The Unexpurgated “Swamp Talk” Annotations from Pogo Vol. 2

The edited version of these annotations by R.C. Harvey appears in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 2 – Bona Fide Balderdash by Walt Kelly. – Ed.

Swamp Talk
Annotations and Historical Data
By R.C. Harvey

Although 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.

Albert AlligatorAnd 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.



1/3 — Marse Kimball was Ward Kimball, a cohort of Kelly’s at Disney; see note on page 283 in the previous volume in this series for more information. The resolution that Owl expects Pogo to break was foisted off on our eponymous possum by Owl himself on December 30 in the previous volume: it called for Pogo to stay off Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

1/9 — Jelly Roll Morton was an early 20th century jazz musician, noted, among other achievements, for being the first jazz arranger, proving that improvised music could be written. As a youth, he played piano and sang smutty songs in a New Orleans “sportin’ house,” where he acquired his nickname, Jelly Roll — in black slang, a reference to female genitalia. Other obscure terms here (rag, rhum-chuck, schmaltz) refer to kinds of music.

1/11 — While in the White House, Missourian Harry Truman often played piano and was celebrated (and sometimes ridiculed) for his rendition of “The Missouri Waltz,” which he claimed he didn’t like at all but felt obliged to play because it was his home state’s song.

1/15 — Syndicated cartoonists often promoted charitable causes, in this case, the March of Dimes, which asked annually for contributions. Kelly makes the plea again on January 24.

Porky1/22 — Porky alludes to Stephen Foster’s “Massa’s In De Cold Cold Ground,” a song in which a slave grieves for his deceased master, the kind of sentiment that shaped prejudices about the lives of plantation slaves for generations.

2/5 — The allusion to “foreign powers” here (and elsewhere in Pogo) conjures up the 1950s nightmare of Russian (i.e., communist) infiltration of American institutions like Congress and the Executive Branch of government and the entertainment industry. American anxieties about Russia possessing the secret of the atomic bomb were reality based: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who would be convicted of selling that secret, went to trial in March 1951, only a few weeks after this strip was published. By making the fear a presence in the strip and reactions like Albert’s so mockingly extreme, Kelly was ridiculing the witch-hunters looking for communists everywhere. And then—is Chug-Chug Curtis homophobic? Or is he just in a fowl mood?

2/6 — Owl’s declaration that he is “not now and never has been a member of the human race” echoes the famed “$64 question” often posed during the highly publicized investigations of the Hollywood film industry by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Hearings of individual testimony, which were launched in 1947, usually began with: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Among the more shameful consequences of HUAC’s work was the surreptitious creation in the movie industry of “blacklists” of persons whose loyalties had been questioned (usually anonymously and often without much basis in fact) and who would therefore not be employed. In the Senate, as Joseph R. McCarthy gained power and visibility in the early 1950s with hearings he conducted to ferret out alleged communists in government, he also deployed the “$64 question,” which became one of the most famous utterances of the period. Incidentally, membership in the American Communist Party was not yet a crime. It was spying that was a crime—namely, treason—not being a communist.)

2/13 — At last, the mystery of Miz Beaver’s matrimonial status is resolved.

2/16 — Ho-Ho-Kus is an affluent borough in Bergen County, New Jersey.

2/19 — The award Owl speaks of sounds a lot like the French medal of honor, the Croix de Guerre (“the cross of war”), given in recognition of outstanding acts of bravery.

2/22 — In a typical swampland mangling of language, Hepzibah evokes another French expression, “coup d’etat,” (a blow against the state) that has nothing to do with coops: it is used to describe the overthrow of a government.

2/23 — The competitor to which Albert inadvertently refers is Howdy Doody, a puppet who was the title character in a popular children’s television program that ran from 1947 until about 1960. The children in the show’s studio audience sat in what was termed “the peanut gallery,” a circumstance that, according to legend, led editors at United Feature syndicate to suppose that people referred to children generally as “peanuts,” and based upon this frail supposition, they wished upon Charles Schulz a title for his comic strip that he forever despised.

3/16 — Schultzie and Vaughn will lose these names on March 23.

3/17 — “Audible” is another of the swampland’s typical misconstruings—for Audubon, a bird watching and conservation society named after John James Audubon, a 19th century French naturalist and painter whose pictures of American birds established an ornithological standard.

3/20 — “Mal de mer” is French for “sea sick.”

3/27 — “I’m on first” recalls the famous Abbott and Costello “who’s on first” routine that begins when Abbott tells Costello that the first baseman is named Who. “Who’s on first?” Costello wants to know. “That’s right,” says Abbott. And on and on.

3/31 — By this time, Kelly has eased into using “bird watching” as a metaphorical equivalent of “communist hunting.” By analogy, the commie hunters who accuse others of being communists appear just as arbitrary and therefore ludicrous as the bats do in calling a goldfinch a marigold.

4/16 — Houn’dog’s name is Beauregard Bugleboy, not Namely. But you knew that, eh?

5/1 — Charles Gridley was in command of Admiral George Dewey’s flagship when, in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War on May 1, 1998, Dewey issued the famous command: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley,” whereupon a succession of broadsides directed at the still-moored Spanish fleet destroyed it within hours. As a military command, Dewey’s gave Gridley discretionary authority. A Child’s Garden of Verses is a collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is the title the Victorian Englishman Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of poems attributed to a 12th century Persian mathematician and astronomer. “Long feller” is an allusion to an American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

5/2 — “Langridge” is not a reference to the present-day comic book artist and graphic novelist Roger Langridge, creator of Fred the Clown and other minor masterpieces, who started in New Zealand but moved to London.

5/4 — When “scanning” poetry, one counts the number of adjoining accented and unaccented syllables (such duos are metrical feet, one of which is termed an iamb); a line with five such feet is said to be iambic pentameter.

5/7 — This week, the strip is lettered by a different person than lettered the previous (and the following) week.

5/15 — The Mason-Dixon Line about which Porky seems confused was established in 1767 by surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to settle a border dispute among four British colonies. Later, in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Mason-Dixon Line was established as the boundary between Northeastern states and Southern states, free states and slave-holding states.

