- Ham Fisher
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvaniain 1900 (some sources indicate 1901), Ham Fisher started as a journalist during his teenage years. Later he became a salesman until he successfully launched " Joe Palooka" in New York in 1928. The strip's success helped to soldify the word "palooka" as a boxer who lacks grace or ability, although the character Joe Palooka was the heavyweight champion. A dozen low-budget film adaptations of "Joe Palooka" appeared from the 1930s into the 1950s.
In 1920, Fisher put together a sample package for "Joe Palooka" but was unable to attract interest. By 1929, he was working as a travelling strip salesman for the
McNaught Syndicate. However, Fisher also hawked his own unpublished, unsold strip. After he'd secured over 20 sales, including to New York's Daily Mirror, Fisher informed his managers at McNaught, who decided to give "Joe Palooka" a trial run. The comic strip soon became a national success.
Searching for assistants to work on the strip, Fisher hired (among others)
Al Capp, later famed as the writer-cartoonist of Li'l Abner). While ghosting on "Joe Palooka," Capp created a storyline about a stupid musclebound hillbilly named "Big Leviticus," who was an obvious prototype for the L'il Abner character. When Capp quit "Joe Palooka" in 1934 to launch his strip, Fisher badmouthed him to colleagues and editors, claiming that Capp had stolen his idea. For years, Fisher would bring the characters back to his strip, billing them as "The Original Hillbilly Characters," and advising readers not to be "fooled by imitations."
The Capp-Fisher feud was well-known in cartooning circles, and it was personal. Even as Capp's strip eclipsed "Joe Palooka" in popularity, Capp did not forgive. In the 1930s, Fisher hired away Capp's top assistant,
Mo Leff. After Fisher underwent plastic surgery, Capp once included a racehorse in "L'il Abner" named "Ham's Nose Job." Traveling in the same social circles, the two men engaged in a 20-year mutual vendetta, as described by the "Daily News" in 1998: "They crossed paths often, in the midtown watering holes and at National Cartoonists Society banquets, and the city's gossip columns were full of their snarling public donnybrooks." [ [http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/1998/09/18/1998-09-18_spitting_on_pictures_funny_p.html Maeder, Jay. "Spitting on Pictures Funny Papers, 1955," "Daily News", September 18, 1998. ] ]
In 1950, Capp wrote a nasty article for "
The Atlantic" entitled "I Remember Monster." The article recounted Capp's days working for an unnamed "benefactor" with a miserly, swinish personality, whom Capp claimed was a neverending source of inspiration when it came time to create a new unregenerate villain for his comic strip. The thinly-veiled boss was understood to be Ham Fisher.
Fisher retaliated clumsily, falsely accusing Capp of sneaking obscenities into his comic strip. Fisher submitted examples of "L'il Abner" to Capp's syndicate and to the New York courts in which Fisher had identified pornographic images that were hidden in the background art. However, the sexual material had actually been added by Fisher. Capp was able to refute the accusation by simply showing the original printed strips.
In 1954, as Capp was applying for a Boston television license, the FCC received an anonymous packet of pornographic "L'il Abner" drawings. The
National Cartoonists Societyconvened an ethics hearing, and Fisher was expelled from the same organization which he had helped to found. Around the same time, Fisher's mansion in Wisconsin was destroyed by a storm.
On September 7, 1955, Fisher committed suicide in his studio. Such was his professional isolation that his body was not discovered until December 27 of that year.
The feud and Fisher's suicide have been fictionalized with all names changed and many details altered in the mystery novel "Strip for Murder" by
Max Allan Collins.
* [http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/LitMap/bios/Fisher__Ham.html "Ham Fisher" by Matthew Poremba]
* [http://www.popcultureaddict.com/comicbooks/cappvsfisher.htm "Clash of the Cartoonists: Ham Fisher vs. Al Capp"]
* [http://lambiek.net/artists/f/fisher_h.htm Lambiek Comiclopedia: Ham Fisher]
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