A favorite secondary character in “Shoe” is the heavyweight drinker Senator Batson D. Belfry of East Virginia, usually shown at a press conference.
“He’s got so many stands on each issue,” says Shoe, “he’s turned into a one-man crowd.”
Congresswoman Lacey Davenport in “Doonesbury” reminded many of senior stateswoman Rep. Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey.
Little Orphan Annie
Conservative political opinion was the realm of “Little Orphan Annie” and the later “Li’l Abner.”
“ ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ said Rosenkranz, “(was) one of the most conservative-oriented strips of all times. Harold Gray has often used his blank-eyed, red-haired moppet to fight the New Deal, socialism, communists, and other favorite targets of the political Right.” (2)
Annie’s guardian, Daddy Warbucks is a self-made millionaire, a populist, and a protector of the American way whose lessons are hard work, fair play, and basic morality.
“In combating his enemies, be they gangsters, foreign powers, or labor leaders, Warbucks is a towering titan, a solitary superman who alone determines the destiny of millions while remaining a bedrock of strength for his few devoted followers. Opposing him are ruthless but often ultimately incompetent gangs of exploiters, whose perfidious leaders are as feckless as their followers. These forces of anarchy must be subdued by the triumph of Warbucks’s superior will. ‘Daddy’ stands outside and above the law.” (3)
“In the 44 years he wrote and drew ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ Gray kept returning to the same themes found in the early strips: libertarianism, populism, and American nationalism.
Gray consistently defended business against government intervention and reform; common people against the educated pseudo-European elite; and America’s ‘mongrel’ culture against the pretenses of European superiority.” (4)
Gray made it clear in his correspondence that he had no use for the politics of Roosevelt or Truman. Ironically, points out Heer, when the “Annie” musical was developed for Broadway in 1977 (twenty years after Gray’s death), Annie in one scene befriends the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Al Capp, in his “Li’l Abner” seems to have begun his career as a political liberal and ended as an archconservative.
The large mustachioed General Bullmoose represented the powerful interests of the “military-industrial-complex” as he steamrolled through society, buying up companies and barking orders. (Taking a cue from General Motors, the refrain became, “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.”)
By the 1960’s Capp seemed tired of liberal thought and certainly had no patience for the campus protesters of the day. Joanie Phoney represented the protesting folk singers and campuses were populated with groups like “S.W.I.N.E. – Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything.”
Here is Capp’s own description of his “conversion” from liberal to conservative:
“I had grown up in days when anybody who ate regularly (the upper class) felt no responsibility for the poor souls that didn’t, and helped them only out of human kindness.
As I grew into the upper class, I became a liberal. We demanded that the unfortunate be given welfare, that their rent be paid, that they be given food benefits. We fought for all that, and slowly, painfully, we won. It was marvelous being a liberal in those days, because you were on the side of humanity.
“What began to bother me, privately, was that, as things grew better, the empire of the needy seemed to grow larger. Somehow, they became entitled to government gifts other people couldn’t get, such as people who worked...
“My politics didn’t change. I had always been for those who were despised, disgraced, and denounced by other people. That was what had changed. Suddenly it was the poor working bastard who was being denounced. He had always worked, his wife had always worked, his kids worked. At some point they bought a house in the suburbs. It was from his paycheck that the billions for welfare came. He never complained about it. But why were the others complaining about him? He was never a silent generation; he was a bewildered one. I knew that it would be terribly unsmart to say anything in his defense. But I knew that if I remained silent I would die as a satirist. A satirist has only one gift: he sees where the fraud and fakery are. I turned around and let the other side have it.”(5)
“Don’t worry, sir” the watchdog says to the junkyard owner in “Shoe”, “If anyone should penetrate our perimeter, I’ll apprehend the perpetrator and terminate same with extreme prejudice.”
Junkyard owner: “Don’t you think you should read him his rights first?”
“Great!” thinks the dog, “Years of training as a junkyard dog, and I end up working for some liberal!” (“Shoe” 9-4-87)
The liberal ideology of politics was reflected primarily by “Pogo,” “Feiffer,” and “Doonesbury.”
Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” brought in satire through talking animals. A pirate pig resembled Russia’s Nikita Khruschev. Lyndon Johnson’s head, complete with cowboy hat, once appeared on the neck of a horse.
A later character with a horse’s (or hyena’s) face, complaining about the media, had a clear resemblance to then Vice President Spiro Agnew. His pipe-smoking bird friend looked like Attorney General John Mitchell. Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and Bobby Kennedy also showed up as swamp animal visitors.
