The Unexpurgated “Swamp Talk” Annotations from Pogo Vol. 1

The edited version of these annotations by R.C. Harvey appears in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 1 – Through the Wild Blue Wonder by Walt Kelly. – Ed.

Swamp Talk
Searching for the Obscure amid the Obvious and Vice Versa
By R.C. Harvey

Walt Kelly is admired — and revered in some quarters (this one, for instance) — for his deft blending of the verbal and visual resources of the comic strip medium for the purposes of vaudevillian slapstick and other irreverences, chiefly political satire. And for much of the quarter-century run of Pogo under Kelly's hand, the strip commented pointedly on the antics in Washington, ridiculing the pomposities of American political life by dragging off into its panels portraits of the miscreants themselves, albeit disguised, slightly, as warm and cuddly swamp critters. But initially, and for the first couple years of its run, Pogo wasn't ridiculing specific public figures, and the kind of political satire that distinguished Kelly's later work was, with a couple notable exceptions, nearly absent. For the sake of those exceptions, we offer the following annotations. Some of them explain topical references to events, some of them political, that we have long ago forgotten. Others pick up threads of cultural history, illuminate obscure corners of lexicography, or point out various developments in the history of the strip or in Kelly's growing mastery of the arts and crafts of cartooning. Altogether, these notes are intended to enrich the reading of the strip, an artifact of its time now adrift from the moorings of the incidents to which it was once so unmistakably secured.


10/4Pogo started on this date in the New York Star, described by The New Yorker as "the semi-official outlet of advanced liberal thought" put out by "a staff of indefatigable crusaders." The paper, a rejuvenated version of the determinedly independent PM, started in the summer of 1948, and Kelly joined the staff as art director, which meant he drew everything that needed drawing, including editorial cartoons. Any devotee of Pogo knows that this most pleasant of possums was born in October. He debuted in the first issue of Animal Comics (dated December 1942 – January 1943) in a story entitled "Albert Takes the Cake" wherein Albert the Alligator steals Pogo's birthday cake. The very first picture of Pogo shows him tearing a page off a wall calendar for October to reveal the next page that proclaims it's Pogo's birthday. The exact day isn't cited; but now we know — it's October 4.

10/6 — A nameless porcupine anticipates in temperament the eventual arrival of Porky Pine, a thoroughly prickly personality. A porcupine shows up in Pogo's comic book incarnation (Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, Dell Four Color No. 105, 1946), but he, Pompadour Q. Porcupine ("fum up Caroliny way"), is a cheerful, accommodating fellow.

10/7 — Churchy LaFemme first appeared, in a somewhat more cantankerous aspect, in Animal Comics No. 13. His name is a Southern fried version of "cherchez la femme," or, less French, "look for the woman," an expression used in France, where people are much more liberal about such matters, as the reason for a man's otherwise inexplicable behavior: it can be explained by assuming he is trying to cover up an illicit affair or to impress a woman. Kelly gave the skiffs in the swamp names as far back as Animal Comics, usually the name of a city.

10/20Little Pedro was a comic strip by William de la Terre, one of the short roster of comic strips running in the Star. Crockett Johnson's Barnaby (drawn at the time by Jack Morley) was another, and Jack Sparling's Claire Voyant. Kelly started Pogo because (it is said) he thought the paper needed another comic strip; probably, it was Kelly who needed Pogo.

Pogo panel10/22 — As a self-proclaimed candidate for sheriff, Pogo is a little too forceful; Kelly will do better next time the possum runs for office. Subsequent references to an election echo the national presidential campaign going on simultaneously in which incumbent Democrat Harry S Truman was being challenged by Republican Thomas E. Dewey, a former prosecuting attorney and governor of New York. Truman had inherited the White House when Franklin D. Roosevelt died a month into his fourth term in April 1945, and no one expected Truman, the "Missouri jackass," to win the presidency on his own. But the liberal Star was an avid Truman supporter, and Kelly drew cartoons supporting Truman and ridiculing Dewey, whose stiff demeanor Kelly captured with a recurring caricature of him as a robotic adding machine. His tepid manner earned the following (unjust) assessment by wicked gossips: "You have to know Tom Dewey well to dislike him." Still, Dewey was everyone's favorite to win: Republican party regulars, pollsters, pundits — everyone, including lots of Democrats — expected Dewey to win. And Dewey shared that view.

11/7 — But Truman won. The election was November 2, the Tuesday preceding this strip, which was published on Sunday: the Star published only six days a week, Sunday through Friday; no Saturday edition. It's surprising that Truman's win wasn't alluded to in the strip before this. Pogo wasn't syndicated, and Kelly was a fast worker. (George Ward, his sometime assistant, tells about Kelly coming into the office one afternoon with a week's daily strips pencilled and finishing the inking by the end of the afternoon.) Presumably, Kelly could be drawing today the strip that would appear in the paper tomorrow. But it's clear from the strips of 11/3 and following that these strips had been drawn before the ballots had been counted: the dubious outcome in the swamp election with everyone voting "x" suggests that Kelly anticipated a contested election and hoped to comment on it indirectly through the strip. But if he expected the presidential election to be a close one, he was one of only a few who did. Whatever his conviction, he was probably drawing the strips a few days in advance of their publication, and it wasn't until he did the strip for Sunday, November 7, that he could announce Truman's victory, and, on 11/8, Dewey's defeat. The news-bearing duck, Chug Chug Curtis, gets his last name from the father of Maggie Thompson nee Curtis (senior editor of the Comics Buyer's Guide): Ed Curtis and his spouse were fans of Kelly's work in Mother Goose and fairy tale comic books in the mid-1940s. When Chug Chug shows up next, he's lost his beret and has been promoted to the swamp's mailman, an official rather than casual bearer of news.

11/12 — Cannibalism had supplied a few hilarious moments in Animal Comics — and would in the syndicated Pogo, too.

11/17 — In the wake of the Truman victory, the pundit brothers Alsop wrote: "There is only one question on which professional politicians, polltakers, political reporters and other wiseacres and prognosticators can any longer speak with much authority. This is how they want their crow cooked." Only "ol' Marse Perry" wasn't eating crow. That was Jennings Perry, a political columnist for the Star, who, nearly alone among legions of his brethren, did not predict a Dewey win, holding out instead for a Truman triumph.

11/28 — This strip was published on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which was celebrated on Thursday, November 25. The Star didn't publish on the holiday. And once again, it's clear from the delayed festivities in Pogo, which skipped over the opportunity offered by Saturday's strip, that Kelly was drawing the strip several days in advance, not the day or two before publication.

12/1 — John McNulty was in his mid-fifties by the time of this strip. An alcoholic, he had worked the rewrite desk in many newspapers in New York and elsewhere, climbing on and falling off the wagon at all of them, and he had been an editor at Time. Since the early forties, he had contributed to The New Yorker and was now one of the magazine's contract writers and a frequenter, as were others of the writing persuasion, of Costello's, the preferred midtown watering hole of writers. Kelly spent relatively little time at the Palm, the Second Avenue hangout for cartoonists: Kelly thought of himself as a newspaperman and favored the company of writers in his leisure hours, and he found them, and McNulty, at Costello's — "this place on Third Avenue," McNulty called it in a book with that title that collected his New Yorker stories about people he saw at the bar there. McNulty's widow, also a writer for The New Yorker, described the place in a memoir that prefaced the book: "It was a saloon on the corner of Forty-fourth Street presided over by Tim Costello and his brother Joe. It was an old-fashioned place even in 1942 when I first saw it: definitely a saloon, not a bar or restaurant, and with the standard saloon features — a long mahogany bar with mirrors on the wall behind it, shelves loaded with polished glasses, and tiles on the floor. The most visible evidence that it was different from other saloons was a mural — a series of large-scale cartoons of men, women and dogs — with which James Thurber had decorated the long stretch of wall opposite the bar." Costello's had moved around the neighborhood a few times by the time I first went there in the 1980s, and every time it moved, they cut out the wall with Thurber's drawings on it and installed it at the new place. It was called the Turtle Bay Bar and Restaurant in one of its last incarnations; then it closed, and then it was brought back to life again, the new owner vowing he would keep the drawings on the wall.

