Comic: "The Pogo Papers"
Published by: Fantagraphics
Written by: Walt Kelly
Artist: Walt Kelly
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Plot: Swamp Critters, some bearing a passing resemblance to key players in the 1950’s Red Scare trials of the House Un-American Activities Committee, engage in hilarious shenanigans.
Review: If you don’t know who Walt Kelly was, its damn well time you did. The comedy you’re standing on wouldn’t have no underpinin’s on which it’s standing upon foundation-wise.
From 1949 until his death in 1973, Walt Kelly drew comics and newspaper strips featuring Pogo Possum and his friends who lived in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Many compilations of his work are still in print, including “The Pogo Papers”, and rumor has it his complete works are going to be re-issued soon.
On it’s worst day, Pogo was damn funny. On it’s best, it was sublime, and in between it was subversive, anarchic, charming, insightful and courageous as hell. Kelly was the first cartoonist to inject the political and social satire reserved for editorial cartoons into daily strips, and he did it on a national scale at a time when expressing the wrong political ideals could cost you your career.
“The Pogo Papers” reprints among other things; a run of daily strips featuring Simple J. Malarky, a shotgun-wielding Bobcat with the face of Senator Joe McCarthy. When threatened with censorship, Kelly had the Bobcat put a bag over it’s head so nobody could see the resemblance, and when some newspapers actually pulled his strips, he sent replacement ‘Fluffy Bunny’ cartoons to run in their place. That way, if your paper had Fluffy Bunnies instead of Pogo, you knew you were missing something good.
Pogo was ‘The Daily Show’ of it’s day, taking insidious, fear mongering political crap and holding it up to the light of day in the public square, where it was revealed for what it was – laughable.
Kelly was a pioneering artist as well as satirist, doing for humor in the comics medium what Wil Eisner was doing with dramatic comics. He routinely broke the panels frames, having characters lean on them, fall out of them, strike matches on their edges to light their cigarettes. He used different fonts and frames for word balloons to signify his animal’s singular traits.
There was a brief attempt to revive his work with a new artist, but it just couldn’t be done and maybe shouldn’t have been tried. Kelly had an amazingly light touch, wrapping scathing criticism in buffoonery so that those who took offense ended up looking foolish, a “Who, li’l ol’ me?’ quality that no one has been able to replicate. Students of comedy and comics owe it to themselves to dig these books out and study them. You’ll be amazed how much contemporary work is inspired by Pogo and like the best comedy it hasn’t aged. It’s ripened.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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