On May 1, 1953, a rifle-toting bobcat named Simple J. Malarkey ambled into Okefenokee Swamp, the setting for Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, which ran in U.S. newspapers from 1948 until 1975. At the time, Malarkey’s inspiration, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was at the height of his political power, routinely destroying reputations in the name of rooting out Communism. Kelly should have been intimidated, but he mocked the bilious senator from Wisconsin for a year and a half, until one of the newspapers that published Pogo, the Providence Bulletin, threatened to drop the strip if Kelly didn’t drop the character. Seizing upon this fresh opportunity for parody, Kelly promptly drew a new Malarkey panel, hiding Malarkey’s face under a sack. “I’m afeared us will haf’ta keep these bags over our heads, otherwise that chicken from Providence might recognize us,” Malarkey confided to a cartoon cohort on October 8, 1954. In the context of the strip, the statement was a reference to a Rhode Island Red named Sis Boombah from the previous day’s comic, but it was also a clever slap at that Rhode Island newspaper that had tried to censor him.
Kelly’s Malarkey/McCarthy plot is just one of the many storylines in Evidence To The Contrary, which covers the syndicated Pogo comic strips from 1953 and 1954. The third volume in what Fantagraphics promises will be a dozen, Evidence To The Contrary gives us Kelly at his most self-assured, an artist whose facility with both caricature and dialect convinces us that an alligator named Albert really does enjoy nothing more than a good cigar; that an owl named Howland wears a gravity-defying wizard’s cap; and that the guilelessness of a likable possum named Pogo can be a surprisingly effective weapon against the fulminations of mere politicians.