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Monday, February 07, 2005

POGO POSSUM #13 by Walt Kelly

I would hope that most people reading this have some appreciation of Walt Kelly's work. POGO was one of the best comic strips of all time, and I sure hope that the recently reported success of the PEANUTS collections and LITTLE LULU book inspire a publisher to pick up the rights to it in a format similar to either of those, or maybe a continuation of the large format Fireside books of the 1980s. I wasn't that fond of the format Fantagraphics used for their last go-round at reprinting the dailies, but even those would be better than nothing if they finally got to unreprinted strips.

I also hope that at some point Kelly's later comic book work get's reprinted. I haven't been too familiar with all of it, mostly a few 1980s reprints of the Christmas comics and the really early ANIMAL COMICS work that evolved into Pogo. Recently I picked up a few of the POGO POSSUM comics he did for Dell after the strip launched, and found they were just brilliant, maybe even better than the comic strip work of the period.

One of the comics I picked up was POGO POSSUM #13 (1953). A big 52-pager for the princely sum of 15 cents, it's packed with Kelly's work, with three long comic stories, a two-page text story, two black and white gags on the inside covers and even an illustrated subscription ad on the backcover.

"Thud and Blunder" is the shortest of the three stories, and is just hilarious from the start, at Owl lectures Churchy about trying to be funny in a comic book, which is against all sorts of rules. This exchange follows:

Churchy: What's the word "comic" for, then?
Owl: THAT is a synonym for BLOOD!
Churchy: Blood? [to a passing grasshopper] Did you know that a comic book is made of cinnamon and blood?

That's all far funnier than it has any right to be. Anyway, Owl goes on a crusade to make the comic book more serious, with twists along the way.

I was especially struck by this page, which is one of the most well constucted gags I've ever seen on a comic page. It's been long demonstrated by Scott Shaw! that there's nothing funnier than a fish hitting someone in the face. Comedy gold, I tells you. So it's not surprising that Walt Kelly doing such a classic bit would do it better than anyone else. It's not so much the fish-in-the-face, but the two-panel reaction shot that follows that really makes it work. Especially Owl and Turtle.

The story "Van Winkle, Van Blinkle and Van Nod" follows, and shines the spotlight on Albert the Alligator, who tends to be my favourite character visually. The others may get better lines and situations, but no one in the strip moves quite like Albert. In this one we get to see him walking upside-down and getting into an arguement with a tree (and losing).

Short interlude for a 2-page text story. In almost every comic from that era I've seen, the obligatory text story (I think they were required for some sort of postal exemption) ranges from skippable to almost physically painful. Kelly provided some of the few exceptions I've seen, partly from providing some nice illustrations for the stories, and also from his gift for language.

The final long story is "High Noon, or The Fiasco Kid Rides Again", wherein Churchy accuses Owl of murdering him with books (especially the triggerbonicky one). This causes Albert to declare himself Sheriff of the Swamp to fight that lawlessness. From this spring misunderstandings that movie star Lawn Norder is coming to the swamp and that there's a bolshevik invasion coming.

Now, I gotta say, there's just something wrong with a world where these pages haven't seen the inside of printing press in over half a century.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:41 am

    I remember this comic when I was a little kid in the fifties-the section with Albert in the woods at night seemed magical. When I got a little older I started to get the puns and insane humor of the dialog. I think my brother still has the tattered remnants of Pogo #13. M. Hosmer


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