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


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

Now is a strange, insane and dangerous time in politics and world affairs… but when hasn’t that been true?

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 relocated to California and joined the Disney Studio. He worked on short cartoon films and such major 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 Comics who held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many 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 the other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sagaciously 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 second careers, in the more legitimate funny pages, 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, launching on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both 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 in 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 (available in resoundingly comforting hardcover editions and as eBook tomes) reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, probably the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This was 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.

It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – 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, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, 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 following decades…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus 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’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly 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 less loathsome 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 father 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 and classic 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 çachange, plus c’est la même chose

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Davos…

Gosh, I hope so…

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. He used that blessed 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. Tragically, here at least, 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 weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection 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.