5/17 — Houn’dog is singing the actual chorus of Stephen Foster’s tribute to man’s best friend, composed about 1853.

6/9 — The Deacon’s Latin translates: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you” — the state motto of Michigan; hence, it may be supposed, “be happy where you are.”

6/12 — Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959) was an American poet who wrote highly popular but dangerously saccharin poetry for the masses. Known eventually as “the people’s poet,” his name is usually invoked to describe sentimental verses having little literary merit.

6/15 — “Branch” refers to the “branch water” (the ordinary, unbottled sort) preferred by certain adult beverage connoisseurs as the only additive tolerated in their glasses of boubon.

Houn' Dog & Hepzibah6/16 — In her enthusiasm, Hepzibah rattles off an impressive roll call of French expressions, misapplying most of them. “Tres beau” is “very good,” but after that, her vocabulary falters. “La viand rose” invokes one of chanteuse Edith Piaf’s favorite songs, “Le Vie en Rose” (“life in the pink,” which hers scarcely was) but by using “viand” instead of “vie en,”Hepzibah inadvertently speaks of food (i.e., meat, of the red sort). “Baton Rouge” is the name of the capital of Louisiana (“red stick,” a reference to a possibly apocryphal etymology). She finishes with “blue cheese” but could have continued with “chevrolet,” “coupe,” and/or “dodge” (accent on the final ‘e’).

6/19 — Churchy is stumbling through a late 19th century song that commemorates those who have drowned in the sea, “Asleep in the Deep,” which includes in the chorus its most frequently repeated line: “Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, so beware! Beware!”

6/22 — In the name P.T. Bridgeport, Kelly makes a grandiloquent gesture to his past: he grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and among his duties at his post-highschool job at the Bridgeport Post was illustrating the life story of the town’s most celebrated alum, P.T. Barnum. Bridgeport’s obvious kinship to the legendary 19th century showman is not without satirical significance. Barnum achieved international celebrity by collecting and arranging for public display all sorts of oddities and freaks of nature. And although Bridgeport seems at first to be trolling in the same pond, as the ongoing election year goes on, he soon graduates to political campaigning, another venue to which oddities and freaks of nature seem to gravitate. The satirical significance of using a borderline charlatan to conduct a parody of American politics is too obvious to require comment. The fact that the con man is associated with a circus, however, enriches the parody deliciously: to Kelly, presidential campaigns were clearly circuses run by tricksters.

6/27 — Albert, swinging from a breaking tree limb, is mangling the chorus of a popular Civil War song written from the point of view of a Union prisoner and designed thereby to give hope of relief: “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching—cheer up comrades, they will come” and set us all free again. Joseph David Dzugashvili was reputedly the birth name of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Stalin didn’t invent the telegraph, as Albert’s coupling him to Marconi suggests, but in the 1950s, the American press, participating in a running joke, reported many alleged instances of the Soviet communists’ claiming to have concocted numerous modern devices the invention of which was credited throughout the West to other, non-communist persons.

7/2 — Henceforth, speech balloons and all other vital visual material appear lower in the first panel of the strip than in subsequent panels. This practice was inaugurated sometime in the late 1940s/early 1950s to permit newspapers to insert a “slug” of lead type bearing the name of the strip into the body of the strip, a maneuver that permitted newspapers to run more comic strips on the page than would be possible if, instead, the paper left blank space above each strip for its name.

7/9 — In Bridgeport’s first overt allusion to politics, he quotes part of General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell speech to Congress. The charismatic and megalomaniacal general had been conducting the Korean War admirably, but he made public statements questioning President Truman’s policies, and for that, Truman fired him in early April 1951. When the general returned to the U.S., his first time setting foot on native soil since the 1930s, he was given a hero’s welcome and invited to speak before Congress, which he did to great effect. His platform manner was magisterial: his tone was even and measured; he seldom raised his voice, choosing, instead, to impart passion to his words with dramatic pauses, which he injected into the closing lines of his speech, referring to “the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads” of his youth at West Point, “which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die: they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad [pause], I now close my military career and just [pause] fade away [pause], an old solider who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Goodbye.”

7/13 — Bridgeport’s descent down the slippery slope into politics is signaled by the arrival of Tammanany, the “Tammany tiger” of yore, pregnant with historical allusion. (Note Kelly’s deliberate misspelling.) The Tammany Society of 19th century New York was a social and patriotic club that eventually was an instrument of political patronage. The tiger was associated with the Society when William Tweed became the nefarious political boss of the city in the late 1860s. Tweed’s power was consolidated in two positions: he was the grand sachem of the Tammany Society and he headed the Democratic Party in New York. Together, his power base was called “Tammany Hall,” a designation that lived into mid-20th century New York politics. But Tweed’s launching pad to fame had been a volunteer fire-fighting company he’d formed, and he’d chosen as the company’s symbol a tiger head, mouth open in a fearsome growl. The tiger was soon associated with Tammany Hall, and political cartoonist Thomas Nast deployed the Tammany Tiger against Tweed with devastating effect.

Albert at the bat7/27 — Chicago Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance were famous, from 1902 on, for executing a double play (Tinker to Evers to Chance) that was immortalized in a 1910 baseball poem by Franklin Pierce Adams (famed New York newspaper columnist known as FPA).

Catcher Howlan7/28 — “Old Nassau” is Princeton University’s school anthem; the school mascot is the tiger.

8/4 — A German folksong of farewell, the lines quoted translate: “Must I then, need I then to Stadtele Naus” etc.

8/8 — “Boxing the compass” means to name all 32 points of the compass in clockwise order, beginning “North,” then “North by east,” and so on.

8/13 — The Boxer Rebellion, launched in 1899 China by the Boxers (also known as the Righteous and Harmonious Society), protested violently the foreign (British, French, German, American, etc.) influence on politics, religion and trade, storming embassies in Beijing and killing thousands before it ended formally in 1901.

8/20 — The P.T. Barnum of sports promotion, C. C. “Cash and Carry” Pyle staged in 1928 the first Annual International Transcontinental Foot Race (aka, the Bunion Derby) from Los Angeles to New York, a distance of 3,422, run by at least 55 persons between March 4 and May 6.

