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All hoomanity kin now live off th' fat o' th' land -- namely Shmoos!
January 22, 2009 5:30 AM   Subscribe

In 1948, Al Capp introduced the Shmoo to the cast of characters in his popular comic strip, Lil' Abner. What started out as a cute, tasty, malleable parable quickly morphed into a merchandising fad of giant proportions, even by today's standards.

In 1979, Hanna Barbera failed to recreate the fad with The New Shmoo.
In 2000, Hanna Barbera's parent companies redeemed themselves for that sin.
posted by not_on_display (45 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good post!
However I do not think that ATHF can be seen as redeeming anything...
posted by Vindaloo at 5:41 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Shmoo phenomenon arose immediately, spontaneously and solely from cartoonist Al Capp's daily comic strip (something that simply wouldn't happen today)

Not from a comic strip, maybe. But I'd dispute the notion that fads no longer arise spontaneously.
posted by EarBucket at 5:45 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Shmoo was a hit because it looked just enough like a penis to tickle the subliminal fancy of a puritanical society.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:11 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love Shmoon (proper plural of Shmoo).
posted by amro at 6:20 AM on January 22, 2009


Oh I remember the HB Shmoo. Another stellar turd from the people who brought you Richie Rich and the Groovy Ghoulies. But I guess when you've been spoiled on early Warner Bros, 50s era Tom and Jerry and Felix the Cat, headache-inducing jerky movements and canned laughter just don't do it for you.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:21 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I freakin LOVE the shmoo! And no one ever knows what I'm talking about when I mention him.
posted by spicynuts at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2009


Also, in the "Who Knew" episode of M*A*S*H*, Col. Potter had a life sized one sent to him in Korea.
posted by timsteil at 6:37 AM on January 22, 2009


But where does Barbapapa fit into all this?

Man, I would kill for a Shmooo savings bond.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 AM on January 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I freakin LOVE the shmoo! And no one ever knows what I'm talking about when I mention him.
posted by spicynuts at 6:35 AM on January 22

Agree! I love the Shmoo! The first time I saw it was in a weird Flintstones show, where Barney and Fred are policemen and so is the shmoo.
posted by ratita at 6:46 AM on January 22, 2009


I never heard of the shmoo. I thought I knew everything. EVERYTHING.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


They regularly laid both eggs and bottles of milk. One would sacrifice itself on the spot if a person looked at it hungrily. Fried Shmoo tastes like chicken and, broiled, like steak.

Is it just me, or is the idea of "animals that want to be eaten" inherently creepy? It's like Charlie the Tuna all over again.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:18 AM on January 22, 2009


Don't forget the Gloop. Hail Squishface!
posted by piratebowling at 7:22 AM on January 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have a Dark Horse vinyl Shmoo sitting on my desk as I type this. I always felt sort of sorry for the Shmoo.

I wonder if there's a correlation between feeling sorry for the Shmoo and some other thing, like godless liberalism or rampant humanity or veganism? The Shmoo Psychological Profile.
posted by blixco at 7:27 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a Dark Horse vinyl Shmoo sitting on my desk as I type this. I always felt sort of sorry for the Shmoo.
Me tooooooo!!!! :D And I wouldn't eat them. Too cute to be eaten.
posted by ratita at 7:28 AM on January 22, 2009


maybe it was the timeframe of when I grew up and the Shmoo was washed up and relegated to doing Hanna-Barbera cartoons for coke by then, but I hated hated [b]HATED[/b] the Shmoo. He was a one-dimensional character introduced as a lazy way to forward the plot, like Scrappy-doo without the dialog.
posted by Challahtronix at 7:31 AM on January 22, 2009


The Shmoo has lived on in the domain of electrical engineering. When you manufacture a new chip like a microprocessor, you need to test it to see the operating conditions under which it can run and at what speed. A typical test is to vary the supply voltage and the frequency and plot the results in a grid, with a green square for pass and a red square for fail. The resulting graph is vaguely blob-shaped; there will be a green blob for the higher voltages and the lower speeds, and then a boundary where the chip starts to fail. I suppose some electrical engineer must have thought the blob shape looked familiar, because this type of graph is called a Shmoo plot.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:56 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, to me the Schmoo is my first memory of a character added to a failing show in hopes of a ratings spike.
posted by padraigin at 7:56 AM on January 22, 2009


So it's your contention that Meatwad is some kind of modern version of the Shmoo?

Interesting...

and stupid.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:02 AM on January 22, 2009


No love for the Bald Iggle?

Look into its eyes and you must tell the truth.

