Fantagraphics has released the first volume in a 12 volume series that will reprint the complete run of Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip (1948 - 1973). It's called Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder.
Walk Kelly, born in 1913, started working as a Disney animator (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia)when he was 22 years old. He left Disney during the infamous labor dispute at the studio in 1941, and began drawing comic books. A year later, he created the character of Pogo, a wise/naïve possum who lives in the Okefenokee swamp with a menagerie of colorful swamp critters, including Albert Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (turtle), Porky Pine, Cousin Downwind (skunk), Rackety Coon Chile, and many other characters who who were, at turns, manipulative, generous, foolish, obstinate, and forgiving. Presenting his characters as animals gave Kelly the ability to explore human nature without the distraction that cartoon humans would have bought along with them. His illustration style was warm, highly expressive, and detailed without looking crowded. It's hard to think of another newspaper cartoonist who equalled his talents.
Kelly's daughter, Carolyn, designed and co-edited this 290-page anthology, and her love and admiration for her father is evident in the beauty of this book. The design is impeccable and the quality of the line art reproduction is superb. Countless hours went into the restoration of the strips. From the Editors' Note:
The comic strip syndicates did not always maintain a set of good, clean files for future generations' reprinting or reading pleasure. Into the trash so much of it went… making the jobs of today's archivists and assemblers all the more difficult.
This series of books, like so many other collections of classic strips, is therefore only possible thanks to the indefatigable fans. We're talking about the ones who, painstakingly over the decades, assembled collections of their favorite comic strips from old newspaper tear sheets. Steve Thompson, president of the POGO Fan Club, and Rick Norwood supplied the vast majority of strips for this volume, and when we had to fill in a few missing strips and panels, we turned to the vital Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University, and to its currently retiring curator, Lucy Caswell. It is also vital to salute the late and sorely missed Bill Blackbeard, whose utterly invaluable San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection formed the bedrock of OSU's collection.
Many Pogo strips contained political satire, and Kelly caught a lot of heat from the hooting, shit-flinging troglodytes of the day. In the foreword to Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Kelly's friend, Jimmy Breslin, wrote:
There was a minor problem with what Walt Kelly said on the afternoon I heard him say it. We were in a bar called the Orient Room, way up on a street along the East River in Manhattan, in New York, and he was interested in the large and most disturbing reaction to his Pogo comic strip about Senator Joseph McCarthy. He had drawn McCarthy as an ugly pig in the swamp that the Pogo strip used as a base. Or as a frightful lizard. Whatever, McCarthy was a complete scum in the swamp.
Everywhere in the country, and his Pogo was there, McCarthy people were so loud and outraged and calling for violence that it had to be taken as a problem.
Kelly agreed. Here is what he said as he stood in the bar with so many hearing him:
“I wish they would shoot me.”
Our problem with this is that I know that he meant it. Dark thought and the possibility of screaming humor.
Breslin's complete foreword, along with with 20 strips (including two full-page color Sunday strips) are after the jump. Enjoy!
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.