8/22 — At Spice Drawer Mouse, blogger Laura Jensen claims Wimby’s Bird Atlas has its origins in a “swerve” Kelly took whilst beholding Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. Jensen says there are two copies of Wimby’s in the swamp — but none anywhere else apparently.

8/24Felidae is the zoological family of cats.

8/25 — Although 19th century New York Tribune newspaper publisher Horace Greeley is widely supposed to have uttered the admonition to “go west, young man,” no one has been able to find this famous quotation in print anywhere near Greeley’s name. He penned the sentiment in other words on occasion — and may have spoken the iconic phrase in a speech, but never in print.

8/29 — Not funny. Lynching was still taking place in the U.S. South in the 1950s.

9/17 — A little benevolent philosophy about the Korean War, which had been raging since June 1950.

Tammananny Tiger9/19 — “Soirees de Viene” is by Franz Liszt.

9/28 — Walt Kelly’s signature, starting with the release for August 31, has been deteriorating steadily and here, and in the Sunday strip for September 23, it disappears altogether in favor of a succession of made-up names — Kalt Welly, Wart Kerky, Hurty Gurdee, Orville Yonder, Gung Dinsmore, Motley Crewcutt, Tuppens Happeny, Dasty Bindle, Smead Fronty, and other laughable fabrications. Steve Thompson observed in the Introduction to Volume 1 of this series that Kelly, in effect, refused to sign the strip as a way of protesting the Post Hall Syndicate’s ownership of the feature. Understandably, Kelly felt he should own his creation.

Although Kelly may have perpetrated this parade of fictional signatures just for laughs, it is highly likely that he did it for exactly the reason Thompson offers: Kelly, seemingly, knew that the disappearance of his familiar signature would make trouble for the syndicate. And that’s why he did it. It was extortion of a comical sort. Presumably, once he got ownership of the strip, he’d stop making trouble for the syndicate.

In an article in Collier’s for March 8, 1952, writer Murray Robinson recalls the fake signatures campaign and the trouble it caused.

“Almost at once,” Robinson writes, “a flood of querulous mail from Pogo fans descended on the New York offices of the syndicate and the papers in which the strip appears. The customers wanted to know what had happened to Walt Kelly? Why wasn’t he doing Pogo any more? Who was Bipple Gooter? What’s going on here? The editor of a Midwestern paper carrying Pogo received a letter from a reader who wrote: ‘Who is this Prudy Loobin? I must say that since he’s been doing Pogo, it has gone back a whole lot.’

“The worried editor relayed the complaint to syndicate boss [Robert] Hall, and added: ‘Frankly, now that they reader mentions it, I also have noticed that Pogo has deteriorated since Loobin took over. I would advise you to get Kelly back in there.’”

Robinson goes on to say Kelly quit signing fake signatures just as abruptly as he began, quoting Kelly: “I can get as tired of a gag as anyone.”

But by March of 1952 when the Collier’s article appeared, Kelly was doubtless trying to sooth ruffled feathers at Post Hall so he passed off the whole strategy as a joke. On the strips for January 1952, we see the result of the cartoonist’s lobbying.

10/3 — A reference to “right” and “left” in any sequence featuring the bats has political connotations; usually, the Left embraces liberal, progressive thought but also socialism and even (in those distant days) communism, the latter being the bete noire of Joseph McCarthy and the rampant Right conservatives.

10/9 — McCarthy would become the most notorious of the day’s investigating senators when, in 1953, following the mid-term election that gave Republicans the majority in the Senate, he became chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

10/10 — The person named on the skiff, “Ol’ Frank” Something, was doubtless the editor or publisher of the Memphis Appeal. For some length of time, Kelly inscribed such names on the skiff whenever the newspaper added Pogo to its line-up.

10/11 — Disloyalty is what McCarthy was ostensibly ferreting out. One of the senators from Tennessee was Democrat Estes Kefauver, an unusually outspoken liberal for that state, espousing anti-trust legislation, consumer protection, and, even, civil rights.

In the fall of 1951, McCarthy made the cover of Time (October 22), and the magazine devoted its cover story to unmasking the poseur and describing the Senator’s nefarious methods (guilt by association, baseless accusation, intimidation, name-calling), which was already being called “McCarthyism” (a term coined by editorial cartoonist Herb Block [Herblock] in a cartoon published March 19, 1950).

Time‘s verdict on McCarthy was unequivocally negative. The magazine pointed out that the buccaneer’s methods undermined the very foundation of Western civilization. But McCarthy still enjoyed enormous popularity throughout the country for his vociferous fight against the Communists. For many Americans, McCarthy’s way was the best way to combat the Red menace that they saw lurking everywhere. The reader reaction to Time‘s cover story on McCarthy is revealing: of the 386 letters the magazine received about the story, 177 disdained the Senator, but 146 (40%) professed to like him. (The remaining 63 took no position; they simply commented on the story generally.)

But McCarthy was merely the noisiest of the witch-hunters, the most visible. By the time of the initial publication of the strips reprinted herein, the contagion had permeated through and through the fabric of American life. Truman had given impetus to the hunt by inaugurating in the mid-forties a loyalty checking system for government employees, and schools and colleges were quick to establish similar mechanisms in order to assure that no student would be converted to Communism by any teacher or professor. And the entertainment industry soon followed.

In virtually all of these venues, the system of ascertaining loyalty was prone to perversion: an anonymous tip could launch an investigation, and the very existence of an investigation could destroy the subject’s career. And yet, the investigation might subsequently reveal absolutely nothing incriminating. But by then, the damage had been done.

11/2 — The wordplay here goes from underwater to “submersive” and, by implication, to “subversive”, describing the presumed occupation in those days of communists in America. And the bird-watching bats surface as the strip’s stand-ins for commie-hunting zealots, all the rage in these months.

11/5 — The vulture (or buzzard) Sarcophagus MacAbre quickly emerged as the strip’s villain, and in this installment, Kelly begins edging his speech balloons in black like funeral announcements, the better to suggest the possible outcome of the fowl’s foul plans.

