We have met the enemy and he is us. — Pogo as quoted in, of course, Pogo
Walt Kelley (1913 to 1973) conceived, wrote, and illustrated what many including myself consider the greatest strip of all time, Pogo. Some claim that Doonesbury is the modern Pogo but I consider that strip a pale shadow compared to Pogo. It was not as long run as Doonesbury which ran for a remarkable forty three years before it essentially ended its run but Pogo ran for nearly twenty years starting in nineteen forty-eight.
Pogo was both the title of the strip and the central character of this endeavor. Set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern USA, the strip engaged in biting social commentary and sharp-edged political satire through the (mis)adventures of anthropomorphic animal characters. No one was safe from his gaze in their direction — Joeseph McCarthy became a wildcat named Simple J. Malarkey in 1953, an act of strong courage given how popular that bastard was when the character was introduced in 1953; the swamp’s candidate for President in 1960 was an egg, a comment on the youth of JFK; the John Birch Society became the Jack Acid Society, an obvious pun on jackasses; leftist politicians such as Castro were equally pricked deep in the strip; and of course Nixon would be a favorite target of the strip as both a nasty spider and a hyena that morphed between Nixon and Agnew.
Hoover thought that Kelley was undermining America by sending coded messages to subversives in the form of nonsense poetry and the over the top Southern accents he used in the strip. But then Hoover was a jackass too.
Such a strip deserves an extraordinary publication and it got one in this series. Fantagraphics had previously printed in softcover the first five and a half years worth of daily strips but this is a hardcover edition collecting the daily black and whites along with the color strips, in stunning color.
You also will get an Editor’s Note talking about how this came to be, a listing of the strips which nicely describes them (which weirdly is in the wrong place according to the table of contents!), a foreword by Jimmy Breslin, a rather sharply opinionated political commentator himself, a detailed introduction by Steve Thompson, and Mark Evanier on ‘The Sundays’ as they were called.
I haven’t touch upon Pogo himself, the others in the principal cast of characters, or the nearly thousand in total characters by Kelley’s count who graced (and disgraced in many cases those they were based on) these strips. That would list is worthy of an entire book!
As of now, Fantagraphics has published three volumes covering 1949 to 1954. The first two oversized volumes run forty dollars, but you can get them as a box set for seventy dollars; the third volume runs forty five dollars. Now keep in mind that these are a steal at that price!
(Fantagraphics Books, 2011)