Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pogo, Fantastigrafically

I'm really enjoying Volume 1 of Fantagraphics' Complete Pogo. Walt Kelly was a natural born, brown-eyed boy genius. Every strip has so much to take in; poring over the lush art and deciphering the southern-speak takes a while, but is such a rewarding effort. It's breathtaking to see an artist like Kelly putting everything he had into each panel.

I also loved R.C. Harvey's "Swamp Talk" in the back of the book, where he explains some of the more obscure cultural and political happenings that Kelly alludes to in the strip. But it's quite easy to miss the fact that there is a much longer, unexpurgated version of Harvey's "Swamp Talk" online here. And I love that he gives a shout out to my former Mame tour cast member Jim Bernhard! Scroll down to the entry for 8/20/50 to see.

It's a great reprinting, and I'll get every volume...but I must say I'm a little worried about how it's all gonna end. Fantagraphics is releasing 12 volumes, each with two years' worth of strips. Volume 1 has the last part of 1949, when Pogo was nationally syndicated, plus all of 1950. So the 12th volume should take us through 1972. Kelly died on 10/18/73, and his widow Selby kept the strip running, one way or another, through 7/20/75. Apparently even before Kelly died, assistants like Don Morgan had basically taken over the strip. But there are some strips from late 1972 reprinted in Phi Beta Pogo that, while apparently drawn by Kelly, are pretty painful to look at. Pogo and Co. are drawn tiny, in stiff poses, with absolutely no backgrounds whatsoever. It's going to be interesting to see exactly where Fantagraphics decides Walt Kelly's Pogo "ended".

Kelly started the cast of Pogo in comic books in 1942, and even had a dry run at a newspaper strip in the New York Star in 1948-49, so when syndication happened in late 1949 he was able to hit the ground running with his characters. Pogo is great from Day One. But if Kelly started with a bang, I'm afraid it's inevitable that Fantagraphics' reprinting is going to end with a bit of a whimper. Of course, Kelly's whimper is another cartoonist's roar. And at least, in comparison to some strips, it'll be a relatively quick fade to black.

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