Comic Strip created by Walt Kelly
Back when every house had the newspaper delivered, the literate kids always turned to the comics first. Kinder newspaper editors put the comics on the last couple pages, sometimes hidden amid the classified ads (if you don’t know what those are, then think of Craigslist (no relation), but for people with really good eyesight or a handy magnifying class). Of course, you never read all the strips because some were just too boring when the weather was nice and you needed to get back outside. Mary Worth, Judge Parker… these had extended plots and dealt with themes of little interest, like marriage and such. The strips that drew a kids eye fit into two categories: simpler lines (not badly drawn, just less cluttered) or rich with unusual images. Think Peanuts and Prince Valiant.
Pogo certainly had unusual images with all the talking animals, but it was so beautifully drawn that a child could easily mistake it for a strip aimed at adults (which it was) and skip right over it. The themes ranged from slapstick to politics of the day, so there was that whole unreliability of the content for the youthful reader. Then, the language was unexpected, requiring reading out loud sometimes just to figure out the sense of it, much like a first pass at Huckleberry Finn. Worst of all, Pogo was gone from the papers by the time I was out of elementary school, so I remember the characters vaguely and the general setting from those halcyon days, but nothing like Peanuts or Dick Tracy.
So I came to Pogo late, by way of old paperback collections. For me, Pogo feels like the quintessential American comic, an art form to which others lay claim, but feels like it could only come to fruition in the United States. Comics just feel like the sort of thing that would come out of the nineteenth century melting pot that needed new ways of communication that would bring people together.
Funny animal strips had been around for a while when Kelly left Disney and tried his hand at creating his own characters. The ensuing years brought an increasing politicization to the Okefenokee Swamp and its denizens, but they always managed to mark baseball season and Christmas. Their finest gift however was spreading common sense in a fine brew of humor. Cloaked within the doings of the possum, alligator, owl, turtle, skunk,…. a kid could learn a lot.
Kelly continuously pushed the boundaries of lettering and storytelling, working within a medium that is more restrictive than virtually any other that I can think of. Space constraints as well as editors frequently dropping panels on Sundays made the writing a nightmare.
Fantagraphics made a big splash years ago publishing the complete run of Peanuts in order. Then they tried to do the same with Pogo, but ran into numerous delays because many of the strips had been lost. They announced their predicament to the world and somehow, blessedly, they found what they needed.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 282 more to go.
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