Here's what I remember thinking about Andy Capp when I read it regularly as a child:
1) He and his wife don't seem to love each other anymore. How sad.
2) Diagonal cross-hatching on a character's nose = drunk. Got it.
3) His preferred napping posture seems to provide him with ample defensive capabilities.
4) Holy cow, he sure gets his knees up high when he runs.
5) Sometimes when he exits the house, a rolling pin seems to hover just over his shoulder like the Great Gazoo did for late-period Fred Flintstone.
6) Either due to a birth defect or some sort of industrial accident, he does not have eyes or a forehead.
7) I don't like this comic as much as Curtis, which appeals to my demographic through regular references to rap music, and boasts a character named "Chutney."
8) Curtis is an acquired taste. Luckily, it's sandwiched between Geech and Shoe, and it does a good job of breaking up their respective melty-looking casts.
9) I have no idea if Gasoline Alley is supposed to be funny, but it never, ever seems to be funny, even though it seems like it should be.
10) Brenda Starr is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
Years passed, and Andy Capp phased into a smaller role in my life, relegated largely to his baffling endorsement of something called "Hot Fries," which rank slightly below those weird, individually wrapped pickles that come packaged in their own briny womb on the list of "Things That I Will Never Buy at Scary Gas Stations."
Photo: Amazon, who should know better.
At some point, I became aware that Andy Capp is British, which instantly reframed the strip and my impressions of it from "Not funny, but funnier than Gasoline Alley," to "Kind of funny now that I've paved over the most confusing parts with its British-ness, and still funnier and consistently more British than Gasoline Alley, which actually is pretty okay, too." Anyway, it put the strip into context. I grew up a lot that day.
There's a line on The Simpsons where Homer is reading the comics section of The Springfield Shopper and remarks, "Oh, Andy Capp, you wife-beating drunk. Heh heh heh." Never one to pass on allowing an opinion expressed by the writing staff of The Simpsons as one of my own, that's pretty much where I stood for the better part of a decade.
Then, the other day, three things happened: 1) I came across this absolutely incredible, massively in-depth article about Andy Capp and his creator by Paul Slade, 2) Discovered that-- hey, neat-- we syndicate this strip, and 3), I took a look at a bunch of the strips drawn by the current caretakers, Roger Mahoney and Roger Kettle, and came away mildly amazed at how consistently decent the gags remain. I called my parents to tell them the good news, but they let it go to voicemail.
Whatever disagreements I have with the way he treats his wife or conducts himself, I can't really take issue with the strip, because the way he treats his wife and conducts himself is what the strip is about. It'd be like complaining that Pooch Cafe has too many dogs. Fun fact: however many dogs Paul Gilligan thinks should be in Pooch Cafe is exactly the right amount of dogs necessary. That guy never misses.
After reading the essay, I've come to a new appreciation of Mr. Capp, his exploits, and the actual artistry involved in rendering strips in which he and his wife stand in front of creepily barren backgrounds.
The strip is one of the longest-running properties around, and is syndicated in more papers worldwide than nearly any other comic. Add in the author of the essay's successful contention that the strip is worthy of serious appreciation on the same level as Peanuts, and just like that, Andy Capp goes from a musty relic to something approaching art. I'm as surprised as you are, but see if you disagree after reading his argument.
In light of these conclusions, I've amended my list of initial childhood impressions to reflect this bold new era of reconsidering opinions I formed at the age of six. Up next on the docket: "Are girls truly yucky?" I'll keep you apprised of any new developments-- at the very least, a revised outlook would mean avoiding the steep co-pay for my annual Cootie Shot booster.
1) Andy Capp and his wife are merely one in an endless succession of comic duos wherein one character acts as a comedic foil to the other's schemes. Imagining them as ferrets, for example, instead of working-class Brits takes a lot of the sting out of the more acid-tinged punchlines. I don't care at all if ferrets find themselves trapped in a loveless stalemate of a marriage, so I'm free to enjoy the strip without having to reject my innate empathy.
2) The European concept of "pub culture" means Andy's near-constant inebriation is socially acceptable, instead of incredibly sad. Again, it helps to imagine him as a ferret.
3) His napping posture suggests that he's emotionally unavailable and unwilling to change. Like a ferret!
4) The height of his knees while running is actually a nod to his love of soccer, or as it's called in the UK, "tennis."
5) Oh, that rolling pin wasn't floating behind him, it was being hurled at his head with murderous intent by his wife. With age, I can now extrapolate the setup to its logical conclusion, which is, at worst, manslaughter.
6) I'm still not sure if he actually has eyes, though either way, his cap actually functions as a sort of ersatz forehead. I am at peace with this.
7-8) As far as I know, absolutely nothing about the plot or placement on the comics page has changed about Curtis since I last checked in, so my opinion on it remains unchanged.
9) To ponder the magnitude and scope of Gasoline Alley is to look into the very eyes of madness itself, and find oneself compelled to blink, lest it consume you.
10) Brenda Starr is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
For really real, though, if you have a spare hour or three, I highly, highly recommend checking out the aforementioned essay on Andy Capp and his creator, Reg Smythe. It makes a winningly convincing case for both, and offers a nice mea culpa for all those jokes about domestic abuse that appeared in the strip's early days, which makes it much easier to not hate. Now he's just a lazy drunk, which everyone can enjoy! Looks like all of us have matured quite a bit. Amen.