Alfred G. Caplin was riding high with his success on the Joe Palooka comic strip and creating the hillbilly character Big Leviticus (a claim disputed by Ham Fisher) when he decided he could become a big-time cartoonist instead of a low paid assistant.
And so he did – with Li’l Abner.
Li’l Abner was a good-natured backwoods boy who was more pleasing to newspaper readers than the prototypical Big Levitcus. The young (going on 25) cartoonist only had a couple years of hands-on experience, but he was a cartooning genius and both his writing and art developed quickly.
He also hired assistants almost immediately.
You can read the first six months of dailies at the Li’l Abner GoComics page to follow the strip’s early development.
A combination of Al Capp‘s humor, scantily clad country girls, liberal digs at conservative politics, fantasy (shmoos, etc.), satire, and more sexy girls shot the comic to the top of the must read lists.
Capp also made a name as a parodist, most famously Fearless Fosdick.
O tempora! O mores!
As Capp tells it he didn’t change, the public did.
Anyway, the creator and the creation fell into disfavor.
Finally, on November 5, 1977, the daily strip ended.
The Sunday page lasted one more week.
Apparently the end came sooner than expected.
Joakim Gunnarsson has found a Sunday of original art dated November 27, 1977.
In the comments is Richard Marschall’s educated guess as to who drew that unpublished Sunday.
Toward the end of the following decade, 1988 – 1989, Li’l Abner returned in the form of reruns. By the time the syndicate stopped the one year experiment with Li’l Abner reruns “Walt Kelly’s Pogo” had returned to the funny pages with a new generation creating new strips. Al Capp Enterprises thought they could do the same with their property.
The revival by Norm Hochberg and Steve Stiles never got into newspapers.
* the first Li’l Abner and Fearless Fosdick Sundays come via the ilovecomix archive.
** the last three dailies come from Dan Nadel and R. C. Harvey and The Comics Journal.
*** the last Li’l Abner Sunday came from the PDX Retro site.