Into the Wild Blue Wonder: Pogo, The Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 1 by Walt Kelly (2011)
Yeah, I know, this is Ross McDonald week for your merry crew of Friday's Forgotten Book bloggers. But, as it happened, this gorgeous book came across my desk, seducing me and revealing lost secrets of the past...hell, I'd bet that even Lew Archer would drop a murder investigation to delve into the origins of a certain Okefenokee marsupial.
And, yeah, I know, a book published in 2011 could hardly be called "forgotten," especially one about said certain marsupial. But, the comic strip ended so long ago that younger generations have grown up without the wonderful wit and guidance of Walt Kelly. What a shame! No wonder the world is in such a mess.
As all good Pogophiles know, the little critter came into existence in the December 1942 issue of Animal Comics. (That auspicious beginning was linked to a short while ago in this sterling blog, he said humbly.) A bit more than five years after, Kelly found himself the art director for the ill-fated, short-lived New York Star, a left-leaning newspaper that published six times a week (no Saturdays, thank you very much). It was there that the first Pogo comic strip appeared, from October 4, 1948 to January 28, 1949. The newspaper may have died, but Pogo did not. The Hall Syndicate picked up the strip beginning on May 16, 1949. The colored Sunday strips began on January 29, 1950.
Kelly fought for ownership and complete control of his characters and -- unusual for the day -- won. His determination to remain true to his vision was well rewarded. Pogo became a phenomenon.
Those early days were experimental ones for Kelly, as he began refining his style and characters. His artwork became more lush and organic. He experimented with color on his Sunday strips, making the swamp itself a fully-realized character. Gone were any human characters that were a part of his Animal Comics days. New characters were introduced, some to be discarded soon after as the cast was molded and gelled. The early Pogo relied on gentle wit and wordplay; the biting political and social satire were waiting offstage but would not appear before the footlights until later.
Kelly did begin to draw caricatures with Kimbo Cat (representing Ward Kimball, a Disney artist and good friend) and Cully and Hawgshaw (who look and act suspiciously like newspaper publishers Colonel Robert McCormick and William Randolph Hearst, respectively), but the likes of Simple J. Malarkey were yet to come.
So along comes this book, the first in a projected twelve volumes. (The second has been published.) Publishing of Into the Wild Blue Wonder was delayed a number of years while editors Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson work to get the most pristine strips available and to enhance them to most closely represent Kelly's vision. The result is a sumptuous combination of art and literature (yes, I used the L word!).
The denizens of Okefenokee may be confused and sometimes simple-minded, but misunderstandings are usually resolved and comradeship renewed through friendly meals. In fact, food -- Pogo's food, to be precise -- is often the motivator in many of the plots. The plot of the first week has Pogo catching two fish, which Churchy la Femme should be "equally" shared; between Churchy, Howland Owl, and Albert Alligator, everybody has part of Pogo's half except Pogo. So it goes. And so we go into two year's worth of sly humor, twisted logic, and good-natured kidding.
Into the Wild Blue Yonder presents the daily strips from May 16, 1949 to December 30, 1950, the Sunday strips from January 28 through December 31, 1950, and the New York Star strips complete from October 4, 1948 to January 28, 1949. Some of the New York Star continuities were used and adapted for syndication.
There's also a brief introduction by Kelly's pal Jimmy Breslin, an interesting biographical sketch of Kelly by Steve Thompson, an article about the creative process in the Sunday strips by Mark Evanier, and an afterward by R. C. Harvey, annotating and giving some of the historical background of the strip from 1948 to 1950.
A well thought out and designed package. Highly recommended.
For more today's Forgotten Books, including a passle of Ross MacDonalds, stop by Pattinase where our fearless leader Patti Abbott collects all the links.