The original Human Torch has his more-or-less impervious android body. Captain America has his injection of Dr. Reinstein’s — I mean, Erskine’s — super-soldier serum. The Whizzer has his blood transfusion with a mongoose — that’s right, I said “mongoose.” And, of course, the famous Blue Blaze has his exposure to an unnamed blue flame that put him into a death-like coma for 88 years, finally rising from the grave to fight crime with the aid of spooky supernatural powers. Of course!
Superhero comics of the ’30s and ’40s were full of catchy, or not-so-catchy origin stories. Unlike these masked vigilantes, though, Li’l Abner‘s origin story is pretty simple. First, Pappy Yokum met Mammy Yokum. Shortly after they were married, Li’l Abner was born. Abner ‘et up lots of po’k chops, and now he’s almost as strong as his Mammy.
Pappy and Mammy Yokum
Pappy and Mammy Yokum act as the ethical backbone of Al Capp‘s hugely influential Li’l Abner comic strip. Whenever Abner’s spurning of Daisy Mae starts seeming sad rather than funny, Mammy’s there to either set Abner straight or trick him into realizing that he actually loves the beautiful and lovelorn Miss Scragg. This is one thing that makes Mammy Yokum such a positive role model.
Rather than forcing Abner to take Daisy Mae out on dates, Mammy repeatedly orchestrates events so that Abner has opportunities to realize that, despite his statements to the contrary, he does love Daisy Mae. As Li’l Abner ages, the titular character wises up somewhat and figures out that Daisy Mae is, although “just a girl,” a serious freakin’ catch.
In addition to being Abner’s moral compass, Mammy is a force unto herself. In just one year of publication, Mammy settles a fraud dispute, exposes graft in a local beauty contest — which she ends up winning herself — settles a multi-million-dollar adoption dispute, rescues her husband from being tortured by his ex-fiancée, and cooks approximately a googolplex of po’k chops.
Mammy can cook po’k chops but even Li’l Abner must tip his hat in deference to how quickly Pappy Yokum can get ’em all et up. Abner might derive his strong moral sense and unmatched wrasslin’ skills from his Mammy but his Pappy provides the basis for his voracious appetite.
Possibly even more important than his all-consuming love for po’k chops, though, Pappy also seems to have been the point person on the tenderhearted side of Li’l Abner’s upbringing. A romantic with a heart of gold and a bottom less stomach, Pappy is as loyal as he is simple…which is quite a bit.
No house is a home without a pet, and even though their favourite food seems to be pork chops, the Yokums’ beloved pet is, nonetheless, a very cute pig named Salomey. Salomey is for the most part a relatively peripheral character but gets his time to shine when he uses his hoof to tap out a warning to Li’l Abner. Now that’s a pig to keep around.
Heroes and Villains…
No comic — strip or book — is complete without a good villain or two. And, although none of Li’l Abner’s villains have freeze guns or octopus arms, they still manage to make life pretty difficult for the good people of Dogpatch. Check out my next article on the various fraudsters and grifters that make up the rogue’s gallery of Dogpatch, USA.