"What made Costello's different from other Irish saloons stemmed from Tim himself, whose presence had somehow made the place into a salon as well as a saloon. …His saloon was a place where a man could always find someone to talk to without appointment, or could stand at the bar exchanging news and comments with Tim as he moved up and down it, pouring drinks. Tim … believed that a saloon should be a low-key place, a neutral zone of relief from the pressures of the outside world. He succeeded in keeping Costello's that way until, ironically, John's writing about it [in stories in The New Yorker]. Thurber's murals, and the patronage of other New Yorker writers made the place famous. By the early 1950s, Madison Avenue ad men were crowding in and changing the tone. John recorded the change in a line in a story: ‘Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded.'" But that was a little later than the time Kelly dropped McNulty's name in the strip; Kelly, and McNulty, still enjoyed Costello's in those days. In the late forties, it was changing from an Irish saloon to a writers' salon.

12/5 — Another of the strip's mainstays, Houn'dog, shows up. We learn on 12/12 that his actual name is Beauregard Bugleboy — a great name for a blood hound — but he is almost always referred to as Houn'dog.

12/14 — Hilarities like this justify calling the strip a vaudevillian triumph.

12/20 — The first of what will become an anyule event.

12/22 — Every Yuletide beginning with this one, Kelly deployed his strip to commemorate the occasion and succeeded in infecting the entire nation with the joyous spirit of the season by encoring his cast's rendition of "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly," which invariably came out "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie." Whether intended as a parody or simply pure absurdity, the song was fun to sing, and thousands of Pogo fans (and many not-quite-fans) sang it every year with gusto, forming a sort of caroling brotherhood that closed ranks every Christmas season.

The origins Kelly's antic version of this ancient carol are, like all largely oral traditions, obscure. Peter Schwed, an operative in the corridors of Simon & Schuster, who wrote of his term there in Turning the Pages (Macmillan, 1984), claimed to know the secret. After remarking that those who delightedly blurted out Kelly's perverse verses "didn't have the slightest idea of what the apparently nonsensical words meant either in that first line or the following ones, like ‘Nora's freezin' on the trolley,' or why strange towns like Kalamazoo, Walla Walla, Pensacola, and Louisville suddenly popped in," Schwed undertook to reveal the secret. Noting Kelly's record for making public appearances and speeches all across the country to promote his strip, Schwed observes that the cartoonist sometimes spoke before convicts in prison:

It was for those convicts, for many of whom he had sympathy, that Kelly wrote "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie." There is an explanation for every unfathomable reference, but just a few are all that are needed here. Walla Walla, Kalamazoo, Pensacola, and Louisville are the sites of state prisons. "Boston Charlie" was the name given to all guards in prisons-you can look up "Charlie" in Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and you will find that he is the man with the stick, the prison guard. Why "Boston"? A throwback, in all probability, to the days of the original Colonies. Why is Nora "freezin' on the trolley"? "Nora" is the cognomen given to sexual partners of male prison inmates, and the answer to his/her cold condition comes in two parts. The trolley is the wire that inmates string between cells for use in passing notes to one another. Thus, Nora was not communicating via the trolley. The second aspect of the line is that a person in the "freezer" is in solitary confinement, so Nora was not only not communicating, he/she had been slapped into solitary. You may wonder why Kelly, a law-abiding citizen, had enough empathy for his convict audiences to write a special, secret Christmas song for them. I suspect it was because that good man felt, along with Pogo, that we were all God's screechers.

Amusing, no doubt; but highly unlikely. Schwed was undoubtedly indulging in a long frustrated wish to produce fiction for publication (not to mention a remarkably undignified penchant for tugging on the legs of his readers). The more likely origins of the carol are recounted by Kelly himself:

It occurred to me one year that everybody was talkin' about Christmas but nobody was goin' there. The radio-tv sandblast of carols for commercial purposes grated not only the ear but the sensitivities. So about 1949 [actually, 1948], I had the characters parody a carol. The attempt was to parody the use of carols, but even though this was a poke at the usage, it was chancy. Readers make mistakes sometimes and think you're making fun of something else besides the real object. It's a risky business. So the choice of carol had to be rather cool. It was discovered finally that one of the few songs used as a carol that had no sacred connotations was "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly." A few of the Pogo carolers got together and did a straight parody of the sounds made when you sing the right words to the carol. This caught on with a number of elderly child minds, and finally [with] children themselves. There was relief in it, and few feelings were bruised. Those who protested against this violation of all that was holy were told as gently as possible that the carol in question was one that was left over from the midwinter pre-Christian pagan rites celebrating the return of the long day in ancient Britain.

Kelly produced additional choruses for the song at various intervals (including, even, a few stray lines that were parodies of his own parody), and eventually, there were six choruses in all (published in their entirety in Pogo Files for Pogophiles by Selby Daley Kelly and Steve Thompson; Spring Hollow Books, 1992), and in certain quarters of the body politic, singing this confection became as anyule a ritual as any other. Like Irving Berlin with "White Christmas," Kelly became a national institution.

12/23 — This strip gives this department its title.

12/24 — A fierce tradition, or, as Kelly put it: "The season of Christmas usually seems to level all things. Old wounds are forgotten, old enemies forgiven-if only to clear the desk for tomorrow's folly."

12/28 — Kelly was a master of purely verbal nonsense as well as vaudevillian shenanigans. This strip would not be as funny without the pictures — Houn'dog's obvious pleasure in the joke, and Boll Weevil's deflating remark, perfectly timed by the pictorial breakdown — but I can imagine Kelly conjuring up just such a comedy as this strip at a table of friends in Bleeck's or Costello's, where the table might include, if Kelly were with John McNulty, such company as James Thurber, Sid Perelman, and Red Smith — and McNulty. The sort of gaggle that appreciated writing and stories about writing and writers — like Stanley Walker's comment about McNulty and another writer, Don Skene. Walker was the fabled city editor at the Herald Tribune (where daily journalism's best writers plied their craft), and he wrote about a quarrel Skene and McNulty had when Skene insisted that "We can sleep all day tomorrow" was the finest sentence in the English language but McNulty held out for "No date has been set for the wedding." A writer's joke. Like Irish fleas dropping their aitches.

12/29 — Deacon Mantis McNulty looks nothing like any of the photographic versions of John McNulty that I've seen, but McNulty's worship of the bottle may, considering Kelly's comradely devotions at the altar of kinship, have qualified McNulty as a deacon in Costello's church; we need not, however, puzzle similarly about the Atomic Bowl. Bowl celebrations of the arts and crafts of football were not as numerous in those days as they are in these, but they were nonetheless fervently attended to, and here and for the next few days, Kelly likens the gridiron competition to that which will undoubtedly occur between the U.S. and the Soviet Union should the latter ever develop the atom bomb (which it did, as we shall see, before the new year was out).


1/2 — The Star didn't publish on Saturday, so Pogo observes New Year's Day on Sunday.

1/17 — Orville the screech owl may be no more dangerous a personage than a generic book reviewer.

1/28 — The New York Star ceased publication on this date, and Pogo, for the nonce, ceased, too.

5/16Pogo resumed, however, within months, now syndicated (in at least three newspapers according to one source) by Post-Hall Syndicate.

Although at first glance, the syndicated Pogo does not appear much different than the Star version — the inaugural strip here is pretty much deja vu all over again, or so it seems — a slightly more prolonged scrutiny reveals that Kelly's graphic style had matured somewhat between October 1948 and May 1949. His lines are a bit bolder, his hachuring more strategically deployed, and his figures filled the panels better. And some of his characters were slightly more streamlined in the spring than they had been in the fall. Pogo's nose, for instance, had been shortened a bit-and it will shrink a little more over the ensuing months, making him a little less top-heavy. But these kinds of variations are not particularly revealing: every cartoonist grows and changes as a graphic stylist, and the way he renders his characters changes, too, the rough edges rubbing off with continued use. Comparing the early work of any cartoonist with any of his subsequent work will yield a battery of conclusions like the ones I've just drawn about Kelly.

