one of my favorite cartoonists. I'll have to track down a copy of this! Great review!

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  3. I cut my baby teeth on Li'l Abner and followed the strip religiously until the paper's I read growing up and into adulthood dropped it. Must find this book!

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