In response to:
Dogpatch Revisited from the March 19, 1964 issue
To the Editors:
When any accused criminal, even the author of a new book, is up for sentence, it is his right to be judged by a jury of his peers.…. I’m sure you’d agree with me that an undeservedly popular cartoonist would be a poor choice to pass judgment on the work of an undeservedly unpopular poet.
The opportunity to review David Manning White’s From Dogpatch to Slobbovia,” a collection of my cartoons, was accepted by John Hollander, a poet currently in residence at a nonprofit institution. It isn’t Hollander’s fault he made a damn fool of himself. You made that inevitable by giving him an assignment he couldn’t refuse, or competently perform.
First, he gave you a couple of hundred words on the history of modern cartooning, which revealed the poet to be as familiar with comic strips as the average comic stripper is with modern poetry…It included every chichi cliché that has turned comic strippers’ stomach since it became status to discuss comic strips….
Your reviewer’s judgment that “Li’l Abner” doesn’t “seem very funny on occasional reading” makes good sense. Reading page 1 of Tom Sawyer, Tom Jones or Tom Swift one day and page 30 a month later, wouldn’t make them seem very funny either…. Nonetheless, your reviewer IS a man with a heart “Ll’l Abner,” he wrote, “should be allowed to continue” although “‘Sadie Hawkins Day’ and ‘The Shmoo’ were unnecessary inventions.” Dammit, “Sadie Hawkins Day” and the “Shmoo” WERE necessary inventions! You see, I have 80 million readers, and more coming along every day, and I’ve got to think of SOMETHING for them to read. Certainly, the inventor of such “banal and badly expressed” phrases as “Sadie Hawkins Day” and “The Shmoo” cannot help but be grateful for even the contempt of the inventor of “gross disservice,” “Visual stereotype” and “starkly lyrica” but we both do our jobs the best way we can….
Hollander’s review quoted me as saying, “The paleness of the Caucasian must be a revolting sight in the lower-rent districts of Dutch Guinea (Sic!! Whamm!! Gulp!!) where folks are a normal, healthy black.” Now, I didn’t say that sic, whamm! and gulp!—not when I wrote that sentence I didn’t, and I don’t like your reviewer giving your readers the impression that I did. I don’t know where he picked up such expressions, unless it was from his occasional reading of comic strips, but if he wants to use language like that, let him use it in his own stuff, and not stick it into mine.
Wham is a comic strip expletive used to denote an assault; gulp! is a comic strip expletive used to denote the discomfort of the assaulted, and sic! is what you say to a dumb creature when you order it to make an assault.
Maybe Hollander didn’t intend to make it seem I’d said sic, whamm and gulp in that sentence. Maybe he unconsciously put those words in because they were on his mind at the time. Maybe someone said “sic!” to Hollander when they gave him Professor White’s book to review. And then—WHAMM!!
New York City
John Hollander replies:
I was displeased with Mr. Capp’s recent book because I felt that the selection and presentation of material did him an injustice. His pointless letter suggests that I was wrong. Its guilty-sounding hostility seems to indicate that From Dogpatch to Slobbovia represents him at what, after all, has turned out to be his best.
Perhaps, then, it is no misfortune that Mr. Capp couldn’t read what was clearly my appreciation of some of his past accomplishments without betraying himself. All his harrumphing aside, he still seems to need:
1) A good atlas, to tell him about “Dutch Guinea.”
2) A dictionary, to tell him what “sic!” means.
3) A grasp of the differing functions of parentheses and square brackets. In my review, I used the latter.
Mr. Capp’s letter only compounds his felonies of blundering and bad taste. The only sorrow I can feel is for the insecurity and poverty of spirit that led him to unleash them.
April 30, 1964