Having singled out their victim without regard to any particular crime, Sarcophagus and Wiley enlist the Boy Bird Watchers to prove a fabricated criminal allegation that they believe will, in the end, yield turtle soup. When that charge doesn’t seem sufficient, Sarcophagus proclaims Churchy a dangerous person simply because he writes things that no one understands. And when Deacon Mushrat and the bats can’t find anything that Churchy’s done wrong, Wiley and Sarcophagus and Seminole Sam resort to pure intimidation to persuade Deacon to continue his effort: they tell him that they’ve found a recipe for “mushrat stew” (11/6). Intimidation was a technique of McCarthyism.

The American Heritage Dictionary, in the manner of dictionaries everywhere, is deliberate and restrained in its definition of McCarthyism: “The political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.” “Insufficient regard to evidence” is the lexicographer’s tempered equivalent of “lying.” And certainly in McCarthy’s flurry of groundless charges no one was ever able to discover a truth. Reported Time: “After nearly two nears of tramping the nation, shouting that he was ‘rooting out the skunks,’ just how many Communists has Joe rooted out? The answer: none.”

Whenever confronted by this deficiency, McCarthy reacted by setting up a new barrage of accusations which captured headlines for him and drew attention away from the fact that he had not made good on his original charges. His other defensive maneuver was equally aggressive: if criticized, he attacked the critic, accusing that hapless individual of being a “Communist sympathizer.”

11/9 — In 1947, Alfred Kinsey, a biologist, founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, and in 1948, he published the sensational report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, to all of which, Deacon refers in outrageous puns. “Kidney-garden,” by the way, evokes “kindergarten,” which, as yet, had not become one of Kinsey’s researches. In suggesting that Churchy might have sexual problems, Kelly was simply mocking the kind of smear technique that the witch-hunting commie-hunters were so frequently prone to employ.

All of these machinations parallel the evolutions of witch-hunting enthusiasts. By revealing the motives of his swampland villains, Kelly ridicules the real witch-hunters, whose motivation, he implies, is no better. And as a final touch, he next introduces the ladies of the Vigilante Auxiliary.

11/20 — This bunch, tilting back and forth on rockers in tandem, furnishes a chorus of ill-informed comment that demonstrates perfectly what Kelly perceived was the support mechanism for all witch-hunting endeavors — political gossip. To which, the cartoonist says, “Nuts” — describing both the message and, we assume, the messengers as well as expression his opinion of the proceedings.

11/21 — Albert is sometimes the thoroughly unequivocal hero.

12/12 — A donzel is a young page or squire, a knight’s attendant.

12/17 — Porky’s anyule visitation is early this year.

Deck Us All With Boston Charlie
Walla Walla Wash an' Kalamazoo


1/1 — As with the Sunday Pogo, the dailies now carry the notice that the strip is copyrighted by Walt Kelly—i.e., he owns his strip at last. Henceforth, the fine print credits Post Hall only as the distributor of the feature. Kelly continued using fictitious names to sign the strip through January on the dailies and through February on the Sundays — probably because these strips were produced in the last months of 1951 before the deal with Post Hall was struck; it was legally necessary to adjust the copyright notice but not the signatures. Kelly’s name appears next to the copyright notice forever after, and in June (August in the Sundays), he combines name and notice in the now familiar signature square (which is previewed May 4, 1952).

1/3 — Another reference to President Truman’s piano playing penchant.

1/5 — Kelly may be referring to Charles Crosby Moss (1911-1991), a major league baseball catcher who played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1934 to 1936. Why Moss would be important to Kelly we can only speculate. As with donzel.

1/15 — Kelly had divorced his first wife, Helen Delacy, in 1951, and later that year, he married Stepanie Waggony, circumstances perhaps on his mind when he did this strip.

1/18 — There is a Ware County in Georgia (but not in Louisiana, a distinction that may be important later in these notes). The county seat and the only incorporated town in Ware County was then Waycross, the municipality closest to Okefenokee Swamp, which is in Charlton County.

2/2 — Anything “red” in those benighted days alluded to communists.

2/4 — The 1952 presidential election was shaping up. Robert A. Taft, the conservative Senator from Ohio, announced his intention to run for the Republican nomination. On the other side of the aisle, Tennessee’s Kefauver adopted coonskin headgear as his symbol and declared his Presidential ambitions, seeking to gain the White House on the strength of the national status he had achieved while leading a Senate investigation of organized crime. And Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois, was also being quietly touted for the Democrat nomination. But the political news everyone was waiting for came in January 1952 when General Dwight Eisenhower, World War II hero and architect of the invasion of Europe and the conquest of Germany, let it be known that he was available as a presidential candidate for the Republican party.

His availability, however, did not seem to be wholehearted. Understandably. At the time, Ike was still a soldier on active duty for his country: he was heading up NATO in post-war Europe, and military regulations prevented his involvement in politics. He said that he would not ask for relief from his assignment in order to seek the nomination and he would not participate in any way in the political activities preceding the Republican Convention, but, he said, he would accept the nomination if offered to him because he considered “a call to political service by the will of the party and the people to be the highest form of duty.” In short, in his declaration, Eisenhower demonstrated an enviably canny political sense — acquired, no doubt, through the years of jockeying with Europeans about how to win the War.

Ike was the most famous of the candidates, no question; and his availability, so long in doubt, was the biggest political news of the winter. (It was perhaps to him that Mr. Tammanany refers when discussing the unnamed “Big Boy” on 2/11.) But his supporters began worrying about his candidacy almost at once. Taft was out barnstorming the country, rounding up delegate votes; Ike wasn’t accumulating any. Alarmed, Ike’s people urged the General to resign his post, return to the U.S., become a civilian, and start stumping. But Ike stood fast. And then came the New Hampshire primary in early March. Ike won — without ever appearing in the state, without campaigning at all. He beat Taft by 10,000 votes, a healthy margin.