In the juxtaposition this volume offers of the two versions of Pogo, we have an opportunity for a fascinating comparison by which means we can find herewith something much more insightful about Kelly as a cartoonist than samples of his drawing ability at six month intervals. In the syndicated Pogo, Kelly used some of the gags and sequences he had used at the Star. But he didn't just reprint the strips from the Star: he re-drew everything. Every strip. And in re-drawing them all, Kelly revealed himself as a conscientious and self-critical craftsman. He knew that he had grown and improved as an artist. And rather then foist off on an unwitting public the work of an earlier phase in his development, he gave them his best — his current work.

Kelly was also developing as a storyteller between October and May. He did not reuse all of the Star material, and most of it that he did use again he changed slightly, some of it quite dramatically. By examining the differences between the two versions of encore sequences in the strip, we can see Kelly assuming greater command of the medium.

In the opening sequence in both versions of the strip, for instance, Kelly toys with the delicate matter of cannibalism. In a strip starring anthropomorphic animals and insects, the role of the humble earthworm on a fishing expedition is more than a little ambiguous. And what do the fish have to say? Philosophically, Kelly would try to resolve the issue in an exchange between Porkypine and Rackety-coon Child on November 3, 1949 (11/3), but he would return to the situation again and again throughout the run of the strip. It could scarcely be avoided, and Kelly found it fertile ground for cultivating comedy.

My reason for mentioning this sequence here, however, is to draw attention to the change that Kelly made when he repeated it in May: Churchy LaFemme (replacing the previously anonymous turtle) now gets many of the lines Kelly had given to Pogo in October. It's Churchy, not Pogo, who proposes that the worm take employment as fish bait. The change reveals how Kelly now perceived Pogo's personality. By the spring of 1949, the cartoonist had lived with his characters every day for four months. The daily proximity was much more intense than the nodding acquaintance he experienced when working with them on a bi-monthly basis for Animal Comics. Consequently, he knew them better in May than he had known them in October. And by May, Pogo had become in Kelly's mind too mild-mannered, too kindly a presence in the strip, to even think of putting a worm on a hook. (And on 8/8, when he actually hooks a fish, he's easily intimidated by Champeen Hosshead the Catfish into setting the finny creature free — entirely in character.) Knowing this about Pogo, Kelly made Churchy the heavy in this sequence, thereby affirming at the onset of the strip the essentially benign personality of his leading player.

In the same inaugural sequence, Kelly refines the gag that develops out of Pogo's being cheated of the product of his labor. The notion of "fifty percent" (5/20) lends itself more vividly to dramatization than the "five percent of thirty-nine" of the earlier instance, and Kelly gets two good gags out of it: Churchy's "half" of the two-fish harvest is a better half than Pogo's, and then Howland Owl cheats him out of half the remainder. And the next day, Albert plays the part that Kelly gave to Owl in the earlier version. This change, like the other ones I've discussed, is clearly an improvement. It brings Albert onstage much earlier than before, for one thing. And the incident itself — Albert greedily consuming the last vestige of Pogo's industry in front of the hapless possum — is more illustrative of the personality of Albert than it is of Owl's. Owl may be clever in a cunning, self-serving way, and he may be self-centered (as Albert is most of the time), but he is not unrelentingly, forever voracious (as Albert is all of the time).

We won't do a panel-by-panel analysis of every change Kelly wrought in re-using the Star strips in the syndicated releases, but we'll point out some of the recycling as we go along.

5/23 — Kelly postpones Porky's encore into the second week of the strip's run, and he keeps him around for a while so we can get to know him better than we could have last October.

5/24 — Repeats 10/12 but with Porky nagging Mr. Crane instead of Pogo; better prickly Porky than kindly Pogo.

5/25 — Carries forward the story introduced in the last Star strips, 1/28-29.

5/31 — Repeats 11/11 and the ensuing cannibal sequence.

6/1 — In his visual treatment here, Kelly is more skillful at staging the action to tell his story without narrative bumps and grinds: we see Albert approaching from the distance in the second panel instead of having him pop out at us suddenly from behind a tree as he did in 11/12.

6/13 — Repeats 11/23 but makes a better gag out of it.

6/15 — Explains what happened to Sam the Turtle, who was left hanging in 11/23.

6/17 — Better segue into 6/18's repeat of 11/9.

6/22 — And 6/23. Here, Kelly reworks the material of 12/6 to greater advantage. Houn'dog's vow to stay with Pogo forever gets a funnier conclusion in 6/22, and by shifting the welcoming-home gag to an installment all its own, Kelly gave himself enough room to develop fully the physical comedy of Houn'dog's action.

7/4 — Houn'dog's full name not given here as it is in 12/12.

7/8 — In addition to the Star's run of Pogo, Kelly had several years' worth of Animal Comics stories lurking in the back of his mind, and he occasionally recycled a gag or situation from that inventory. Here, the native beater notion comes from Animal Comics No. 10.

7/14 — Repeats 12/14 but with a better setup; and here Albert's tail has a voice, the better to convince us (and Albert and Houn'dog) that it was a separate sentient entity.

7/15 — And 7/16 wherein Kelly takes the occasion to do a couple of gags about Albert's lousy impersonation of a dog, an opportunity he missed the first time out on 12/15.

7/20 — And 7/21 repeat the 12/17-19 sequence, and a comparison shows Kelly's improved sense of panel composition: the July panels are less cluttered and more focused on visual elements essential to the narrative.

8/4 — Changes 12/28. Still a good gag, but I like the omitted part about dropping aitches.

Albert8/18 — Albert first uttered the extravagance of the second panel in Animal Comics No. 12, but the syntax is better this time, and Albert will repeat the idea again and again. The expression on his face in the second panel is priceless.

8/25 — When the fox first showed up in the Pogo canon, in Animal Comics No. 11, he had no name; later in the text story in No. 12, the character was called Fanciful Fox. In No. 15, a travelin' con man and snake oil salesman of the old school shows up; name of Legerdemain Z. Presto, but he bears only the vaguest resemblance to a fox. Here, at last, the snake oil salesman persona is combined with the fox and acquires the name that will go down in history, Seminole Sam.

8/27 — The quality of Kelly's artwork has improved over the months. Lines are more confidently rendered, and the pictures are often wonderfully textured — full of squiggles and hachuring (note Sam's nose and whiskers here). And Kelly will soon begin lavishing more detail on the swamp's flora and fauna.

9/5-6 — Without electricity in the swamp, Kelly couldn't do gags about radio or, later, when the next wave of electronic entertainment swept across the nation, television, a considerable inhibition once all of American civilization emerged from the tube. This episode is, as far as I can remember, the only time Kelly tried to establish a mechanism in the strip that would permit him to tap into the electronic media. And he quickly abandoned it as we see on 9/7 and never returned to the idea. It was clearly too mechanical, too artificial and strained, to suit him. And many years later, when Neal Sternecky inherited a revival of the strip that he and Larry Doyle launched 1989, Sternecky felt restricted in the range of satirical possibilities open to him because he could not employ television references. Presumably Kelly felt the same, but neither he nor Sternecky wanted to violate the primitive animalism of the swamp by electrifying it.

9/8-13 — The introduction of the school sequence in the Star (1/4-5) was managed more smoothly, it seems to me, than it is here. But the Star's version overtly acknowledges the illiteracy of many of the strip's characters in a way that undermines the good-natured humor of the strip. I suspect that Kelly decided that his many jokes about his cast's inability to read and their consequently hilarious attempts at interpreting the "speckles" on paper would not be quite as funny if illiteracy were seen as a condition that needed to be remedied, which is precisely what the Star's version had proclaimed in no uncertain terms.

And in the same sequence, Kelly switched characters for several of the gags. In the Star, Howland Owl was the principal in the gags that appear here in 9/13, 9/16 and 9/17; this time out, Albert is given the part. Why the change? My guess is that Kelly's idea of his characters' personalities had changed. By this time, he probably saw that Owl was not as aggressive a personality as Albert. Owl was peevish but not forceful enough to be given these gags. Albert, on the other hand, was perfect for the part. But while Mrs. Rackety Coon was enough to intimidate Owl in the Star version (1/11), in the syndicated version, Kelly enlists the father, Mr. Rackety Coon (the male being presumably more combative than the female), and he gives the character a weapon in order to make his cowing of Albert, a much larger and fiercer animal than a raccoon, convincing (9/17).

