Thank you, Al Capp

This post is about a single Sunday comic strip that ran in newspapers on May 31, 1964.

I’m not sure when I started reading Li’l Abner. I remember that my mother liked it very much. I did, too, but, sometimes, it could freak me out greatly. And the Sunday strip I’m writing about did that VERY well.

While I’m heavily into transformation, I do recognize that it has a dark side to it. Many of DC ‘s horror titles had stories where a person is transformed, usually as some sort of punishment, and then killed after being transformed. I remember all too well when an evil seaman was turned into a crab and then killed. What I remember most is that his arm had a tattoo what was still visible on his claw after he changed.

In this strip’s storyline, the main character was Nightmare Alice, a witch who lived in or near Abner’s home of Dogpatch. She had magic powers which she could use as her whims and stories required.

The May 31, 1964 installment of Li’l Abner was the concluding strip for a storyline that had run for, roughly, four weeks. In it, Nightmare Alice is discovered by a television producer, Alfred Witchdoc. The name was an obvious parody of Alfred Hitchcock, but the show the strip’s storyline was inspired by was probably ABC’s The Outer Limits, which had a “bear” (a monster) in most episodes of its first season.

The plot of the storyline was that Witchdoc pretended to love Nightmare Alice (whom he, like most people, found to be hideous) to trick her into creating monsters for his TV show. This led the show to be a big hit. But, by the end of the next-to-last strip in the story, Alice had to leave to go shopping and she creates a double of herself to welcome Witchdoc and be with him while she’s out. But Witchdoc is in an accident that seriously injures him.

This last strip begins with the secretary picking up “the monster,” following Witchdoc’s orders given by him before his accident. Nightmare Alice, of course, upon learning of Witchdoc’s accident, hops on her broom to fly to the hospital to be with him.

But, when she arrives, she encounters a nurse who is probably under strict orders to let NO ONE into Witchdoc’s room. But Alice simply changes the nurse.

This was the first point where the story disturbed me. There was nothing to indicate later on that Nightmare Alice changed the nurse back. And a hospital and its sterile environment would probably NOT be a place where an insect could survive for very long. But we just don’t know. We don’t see what happened to the nurse after her transformation. Of course, a comic strip, even a Sunday one, wouldn’t have space to answer those questions. And Abner‘s cartoonist/writer, Al Capp probably didn’t care.

Anyway, having arrived at the hospital and overcome the obstacle of the nurse, Nightmare Alice decides to relax by watcing television. Of course, she watches her boyfriend’s show, where the most hideous monster yet turns out to be her!

Nightmare Alice leaves, but not before she “fixes” Witchdoc. Now, I, and probably a lot of kids who read the comic, recognized what Witchdoc had been turned into a little (baby?) stegosaurus. And instead of finding it disgusting, I/we would’ve called a museum to come and fetch a living fossil, not thrown it out the window.

But the ideas spawned in this comic strip have stayed with me to this day. The poor nurse went into work at the hospital, not knowing that she would end her shift as a purple bug. Personally, I like to think that Nightmare Alice, as she was leaving, took pity on the nurse and returned her to her human form. (The two question marks by the bug after the transformation always indicated to me that the bug had enough of its human mind to be aware what had happened, and she might’ve been thinking something like “Mommy? Daddy? HELP!”)

As for Witchdoc, recovering from an accident, only to find himself transformed and thrown out a window to its probable death — that’s bothered me to this day.

I know, I’m probably WAY over-thinking the situation, but I can’t help it. That’s how my mind works. But if anyone else has thoughts on this, or even alternate outcomes to the fates of the transformed, please share them.

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