At the news of such events, we may imagine Kelly rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of more hilarity ahead. By February 1952, it is clear that Kelly planned to participate in some fashion in the forthcoming presidential campaign. As Deacon Mushrat says on 2/5, “We must be symbol minded” in an election year. With the clockwork man that Owl invents, Kelly may have been reincarnating the political symbol that he used so effectively in his political cartoons for The New York Star in the 1948 race when he caricatured Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate, as a mechanical man. But Owl’s invention makes no further appearances after 3/28, so whatever plot Kelly may have been brewing was abandoned once the spring campaign season got underway and P.T. Bridgeport showed up again, looking for a candidate among the swampland population.

2/9 — A little metaphysical philosophy—human beings are mistake prone. Kelly returned with a similar aside on 3/24.

2/25 — Albert’s concluding remark conjures up New York City’s notorious Boss Tweed, master of the city’s political machine in the mid-1800s

3/3 — More deep philosophical whimsy.

4/11 — Capitalizing upon the political climate of the election year, Kelly lobbed snide gems like these about politics and politicians at his readers all summer long. It was the season for it, after all, and he reveled in it.

Although Kelly was a practicing liberal and hence had more Democrat tendencies than Republican, he spared neither party on 4/14 when Rackety Coon Child asks Porkypine to explain the elephant and donkey symbols of the two parties. And he was just as hard on candidates, alluding to the essential personality trait for holding public office—a sort of unabashed simple-mindedness (4/25). Similarly, he cynically (I’d say, “realistically”) tagged political campaigning as an exercise in name-calling (5/10), meaningless sloganeering (5/21, 7/22), and cosmetic posturing (6/12-13). With equally jovial malice, he characterized elections as demonstrations of purchasing power rather than of the triumph of a particular political conviction (6/3).

4/16 — Cowbirds are infamous among the feathered and furry for stealing the nests of other birds; cf. 4/18. As a simple historical fact, communists have always taken over other existing states; they never build their own. Even in their names — Compeer and Confrere, echoing the communists’ preferred term for their fellow citizens, “comrade” — the cowbirds stand for communists in Kelly’s political pantheon that summer.

4/29 — Some of the political shenanigans in the swamp echo, however faintly, events in the outside world. Pogo’s reluctance to be a candidate can be seen as an evocation of Democrat Adlai Stevenson’s. On the television pundit program, “Meet the Press,” Stevenson repeated his earlier assertion that he had no interest in running for President of the U.S.: “I want to run for governor [of Illinois]. I seek no other office. I have no other ambition.” When asked about the public interest in his candidacy as evidenced by the large audience present that day in the broadcast studio, Stevenson said, “It’s very flattering indeed, and I suppose flattery hurts no one — that is, if he doesn’t inhale.”

But Pogo’s attitude also mimicked Eisenhower’s. Ike had not sought the nomination of the Republican Party. He hadn’t expressed any political ambitions whatsoever, and as recently as 1951, none of the party leaders in either party even knew what his political affiliation might be. He was a general in the Army. That was it. But the Republicans were desperate for a candidate to run against Truman (who, they erroneously supposed, would run for another term), and they kept pestering Ike at his NATO post in Europe until he agreed to let his name be put forward.

Despite these similarities to actuality in Pogo’s diffidence about his career as a politician, it is more likely that Pogo was simply being Pogo. Kelly had developed the possum as a somewhat low-key personality—shy, almost; retiring, modest, unassuming. His attitude about being in the political spotlight is, therefore, in harmony with his personality. Still, when P.T. Bridgeport tells Pogo: “You should feel it’s an honor to serve your friends,” the coupling of Pogo’s reluctance with an honorable obligation reminds us of both Stevenson and Eisenhower.

It’s a neat touch, committing Kelly to neither Democrat nor Republican. And he had to be noncommittal. Kelly could get away with a kind of general political satire in his strip — thanks, in part, to such pace-setters as Harold Gray, who proclaimed a conservative philosophy in Little Orphan Annie throughout FDR’s New Deal years, and Al Capp, who ridiculed right-wing establishmentarianism in Li’l Abner — but outright partisanship was still frowned on in those days: a nationally circulated comic strip had to be acceptable to newspaper editors of every political stripe and leaning. And the only way to achieve that objective was to avoid crusading on behalf of one party or the other. Kelly was able to take his ensemble to “Chicago” in July for the national convention because both political parties convened that month in the Windy City. The venue, then, didn’t tip Kelly’s hand.

Deacon Mushrat4/30 — The cowbirds have matured into perfect communist simulacrums—poachers, pretenders—spouting typical anti-capitalist slogans (cf. 5/24); and Deacon, a likewise perfect gutless sycophant. In the 1950s, the cowbirds’ propaganda-laced lingo would sound familiar to most Americans. A fairly popular and wide-spread caricature of Russian commissars, aflame with communist passion, had them screeching terms like “decadent capitalist” and “class warfare” and “bourgeois deviation” and so forth. In Kelly’s deployment of this stock device, the cowbirds haven’t fully grasped the meaning of the terms, and so invoke them willy nilly to comic effect.

The cowbirds initially claim to be doves, not cowbirds (4/18). They do it because they know everyone dislikes cowbirds because cowbirds take over the nests of other birds, eat their eggs, and lay their own eggs for the former tenants to raise as if they were their own. So the cowbirds pretend to be doves, the time-honored symbol of peace. But they aren’t doves; and they quickly demonstrate their true nature, keeping Miz Stork’s eggs “warm” by cooking them for breakfast (4/22), a fairly grisly event for Kelly’s strip (but it’s an ingenious visual pun that confirms their identities).

The life style of cowbirds is also a convenient way of characterizing the presumed maneuverings of communist spies and subversives: they insinuate themselves into ordinary life, pretending to be decent citizens, but they are actually bent on destroying the society they have penetrated. Moreover, as the Bird Watchers know, it is difficult to find cowbirds (communists) once they have disguised themselves as something else (in this case, peace-loving doves, but in the outside world of subversion, the disguise is that of an ordinary citizen). So difficult is it that, as Deacon Mushrat observes, only one subversive could recognize another: “It takes one to know one” (5/7). Hence, when Pogo calls ’em as he sees ’em (applying that antique tried-and-true formula, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”), he gives himself away. Here, in a vaudevillian allegorical turn, Kelly portrayed Pogo as perceptive (4/30) and honest (5/3) — but guilty by association (5/8), the usual weapon of McCarthy and his devotees; alas, too few have the courage of Bridgeport.

