R.C. Harvey, who seemingly knows everything about everything, once again shared the expanse of his knowledge in his annotations for our latest collection of Walt Kelly's Pogo strips and once again we had to bleed the red pen dry and carve Harv's original text down considerably from the original 10,000 (or so) words to print it in the allotted space in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 2 – Bona Fide Balderdash. But again, since the internet knows no such space limitations, we are pleased to present the unadulterated, unedited Harv here on our website. (And if you've just picked up the new box set of Vols. 1 and 2, you can find his unexpurgated Vol. 1 notes here.)
So get comfy, maybe fix yourself a nice mug of cocoa. We'll start with the intro here, and then you can carry on to the notes themselves. If you know Harv, you know that his loquaciousness and erudition is matched only by his delightfully readable prose. Enjoy! – Ed.
Annotations and Historical Data
By R.C. Harvey
lthough celebrated for his political allegory and satire, Walt Kelly laced Pogo with allusions to other aspects of contemporary life in America, plus literary references and snatches of poetry. In our less than literate society of 140-character communiques, many of Kelly’s nods at literature are obscure to the point of irrelevance, and the targets of much of his political sniping are no longer visible: sixty years after the fact, the events he so gleefully mocked have long been forgotten. My assignment here at the back of the book is to pull back the veil that the passage of time has drawn over the Pogo proceedings by reminding us of some of those things we’ve lost sight of.
Harmless drudgery though it is, I take heart at the words of comics afficionado and cartooner Clay Geerdes, who once said: “Probably only a handful of people, cartoonists among them, understand the many levels Kelly worked on in a single strip. He was to comics what William Faulkner was to the psychological novel” — an insight that doubtless justifies a few more generations of copiously footnoted articles about Pogo.
And so I plunge once again to a swirl of elucidation (clarifying explanation) the tedium of which will no doubt yield an ennui (listless boredom) greater than the enervating (paralyzing) effect of the bafflement that might otherwise prevail.
The period embraced by this volume (1951-52) provides a happy sample of the sort of crowd-pleasing antics that Kelly was staging in those days just before he turned the spotlight on political commentary; instead, we have unrelenting vaudevillian nonsense, mostly untinged by any topicalities whatsoever. His objective, he said, was to be funny. "I come from a school of old-time cartooning," he went on. "In the old days, we tried to make a buck out of drawing. I go after whatever seems funny to me."
In his pursuit of funny, Kelly eschewed plots. Plots, to Kelly, were not realistic. "The plot is an invention of storytellers," he said. And if none of his characters ever accomplishes anything or achieves whatever goal may have inspired the commencement of an action, that's realistic. "There are no pay-offs in real life," Kelly explained. "Besides, it always rings untrue when you try to wind up with a specific conclusion."
Consequently (in case you haven't noticed already), in Pogo things happen in much the same fashion as a ball of yarn unravels if rolled across the floor by a playful kitten. Pogo and the rest of "nature's screechers" that populate the swamp may begin with one thing in mind, but they are easily distracted (by misapprehended speeches or actions, by puns or other word play, by the arrival of a newcomer in their midst) into following an internal logic of their own that bears little or no resemblance to the meaning the rest of us fabricate for the world around us. And all the time, Kelly was honing his skill at political satire — as we can see in the pages to the fore, illuminated, we trust, by these notes at the aft. We begin with the daily strips; then, the Sundays.