Fosdick getting a commendation from his boss. Artist: Al Capp.

FEARLESS FOSDICK

Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: "Lester Gooch" (Al Capp)
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Ask the average comics aficionado what's the most violent newspaper comic strip of all time, and the reply will undoubtedly be, "Why, Dick Tracy, of course!" And there's little doubt that's the correct answer — at least, if the field …

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… is limited to real comic strips. But if it includes fictional ones, the most violent can only be Al Capp's comic-within-a-comic, Fearless Fosdick. And why not? Fosdick is a parody of Tracy, grossly exaggerated for comic effect from his square-jawed profile to his propensity for mayhem beyond all reason. While Tracy may get shot at from time to time, Fosdick, after a gun battle, will sport "mere flesh wounds" that consist of large, clean, round holes going right through him, with daylight showing from the other side.

Fosdick was introduced on Sunday, November 2, 1941, as Li'l Abner's "ideel" — not just a favorite comic strip character, not just a role model, not just an object of abject, undying worship, but his ideel itself, so tough that on the rare occasions he isn't wearing his black suit, he pins his badge to his bare chest. For the duration of that storyline in Abner's United Feature Syndicate comic, Abner's emotional roller coaster was tied to the ups and downs of Fosdick's adventures in Dogpatch's newspaper. Its happy conclusion, amid piles of bullet-riddled corpses of innocent bystanders, brought euphoric glee to the enraptured boy.

Like Shmoos, Sadie Hawkins Day and any number of other Li'l Abner motifs, Fosdick returned again and again, always (for that storyline) assuming his role as centerpiece of Abner's life, the only thing that matters to him. Another regular was the cartoonist who created him, Lester Gooch, a certified maniac who worked out his hideous fantasies by incorporating them into his Fearless Fosdick comic strip. The syndicate, of course, was delighted with the continued production of his hideous fantasies, since they sold staggering quantities of newspapers.

In the real world, so popular did Fosdick become, he even had his own TV show. It was only a summer replacement of 13 episodes, scarcely remembered today, but starting June 15, 1952, NBC put him on its schedule as a puppet show. About the same time, he became familiar to millions of comic book readers through quarter-page ads in which he endorsed a hair tonic called Wildroot Cream-Oil. His final media spin-off came decades later, when the Abner feature itself was long defunct. When the strip was being reprinted, in sequence by Kitchen Sink Press (The Spirit, Steve Canyon), the publisher stepped out of sequence to do a special volume devoted entirely to Fearless Fosdick.

Fosdick was on the scene at a momentous turning point in its outside comic's history. As a member in good standing of Fosdick's local fan club, Abner was required to do everything his ideel did. When it looked like Fosdick was about to marry his long-time sweetheart, Prudence Pimpleton, the members had to prepare for marriage as well — but Abner was the only one old enough. Throughout the story, he was confident something would happen at the last minute to save him, but nothing did until the ceremony was actually performed, March 29, 1952. On that day, Abner was constrained to go through one of his own, with long-time sweetheart Daisy Mae Scragg.

Even then, he was sure one way or another, it would be invalidated the next day, and he was right — when the dust settled, Fosdick was still a bachelor and Prudence's hopes remained unfulfilled. But no such deus-ex-machina came for Abner. From that point forward, he and Daisy Mae were a family. The following year they had a son, Honest Abe Yokum.

Except for that one major change, the comic went on. There were even more Fosdick adventures. But according to some readers, that's when Li'l Abner "jumped the shark", i.e., was never quite so good again. Whether that's a valid evaluation or not, there's no doubt the strip's entire dynamic suddenly changed as a result of a Fearless Fosdick predicament.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Capp Enterprises, Inc.