This is my beat-up, decades-old cover of the first of a series of treasures created by one of the greatest cartoonist of all time: Walt Kelly. Like Carl Barks, Kelly was a “Disney Man.” He worked as an animator on “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” and other classic Disney films. In 1941, after he’d been with Disney five years, Kelly, like Barks, changed to comic books and worked at Dell. He did some wonderful fairy tale stories and covers and developed an early version of Pogo the Possum for “Animal Comics.” In 1948, the year I was born, an evolved version of Pogo first ran as a daily comic strip with the New York Star. When the Star folded, Kelly signed on with the Hall syndicate. I was surprised to learn Kelly was able to obtain ownership rights to his strip. The syndicates usually had total ownership of artist’s strips. They could hire others to do a strip an artist had originated. Charles Schultz, the creator of the “Peanuts” strip was the cartoonist I thought was the first to gain ownership of his own strip.
I discovered Pogo when I was about 10 years old. Despite the cute, comical look of the characters, who form a richly diverse cast, the verbal content was sometimes over my 10-year-old head, but the beauty of the drawings and the fluid action of the characters, often engaged in hilarious slapstick, was a magnet for me. Kelly often satirized politics and human foibles, but the books always had a gentle, open-hearted character that reflected the good-natured personality of Pogo, and I suspect Walt Kelly, himself.
Since Walt Kelly was an experienced and highly skilled comic book artist, it was natural for him to take a year’s worth of Pogo strips and reformat them into little comic books. He deftly edited the content to give it a continuous flow, adding and subtracting panels as needed. He did around 20 of these books. I have them all and they are all suffering from some degree of decay, because of age and frequent use. Fantagraphicshas a series reprinting the strips, but the books Kelly himself created are long out of print. You can get some of them as used books on Amazon. I would heartily recommend it. In my opinion, they are priceless.
Pogo was a great success and enjoyed wide circulation. Walt Kelly was in demand as a speaker. Unfortunately, he died when he was only sixty of diabetes-related ailments. Hopefully, someday, some wise publisher will decided to reprint the precious books that Kelly crafted. Don’t wait until then to discover Pogo, if you haven’t already.
P.S. Marie Thresher, the designer and animator who has given me lots of tips to help promote my comic, has a wonderful feature on her Instagram page, “happyfridaydoodles.” Her latest entry is a photo of a “March in Like a Lion” snow lion she created after the blizzard. She lives right across the street from us and it was great fun to see her sculpting the snow lion in her front yard. Check it out!
Did someone mention “my comic?” Check it out too, at comiXology.