9/29 — Owl first dug for a square root in Animal Comics No. 20 but with completely different results-that is, no results at all.

10/1 — The World Series usually comes to the swamp in the fall; this is its first appearance in the strip.

10/7 — Seminole Sam acquires a tinge of the sinister by reason of the company he's keeping as Kelly launches the first of those longish rambling free-for-all sequences in which the characters seem to take possession of the strip, wrenching it from Kelly's hands, and run off in all directions according to whatever whim attracts their attention at the moment. Before the sequence concludes in 10/31, Pogo escapes three times, the last time in a cooking pot, which causes Albert and Houn'dog to mistake him for a turtle — a classic instance of the sort of misunderstanding that will animate events herein again and again. (Pogo in the same cast-iron guise was mistaken for a turtle in Dell's Four-Color No. 105, Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum.) By being Pogo's savior here, Albert emerges as hero he always imagines himself to be. It is a performance he will repeat at various times through the life of the strip. And every time, we cheer him — as we do here.

10/11 — The caterpiggle is behaving much as a turtle does in an old joke the likes of which might well have amused the ensemble at Costello's or Bleeck's. In the joke, three turtles are imbibing from mugs of beer in a saloon when it starts to rain. One of them notices: "Say, lookit how it's rainin' out there." And his remark is repeated by the others. "Oh, yeah," says one, " — it's really comin' down." "Man, look at that rain!" says the third. (The joke works best the longer it can be dragged out, so having the turtles repeat everything they say two or three times helps. I heard Joe E. Brown tell this story, and he prolonged it for twenty minutes with his capacious mouth muggings at every repetition of the turtles' utterances. But I won't try a repeat performance here.) They wonder how long the rain will last. And if it lasts a long time, how will they get home. Then one of the trio volunteers to go and get an umbrella so the others can go home without getting wet. He imposes on the others, however, a condition: they must promise not to drink his beer while he's out getting the umbrella. They promise. He goes out. They wait. And wait. And wait some more. They get impatient. They eye the mug of beer he left on the bar. Finally, after more discussion (the more, remember, the better), one decides that the absent turtle's beer is going stale and to prevent that awful outcome, someone should drink it. The other turtle disagrees, and they discuss it, and finally the first turtle decides he'd better drink the beer. And he reaches for the mug. Just then, the saloon door opens and the absent turtle shouts out: "Hey — I ain't gonna get the umbrella if you drink my beer."

Well — maybe you had to be there.

11/1 — Catching up the new readers? Perhaps. The first of November in 1949 was a Tuesday, an odd time for a newspaper to begin running a new strip, we might think. But in those days, many papers introduced an addition to their comics line-up with a special strip that introduced the principal characters. If that happened for Pogo on the day before this strip, Monday, then Churchy's attempt at introduction here is good-humored mockery of what's gone before.

11/2 — Repeats last year's 10/13 from the Star incarnation.

11/3 — The ever-recurring cannibal question.

11/11 — November 11 is Veterans Day, known, to a previous generation, as Armistice Day (or Remembrance Day) when it commemorated the end of World War I.

11/12 — Repeats last year's 12/3 and sets up for the ensuing sequence on the season and then the holidays, with Thanksgiving falling on 11/25,

12/5 — Is this nameless moose actually Uncle Antler, Albert's nemesis from Animal Comics No. 9? A duel by horns comes from the same issue of the comic book.

12/16 — Perloo is a cousin of jambalaya that traces its origins to the family of Middle Eastern dishes known as pilafs. The good thing about perloo is that as long as you have a refrigerator to clean out and some rice and tomatoes, you've got all the makings you need.

12/17 — Porky's second anyule visit; again somewhat in advance of the actual holiday. Later, he'll show up on Christmas morning rather than before.

12/21 — Repeats last year's 12/21; ditto 12/22, but in both cases, with better use of the joke lines. And 12/24 reruns the comedic essence of last year's 12/24.

12/26 — John McNulty was one of Porky's early devoted fans. Once he told Kelly: "Don't ever let the little bum smile." And Kelly never did. Except once. And this is that time.

12/30 — Perhaps the worst pun in the world: "If I were," "Fire." Terrible, just terrible. But treasured as a pearl beyond compare.


1/12 — Mice took up residence in Albert before, in Animal Comics No. 16, when, as is the case here, Albert heard the voices of his tenants; back then, he was convinced he was haunted. A comparison between the two episodes, however, shows just how much more comedically inventive Kelly has become over the ensuing years.

1/16 — The Salk vaccine, discovered in 1952 and announced in 1955, soon eradicated infantile paralysis, polio, as the scourge of American childhood. Annual fund drives were conducted to raise money to fight the disease, and comic strip cartoonists often touted for the fabled March of Dimes, which had been founded as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself crippled by the disease. The fund drives were dubbed the March of Dimes by singer/comedian Eddie Cantor as a play on the name of a widely circulated weekly newsreel feature called The March of Time.

1/29 — Because Sunday comic strips were in color and therefore required more production time, cartoonists had to deliver the artwork up to ten weeks in advance of publication date; daily strips were usually due four-six weeks in advance. Many of the cartoonists whose strips told continuing stories told a different story on Sundays so they wouldn't need to develop the daily continuity as far ahead as the Sunday stories. Kelly, too, usually produced a separate story for the Sunday strips (that is, whenever he was telling a continuing story in the dailies rather than doing stand-alone jokes). Separate stories also suited syndicate salesmen: some papers purchased only the dailies of a comic strip; some, only the Sundays. Sometimes it was easier to sell one without the other. Syndicates have always priced comic strips accordingly: so much for dailies; so much for Sundays.

Sunday strips were produced for publication in both tabloid and broadsheet formats. Typically, in the 1950s, the broadsheet newspapers published Sunday strips in half-page layouts, and to facilitate arranging strips in that layout, cartoonists created Sunday strips with a "knock out" or "throwaway" panel, a single panel that could be removed to permit re-configuring the strip in a half-page layout without reducing the size of the remaining panels. Because throwaway panels will be removed in some of the papers publishing the strip, they cannot contain any story element critical to the day's gag or continuity. The Sunday strips in this volume are as complete as possible: they retain their throwaway panels. Usually, the throwaway panel in Pogo is the third panel on the second tier of the strip. On this Sunday, it's the panel in which Pogo says: "Go ahead, tree, say, Ah!" No vital aspect of the day's story is contained in this panel; in fact, it repeats the information in the preceding panel.

1/31 — Houn'dog is quoting Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam; ditto the woodchuck (aka, ground hog).

2/5 — Almost from the first of the Sunday strips, Kelly began lavishing artwork on the opening splash panel, drawing elaborately gnarled and festooned swamp trees and wild grasses and lily pads galore.

2/14 — Because he thought of himself as a newspaperman first (and as a cartoonist, somewhat after that), Kelly easily slipped into short continuities about newspapering.

2/10 — The humbug gag is now in its third incarnation, having appeared in the Star's Pogo, 1/23 and in Animal Comics No. 11.

Don't like ANYBODY2/22 — On this date, we used to celebrate the birthday of the Father of Our Country.

2/23 — Man — lookit all that scrumptious art in the last panel!

2/27 — Rue, a featured aspect of Porky's first submission, returns to end the nicely circular gag.

2/28 — "O tempora! o mores!" is antique Latin for "oh, the times! oh the customs!" (from Cicero's First Oration against Catiline) usually deployed to exclaim at the deplorable state of both.

3/3 — Kelly is taking a friendly poke at another of the comic strip genre, serious adventure strips, or, perhaps more accurately, at comic books, particularly crime comics, which were coming under increasingly hostile fire at the time. Kelly had once written an autobiography, "The Land of Elephant Squash," in which he writes about himself in the third person, describing his reaction to comic books at the time he began drawing them. The comics he describes sound like the one Owl is imagining:

"He [Kelly] read with growing horror the kinds of comic books being left about where children could reach them and decided that real juvenile work was his forte rather than the adventure type of business. ‘It was impossible for me to draw a naked woman,' he explains. ‘It was blinding work. I would no sooner have her clothes off than I would remove my hat, out of respect. With my eyes unshaded, I couldn't see what I was doing. Besides, the editor said that as an adventure man, I had better stick to drawing mice. So I concentrated on puppies, kittens, mice and elves-every once in a while glancing back at the men who were grimly penciling out the Pueriles of Pauline, taking clothes off and dagging people with butcher knives.'"

