Stefan Kanfer has warmed my heart with an affectionate article on the cartoonist Walt Kelly, and his comic strip, Pogo, over at City Journal.
I share Mr. Kanfer’s enthusiasm. Although Kelly was generally known as a lefty (though not an admirer of the Soviet Union, as Kanfer points out), the charm and sheer achievement of Pogo transcended politics. When I was a kid, vaguely hoping to grow up to be a cartoonist, I pored over his daily strips, and despaired of ever achieving anything like that masterful inking and character modeling, to say nothing of the preposterous, nonsensical humor. Imagine Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) collaborating with Robin Williams—while being possessed by the spirit of Lewis Carroll.
This furry, scaled, quilled, feathered, and shelled quintet was backed by a supporting cast of Dickensian proportions—more than 600 players, all told. They included Beauregard Bugleboy, a doggerel-loving canine; Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, a flirtatious skunk; and Deacon Mushrat, a hypocritical mammal of the cloth who spoke in elaborately lettered Gothic script. (When an editor complained that such effusions were hard to read, Kelly replied, “Mighty hard to letter, too.”) There were also Molester Mole, a paranoid sneak; Seminole Sam, a fox who specialized in scams; and Bewitched, Bothered, and Bemildred, a trio of scruffy bats. Crowds of lesser players entered and exited, ranging from Sarcophagus MacAbre, a vulture and mortician in search of clients, to Tammananny Tiger, a corrupt politico. But the ursine P. T. Bridgeport outdid them all. Kelly drew his monologues as minuscule vaudeville broadsides, complete with pointing fingers, striped capital letters, and booming exclamation points—making it impossible, in the pages of this magazine, to replicate properly his “Don’t give this away, pal, but DRIVE-IN FUNERAL PARLORS COULD BECOME A LIVIN’ RAGE—quick, easy, curb service!!!”
I’m happy to report that Fantagraphics Publishing has brought out the first volume of a complete collection of daily and Sunday Pogo strips.
I’m eager to get mine. As soon as it comes out in paperback.