Why can't I find a pic of a bald iggle online? My google-fu sucks!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:09 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


As just an idea, it was ubiquitously useful; there's even a science fictional serving of it....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:15 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here's the giant Schmoo mascot greeting some understandably disturbed children, at the now abandoned Dogpatch U.S.A. ('We'll build a hillbilly-based themepark in the Ozarks! It'll make millions!')
posted by ormondsacker at 8:20 AM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


And here's the giant Schmoo mascot greeting some understandably disturbed children

Shmoo's got hands!
posted by jessamyn at 8:37 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Weird coincidence. I was just digging into the history of the shmoo. And that's not something I do, ah, ever.

Strangely, my childhood memories of the creature and pictures of the same are very different.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:00 AM on January 22, 2009


Is it just me, or is the idea of "animals that want to be eaten" inherently creepy? It's like Charlie the Tuna all over again.

Welcome to the bleak world of... Suicide Food.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow, FatherDagon... that's pretty scary. I mean, as in actually scary.

Thanks?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:27 AM on January 22, 2009


WTF is that thing? kill it! kill it with fire!
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on January 22, 2009


"Why can't I find a pic of a bald iggle online?"

There's a small pic of the bald iggle here, BOP.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:33 AM on January 22, 2009


I have a picture somewhere that shows my then-young great aunt building snow shmoos all over their front yard. On the back was written "Shmoos!" and I never really did get it until now. Thanks!

Ormondsacker, your "now abandoned" link is really interesting. I love abandoned amusement parks!
posted by bristolcat at 9:47 AM on January 22, 2009


There mere sight of the word "schmoo" brought the new Schmoo theme song to my mind. Why does my brain waste space storing this kind of junk?
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2009


Thanks crash! Oooh. I'd forgotten all about Jubilation T. Cornpone.

crash is back! Yay!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:12 AM on January 22, 2009


This is actually really interesting. Shmoo is the little pet name I call my boyfriend, and I never knew about this slightly adorable cartoon character. It just makes it better, really.
posted by kerning at 10:14 AM on January 22, 2009


evilcolonel: So it's your contention that Meatwad is some kind of modern version of the Shmoo? Interesting... and stupid.

They called me interesting and stupid at the institution, but I'll show them!
• Old Shmoo: edible. Meatwad: ostensibly edible.
• New Shmoo: shapeshifter. Meatwad: shapeshifter.
New Shmoo: cutesy voice. Meatwad: cutesy voice.
• New Shmoo: Hanna Barbera, parent company Turner. Meatwad: Williams Street, parent company Turner.

See? It all makes sense. One day you will see just how interesting and stupid I am!!
posted by not_on_display at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Al Capp was not a nice man.
Conservative syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Brit Hume published a blistering exposé charging Capp with sexual harassment and assault of co-eds during his lecture tours. He garnered further unwanted news coverage when he was charged on three morals counts over an incident in Eau Claire WI in 1971. He got off in 1972 by pleading guilty to a lesser charge and paying a fine, but he lost one-third of his client newspapers and his career never recovered. Later, prominent actresses such as Grace Kelly, Edie Adams and Goldie Hawn added to his ignominy with public accounts of Capp's inappropriate sexual behavior.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:25 AM on January 22, 2009


Afroblanco: Is it just me, or is the idea of "animals that want to be eaten" inherently creepy? It's like Charlie the Tuna all over again.

Would it be easier for you to visualize your Shmoo this way?
Do not lick this, though.

PS: their balls are green?
PPS: Origins of Karl Rove. Mmmmm, Karl Rove.

posted by not_on_display at 10:39 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it just me, or is the idea of "animals that want to be eaten" inherently creepy? It's like Charlie the Tuna all over again.

"Animals that want to be eaten" is an entire sub-cateogory of advertising, and not used nearly enough.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on January 22, 2009


Al Capp was not a nice man.

Could it be that he got progressively worse later on? I heard that, politically at least, he sort of soured in later years.

For some reason, it still boggles my mind to think that the Frank Frazetta responsible for so many barbarian paintings and sculptures is the very same one who draw Daisy Mae's voluptuous curves. Almost as much that "Sadie Hawkins," of endless high school theme dances, got its start from Lil' Abner, but seems to have detached itself culturally.

Compared to its heights, it's shocking how little-known among the young, among the me even, Lil' Abner is today. Abner is severely overdue for its scheduled pop cultural comback. Furthermore, it seems impossible to imagine that Abner could become popular again; it could be that he's too much a product of his times, that his context has been forgotten. To me, this hints that most pop culture phenoms may have a surprisingly short expiration date, that this gigantic meme manufacturing mechanism we've constructed is not adding anything to the long-term thoughtscape of the species.

Anyways, I first heard about the Shmoo (plural, Shmoon) in one of the reprints of The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo, which reprints the first first Shmoo stories. Ol' Capp got a lot of mileage out of that name. I still chuckle when I think of their impromptu "Shmoosical comedies."
posted by JHarris at 11:41 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


not_on_display, the true origins of Karl Rove are much stranger that one might suspect.

