Walt Kelly
(b.1913 - d.1973)

Pogo was something of an anamoly among comic strips. It worked as sophisticated political satire, yet relied heavily on the broadest punch-and-judy style slapstick; it regularly featured the most obvious of caricatures, yet had deeper characterization than most "serious" comic strips; the dialogue poked fun at regional and foreign accents and a week rarely rolled by without at least one bad pun, yet there was genuine poetry in the panels as well; the artwork was cluttered and beautiful -- it became downright majestic as the years rolled by. Pogo is frequently pointed to when historians discuss the great achievements of comic strip art, yet it began life as a kids' comic book.

There will never be another comic strip like it.

Walt Kelly came back into comic books (he had briefly contributed to some of the pioneering first books in the early thirties) after giving the Disney Studios a half a decade of service as a top-notch animator. During the early forties, he churned out one children's comic book story after another for Western Publishing, featuring characters such as The Brownies, Our Gang and Santa Claus. He did occasional Donald Duck stories, and his Disney comic covers are all considered classics by collectors.

In the back pages of Animal Comics, Kelly created a feature entitled Bumbazine and Albert, concerning a young boy who hung out with and talked to the animals in the swamp, notably an alligator named Albert who had a habit of eating everything in sight. Eventually, Pogo Possum joined the strip, and Bumbazine was eased out and Pogo worked his way into top billing, and enjoyed a good run in his own comic book.

While working as the art director of the New York Star (the short-lived descendant of the radically innovative, ad-free PM, Kelly introduced Pogo as a newspaper comic strip. When the Star folded, Kelly brought Pogo into national syndication. Newspaper readers took Kelly's marsupial to heart, and enthusiastically followed not only mild-mannered Pogo and short-fused Albert, but an array of literally hundreds of characters over the years, including Churchy La Femme, the enthusiastic and poetic turtle; Howland Owl, the empty-headed know-it-all; iron-willed Miz Beaver; Porky Pine, whose wit was as barbed and caustic as his needle-like hide; Seminole Sam, the sly fox; Deacon Mushrat, the hypocritical spiritual leader; Beauregard Hound Dog, loyal and true and not too proud to let everyone know about it; P. T. Bridgeport, a showman and promoter bear; Mr. Tammanny, the tiger; Sarcophagus Macabre, the vulture; gun totin' Wiley Catt; assorted bats, bugs, worms and fish and every kind of creature under the sun.

Very early in Pogo's run, Kelly introduced Simple J. Malarkey, a cat who bore a strong resemblence to Senator Joseph McCarthy in both appearence and behavior. This was the first of what were to be many biting caricatures of public officials that continued until the last days of the strip. In 1964 and 1968, Kelly produced two versions of his strips, one featuring strong political satire, and alternate strips featuring cute bunny rabbits engaged in silly dialogue for newspapers that wouldn't print the first strips.

In the later years of the strip, Kelly had trouble with shrinking space given to Pogo from newspapers cutting back on comic strip sizes. His beautiful brush and line work tended to get smudged or vanish in the smaller space he was given, and the numbers of papers carrying Pogo became smaller every year towards the end. Nevertheless, book compilations of Pogo were always popular, and there have been many reprints issued in the years since Kelly's death. Today, Fantagraphics Books is publishing deluxe volumes of Pogo in a series, and keeping the strip alive.

-=-Ron Evry-=-

pictures © Walt Kelly Estate

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