Obscurity of the Day: Cranberry Boggs

Such was the immense popularity of Li’l Abner in the 1940s that many syndicates tried to ride on its coattails. One of the most slavish of these imitators, and also perhaps the most awful, was McNaught Syndicate’s entry, Cranberry Boggs.

Don Dean’s name was on the masthead, but the cartoonist made sure to place blame where it belonged; he was always very careful to give syndicate president V.V. McNitt full credit as the guiding light on the strip. As hired hand on the imitation Abner, I don’t know if Dean wrote any of the tripe (my hope is no) but it is amazing in its ineptitude.

Other than moving the venue of the strip from the hills of Kentucky to the shores of some New England state, everything is pretty familiar. We have the star, a dim-bulb lummox (nod to originality — he is skinny), his colorful backwoods family (nod to originality — they are his grandparents rather than parents), and the gorgeous gal who lusts after him (nod to originality — her shorts aren’t cut-offs).

All the parts are in place for a dreary Li’l Abner rip-off, but Cranberry Boggs manages to amp up the awfulness with amazing inept writing. There’s no shame in not being able to measure up to Al Capp, one of the greatest American satirists of the 20th century, but the writer of Cranberry Boggs seemed to be unfamiliar even with the concept that Li’l Abner was a humor strip. What I’ve read of Cranberry Boggs, and my stomach can only take so much so forgive me if I focused on a bad patch of the strip, is more hillbilly soap opera than humor. The writer didn’t seem to have a clue how to write funny. Apparently the thinking was that if the characters are goofy looking and the dialogue is stilted hillbilly-ese, that makes the strip funny. Because beyond that there just isn’t much funny going on.  I mean, there doesn’t even seem to be a concerted attempt to write funny material.

I have to stress that I don’t think Don Dean should be held fully accountable for this travesty. He was a hired gun, faced with the impossible task of duplicating one of the greatest strips of all time. On the plus side, at least, the art is pretty attractive, and Dean could definitely draw the shapely gals, which may well be what got him this job in the first place.

I can only imagine how depressing it must have been for Dean to work so hard on a strip this derivative and badly written. What’s really amazing is how long he was stuck doing this dog. Cranberry Boggs debuted on January 8 1945, and lasted almost five years, ending on July 30 1949. The Sunday seems to have died a bit earlier, on April 25 1948. According to Alberto Becattini, Dean at least had a little company in purgatory — he had Jim Seed doing the inking on the feature.

Tomorrow: Alex Jay’s Ink-Slinger Profile of Don Dean

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