(Please pardon the BoingBoing link, but linking to the article might be NSF work, or even sanity.)
posted by JHarris at 11:47 AM on January 22, 2009


"Animals that want to be eaten" is an entire sub-cateogory of advertising, and not used nearly enough.

Well, that just goes to show, one man's "not used nearly enough" is another man's MY GOD, MAN WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!??!?!!?

(okay, I'm off to listen to some nice White Album-era George Harrison compositions. oh wait....)
posted by Afroblanco at 12:32 PM on January 22, 2009


Afroblanco? Don't watch this.
posted by jackiemcghee at 12:37 PM on January 22, 2009


During its first year Shmoo merchandise generated over $25,000,000 in sales (in 1948 dollars)!

That's pretty amazing. The thing--drawn as it is--looks unfinished.

Ironically, the lovable and selfless Shmoos ultimately brought misery to humankind because people with a limitless supply of self-sacrificing Shmoos stopped working and society broke down. Seen at first as a boon to humankind, they were ultimately hunted down and exterminated to preserve the status quo.

Wow, the story is so very...human.
posted by uxo at 1:55 PM on January 22, 2009


So my knowledge of the shmoo comes solely from reading Capp's comics. The Shmoo were such a threat to the United States that they had to be wiped out several times. Why? Because they destroyed the economy, allowing people to get what they wanted without paying for it. They lay eggs, milk (in bottles), sausages, pineapples and a birthday cake in the comics.

Uxo, the only misery that the shmoo brought in the comics was to the extremely wealthy. The common folk and middle classes loved having them. The fat cats, used to living off the sweat of the commoners without any effort on their part got the government to destroy the shmoos. The breakdown mentioned in the Dark Horse article was not depicted as a bad thing.

Thus I find it disturbing that a creature that was created as a symbol of anit-cosumerism (for lack of a better term) was turned into a huge commercial icon. (I don't think this quite qualifies as irony, but the lost message makes me sad.)

Then again, I may be reading too much of a socialist message into the shmoos.
posted by Hactar at 3:23 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


In 1950, about 3 or so years before I was born, my biological mother, went on her first job interview, which was to work for Al Capp. I think it may initially have been an audition to be a model for Daisy Mae, not sure. In any case, she ended up working for him as a social secretary, becoming lovers. Supposedly, according to her, he was "an insatiable satyr", who had "sex with three different girls" a day.

Whenever he called or else hearing about him when I was growing up in the 1960's, I got the clear impression that he was most definitely not a nice person. He was arrogant, caustic, nasty tempered, a classic malignant narcissist type, deeply nihilistic and cynical. A small example: "After four students at Kent State University were killed by a National Guard unit during a 1970 demonstration Capp expressed sympathy for the guardsman."

His brother, Jerry Caplin, was not at all like Al though, quite the opposite.

The first time I discovered the Shmoos was lying on the livingroom floor in 1962 or so, after having discovered a book of the comic strips. Even at age 8, reading the words I could feel the cynicism and misanthropy radiating off the pages, mocking the desire of the Shmoos to please others. It felt like I'd happened across a comic in which Bambi and Thumper were gutted. It felt sick and disturbing. I took an instant dislike to whoever created it. It was only many years later I learned it was an Al Capp thing. Then the bitterness and sarcasm of it made sense.

Like many malignant narcissists who have creative gifts, there are elements in his life which are quite extraordinary, including acts of charitable giving. There are moments of unusual and daring truth-but-not-honesty, truth used falsely as something to manipulate others, truth used as a hunting license. At first in his life he sided with the political and social underdogs and then a sort of core hatred of humanity took over and he devolved. To some extent I think that is part of why his work has not been revived.
posted by nickyskye at 5:46 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I caught (what were probably re-runs of) the "New Shmoo" show when I was a kid. I enjoyed the cartoon, though even at the age of four I could tell it was a structured as pretty blatant rip-off of Scooby Doo. Also, i constantly wondered, if this was the new Shmoo... what was the old Shmoo like and where did it go?
posted by Clay201 at 7:39 PM on January 22, 2009


Oh, dear...I hope nothing goes wrong...looks like the organisms might be around one day after all.... “The overall shape can be controlled by changing the mold." The New New Shmoo.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:47 PM on January 22, 2009


Kitchen Sink reprinted the strips by year until they went under.


There's a hilarious sequence in Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady:As a twelve year old in the late 40's she was engrossed in The Fountainhead during race riots in Washington. One afternoon, she decided to reenact Dominique Fancon's statue defenestration with her Shmoo. Shortly afterwards, the elderly woman who lived downstairs came rushing up to her place in hysterics: "The colored are dropping bombs!"
posted by brujita at 11:24 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


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