Buried Treasure: Cecil Jensen’s “Elmo”

Thanks to Frank M. Young a long-forgotten Strip of the latter 1940s, Elmo, has been unearthed and reprinted. The strip’s author Cecil Jensen was an editor at the Chicago Daily News, editorial cartoonist and author of the longer-lived Little Debbie strip of the 1950s. 

But Elmo was a singular creation that seemed on the surface an Al Capp Li’l Abner knock-off. A rube from the sticks comes to the city and seems to use his half-wit to outwit a cast of broadly drawn types (corporate CEO “Commodore Bluster”, femme fatale and stripper Sultry Lebair, political boss Mr. Hoodlum). Even the visual style feels like a less talented Capp – thick inking, wild hand and body postures, short and sparse blobby lines to craft facial caricatures.

But the plotlines venture further off the rails and more deeply into dark areas of the American soul than Capp ever imagined. In just the first few months I have already read, Elmo saves a rich tycoon from suicide, is rewarded with controlling interest in a cereal company, is hypnotized into thinking he is a skunk, who he lives amongst at the zoo, is kidnapped by Mr. Hoodlum, and force fed breakfast cereal, which grows so much hair on his head it drowns his kidnappers in his tresses. 

This is truly weird but also very critical view of a sinister post-WW II America. Everyone has an angle; every conspiracy contains a double-cross, and death and violence are real and present possibilities always.

The book, published by Labor of Love Press, was issued last summer. A second volume is out that includes samples from the longer Little Debbie run into which Elmo evolved as well the end run of the strip that saw the wild return of Elmo. This is a genuine find.

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