One day in the past, over forty years or so, Shmoos appeared on one of America's most widely-read comic strips.
They were plump, white, curvy, seal-like creatures with lively goggle eyes. Like Rorschach inkblots, their appearance seemed fluid and ever-changing; what they looked like was very difficult to separate from the preconceptions of their beholder.
They might look like poorly-rendered male genitalia, or like the beginnings of a barely-inflated balloon.
Or like fat inverted exclamation points (but without the point).
Or like deformed bowling pins, maybe, or like melting yet still animated Dairy Queen ice cream drips.
Just as Melville's Captain Ahab drove himself mad with his obsession for the whiteness of Moby Dick, people went berserk trying to figure out just what in the hell was a Shmoo.
Capp gives us this much: Shmoos provided all of the vital necessities required by the denizens of Dogpatch: fresh eggs, milk, butter, meat. They fatally swooned with delight when selected for the dinner table, and yet their prolific breeding habits put every real or imagined creature to shame (Tribbles had not yet arrived before the American imagination).
But somehow, they posed a dire threat to National Security [read Big Business], supplanting the very need for all of the exploitive designs our economy makes upon just plain poor folks.
What to do about The Shmoo?
Were they the American Dream, or an American Nightmare?
Well, one thing is clear, anyway—their all-to-brief appearances in Al Capp's Lil' Abner cartoons marked a stunningly brave, brilliantly satirical and wholly subversive assault on America's Cold War mentality, in general, and against the military-industrial complex, in particular.
With the exception of Walt Kelly's Pogo, few popular US comic strips in the 1950's and early 1960's ever dared to sneeze at anything that smelled of social unrest or political discontent. And even Pogo was never as brazen Lil' Abner was in its attacks against the bloated crass commercialism that could not completely hide underneath the red, white and blue bunting of anti-Communist propaganda.
Indeed, Capp's swinish `J. Roaringham Fatback” is a timeless creation, easily at home ripping off poor white trash in the ‘50's as running an Enron around SEC and FERC regulators today.
In addition to containing dozens of selected Shmoo-related comic strips, The Short Life & Happy Times of the Shmoo features a Forward by Harlan Ellison. You haven't read a more delightfully informed, deliciously inventive rant until you've read one of Harlan Ellison's rants, and his Foreward is no exception. Read and howl, gnash your teeth, scream with delight, and ponder the deep symbolic meaning and deplorable fate of The Shmoo.
© Copyright 2002 by KNS Maré