Andy Capp. Artist: Reg Smythe.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The Daily Mirror
First Appeared: 1957
Creator: Reg Smythe
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Andy Capp is lazy, belligerent, unskilled at any socially acceptable occupation, and usually drunk. Yet, he's one of the greatest successes in the …

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… history of British comics, and capable of giving a good many American strips stiff competition on their own turf.

Andy started on August 5, 1957, in Britain's Daily Mirror. At first, he appeared only in the edition circulated in Northern England (the part of the country where he lives), but within six months he was being distributed throughout the country. He was created by Reg Smythe, a former postal worker who changed careers in his 30s because cartooning looked like it offered more scope for achievement — and he did achieve quite a bit as a cartoonist, as his strip was soon syndicated all over the world — in the U.S., by Creators Syndicate (Thatch, Baby Blues). It reached America in 1963.

Early on, the Andy Capp strip was accused of perpetuating stereotypes about Britain's Northerners, who are seen in other parts of England as chronically unemployed, dividing their time between the living room couch and the neighborhood pub, with a few hours set aside for fistfights at soccer games. Even his name is a perfect phonetic rendition of that region's pronunciation of the word "handicap" (which the cartoonist chose because a handicap is exactly what Andy is to his hard-working wife, Flo). But Smythe, himself a native of that region, had nothing but affection for his good-for-nothing protagonist, a fact which showed in his work. Since the very beginning, Andy has been immensely popular among the people he supposedly skewers.

By the way, Smythe claimed he modeled his main characters after his own parents. But it seems unlikely his father, who built boats for a living, could possibly have been very much like Andy, or his family would have starved. It's also been suggested that the character owes something to Ally Sloper, Britain's first successful comic, also a lovable lowlife.

The first British paperback reprints of the strip appeared in 1958, and American reprints started in the early 1960s. In both countries, the volumes now number in the dozens. Andy has also been the star of a minor TV series — its six episodes featured James Bolam in the title role and Paula Tilbrook as Flo, and were aired by BBC in 1988. The strip even had a spin-off of sorts — in 1960, Fleetway Publications, which was owned by The Mirror, launched a comic book titled Buster, the protagonist of which was supposedly Andy Capp's son (tho this family connection was never mentioned in the strip itself and was later forgotten in the comic book as well). Andy was even animated once, when he crossed over with Family Guy in the episode "And the Wiener Is …", which first aired on August 8, 2001.

Reg Smythe wrote and drew Andy Capp, both daily and Sunday, until his death in 1998. Since then, the strip has been continued by unnamed successors, tho for years, Smythe's signature remained affixed to it. (Since November, 2004, it's been signed by Roger Mahoney and Roger Kettle). It now appears in over 1400 newspapers worldwide — not quite in the range of top strips like Blondie, Hagar the Horrible and Garfield, but well ahead of B.C., Dennis the Menace, FoxTrot and other very successful comics.

And it's translated into 13 different languages, proving that Andy's appeal goes far beyond the minor regional stereotype he supposedly represents.


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Text ©2001-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Creators Syndicate.