Pogo by Walt Kelly

Walt Kelly, Pogo, December 5, 1951

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) worked as an animator for Disney (and was fired for participating in a strike) and as a comic book artist before starting his comic strip Pogo in 1948 for the New York Star, the liberal successor to the leftist daily PM. When the Star folded, he took the strip into syndication and continued drawing it until his death in 1973.

Pogo was explicitly (but not exclusively) political and savagely caricatured Joseph McCarthy, a move that got the strip censored in many newspapers around the country and moved to the editorial pages by other newspapers. But much of the time his Disney-influenced cast of swamp critters engaged in various shenanigans that reflected those of American society and daily life--including an annual fall classic baseball game.

Kelly was a remarkably skilled artist with ink and brush, and his time as an animator really shows in the strip--each of his characters exists as a three-dimensional, articulable form. Kelly could draw Pogo or Churchy LaFemme or Albert Alligator from any angle in any pose. This flexibility allowed him to give each character great expressive range. Kelly extended this range through his creative use of word balloons and lettering. Kelly is famous for the calligraphy he would employ (the Deacon always speaks in an old-English Biblical font, for example), but often Kelly used simpler typographic means, as in the strip here from 1954 where Porky Pine's cannily laconic responses are emphasized in the first panel by the giant word balloon containing only the word "yep."

Kelly designed beautiful book collections of Pogo, often adding additional panels to make the work flow better in book form. These books can occasionally be found in old book shops and are worth seeking out. A new book series collecting the entirety of Pogo chronologically has begun in the past few years as well.

Walt Kelly, Pogo, August 9, 1954