Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2: Bona Fide Balderdash


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6

Tragically this review copy didn’t reach me in time for a Christmas recommendation, but that’s okay as books of this calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you should just hit the shops or the online emporia of your choice and grab this terrific tome now…

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m happy to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney funnybook license amongst others at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material. For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their funny pages careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate and launched on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers throughout 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies, and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, possibly the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office – a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering – but it’s also remarkable to note that by the close of this two-year period Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tammanany Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, the sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the next twenty years…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184x267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952 – all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ by and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier.

In his time the satirical mastermind unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and Pa of some guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery of course includes the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the rest, covering not only day to day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of  points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing to name but a few…

As Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, this tome offers a magical, magnificent treatment of all the problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics: dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the Presidency…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, vivaciously portray through anthropomorphic affectation comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human, and he used that gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent second edition should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.