Stuck on Pogo

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.


8 thoughts on “Stuck on Pogo”

  1. Oooh, I’m going to have to get a copy of that! I adore Pogo, though it’s likely I’m the only under-30 person in the world who even knows the comic at this point. My dad had an extensive collections of some of the Pogo strips published while the strip was still running, and we both know them forward and backward. (One of my favorite scenes: Beauregard and Albert challenge each other to a thinking fight. Beauregard states, “I can out-think you bal’-headed!” to which Albert defiantly responds, “HA! I is already bal’-headed!”)

    It’s a shame that more people from my generation aren’t familiar with Pogo; Walt Kelly’s artwork is superb, and it’s impossible not to love that cast of characters!

  2. Thanks for this. I’d also add that Kelly is one of the last century’s underappreciated writers of light and nonsense verse. Books like “The Photo Stepmother Goose” are a real treat…

  3. Absolutely true. Let me see if I can remember “For the Mother of Katherine Barbara,” which I memorized years back:

    There’s a star in the wind, and the wind winds high,

    Blowing alight through fog, through night.

    Through cold, through cold, and the bitter alone,

    There on the wind rides a star, my own.

    And the star is a word, of white, of white,

    And the star in the wind is a word.

    Is that not beautiful?

    1. This poem has been going through my head for a couple of weeks. I thought it was in my copy of _Songs of the Pogo_ (1956), but it’s not. I Googled it this afternoon, and a friend told me about Katherine Barbara. Lars, where is the poem published? A couple of the lines that stuck in my mind are a little different from what you quote above: “Blowing aloft…” , “Through fog, through cold….” “There high on the wind rides a star, my own”

      1. I found it in Ten Ever-Lovin’, Blue-Eyed Years With Pogo,” by Walt Kelly. The proper words are on page 91:

        There’s a Star in the wind and the wind winds high,
        Blowing alight thru fog, thru night.
        Thru cold, thru cold and the bitter alone…
        There high in the wind rides a Star, my own,
        And the Star is a word . . . of white, of white . . .
        And the star in the wind is a Word. (Porkypine 1953)

  4. This poem came to mind when I was reading a friend’s blog, and my search for some missing lines brought me here. I read it in my Dad’s Pogo book and memorized it in high school (early 80s)because I found it so beautiful. I remember I decided to write it in all my friends’ yearbooks, in backwards print.

    Thanks.

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