The sequence unveils the hilarious fallacy in the McCarthy method when Kelly manages to use McCarthy logic to invoke motherhood as a refutation of Pogo’s alleged guilt (5/7). Everyone supports and defends motherhood. It’s the American way. Hence, Pogo can’t be a subversive communist any more than a mother could be.

Deacon Mushrat5/14 — The “I Go Pogo” buttons were an unexpected bonus of Kelly’s venturing into political satire. College students had taken notice of the political shenanigans in Pogo and started inviting Kelly to campuses to make appearances and speeches (the latter, presumably mocking the political pretensions of professional politicians). For the rest of his career, Kelly would be a presence on college campuses.

Kelly, like Capp and Milton Caniff, was adept at promoting his strip by creating public relations spectacles of one sort or another that would garner publicity for him—and, thereby, for the strip. The motive was simple: getting his name and Pogo’s into the papers, getting the strip talked about, raised the visibility of the strip; once Pogo was brought to their attention (as an attention-getting feature), editors who weren’t at present subscribing to the strip might subsequently subscribe to it. Appearances on college campuses, where Kelly’s audiences would be enthusiastic, were part of the over-all strategy. And it worked. Pogo‘s circulation in 1951 was about 200 papers; by the end of the decade, it was over 400. Kelly doubtless made appearances for fun as well as profit; it was nice, though, that the fun generated more profit.

Part of the fun was the mock presidential campaign. Using the Republican election slogan (“I Like Ike”) as a guide, Kelly manufactured thousands of “I Go Pogo” buttons, and then he advertised them — shamelessly — in the strip, as we see here and the next two days. Dedicated fans wrote in for buttons. (They would write “in care of” their local paper, of course — and because of the volume of mail that had to be forwarded to the cartoonist through his syndicate, both the client paper and the syndicate learned just how popular the strip was. All part of the orchestrated marketing strategy.) And Kelly began distributing the buttons across the nation on college campuses, too.

Pogo was not the first comic strip character to enter politics concurrently with a national election. Andy Gump had run for the U.S. Congress in 1922. Interest in his pronouncements as well as his political fate was so great that it resulted in Andy’s creator, Sidney Smith, getting a million-dollar contract that year ($100,000 a year for the next ten years). The popularity of The Gumps did much to launch a feature syndicate run by the parent paper, the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. But the first comic strip presidential candidate was also the protagonist of the first daily strip — Augustus Mutt. Mutt ran for President in 1908, within a year of the debut of Bud Fisher’s A. Mutt; the diminutive Jeff, who arrived on the scene in March 1908, was the vice-presidential candidate. And Fisher (or one of his ghosts) ran the duo again periodically through the twenties and thirties.

5/19 — “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was a song written for the 1840 presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler. Harrison had gained national fame in a victory over the American Indian forcess at the battle of Tippecanoe, hence his nickname and subsequent campaign slogan. The success of the song in securing the presidency for Harrison reportedly established songs as a viable campaign device.

5/20 — “Peanuts” is doubtless the same as “nuts,” a comment on the validity of Bridgeport’s speechifying (and, by implication, that of all politicians).

5/21 — “Bunko” is the same as “bunk” — i.e., the lies and fabrications endemic to political campaigning.

5/24 — The cowbirds show their true colors at last.

6/3 — “Uncle” Joe Palmer was probably one of Kelly’s New York Herald Tribune drinking cronies. A sports writer for the paper, Palmer specialized in horse racing, which, doubtless, gave him the perspective to comment on politics. Palmer died in 1952, perhaps just before this strip appeared.

6/5 — Porky employs a couple of selected phrases (“long endure” among them) from the Gettysburg address by Abraham Lincoln.

6/13 — Houn’dog, as happens frequently, is most likely barking up the wrong tree. The origin of pittance is in Middle English. Maybe the Blackfoot tribe had something to do with it, but if so, it escaped the notice of the Oxford English Dictionary.

6/16 — As I mentioned earlier, both political parties held their conventions in Chicago, so Kelly was betraying no favoritism here.

6/21 — A “stump speech” refers to rather repetitive political oratory of the sort a person running for office gives, again and again, as he/she goes from town to town. The expression derives, supposedly, from the likelihood that candidates in the 19th century, lacking a platform to speak from, stood on the stump of tree that had been freshly cut down for the purpose. John Stempel, whose name appears on the skiff, is probably the esteemed ex-newspaperman who chaired the journalism department at Indiana University 1938 – 1968.

6/27 — Chicago, the swamp critters’ destination, was the city in which the original smoke-filled room of political mythology was located. It was at the Republican assembly in 1920 which deadlocked over General Leonard Wood (a hero of the Spanish American War, Teddy Roosevelt’s superior officer in the Rough Riders) and Frank O. Lowden (former governor of Illinois). A small group of party elders met one night to determine how to resolve the issue. They decided to give the nomination to a third person, someone wholly acceptable to both contending factions — the distinguished-looking Warren G. Harding (who got the nod largely because he was distinguished-looking). Their decision was made, according to the hoary tradition, in a smoke-filled room.

The room in which they met in the Blackstone Hotel was undoubtedly filled with smoke at one time or another during the evening, but the expression was actually launched several days before the fact. Harry Daugherty, Harding’s chief advisor and the mastermind of the maneuvering that put Harding’s name before the elders, was in a New York hotel getting ready to leave for Chicago and contending with newspaper reporters as he hurriedly packed his bag. Daugherty told them that Harding would get the nomination, and since Harding hadn’t anything approaching the necessary number of delegate votes, one of the reporters speculated aloud that Daugherty must expect Harding to win by manipulation — probably, the reporter said, “in some back room of a hotel with a small group of political managers reduced to pulp by the inevitable vigil and travail” of working a deadlocked convention. The reporter continued, taunting Daugherty by saying that the powers would probably “surrender at 2 a.m. in a smoke-filled room.” Daugherty, rushing for the elevator, responded to the jibe with a terse, “Make it 2:11 a.m.” And so the legendary smoke-filled room was inaugurated into American political life.