3/9 — Reprise of Orville's attitude 1/18/49.

3/11 — More Orville only this time named Etaoin Shurdlu, a nonsense name or phrase that originated with linotype operators back in the days of "hot type" printing. The letters ETAOIN SHURDLU were those in the first two vertical columns on the left-hand side of the keyboard. If a linotype operator made a typing error, he could not correct it; he had to finish the line of type and eject it before he could re-set it correctly. Since the line with the mistake would be discarded, its contents didn't matter, and so to finish the line as quickly as possible, the operator would run his finger down the left hand columns of keys to fill out the rest of the line of type as effortlessly as possible. If there were twelve spaces left in the line, it would be filled out with ETAOIN SHURDLU; if there were more spaces, they would be filled by running a finger down the same two columns, repeating the nonsense phrase. Or the operator might go to the next vertical column and set CMFWYP, but that's not nearly as pronounceable and hence not as favored by anyone, linotype operators or fanatics about printing history.

3/13 — A Tentative Foray into Somewhat Pointed Satire

Americans entered the fifties with a team of their worst nightmares harnessed up to the national psyche and running away with it. Ever since Russia took half of Germany in the wake of World War II, Americans had been nervously chewing their nails about the global ambitions of the Soviet Communism. Their fears had been somewhat assuaged by knowing that the United States was the only nation that had the atomic bomb in its arsenal; and they had some faith in the efficacy of their government's efforts to contain the influence of Communism by preventing its spread to other countries. As 1950 dawned, however, both of these comforts had been utterly smashed by the dramatic developments of the preceding summer.

Russia exploded its first test atomic bomb in August 1949; and China fell into the hands of Mao Tse-tung and his Red Army in May. These were geopolitical catastrophes of enormous significance, but the Republicans, seeing a political advantage in the disasters, rubbed their hands in glee and claimed that the Democrats, in power at the time, had "lost" China to Communism. And when Alger Hiss, a well-dressed New Deal Democrat, was found guilty of perjury in January 1950 — signifying that he'd probably sold government secrets to the Soviets — the Republicans blamed the Democrats for the loss of the U.S. nuclear monopoly too. (Whatever remained of the mystery about how Russia got the bomb evaporated a year or so later when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of giving atomic bomb plans to the Soviets.) Hiss's guilt confirmed a suspicion that had been rattling around since the thirties that there were spies working within the government itself, bogeymen in the corridors of power. Bogeymen, in fact, were suspected of being nearly everywhere. The post-WWII "Red Scare" now had some faces, and fear and trembling prevailed in many quarters.

It was more than Kelly could resist. Pogo had not yet celebrated its first anniversary as a nationally syndicated feature, and Kelly, like all syndicated cartoonists of the day, avoided political commentary in his strip. Politics and syndicated comics just didn't mix. One could never be sure of the political convictions of the editors of the papers who subscribed to the strip. If the editors disagreed with something the cartoonist said in his strip, the editors would simply drop the strip. And the cartoonist's income would drop accordingly as he lost papers. Consequently, nationally syndicated cartoonists did not take political stands.

Kelly would eventually throw such caution to the winds. At present, however, he followed the customs of his craft. Mostly. But the hysterical tone of public discourse on the question of atomic secrets undoubtedly struck him as ludicrous in the extreme. In the wake of the Hiss verdict, Kelly devoted most of March's strips to Owl's researches into the secrets of the atom. Owl's moronic grasp of nuclear physics is highly comical but scarcely pointed satire. His fear of "foreign powers," however, is so extreme as to ridicule those who promoted the Red Scare.

3/22 — A brave attempt to come to grips, for once and all, with the cannibal problem in the strip by disguising it as a contest between the fish and the fisherman, ignoring the bait altogether. But the argument goes kaput without coming to anything like a compassionate resolution.

3/23 — Albert alludes to a famous animal movie star, a German Shepherd named Rin Tin Tin, whose career began in 1922 in silent films and was stretched through the thirties and into the forties by a succession of German Shepherds named Rin Tin Tin.

3/26 — For the first time, Kelly devises a Sunday strip that won't end in one swoop and must, therefore, be continued to next Sunday. It won't be the only such incident.

3/27 — A few years down the line, Kelly would make such a bear as this one a Russian symbol; but not this time. This time, he's merely an innocent bruin.

3/28 — U-ranium, get it?

3/30 — Owl falls into the satirical trap Kelly has been building for several days: he sees a communist anywhere he sees a hammer and sickle, even if he provided the hammer himself and the sickle is but a sample of the skill of the neighborhood scissors grinder. (Albert in false whiskers is obviously the fearsome bearded Bolshevik; but the beard, remember, is false. So, perhaps, are some of the alarums raised by rabid Republicans.) Kelly's first foray into political commentary in the spring of 1950 was more good-natured kidding than cutting satire. The antics of his animals for most of that year owe more to vaudeville than to Capital Hill. But Kelly doubtless knew that he wouldn't be able to control his satirical impulse much longer. Writing about this sequence later in Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue-eyed Years With Pogo, he said: "A fine line divides the comic from the tragic, and who are we, who can scarce control the split infinitive, to monkey around with the deviated atom?" As we'll see, Kelly would soon move a little more beyond slapstick.

4/2 — The cannibalistics again: without batting an eye, Albert feeds bait (i.e., worms) to the boat-tailed grackle tads.

4/5 — Kelly comments on the U.S.-U.S.S.R. arms race then taking shape in atomic terms.

4/7 — In this daily sequence, produced about six weeks after the accompanying Sunday strips, Kelly puts Albert through his Easter Bunny paces again: despite using some of the same gags, the Sunday sequence tells a story mostly different from the daily sequence.

4/9 — As we can see, Kelly needed more than one extra Sunday to finish off his Easter bunny tale, but the dailies continue for the birds, orphans left over from the Easter bunny episode.

4/16 — The heavily-browed "Kimbo cat" is a caricature of Ward Kimball, Kelly's cohort in the men's room musicale at the Disney Studio. After several years at the Studio as a sketch artist and storyman, Kelly joined Fred Moore's unit as a junior animator at the end of 1939 and met Kimball, the senior animator in Moore's unit (destined to be christened one of the "Nine Old Men," the animators whose genius guided the Disney product for three decades or more).

Kimball and Kelly hit it off almost at once. They both played the tin whistle ("or six-hole flageolet," as Kimball called it) and the harmonica. In an interview with Thomas Andrae and Geoffrey Blum published in Phi Beta Pogo by Bill Crouch and Selby Kelly in 1989 (Fireside), Kimball described the musical antics perpetrated by the duo:

Our favorite pastime was when he and I would make our early morning trip to the men's john. When he felt the urge, he would stop by my room, tin whistle in hand, and ask, "Ready?" And my reply was always, "Ready!" I'd grab my tin whistle, and we'd walk to the room at the end of the hall and occupy the only two adjoining stalls. We'd sit down and play duets. We loved that men's room because it was lined with tile, which gave our musical renditions Carnegie Hall reverberations. We'd play things like "Alabammy Bound" and "Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old Kentucky Home." Kelly loved all those Southern tunes. Even though he was very East Coast, …he was enamored of the South and its music, with that "you-all" syndrome.

Well, we'd play these tunes, and if he was real knocked out with any of our improvisations, he'd yell, "Eatin' peanuts by the peck!" That meant it was real good. And we'd laugh like hell. Other guys would come in wanting to use the johns and plead, "All right, you guys, get your asses out and give somebody else a chance." After a concert, we'd pack up and go back to my room or go to Fred's and try out some of the tunes on him. We'd say, "Listen to this, Fred." And he'd say, "Oh, Jesus, do I have to?" Sometimes I would play drums on the wastepaper basket, or Kelly would play rhythm. We also played a zither. It was a terrible sound, but we enjoyed it for the humor involved (pp. 136-37).

