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POGO: THE COMPLETE DELL COMICS

Walt Kelly’s Pogo: The Complete Dell Comics
Volume One

By Walt Kelly
Introduction by Thomas Andrae
Afterword by Mark Burstein

304 7.5x10-inch pages
color
2014 Hermes Press hardcover
$50

POGO The Complete Dell Comics Volume 1 coverThe first of Hermes Press' two-volume reprinting of all the funnybook Pogo presents all 27 appearances of everyone’s favorite possum in Animal Comics, Nos.1-30 (December 1941-January 1942 through December 1947), except Nos.4, 6 and 7 which were Pogo-less. Volume Two will reprint the Dell Four Color Pogo (Nos. 105 and 148) and other stray appearances of Pogo, plus all of the Pogo comic book. In addition to the Pogo Animal Comics stories, Volume One includes all the comic book’s covers (even those not by Kelly) and several pages reproducing original art — some from Pogo comic strips, plus the art for the first Pogo paperback in 1951.

Long an admirer of Kelly, Andrae sees the folkloric trickster tales—in which the weaker character overcomes the stronger by outwitting him, guile triumphing over power— as underlying Kelly’s swampland stories.

Animal Comics coverTo appreciate Andrae’s point, it’s helpful to remember that Albert, an alligator, is the title character in the inaugural comic book stories, not Pogo. In Joel Chandler Harrisian terms, Albert plays the roles Uncle Remus gives to Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear; Pogo and Bumbazine, the black boy who plays with the animals in the swamp (and is the sensible center of the first stories), are the tricksters. And they deliver Albert’s comeuppance for the first five stories (until Animal Comics No.8); after that, the plots no longer turn on trickster motifs.

Instead, general confusion reigns — all originating with the alligator’s seemingly insatiable carnivorous appetite for anything he deems edible (including, usually by mistake, bee hives and hornets’ nests, which proliferate as instruments of punishment) and perpetuated by misapprehending the meaning of puns and other locutions.

In addition to traces of the trickster, Andrae finds evidence of American minstrelsy (in which the fool’s behavior masks the social criticism) in the Animal Pogo. And he also discusses Bugs Bunny and racism and Kelly’s opposition to it and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and environmental and ecological concerns — in short, the entire American liberal agenda, which, Andrae is able to demonstrate successfully, infects even the earliest Pogo.

With No.15, Pogo joins Albert in the story’s logo, and he remains there through the remainder of the Animal Comics incarnation. From the start, “Pogo” was in larger type than “Albert,” signaling Kelly’s shifting allegiance. Bumbazine had disappeared after No.12.

Andrae helpfully points out that bombazine is “the name of a shiny black fabric that Kelly recalled from his youthful days working at a ladies’ underwear factory.” Kelly quipped that the black kid, “being human,” wasn’t as believable as the animals and therefore didn’t fit into the world he was creating. But I and almost everyone encountering Bumbazine’s brief strut on Kelly’s stage suspect that the cartoonist abandoned the black boy because of the difficulty in drawing him in a way that didn’t perpetuate the racist visual stereotypes of the time.

Whatever the cause, Pogo soon emerged as the stabilizing character in the flux of eccentricities that constitute the population of the swamp.

This Pogo volume, and presumably the next and final one, is useful as well as entertaining and engaging in its own right. The early Pogo offers insight into Kelly’s growth and maturation as a cartoonist and satirist. Kelly’s comic book work does more than prefigure the comic strip. Many of the gags and antics of these stories are recycled in the Pogo newspaper strip, and it’s instructive to watch how Kelly refined and improved his initial concepts.

           

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