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Golden period not yet reached, but visible in the horizon...,
This review is from: Li'l Abner: The Complete Dailies and Color Sundays, Vol. 2: 1937-1938 (Hardcover)
The tone is set, and so are the main characters. By 1937-38, Li'l Abner had begun to manifest itself in public consciousness for real, having made it into a couple of compilations in book form and steadily increasing in newspaper readership. However, the strip has not yet reached what is often considered to be its golden period; creator Al Capp still has a tendency of displaying elements of time-typical melodrama which, at times, might appear somewhat "over-the-top" by today's standards. This is particularly true of 1938, which in the introduction is described as perhaps the oddest year in Li'l Abner's long run; in one story, Daisy Mae is deprived of her sight, which makes for an atmosphere far from amusing. These heavy touches of pathos may very well have been a conscious effort on Capp's part to assure himself the loyalty of readers, before eventually allowing the outrageous satire and burlesque situations of which he later became famous to moreover characterize the strip. After all, any comic strip creator of the 1930's well knew that the surest way to achieve popularity was to have the readers constantly worry about the well-being of a strip's characters.
Even so, this second volume of IDW's Li'l Abner reprintings offers plenty of memorable situations. An event worthy of particular attention is the very first Sadie Hawkins Day's Race, which takes off in November of 1937, and marks the introduction of a tradition which would remain synonumous with the strip for the next forty years. Sadie Hawkins Day may be said to be the groundbreaking idea which revealed the extent of Capp's creative genius; it is now made clear that the cartoonist has higher ambitions with Li'l Abner than to let the strip remain an outlet of hillbilly archetypes. It is well reported that youngsters were quick to adopt the tradition into high schools and colleges all over America, and it was inevitable that Sadie Hawkins Day served as the basic plot of the first film adaptation of Capp's strip a few years later.
Other highlights in this volume includes the escapades of the terrible, terrible Scragg brothers, who appear to be as evil and sociopathic as ever, as well as Abner's meeting with the 'Strange Gal;' the female has been deprived of any contact with males throughout her life, raised by her mother to believe that men are monsters. Although one might wish that Capp would have explored this theme a bit further than he does here, the story serves as yet another hint of the brilliant, bizarre situations that he was soon to come up with. Finally, it is worth noting that fans who possess the previous reprintings of Li'l Abner dailies are recommended to follow this new series as well, due to the Sunday-strips in color which are here finally made available again. These grow increasingly complex during this volume; a particular favorite of mine has Abner's friend Abijah Gooch being mistaken for another person of that same name, a famous poet whose shy nature has caused his face never to have been publicly seen... Mistaken identity was also to remain a frequently used formula in Capp's strip.