Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A 65 year-old premonition

In the 50's to 70's the 'funny' papers had their best contributor ever, before or since.  In the comic strip Pogo, the badly missed Walt Kelly blended intelligence, great artistic flair, imagination, satire, humor, and just plain wonderful escapism. His critters of the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia were fiction (I think), but they often clearly related to real-world events taking place outside the swamp.

Often Pogo was funny, but not always silly, and it usually had a serious, intelligent edge far above the level of anything on today's comics page.  Below is a timely example.  Deacon Mushrat represented the obvious sort of pompous, angry, 'true believer' presumptuous clergyman.  Pogo the possum, the star, was the very embodiment of good will; ol' Albert the alligator was a temperamental often boorish fellow, addicted to his seegars....but good at heart.

This image, from 1952/3, is a spooky premonition of current news.  Even over a half-century later, we can all sense Pogo's and Albert's reactions, I think.

From The Pogo Papers, copyright Walt Kelly and Simon & Schuster, 1952/3
The Pogo characters often were take-offs of real figures, including Nikita Krushchev, Lyndon Johnson, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Barry Goldwater, J. Edgar Hoover, and many others of their ilk and time, all cast as animals with appropriate traits.  It is easy to imagine who would be in those pages today.  What sort of animal would that person be?

Ah, wonderful Pogo, how we miss and need you now**!

**fortunately, some of the strips are still available in reprints.  Pure entertainment, not to be missed.  And it's impossible to believe that Pogo and his pals aren't out there, deep in the Okefenokee today, wondering how we can be as doltish out here in our 'real' world as we are.


David J. Littleboy said...

Don't forget the bats, with their tree house with the multiple doors and windows!

But yes, lots of superb stuff there. I also remember finding Peanuts to have more of an edge to it than other people saw. There was a series where Lucy does a science fair project on Linus to determine what happens when his blanket is taken away. It was quite a reasonable description of how science is done. And someone asks her if it wasn't ethically problematical. Her answer: but I won the science fair! In real life, not long after that, as an undergrad at MIT doing a minor in materials science, we took field trips. One was to a place doing "thick film circuits". For the time, it was kewl technology. "But what is it used for?" I asked. These are the fuses for the antipersonnel land mines we are using in Vietnam. Oh, yes. These are great fuses. They set off the explosives at waist height so the shrapnel hits the bloke in the gut. And even better, we're using plastic shrapnel that can't be seen in X-rays, so even if the bloke makes it to the hospital, they won't be able to remove the shrapnel and the bloke will die of infection. The guy doing the work seriously didn't have a clue how horrifically amoral he was.

Whatever. Deck us all with Boston Charlie!

Ken Weiss said...

Actually there is even more in this particular Pogo book that is relevant to the ugliness we're seeing here today. Peanuts was a softer and more 'realistic' approach, also wonderful and way above the other strips (except Pogo!). Pogo's imaginary land, the beautiful art, and the much more serious intellectual content were unmatched (sometimes, even I would say that Pogo was a bit too wordy). I have all the Pogo books, including 3 of the now-4 new republishing efforts by Fantagraphics.

Deck us all indeed!

Anonymous said...

Then there was Alan Moore's homage in Swamp Thing