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WALT KELLY: THE LIFE AND ART

Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo
By Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua

240 8.5x11-inch pages
b/w and color
2012 Hermes Press hardcover
$49.99

Walt Kelly bio coverAndrae has produced in this volume what is perhaps his magnum opus on Walt Kelly, a long look at the career of the medium’s most authentic genius. Kelly began his career while still in high school and after a short stint working in a women’s underwear factory and then at the local newspaper, the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post, he ventured off to New York where he intended to find work as an illustrator and wound up, instead, drawing for comic books, graduating in 1936 to Walt Disney's animation studio in California.

He left Disney during the notorious labor dispute in the early 1940s and about 1942 became a mainstay at Dell Comics, creating Fairy Tale Parade, considered by many the finest fantasy comic book of the Golden Age. He also did the covers for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories while Carl Barks was drawing the Duck stories inside. Then came Animal Comics and the first adventures of Albert and Pogo, still in the 1940s and several years before Pogo debuted as a newspaper strip in 1948 in the short-lived New York Star.

The Kelly saga is related in a series of essays by Andrae, Kelly-collectors Mark Burstein and Carsten Laqua (whose Kelly trove provides much of the visual material in the book), and Scott Daley, son of Kelly’s third wife, Selby, who reports his observations of the working methods of Kelly. Together, they rehearse numerous anecdotes from Ward Kimball and others Kelly worked with.

While the texts offer many nuggets not mined elsewhere, the best part of the book is its pictures — many reproduced from original art (including a couple of un-inked Pogo dailies) and many color covers and other extracurricular Kelly art. Among the latter, 8 Sundays (in color) from the renowned Prehysterical Pogo sequence in the mid-1960s in which Pogo, Albert and Churchy are transported to Pandemonia (Australia), plus one or two of Kelly’s PanAm advertisements, some color sketches for the two animated Pogos, and many Pogo dailies (in which the blue-pencil under-drawing is visible).

PogoHermes1

Andrae discusses “Pogo’s Politics” (mostly in the 1950s) and offers a detailed parsing of the famous Pandemonia sequence, explaining the satire and politics of it. Regrettably, Kelly’s political cartoons for the New York Star are represented with only three specimens. Some day, they’ll get a book of their own; this volume, as it says in the title, veers off decidedly in the Pogo direction of Kelly’s oeuvre. Such minor quibbles, however, are easy to overlook in an otherwise superlative effort in an elegantly superior package from Hermes.

BY THE WAY (although not at all incidentally), I’ve done some writing for Hermes Press, and I was paid for the writing. I don’t think, since I have generally applauded the publisher’s product — both before and after being paid — that makes me a biased analyst, but what I think in this instance is less important than what you think. And now you know.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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