6/30 — For those who are paying strict attention, Kelly had left Albert on 6/10 with his foot stuck in a cannon, but when the genial ’gator reappeared 6/26, the cannon was nowhere in sight. Over the ensuing weekend, Kelly no doubt noticed the oversight and here explains it all.

7/25 — A “rump” convention is made up of disgruntled members of a larger assembly who secede and hold a meeting more to their liking elsewhere.

7/26 — One is tempted, after musing about rumps, to suppose this strip descends from its immediate predecessor but avoids mentioning the fecal matter that contaminates the creek one is usually up without a paddle. Bridgeport, a man of the world who knows how close Albert is coming to committing a verbal indiscretion, is embarrassed by the narrow miss and, in the last panel, manages to change the subject.

9/3 — Adlai Stevenson was a bachelor, newly divorced (1949) from his first (and only) wife, Ellen Borden.

9/11 — The orphan gal is, of course, Little Orphan Annie of blank eyeball fame.

9/12-13 — The foolishness in the bird-watching line of, er, reasoning reaches its apogee when the cowbirds, claiming to be cowbirds no longer, smear Pogo by pointing out that he had defended their right to be cowbirds (also 9/17). Their convoluted double-talk is comic enough in itself, but it also ridicules the witch-hunters’ way of thinking by showing how guilt-by-association logic turns itself inside-out, producing, eventually, little more than nonsense.

9/18 — The bats musing about using tar and feathers to make bats into birds is a pregnant intimation of things to come.

9/23 — The frog refers to a classic tale of love and romance: the Hellespont (now called the Dardanelles) is a strait that separates Asia from Europe, and according to Greek legend, Leander swam it every night to visit his inamorata, Hero, returning the next morning. One night, he got lost in unusually turbulent waves and drowned. Hero, devastated, threw herself off a tower to her death in order to be with him. George Gordon, Lord Byron, swam the Hellespont, too, but only one-way.

9/26 — This strip echoes an ancient slightly racist joke about an old raggedy black man who fell asleep under a tree in the woods. While he slept, a black snake crawled up under his tattered trouser leg. The snake kept on crawling up the pants leg, and when it got to a hole near the man’s crotch, it emerged and raised up in front of the sleeping man’s face, whereupon the man awoke. Staring sleepily at the snake weaving in front of him, he muttered: “My sakes! I knowed yo’ was slippery, and I knowed yo’ was long, but where did yo’ get those baby blue eyes!”

Kelly was reputed to be squeamish about rude jokes of this kind, but it would appear that he repeated precisely this one’s punchline, rude or not.

Assuming that Kelly deliberately evoked memories of this old chestnut, we must also realize that he was not unique among his cartooning colleagues. Cartoonists were widely regarded as being adolescent pranksters constantly on the lookout for ways to insert scatological references or sexual innuendoes into their strips, sneaking them by their editors’ scrupulous eyes into the unsuspecting world of newspaper readers beyond. There, certain readers would recognize the signs and symbols and potents; and they would laugh uproariously in appreciation of the cartoonist’s daring and cleverness. So I’ve heard.

The one who told me was Milton Caniff. Caniff said he never tried to pull one of these stunts himself, but he did have a character whose name he’d taken from a popular pressroom dirty joke. Hotshot Charlie. His syndicate’s editors, Caniff told me, always expected him to “complete” the reference to that joke by putting some other aspect of it into the strip (albeit somewhat disguised). But, he said, he never did.

Al Capp, on the other hand, frequently inserted double entendre into Li’l Abner, sometimes visual, sometimes verbal; sometimes an ingenious blend of both. In the late forties, Joe Palooka’s Ham Fisher (an avowed Capp antagonist) blew the whistle on Capp and circulated photostatic copies of the strip’s panels that displayed veiled sexual images.

Presumably, cartoonists of the old school (those who plied their pens in the first three decades of the century) did this more often in times less politically correct. Or maybe not. In any event, the practice has a long tradition, and even today, syndicate editors get nervous when the see things in strips that they don’t quite understand.

9/30 — Igor is a beaver. Igor Beaver. Say it aloud.

10/3 — Abner Doubleday was a Union Army officer during the Civil War; he fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the assault on which launched the hostilities. He is erroneously credited with inventing baseball although, saith Wikipedia, there is no evidence to support this idea, and Doubleday himself never claimed it.

10/7 — When the moose mentions “19 ought 12,” he refers to the election in which Teddy Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party and formed a third political party, the Progressive Party, which was soon dubbed the Bull Moose Party. The antlered allusion originated in a remark Roosevelt made when asked, on the eve of a political confrontation, how he was feeling. “I’m feeling,” he said, “like a bull moose,” suggesting a sort of defiant robustness, exactly what TR always represented. By invoking memories of Roosevelt’s rogue run for the White House, Kelly may be summoning up a way to evade politics as usual. But the moose is hopeful, saying (10/10), “this presidential race between two major candidates is the opportunity of the masses … to sneak into the White House an’ hold it against all comers.” In unfurling the image of the Bull Moose, Kelly seems to be crying out for the Presidency to be somehow taken away from politicians with all their electioneering mendacity and mud-throwing. Still, while seeming to call for a plague on both the political houses, Kelly was both realist and liberal: the White House, he has Pogo remind us, is occupied by someone who might be “breakin’ it in for a friend.”

11/4 — Election Day.

Churchy & Pogo11/5 — All the mystification about who won the election can be attributed to the realities of syndicated cartooning: Pogo, like all syndicated strips, is produced several weeks before publication date, so Kelly could not comment directly on the outcome of the election. Both the names Eisenhower and Stevenson contain all the letters Churchy is reading out; only Stevenson contains a “T.” But by talking about the “boy who writ a book once,” Kelly may be referring to Robert Lewis Stevenson, expressing thereby a fond hope for the outcome of the election. Or maybe not. I know the story of the old man who traded his birthday with a little girl who was born on Christmas so she’d get presents on two days of the year instead of merely one, but I don’t remember where the story appeared—or who wrote it. Maybe someone named Eisenhower? The Eisenhower who won the election had been a winner before—in World War II.