Kelly loved Dixieland jazz, Kimball said — "that old-time band sound" — and so did Kimball. He satisfied these musical urges by collecting a number of like-minded would-be musicians from the Disney staff and formed them into the semblance of a band, and the group played for the Studio's little parties. At first, it was called the Hugga-Jeedy Eight ("because that was the sound my old Model T Ford made while idling," Kimball explained), then the San Gabriel Valley Blue Blowers, and finally, towards the end of the forties, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, the ensemble we see reincarnated here. The group made several record albums. The two wind instruments of the last panel's concerto probably refer to Kelly and Kimball in the stalls of the nicely echoing men's room of yore.


4/17 — John Stanley achieved cartooning immortality by drawing and writing, mostly writing (which, for comics, entailed drawing rough sketches, too), Little Lulu stories for the Dell/Western series. In the early-to-mid-1940s, Stanley, like Kelly, worked for Oskar Lebeck, Western's east coast editor, producing numerous comic book titles aimed at young readers, and Stanley and Kelly, with Dan Noonan, Dan Gormley and Mo Gollub, "were a pretty tight bunch," according to Frank Young, proprietor of the Web's "Stanley Stories." According to Don and Maggie Thompson ("Walt Kelly," Pogo: The Okefenokee Star, Vol. 1, No. 2; Summer 1977), Western's offices were in the Fifth Avenue Building, "which had been the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Western Printing had part of a floor in the building." Kelly made trips to the office two or three times a week to deliver or pick up assignments and on Fridays to be paid. Noonan, in an interview published in Graphic Story Magazine (No. 9, 1968), describes a typical Friday: "Oskar would take everybody upstairs to the Penthouse Club, where the drinks and the meals were on him. We'd often stay and talk until late in the afternoon; the bull sessions sometimes lasted almost all day. There was a lot of ego deflating; anybody who'd get to taking themselves too seriously was in for trouble because laying in the woods were people like John Stanley and Walt Kelly. And even they'd get it once in a while, too. I remember the time when Kelly came in with a huge stack of fan letters he'd received. ‘For Chrissake, Kelly,' yelled Toney Rivera, ‘why don't you pay those bills!'"

Stanley wrote and drew six "Jigger and Mooch" stories published in Animal Comics, Young told me. And "early in [the title's] run, Stanley also wrote stories featuring characters licensed from the Famous Studios animation company; Kelly also did some installments of these strips." Kelly once caricatured Stanley in a Pogo story, "Albert and the Barbecue" in Four-Color No. 105, Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum. Next to the panel with John's picture in it is Kelly's self-caricature, the "Front View" of Danny the Dip; the other pickpocket, "Side View," may be one of the two Dans, Noonan or Gromley.

4/23 — Repeats the gag of the Star daily of 11/2/48.

5/9 — The cuckoo is quoting a traditional English round, estimated to date from 1260 and so possibly the oldest instance of counterpoint in existence, saith Wikipedia. The title, translated, means "summer has come in" or "summer has arrived." And — in a blatant instance of footnoting gone stark bonkers — W.S. Baring-Gould in his The Lure of the Limerick suggests that the 13th century "Sumer is icumen in" is a prototypical limerick, perhaps the first of the breed.

5/20 — May 20, 1950 was the first Armed Forces Day, which unified previously separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days and signaled the 1947 unification of America's armed forces into one department, the Department of Defense, replacing the Department of War and the Department of the Navy (founded as the British-sounding Board of Admiralty in 1780); the Air Force was created as a new military service at the same time as the DOD, removing it from the Army, where it had been called the Army Air Force.

5/21 — Repeats and combines, with many more nuanced touches, stories that originally appeared in Animal Comics No. 21 ("Albert and Pogo and the Fountain of Youth") and in No. 23 (untitled tale about Pogo locked in a treasure chest). Exquisite splash panel.

5/29 — Deacon Mushrat is the first Pogo companion whose tone of voice and locution and, hence, personality are implied by the style of lettering in his speech balloons — in this case, an old English kind of stodginess accompanied by an overweening (not to say British Victorian) sense of propriety, just what we might expect in a somewhat hypocritical Man of the Cloth who is more concerned with appearances that actualities. The good Deacon's role in the ensuing witch-hunt is to insist on — to demand — correct behavior of everyone but himself. And he'll do this often enough to become a veritable symbol of hypocrisy.

6/4 — Another spectacular splash panel followed, shortly, by a panoramic twosome, the fourth panel continuing the scene depicted in the third, not something Kelly did much of.

6/7 — Hawgshaw and Cully are, respectively, caricatures of William Randolph Hearst and Robert McCormick, right-wing press lords, whose significance in this sequence we'll remark upon later.

6/9 — In Animal Comics No. 10, Albert is momentarily accused of eating a rackety coon chile named Delicious because the alligator admits that something he just ate (not the rackety coon chile) was "delicious," and here, Kelly deploys the pup-dog's name in much the same way — seemingly to confirm Albert's guilt as a cannibal.

6/11 — A novel variation on the situation in 5/21.

6/16ff.  — Kelly's First Major Satire

The hue and cry about the "loss" of China and about the Russians' having obtained atomic secrets by underhanded espionage rather than by honest toil in their own fiendish laboratories inflamed American imaginations. Spies, great quantities of the citizenry believed, were everywhere, lurking with sinister designs. But it wasn't the first time Americans had trembled at the thought of saboteurs loose on the landscape.

The House of Representatives had established its Un-American Activities Committee in 1934 to investigate subversive enterprises in general, and in the 1940s, HUAC (often called the Dies Committee after the name of its chairman at the time, Martin Dies of Texas) investigated labor unions, liberal organizations, peace groups, and New Deal agencies, holding highly visible public hearings and proving the subversive intent of hapless citizens by reason of their associations-the organizations to which they belonged or the friends whose company they kept. "Guilt by association" was an established technique of the vigilante committee and all its adherents fairly early on. In 1947, HUAC turned to Hollywood, seeking to uncover a communist taint in the making of the movies so enthusiastically attended by the American public. No taint was discovered, but a "blacklist" of alleged communist sympathizers was developed, and film executives refused to hire anyone on the list, a practice that quickly spread to stage, radio and television, destroying the careers of many innocent persons.

When the panic was at its height, livelihoods and lives were blasted on the basis of the most nebulous "evidence": mere rumor was sufficient to destroy a person's reputation, and because the identity of the "sources" of information had to be kept secret in order to protect future investigations, sometimes a jealous co-worker could dispose of a rival by simply whispering an accusation into the appropriate ear. In one of the most shameful incidents, a leading actress was fired from a popular radio program because her name appeared on one of the blacklists. However, explained the network spokesman, she wasn't fired because she was a communist; everyone knew she wasn't. But by reason of her name's appearance on the list, she had become "controversial," and such controversy wasn't good for the sale of the sponsor's product. So she was unemployed.

The fevers of this sort of groundless accusatory hysteria were eventually christened "McCarthyism" in honor of Joseph R. McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin. But McCarthy didn't invent the techniques for which he became notorious in his witch-hunt for communists in government: he was joining in a traditional American political exercise. Americans have historically been fearful of anyone whose political beliefs are slightly off-center, and our history is marred by the most sensational incidents involving unconventional radicals — the Haymarket trial in Chicago in the 1880s, the Sacco and Vanzetti affair in Boston in the 1920s, to name a couple. Since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, communists had become the bogeymen lurking in the alleyways of society, waiting in ambush to destroy our way of life. Joe McCarthy discovered the communist threat in February 1950, and we'll look more closely at his shenanigans in a subsequent volume of this series. For our present purpose, we need only be aware of the temper of the times that McCarthy would later come to embody.

Kelly had pitched into the Dies Committee and its vigilante tactics when doing editorial cartoons for the New York Star in 1948-49. And McCarthy, he perceived, was just one more self-promoting drum major in the parade of sensation-mongers that had used fear of Communism to advance their political fortunes. It was too much to bear. And so he turned the lost Pup-dog episode into a mini-mockery of the witch-hunters.

