Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Walt Kelly Appreciation

The International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood has posted a terrific tribute to "Pogo" cartoonist Walt Kelly written by Mike Fontanelli that includes several examples of Kelly's early work I'd never seen before.

A pre-Pogo piece that was new to me

Coincidentally picking up where my last post left off, Kelly started his career as a Disney animator. He worked on "Snow White," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," and "The Reluctant Dragon" before striking off into book illustration. "Pogo" began in 1948 and, until Kelly's death in 1973 and a while afterward (carried on by his wife Selby and assistants), was one of the all-time great comic strips. In my private roster of Top Ten Best Cartoonists Ever, Walt Kelly is at least two of 'em.

In my opinion, Kelly could do it all. Humor, absurdity, satire, political commentary, romance, pathos, even action-adventure--anything a reader could want from a comic strip, "Pogo" delivered. He could make you laugh, make you think, and rip your heart out. His graceful brushed ink work was second to none. In addition, Kelly good-naturedly subverted the comic strip form, frequently breaking the fourth wall and playing with lettering to give characters unique voices. He was very, very smart.

In Mom's Cancer, I explained that my Dad was actually my step-father. He entered my family's life when I was 8 or 9 and, while Mom had her own reasons for falling in love with him, he seduced me with his collection of "Pogo" books from the 1950s. I'd never seen the strip before and, even though I didn't get all the references, I absorbed it osmotically. It did things I didn't know comics could do and influenced me tremendously. Plus, every Christmas to this day, Dad and I are nearly guaranteed to regale each other with a rousing round of Kelly's fractured carol, "Deck Us All With Boston Charlie."
To be fair, not everyone took to "Pogo," and I think it remained something of a cult favorite for most of its existence. College kids loved it. I've seen cartoonists criticize Kelly for being a little too slick and polished, a little too clever and cute for his own good. Some people simply didn't like it, and there's certainly no answer for that; however, those who did like it loved it. I'm one of those guys.

If I've piqued your interest, go read the ASIFA tribute. If that's not enough Walt Kelly for you, I also recommend the official Pogo website, maintained by his family. If that's still not enough, find a used book store or comics shop that carries his out-of-print collections and get a shot of the straight stuff. If you can hunt up a copy of Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Years with Pogo, my copy of which I stole from Dad decades ago, I think you'll have a good time.


mike f. said...

Hi Brian -

Thanks for the thoughtful Walt Kelly remembrance, which I've read 3 times now.

I wrote yesterday's tribute, and deliberately kept my comments brief because I wanted to let the artwork speak for itself - but after reading your post, I vastly prefer it to mine.
Your excellent POGO commentary falls into the "I wish I'd said that" category!

Mike Fontanelli

Brian Fies said...

Mike, thanks a lot for your tribute and your comments on mine. I appreciate them both very much.