Ralph Smith had a pretty darn brilliant idea when he came up with Captain Vincible, his daily and Sunday strip. He knew that the put-upon nebbish everyman character is a favorite of newspaper readers — from George Bungle to Ziggy, people seems to enjoy a character who always seems to be the butt of the joke, draw the short straw, and act as a poster-child for Murphy’s Law. The challenge is to set your character apart, to make readers remember him.
Smith found an innovative solution by dressing up his everyman in superhero garb, of all things. The conceit was never really explained in the strip — Captain Vincible just seems to fit naturally in his otherwise pretty normal world despite wearing long johns, a cape and goggles over his tubby little frame. He never demonstrates any superheroic powers, and he doesn’t fight for the downtrodden or anything — he just is. That costume, however, gave the strip a memorable visual. Combine that with concise dialogue and polished minimalist art and you have what ought to be a winner. King Features certainly thought so, and they were rewarded with a pretty decent list of subscribing papers when the strip debuted on April 25 1983.
Although the strip is a little too amiable and easygoing for my own tastes, the Ziggy-loving masses should have loved this stuff (try visualizing Ziggy replacing the Captain in most any strip — it’s an almost perfect fit). Maybe it was all just a little too high-concept, maybe readers were confused by the tights, I dunno. Anyway, the strip never really set the world on fire, and Smith, who was also employed at the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune as editorial cartoonist, put the strip out to pasture sometime in July 1989 (exact date unknown).
One possible explanation for the strip ending is that Smith’s good friend Dik Browne had just died. Smith is known to have assisted him in some capacity on Hagar the Horrible, and he may have needed to take a more active role on that strip upon Dik’s death.