The allegation of ol' Albert's cannibalism rests entirely upon the confluence of coincidence: Pup-dog disappears when he is presumed to have gone to Albert's house, and Albert, while asleep, ingests a tasty fried fish that Cully and Hawgshaw accidentally slip into his gaping maw. Since he was asleep at the time, Albert can't remember exactly what it was he ate. And Pup-dog is missing. Ergo, Albert must've eaten Pup-dog.

This was the sort of flimsy unprovoked evidence that commie-hunters delighted in, and Kelly, who had impugned cannibalism to Albert before at various intervals, insinuated into this little reenactment a few not-so-faint echoes of the vigilante theatrics being perpetrated on the national stage at the time. Albert's accusers are every bit as fanatic as the anti-communist crusaders-and in their enthusiastic leaps of logic, they are made to appear ludicrous. Driven by his passion for justice, Deacon Mushrat demands custody of Pup-dog, overlooking the fact that the animal is presumed deceased (6/15). Like the vigilantes in human society, some of Kelly's swamp creatures jump to conclusions so rapidly that they arrive at a guilty verdict before the trial rather than during it (6/16). And as McCarthy was already doing, they fabricate the evidence in support of their accusations (6/29-30). Throughout the episode, the fanatics flout constitutional guarantees to fair treatment (which Kelly, with masterful timing, is careful to remind us of with words from the mouth of a babe on the very anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 7/4).

Pogo & Houn'dogAfter ridiculing the folly in such proceedings, Kelly brings his moral lesson to a close by establishing Albert's absolute innocence and then putting the vigilantes to rout in rousing Hollywood style, the good guy in the white hat galloping in at the last minute to drive the evil rumor mongers out (7/11-12). In a final dig at the fanaticism of the witch-hunters, he depicts the most extreme of them clinging to their case even after the liveliness of the corpus delicti proves that no crime has been committed: desperate, the fanatics now move to make a case against Albert on the grounds that he could have eaten Pup-dog (7/10).

Kelly's jabs are not as pointed here as they will eventually become, but the sequence is the most sustained effort at political satire in the strip since its inception. The episode also includes the first use of a satirical device for which Kelly later became widely celebrated. In Cully and Hawgshaw, as I mentioned earlier, Kelly deploys caricatures of actual personages to underscore his satire.

Cully, the tall creature (perhaps a groundhog?), is the spitting image of the aristocratic proprietor of the Chicago Tribune, Colonel Robert McCormick (called, by his relatives and detractors, "Bertie.") And Cully's behavior mocks the eccentricities of the publisher. McCormick was an intelligent and knowledgeable businessman and an often-astute student of history and politics, and he believed he knew better how to do anything than anyone else did. He had been appointed a colonel during World War I, and he was therefore convinced that he was a military expert non pareil (and he employed his military title ever after as a way of reminding everyone of his qualifications). His ignorance of a subject did not prevent him from having an opinion on it; and his opinions often revealed his utter ignorance. When Cully explains (6/13) that he doesn't use bloodhounds to track his quarry because they go where they want to go rather than where Cully wants to go, he is giving voice to a typical McCormick attitude.


Cully's companion, the pig, is undoubtedly William Randolph Hearst; the length of his snout distorts the likeness somewhat, but the eyes are clearly Hearst's; and the lock of hair on the brow likewise. The admiral's hat made from a folded-up newspaper evokes Hearst's role in the Spanish American War at the turn of the century, when, as the chief warmonger, Hearst seemed virtually in command of U.S. military forces. By 1950, Hearst was sick and dying, attended by his faithful mistress, would-be actress and film star Marion Davies. He still critiqued his newspapers and issued commands to his editors, increasingly through Miss Davies, but his world had grown smaller, and he might be seen (as Kelly apparently saw him) as tending pretty carefully to his own knitting. (Or maybe the cartoonist meant that Hearst was something of a "knit-wit," a pun Kelly perpetrated in the pages of one of the Pogo Comics that he was now producing.)

Both McCormick and Hearst were fervently anti-British (even if the Colonel, schooled briefly in Britain, affected a British accent all his life). And Kelly may be twitting them both for their Anglophobias by having them appear in Sherlockian cloaks. In Cully's speech, reverberating with the ostentatious extra syllables of British upper crust — "notcherwelly" and "utterwelly" — Kelly is clearly mocking McCormick.

In singling out these two press lords for ridicule, Kelly enriches his satire without risking much. By 1950, McCormick and Hearst were well-worn shibboleths for the power of the press gone mad. Both were old men and had become in some senses figures of fun. The Colonel, who prided himself on his grasp of politics, was actually something of a buffoon in national and international affairs. And Hearst was dying, as I said, although, with the help of Miss Davies, he clung to power. Still, neither McCormick nor Hearst were toothless foes; both could still muster blistering attacks on their enemies if they so desired. But Kelly used the two fading fanatics as targets not so much for their personal or political proclivities but as representatives of their newspapers.

The Hearst papers and McCormick's (and by 1950, he controlled not only the Chicago Tribune but the equally influential New York Daily News and Washington Times Herald) were enthusiastic supporters of anti-Communist enterprises. Journalists working in these papers comprised a noisy cheering section on the sidelines of the witch-hunts, and their early support of McCarthy secured him a foothold that enabled him to rise to power. And McCarthy, despite his boorishness and his political gaffes, was on the rise.

In the off-year election in the fall of 1950, Republicans gained seats in Congress, and McCarthy assisted in the campaigns of several of his colleagues who successfully unseated their Democrat rivals. Even McCarthy's most doubtful observers admitted that he was a great asset in getting votes. His appeal validated at the polls, McCarthy was now a power to reckon with, whether the Senators wanted it or not. We will hear more about him. And in Kelly's next visit to this material, he would be much more specific in his satire than he had been in Albert's trial.

Good work, kid7/3 — Comic books were coming under increasing fire as the cause of juvenile delinquency because of their often-gruesome crime stories. Publishers, however, maintained that such stories always ended with the capture or death of crooks, proving that crime does not pay. What could be more moral?

7/11Suspensus per collum means "hung by the neck"; ne quid nimis, "not anything in excess"; silent leges inter arma, "laws are silent amidst arms"; to all of which, Albert quips sarcastically, non omnis moriar-"I shall not completely die" (Horace). Or perhaps "I'm not dead yet." Thanks in part to Houn'dog's casual explication (7/6-7, coupled to the scalawags' performance on 6/8), we know, now, that Cully and Hawgshaw kidnaped Pup-dog to hold him for ransom, then, inexplicably, tried to drown him but wanted him back when they heard a reward was offered.

7/14 — Albert's ordeal concludes satisfactorily with feast and fellowship, Kelly's warmly felt recipe for the ills of any society, a prescription he invokes throughout the strip's run with ritual regularity. And the cartoonist took the cure himself: he was a habitue of Manhattan's midtown saloons and eateries — Costello's (as we've seen), Zakely's (while at the Star mostly), Le Trianon (a favorite French restaurant), P.J. Moriarty's and Bleeck's, as it was called. The actual name of the Bleeck's was Artist and Writers Club (yes, singular then plural), but it was referred to by the name of the owner, John Bleeck, who has been described as looking somewhat like a bloated Victor McLaglen. His establishment was just behind the building that housed the revered Herald Tribune, and its reporters gathered at the bar at the end of every day. John Lardner, one of Kelly's closest friends, once explained the official name of Bleeck's when he introduced Kelly and a journalist friend, John Horn, to a group of people at the bar, saying: "They're the fellows this place was named for: Walt's the artist, and John is the writer." At the places Kelly visited most often, he knew the bartender by name — and the hatcheck girl, and the waiters, busboys, and most of the regular hangers-on. Kelly was never alone in such establishments for long; and no one in his company was allowed to pay for food or drink.

7/19 — As Pogo would say one day in the distant future (March 8, 1964) while contemplating a highly decorative swamp scene in the splash panel, "Man — look at that artwork."

8/4Hoc opus hic labor est is loosely translated to mean "this is the problem, this is the hard task," quoted from Vergil's Aeneid. Appropriate here but not particularly revealing.

