We Go Pogo

We Go Pogo: Walt Kelly, Politics, and American Satire

Kerry D. Soper
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    We Go Pogo
    Book Description:

    Walt Kelly (1913-1973) is one of the most respected and innovative American cartoonists of the twentieth century. His long-runningPogonewspaper strip has been cited by modern comics artists and scholars as one of the best ever. Cartoonists Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows) have all cited Kelly as a major influence on their work. AlongsideUncle Scrooge'sCarl Barks andKrazy Kat'sGeorge Herriman, Kelly is recognized as a genius of "funny animal" comics.

    We Go Pogois the first comprehensive study of Kelly's cartoon art and his larger career in the comics business. Author Kerry D. Soper examines all aspects of Kelly's career---from his high school drawings; his work on such animated Disney movies asDumbo,Pinocchio, andFantasia; and his 1930s editorial cartoons forLife, and theNew York Herald Tribune. Soper taps Kelly's extensive personal and professional correspondence and interivews with family members, friends, and cartoonists to create a complex portrait of one of the art form's true geniuses.

    FromPogo'sinception in 1948 until Kelly's death, the artist combined remarkable draftsmanship, slapstick humor, fierce social satire, and inventive dialogue and dialects. He used the adventures of his animals--all denizens of the Okefenokee Swamp--as a means to comment on American and international politics and cultural mores. The strip lampooned Senator Joseph McCarthy during the height of McCarthyism, the John Birch Society during the 1960s, Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and many others.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-285-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    In 1952 a political rally at Harvard University overflowed with enthusiasm and eventually turned into a mildly violent carnival:

    A crowd of 200 gathered in Harvard square . . . As the restless crowd grew to 1,600, 3 police wagons, 8 patrol cars and 25 policemen arrived, and in the ensuing mêlée 28 Harvard students were arrested. (Boatner 90)

    We don’t often associate early 1950s college campuses with political agitators, and so it is difficult to imagine what caused this rowdy demonstration. The answer, at first glance, is surprising: the students were there to greet Walt Kelly, the creator of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Walt Kelly’s Biography and a General History of Pogo
    (pp. 19-49)

    Walt Kelly lived much of his adult life in the public spotlight, reveling in his celebrity as a premier cartoonist and satirist of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, one can easily follow the trail of his whirlwind professional career as he appeared on talk shows, rubbed shoulders with politicians and movie stars, traveled the world as a pundit, toured college campuses, and performed chalk-talks or roasts that resembled vaudevillian stand-up routines. It is more difficult, however, to document his childhood and young adult years for two reasons. First, Kelly was self-effacing about his significance as a cultural figure worthy of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Comedy and Satire in Pogo
    (pp. 50-98)

    Kelly’s comic strip is often celebrated as exceptional because of its topical satire—the lampooning of the significant political figures and the cultural events of its day. In the minds of some critics, it is this satiric “seriousness” that savesPogofrom its surrounding medium (the overly commercialized and lowbrow comics page) and occasionally from itself (the perceived weaknesses of the strip: silly wordplay, slapstick, and overly cute aesthetics). The problem with fixating on the virtues of topical satire alone, however, is that it sanctions an elitist contempt for broad comedy and mainstream popular culture. It also compels one to...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Walt Kelly, Pragmatic Auteur
    (pp. 99-136)

    Of the different roles Walt Kelly played in his life, he is best loved as a comic strip artist—a craft in which he combined the skills of cartooning, comedy, and satire; few cartoonists in the history of the medium have been able to match his ability to deliver aesthetic, comedic, and intellectual pleasure in one package, and to do so consistently. But Kelly’s ability to achieve such excellence in creating rich and provocative comics was contingent on his success at performing a variety of behind-the-scenes roles such as businessman, self-promoter, industry representative, and auteur (a popular artist with a...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Representations of Race, and Borrowings from African American Folk Forms in Kelly’s Work
    (pp. 137-167)

    In January 1945 when Walt Kelly was a relatively unknown comic book artist, he unceremoniously retired one of his main characters, Bumbazine (a small African American boy), from hisAnimal Comicsseries. The world in which this boy had lived—a slightly softened version of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus trickster tales—lived up to the title of the comic, as it was populated by a variety of anthropomorphized swamp critters speaking in black dialect: alligators, possums, foxes, beavers, goats, and so on. As an explanation for removing the boy from the stories, Kelly pointed to the narrative awkwardness of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Aesthetics of Pogo
    (pp. 168-194)

    Kelly’s greatness as a satirist and comedian was matched by his excellence as an artist. Indeed,Pogowas an unusually vivid and eye-arresting comic strip because of the dynamism, solidity, and rich array of values and textures in his visuals. Because of these aesthetic qualities,Pogois widely considered by comics scholars to be one of the best works of art to ever appear on the funnies page. R. C. Harvey, for example, describes the art inPogoas a “cathedral of accomplishment” and argues that Kelly’s

    comic strip achieved the maximum of which the medium is capable, a zenith...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Walt Kelly, Mid-Century Poplorist
    (pp. 195-218)

    One of the core points of this study has been that Kelly and his work defy easy categorization. As an iconoclast who exerted an auteur-like clout, he transcended genre and medium conventions, melding the technical methods and narrative conventions of animation, political cartooning, and comic books. His role as a cultural creator was equally complex. Not content to quietly churn out a strip while holed up in a studio, Kelly led a high-profile public life, reveling in chalktalks, stump speeches, punditry, interviews, and vaudevillian variety shows. As a result of this border-defying creativity, his significance as a cultural icon has...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 219-220)
    (pp. 221-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-239)