“In Pogo, imbecilic animals people the Okefenokee Swamp staging a grand and painful parody of human society. During the 1952 elections they had their own ‘swamp campaign,’ The owl speechified, ‘What differmints if we got fourteen nominees? We outnumber both other candidates.’ Albert the alligator responds, ‘If all of us is president, with our brains the country is safe.’ But it is not sure that it is.” (Dyrness) (6)
“’Politicians are wheeler-dealers, and they’re all ripe for lampooning,’ he (Kelly) used to say. He sent his swamp characters into every major political situation. In 1952, he had a character named Tammanny Tiger who teamed up with Albert the Alligator to run Pogo for president. But Pogo couldn’t make up his mind whether to run or not. Readers began to write, accusing him of sounding too much like Adlai Stevenson, the ‘reluctant candidate.’” (7)
“In 1952 ‘Pogo’ added a new dimension – political allegory. As Kelly remembered it: ‘After all, it is pretty hard to walk past an unguarded gold mine and remain empty-handed.’...Satirizing political candidates (became) a ‘Pogo’ tradition. In 1964 Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Romney were portrayed as windup dolls (Romney ran backward). President Lyndon Johnson appeared in the form of a nearsighted Texas longhorn with a bulbous nose. Nixon has also appeared as a spider. A hyena looked suspiciously like Vice President Spiro Agnew. Whereas Capp (Li’l Abner) uses a machete, Kelly prefers to tickle his opponent into submission.” (Robinson) (8)
“A not-so-happy ending for free expression occurred in 1962, when Kelly depicted two intruders in the swamp. A boorish pig resembled Soviet leader Khruschev, and a seedy goat was the spitting image of Cuban dictator Castro. A Japanese client paper dropped ‘Pogo’ after ‘inquiries’ were made by the Russian embassy, and that paper never relented. Kelly fumed. ‘I can understand their position,’ he wrote, ‘they’re so close to Vladivostok.” (Marshall) (9)
Jules Feiffer, cartoonist for the Village Voice, brought some “bite” into his social cartoons, condemning public apathy and lampooning the foolishness of most politics.
Feiffer’s multiple-panel narratives have focused on Bernard, the ultimate loser, and on the Dancer, a woman dressed in leotards who interprets society by her dances and her comments. “She dances to the seasons, to the president, to art, to the new year; in 1982 she danced to Reganomics: ‘No frills. No excuses. No giveaways. No favors. No money. No job. No government. No thanks.” (10)
“From the year of his syndication, 1960, Feiffer began addressing himself increasingly to the national scene, pillorying each president as he came along. Kennedy was ‘The Sundance Kid,” Ford was presented with a tin can on his head like Opper’s simpleton Happy Hooligan, Carter was “Jimmy the Cloud,” and Reagan’s administration was ‘Movie America.’ In 1986, the strip brought him the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.” (11)
Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” has aimed at political targets so often that many papers run the strip on their editorial page. A typical strip might have conversation between the President and Vice President emanating from the White House.—
“Doonesbury” has become famous for symbolic portrayals of political leaders-
George Bush as an asterisk
Dan Quayle as a feather
Bill Clinton as a waffle
Newt Gingrich as a bomb (with a lit fuse)
George W. Bush as a cowboy hat
Trudeau has never backed away from controversial topics-
Viet Cong terrorist Phred later shows up in NY a few years later as a United Nations diplomat.
Newscasters take a tour of Ronald Reagan’s brain and discuss George W. Bush’s I.Q.
The Senate Watergate investigative committee opens the floor for “innuendo and hearsay.”
“The world of ‘Doonesbury’ is peopled with real as well as fictional characters. Sensitive newspaper editors –and, no doubt, John Mitchell, were not amused when Mark Slackmeyer finished an on-air profile of the former Attorney General (during the Watergate hearings) with the words, ‘Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!’ A few years later, the same character offered his listeners a coupon –‘just like the ones the gun nuts use’-so that they could send for information about congressional ethics violations. The coupon was printed as the last panel in the strip, and included the address of (then) Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, down to the zip code. The Speaker’s office was flooded with coupons, and he didn’t think it was funny either.” (Broder) (12)
If the present “Doonesbury” represents a liberal slant on current events, Bruce Tinsley’s “Mallard Fillmore” clearly balances it with a conservative take on the news. Mallard is a duck who works as a reporter, lampooning political correctness and standing up for talk radio.
Mallard used Garry Trudeau as a character in the strip, taking him to task for passing on an Internet hoax about George Bush. In the strip, in the tradition of “Doonesbury,” Trudeau is depicted as a Hostess Twinkie.
1. Dyrness, William, “Funnies,” His, Nov. 1972, p.27.
2. Rosenkranz, Bob, “The Funnies are 75”
3. O’Sullivan, Judith, The Great American Comic Strip, Bullfinch, 1990, p.63.
4. Heer, Jeet, “Fascism in the Funnies,” National Post, March 15, 2002.
5. Capp, Al, Introduction, The Best of Little Abner, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1978.
6. Dyrness, op.cit.
7. Mastrangelo, Joseph, “Unforgettable Walt Kelly,” Reader’s Digest, July 1974, p. 102.
8. Robinson, Jerry, The Comics, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974.
9. Marschall, Richard, America’s Great Comic Strip Artists, Abbeville, 1989.
10. Wepman, Dennis, “Feiffer, Jules”, in Goulart, Ron, The Encyclopedia of American Comics, Facts on File, 1990.
12. Broder, D., Changing of the Guard, p.426
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