Comic Book Legends Revealed #461
COMIC LEGEND: Al Capp invented the Li’l Abner prototype Big Leviticus while working for Ham Fisher.
STATUS: I’m Going with False
Li’l Abner was Al Capp’s famous hillbilly comic strip character, so famous that Abner made the cover of Life magazine when Capp had the character get married…
Before starting Li’l Abner, Capp was an assistant for Ham Fisher on the comic strip, Joe Palooka (about a boxer).
In the pages of Joe Palooka, there was a similar hillbilly character named Big Leviticus (here is Big Leviticus from later on in a Joe Palooka comic book)…
For decades, Capp claimed to have created Big Leviticus during his time ghosting for Fisher on Joe Palooka during a period when Fisher was on vacation and there was not enough strips, so Capp had to quickly fill-in and he came up with the hillbilly characters. People all pretty much bought Capp’s take on the situation. Hell, I know I certainly believed it.
However, in their recent (excellent) biography on Al Capp, Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary, Denis Kitchen and Michael Schumacher have successfully convinced me otherwise.
As it turns out, the timing of Leviticus’ first appearance doesn’t seem to support Capp’s assertions. Capp’s first Joe Palooka work appeared in October 15 1933. Big Leviticus appeared a week later. The story went on for FIVE weeks. It is clear that Capp DID draw the Big Leviticus strips, but the notion that Fisher, a very fussy and particular man, would have allowed his brand-new assistant to take over the strip entirely a week after starting on the strip and continuing for five weeks right away does not seem likely, and I tend to agree with Kitchen and Schmucher’s conclusion.
Especially, as they note, there was another extended Big Leviticus storyline in February of 1934. Perhaps Fisher DID go on vacation for THAT storyline, but it seems very unlikely that Fisher would hire a guy and then proceed to go on vacation and just let his brand-new hire produce the strip on his own.
However, I can believe the theory that Capp came up with the IDEA for Big Leviticus and pitched it to Fisher and then Fisher went along with the story but I don’t think that Capp created the characters solo.
Thanks to Denis Kitchen and Michael Schumacher for the information!