After getting a sense of what Li’l Abner‘s creator was like, it’s time to meet Dogpatch, USA’s first family, the Yokums. Of course, readers are probably most interested in Li’l Abner‘s titular character so I’ll start with the big galoot himself.
Meet the Yokums: Li’l Abner Yokum
The heart and soul of Li’l Abner is, not surprisingly, the lovable and naïve Li’l Abner Yokum. Although some stories find Abner on the outskirts of the plot, no plot-line in the strip is ever free of the innocent and gigantic teen.
Capp deftly walks a difficult tightrope with his ongoing characterization of Li’l Abner. Longtime readers of the strip will be familiar with the way Capp poked fun at southern culture while simultaneously revering it. Li’l Abner may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but what he lacks in wit and charm he makes up for in bravery, loyalty, and unbeatable wrasslin’ skills, what he learnt from his Mammy.
Speak Softly But Carry a Big … Pair of Fists
Li’l Abner may be gigantic, but he doesn’t get violent often. His mammy taught him to use his head first and his fists as a last resort. Rest assured that if Abner has to “smack yo’ ’round a bit,” then yo’ deserve it.
Although Li’l Abner almost always does the right thing, he does have a blind spot. Li’l Abner’s relationship with women is decidedly outdated and relatively misogynistic. Li’l Abner sees “girls” as a bore, only reluctantly spending time with any but his beloved Mammy.
Southern Gentlemen Apparently Prefer “Po’k Chops”
One girl Abner often finds hanging around, despite his suspiciously halfhearted attempts to spurn her, is the lovelorn Daisy Mae Scragg. Daisy Mae has to put up with a lot of crap over the first year of Li’l Abner‘s publication, including being psychologically manipulated by a suitor and enduring a fake wedding to Li’l Abner. Although their on-again/off-again relationship eventually culminated in a long-lasting marriage, Daisy Mae had to put up with nearly 20 years of waiting. Luckily, neither of them aged…
Although a number of plot-lines take place in the Yokums’ hometown of Dogpatch, USA, Li’l Abner is periodically called to New York by his Aunt Bessie, the Duchess of Bopshire. Abner’s well-to-do socialite aunt stands in contrast to the rest of his salt-of-the-earth family. Rather than taking the gigantic and lovable teen as he is, Aunt Bessie is always working on some plan to educate and refine Li’l Abner. In one such plot-line, Li’l Abner is called to New York to attend college so he might one day realize his Mammy’s dream for him and “be Presidunt.”
Where the rest of the Yokum family act as caricatures of southern hill-folk, Aunt Bessie acts as a caricature of bigwig New Yorkers whom Capp would’ve had much greater familiarity with as a New Yorker himself.
“Ain’t no place like Dogpatch!”
Li’l Abner’s trips to New York are bittersweet for his supporting cast: all are genuinely happy that the big dummy is trying to improve himself but things in Dogpatch just aren’t the same without him, especially for Daisy Mae. In addition to experiencing increased levels of romantic desperation during Abner’s absences, she continually finds herself at the mercies of one creepy yokel or another.
In true ’30s form, though, Abner’s absences only serve as opportunities to have hearty reunions. Abner almost always swoops back in the nick of time to wrassle whomever needs wrasslin’, but if he doesn’t then his Mammy’s always there to back him up.
Meet Mighty Mammy Yokum
Although Abner may have married Daisy Mae in 1952, his first real love was his pipe-smoking, ham-fisted, and po’k shop slingin’ Mammy. Check out my next article on the Yokum matriarch and the love of her life, the cowardly but tenderhearted Pappy Yokum.