8/9De profundis ("out of the depths") is the name of an essay on spirituality and faith arising from despair and degradation that was written in prison by Oscar Wilde. It also refers to Psalm 129, written perhaps during the suffering of the Babylonian Exile.

8/13 — "Plantigrade" refers to creatures that walk with the entire lower surface of the foot on the ground, as human sapiens (sic) and bears do.

8/15 — Skittles is a game similar to nine pins, so beer and skittles usually implies a pleasant time, intoxication and playfulness; the typical usage, however, is, as the butterfly has it, "not all beer and skittles" — i.e., not as pleasant as you might suppose.

8/18 — Early advocacy for the inhabitants of the environment.

8/20 — After a flotilla or so of skiffs christened with nautical-sounding names like Nashville Flyer or Atlanta Belle, Kelly began putting other names on the flatboats that wafted to and fro in the strip. He lettered the names of friends and colleagues — and of newspaper editors who were considering running Pogo (or who had just started running the strip) or the name of their newspaper. I suspect the Picayune Special is an instance of the latter, an allusion to the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The Picayune was started in 1837, and its name referred to its price. The picayune was a Spanish coin circulated in Louisiana and Florida, but after the Louisiana Purchase, the name was applied to the U.S. five-cent piece. The word was originally French, picaillon, a coin of small value (adopted from the Provencal word picaioun, a diminutive of the Portuguese picalho). The Picayune was the first paper in New Orleans to cost less than a dime. It merged with the Times-Democrat in 1914 to become the Times-Picayune. I know of only one other paper using the word picayune: the Bee-Picayune of Beeville, Texas, which was established by two brothers who had worked previously on the New Orleans paper and named their paper in homage to the Big Easy's cheapest paper. (Source: Porcupine, Picayune & Post: How Newspapers Get Their Names by Jim Bernhard.) Just another case of footnoting gone entirely berserk with power.

8/23 — An object lesson in how many successive actions a cartoonist can depict in a single panel.

8/30 — Pup-dog's mastery of the poltergeist nonsense expression has no particular significance that I can discover. If googled, the results are all Pogo, so it apparently originated with Kelly, and it means exactly what it appears to mean.

9/3 — The bear's predicament re-enacts an incident in Dell's Four-Color No. 105, Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum.

9/13 — The name on the stern of the boat doubtless invokes a weepy Victorian novel, East Lynn, by Mrs. Henry Wood. The book was ferociously popular, being translated into thousands of foreign languages and the stage, but it was so awful that East Lynn became in later, more sophisticated times an international literary exemplar of terribly bad prose fiction.

9/17 — A rare instance of the Sunday Pogo meshing with the action of the dailies; Kelly had to have planned this two-week sequence far in advance because Sunday strips are due four-five weeks earlier than dailies.

9/28 — Waycross, should anyone ask, is the nearest town in Georgia to Okefenokee Swamp, ostensibly the swamp in which Pogo and his cohorts live (although at one time for the benefit of Life magazine, Kelly said the name of the strip's swamp was Pogofenokee).

10/1Pogo's World Series begins on a Sunday this year, and it's enough to discombobulate all other proceedings: Owl was covered with hair when last seen in the Sunday sequence; and Deacon Mushrat has lost his Old English diction. No explanation for either.

10/2 — More evidence that Kelly had worked out a rare seven-day continuity: Owl lost his glasses just the day before, a Sunday.

10/29 — "Le Fay" is an ancient word for "fairy," and Morgan Le Fay, we learn by googling, is "popularly known as an Arthurian sorceress, benevolent fairy, priestess, dark magician, enchantress, witch, sea goddess, shape-changer, healer, and the sole personage of Avalon the Isle of Apples, not to mention half-sister to King Arthur, and mother of Mordred," who, we all remember, was Arthur's undoing. Although Morgan Le Fay made trouble for Arthur, she was not beyond redemption and was one of the three ladies who transported the fatally wounded Arthur in a barge to the Isle of Avalon. Caladonia, on the other hand, is nobody in particular but the name of an island in the northern British isles, populated by a primitive people, the Picts and Scots, the former of whom tattooed themselves and were often confused with Caladonian fairy folk. The Sandman is a comic book character brought back to life by Neil Gaimen long after Walt Kelly drew this Sunday strip. (Another stunning abuse of footnoting.)

Hepzibah & Pogo10/30 — Hepzibah is a Biblical personage, wife of King Hezekiah of Judah. The name means "my delight is in her," which may account for Kelly's choice of the name for the siren skunk who will be the only romantic interest in the whole of Pogo. Hepzibah reportedly bears some resemblance to Kelly's second wife, Stephanie Waggoner, although I suspect the likeness emerges later when Mam'selle Hepzibah's nose gets smaller. Still, her arrival signals the deterioration of Kelly's first marriage: in 1951, he will divorce his first wife Helen and marry Stephanie.

11/3 — "… as things go": in the paranoia of the times, no one would admit to being anything but one hundred percent American because everything "foreign" was suspicious: it could be communist. Deacon Mushrat's closing reference to a "martial plan" twists the meaning of the Marshall Plan, a post-World War II American program (1948-51) to aid the recovery of war-torn Europe (which, recovered, could better resist the blandishments of communism), and named after Truman's Secretary of State, George Marshall, who had been the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II and was the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Marshall Plan.

11/4 — Voting in the off-year election for members of the House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate took place on November 7, 1950.

11/5 — Kansas is the home of the Jayhawks, the mascot of the University of Kansas, but the origin of the term lies in struggles during the 1850s over whether the Kansas Territory would a slave state or a free state. Ruffians on both sides of the issue, called jayhawks, rampaged across the countryside, attacking settlements and looting and killing to make their point. The name refers to two birds — the noisy, quarrelsome blue jay with a reputation of robbing other birds' nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. Albert's casual reference evokes the notion of dashing around, to and fro, perhaps to no lasting effect. Fauns in Roman mythology are place spirits of untamed woodland. Romans associated them with the Greek satyrs, who also resemble goats in the lower half their bodies but are also drunken orgiastic followers of Bacchus. Kelly no doubt had the gentler version in mind, and while these wood sprites seem entirely at home in the woody swamp, they never appeared in the strip again. Like the African American kid Bambazine of the Animal Comics stories, perhaps fauns were simply too humanoid and therefore not as believable as the swamp critters.

11/7Poltroon is defined as "a spiritless coward."

11/11 — Pogo and his pals are unusually morose on this year's Veterans Day because American soldiers were once again dying on the field of battle. North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, the United Nations had asked for help, and by the end of the month, President Truman sent ground troops and bombers into war.

11/26 — Thanksgiving was the previous Thursday.

12/17 — "In case you don't read this next week…." Next Sunday is December 24, Christmas Eve, and some newspapers did not publish on that day.

12/22 — By "sour grass," an expression we've encountered before in this volume, the duck, like most of Kelly's swamp characters, may have misappropriated another expression, "sour grapes," that sounds almost like the words he uses. But sour grass is not disdained like sour grapes: sour grass is "any of certain coarse weedy plants with long taproots, sometimes used as table greens or in folk medicine," and therefore valued much more than sour grapes.

12/25 — A few newspapers published on holidays, and some, like the Stamford paper referred to here, published holiday strips the next day thereby offering readers a double dose of their favorite funnies. Here, Kelly provides friendly acknowledgment to publisher McCullough.

12/29 — On July 4, 1923, heavyweight champion prizefighter Jack Dempsey fought challenger Tommy Gibbons in a 15-round contest arranged in Shelby, Montana by the city fathers who hoped the fight would attract tourists and create prosperity for their town. The scheme was a colossal failure. Shelby guaranteed the fighters huge fees in anticipation of the tickets the tourists would buy. But Gibbons was virtually unknown, Shelby was hard to get to (Dempsey is said to have taken a week to get there by train), and a big crowd didn't show up. Dempsey won the lack-luster fight in a decision, and four of Shelby's banks went bankrupt in the months following the fight.

12/30 — A story fragment that will be consummated in the ensuing volume of this series.

Pogo and friends

Pogo - Vol. 1 of the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips: Through the Wild Blue Wonder by Walt Kelly