Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October is the Month for Pogo

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower, alleygaroo!

I am sure we all can remember our first pet. In my case, I grew up with a wonderful pound dog--mostly cocker spaniel, a touch of chow (the black tongue) and a little more of who knows what. I actually don't remember whether the dog or I came first, although I do know that the family's little black companion was ahead of me in the pecking order. This friendly little dog was named Pogo, and I have many wonderful memories of times spent with her. So I was surprised when I read in the Britannica Blog that the original Pogo is 60 years old.

Walt Kelly, the originator of Pogo, was born in Philadelphia, and when a young man worked as a crime reporter on the Bridgeport Post, in Bridgeport, CT. He filled notebooks with doodles and cartoon scribbles until he finally decided to head to California and take his art seriously as an animator with the new Walt Disney studios.
He continued to hone his skills at Disney throughout the 1930s and early 1940s while contributing to Fantasia, Snow White and my personal favorite Dumbo.

When Kelly returned to the US after WWII he chose to return to journalism, but using his talented pen as an illustrator instead of a reporter.

From Britannica Online:
Pogo became a kind of liberal reply to Al Capp’s reactionary strip L’il Abner, lampooning vice president Richard Nixon, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and even Senator Joseph McCarthy (as the malign wildcat Simple J. Malarkey) himself. Kelly voiced his views through the mouths of aw-shucks cartoon characters who lived in a kind of alternate-universe version of the Confederacy: Pogo the naïve possum; the befuddled but sweet Albert Alligator; the grumpy tortoise Churchy Femme and the even grumpier porcupine called, of course, Porky Pine; the evangelist Deacon Mushrat, the pompous Howland Owl, the faithful Beauregard Hound Dog, the self-satisfied P. T. Bridgeport Bear, the ghastly vulture Sarcophagus Macabre, the coquettish skunk Mamzelle Hepzibah; the list went on to number dozens of characters, major and minor, over the next twenty-five years.

Politicians may not have liked Pogo much, but readers did. Kelly’s strip was quickly syndicated and published across the country, and soon nonsensical catchphrases from Pogo were on everyone’s lips: “Food is no substitute for the real thing.” “Each year is getting shorter.” “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.” And, most famous of all, Pogo the possum’s mangling of Commodore Perry’s famous dispatch in commemoration of Earth Day 1971, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” So popular was Kelly’s strip that the first of his many book collections, called simply Pogo, leaped to the head of the 1951 bestseller list, alongside such books as Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity, and Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki.

Syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, Pogo helped define American political culture for the next two decades. But by the early 1970s, in the era of Watergate and Vietnam, politics seemed less a laughing than a fighting matter in this country, and Kelly’s gently good-natured strip waned in popularity as more pointed comics like Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury came to the fore. Still, Pogoisms still figure in popular discourse 35 years after Kelly’s death, and Pogo lives otherwise, safely preserved on library shelves across the land, ready to do service again in a time of weird politics. And every October, right about this time, Waycross, Georgia, next door to the Okefenokee Swamp, holds a weekend-long Pogofest in Kelly’s honor.

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Muriel Strand said...

Pogo the strip was revived around 1990, but early hopes of reviving the spirit of political irreverence and satire were apparently done in by corporate caution.

Joni said...

I am not sure what that says about the world we live in -- somehow I don't think it is a positive commentary on the willingness of the newspaper establishment to look beyond the political curtain when Pogo is too irreverent.