12/8 — Kathryn Barbara was Kelly’s daughter who died in infancy before reaching her first birthday. Biographer Thompson explains this poignant reference in his Introduction to Volume 1: “For many years in late October, Kelly would draw a bug floating through the swamp with a birthday cake, trying to find someone looking for a birthday.”

12/17 — The fifth year for the singing of the most celebrated non-carol of all.



1/7 — Flying saucers, disc-shaped unidentified flying objects, were being spotted aloft all over the place in the 1950s. The first publicized sighting in modern times was recorded on June 24, 1947. Presumed by most to come from outer space, they were also supposed to be piloted by aliens hostile to the human race, a reflection, perhaps, of a national paranoia prompted by the Russians’ having developed a nuclear weapon early in the decade. Those who saw flying saucers may have been delusional, but the sightings were widely reported and the popularity of the term flying saucer made Owl’s pun perfectly comprehensible to newspaper readers of the day.

2/25 — “The voice of the turtle” alludes to the Song of Solomon, 2:12: “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” Probably not a turtle but a turtledove, a species that, by tradition, is silent during the winter. The passage signals the arrival of spring and the return of life, particularly among turtledoves whose voices indicate that they are mating.

3/18 — “Are we downhearted” is from the chorus of a World War I song, that, when sung, ostensibly raised the morale of doughboys singing it; the chorus ended with memorable phrase: “And we’ll hang the Kaiser to a Sour apple tree. Are we downhearted? No! No! No!” “Summer soldiers” is from Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet, The Crisis, published in December 1776, in which Paine railed against “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots who will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.” He was evoking a common practice of the day: since many soldiers were farmers who joined the military after their crops were planted, served during the summer, then returned to their farms to help with the harvest, they were “summer soldiers,” but Paine deployed the term to castigate those who would abandon the struggle the minute it became difficult. But, Paine went on, “he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

4/8 — Foxy Grandpa was the title character of a comic strip that started an 18-year run on January 7, 1900, and reversed the formula of the classic bad boy strip, The Katzenjammer Kids: Grandpa’s creator, Carl “Bunny” Schultze,” arranged every Sunday for his kindly but canny hero to outsmart the mischievous little boys who plagued him. Albert’s wig may look somewhat liked smoked salmon (lox), but Kelly doubtless chose the word because it, like most of the lingo of the swamp critters, mutilates humorously a familiar phrase, in this case, the name of the fairytale heroine Albert thinks he’s impersonating.

9/23 — Kelly’s signature shows up less and less often this month, lapsing into a series of wholly fanciful names. See daily annotations for 9/28/51 for a robust explanation.


1/6 — Here and on the daily strips beginning January 1, the copyright notice cites Walt Kelly, signaling that he has at last secured ownership of his creation.

1/13 — The Pogo Possum comic book was published from October-December 1949 to April-June 1954, 16 issues. Beginning with No. 6, cover-dated July-September, Kelly was forced by publisher Dell (Western) to include two text pages in order that the publication qualify for Second Class mailing privileges. According to Kelly’s biographer, Steve Thompson (in Pogo Files for Pogophiles), Kelly opposed this maneuver but was unsuccessful, which may account for the offhanded nature of Churchy’s mention of the comic book. For Nos. 6 and 7, Kelly managed to get the text story printed on the inside covers, front and back, thereby preserving the integrity of the interior content, but with No. 8, the text story appeared in the middle of the book. With No. 14, Dell began including reprints of Animal Comics Pogo stories, a practice to which Kelly strenuously objected, arguing that the characters no longer looked they way they did in the early 1940s and that, consequently, readers would think assistants were producing part of the comic book. His protests, however, fell on deaf ears, and Kelly discontinued the comic book with No. 16.

1/20 — The Royal Arcadian Mountain Police is a comical linguistic corruption of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national police force of our northern neighbor. Arcadia, as we shall see anon, may have been in the back of Kelly’s mind as the locale for the strip.

2/3 — In his name, the corncob pipe smoking dragon alludes to Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur, given to him by the mystical Lady of the Lake.

2/17 — The house and furnishings evoke Disney-esque fairy-tale trappings in such films as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Pinocchio,” the latter being one of those Kelly worked on during his stint at the Mouse House.

3/9 — The three mice wearing dark glasses are not, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, “the three blind mice” of the nursery jingle. We must accept them at their word, unlikely though it may be, that they are the three bears, lately escaped from Old Mother Hubbard’s fridge.

5/4 — Here, as I mentiond earlier, Kelly’s name appears for the first time in a square that, come summer, will become his standard imprint on the strip.

6/15 — The legibility of the footnote evaporates in an undecipherable scrawl known, among the commercial art fraternity, as “greek.”

6/29 — Kimbo Catt is a stand-in for Ward Kimball, a Kelly colleague from his days at Disney; see Volume 1, p. 283 for more. Kimball’s headgear, a locomotive driver’s hat, suggests his ownership of a miniature but rideable railroad in his backyard.

8/10 — The first appearance of the standard Walt Kelly signature/copyright box.

10/12 — Henry Stanley was a Welsh-born American journalist famous for exploring Africa and for finding the long-missing missionary, David Livingstone. Upon at last encountering Livingstone in November 1871, Stanley uttered the famous query: “Doctor Livingstone I presume?”

11/30 — The woodland creatures among whom Pogo and Churchy find themselves are not the hooved fauns of the previous volume’s November 1950. This new bunch have pointed ears and tiny horns but are in all other respects humanoid, albeit heavily accented and barefooted. Clues to their possible species may be derived from references Kelly makes to Arcadia on 1/20/52 and, two weeks after the strip at hand, on 12/14/52, to “a good ’cadian song” (“Acadian” song).

Acadia is an accidental orthographic corruption of Arcadia, once a French colony in the Canadian Maritimes, the name of which was bestowed upon it by the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano who was invoking the ancient Greek name. The original French colonists were expelled in 1755 (or thereabouts) by an English governor who was wary of their sympathies during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Many of the refugees found their way to southern Louisiana and settled in the bayou country, calling it Acadia and themselves, eventually—in another linguistic corruption — Cajuns.

Although it was determined over the years that Pogo and his friends live in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, my supposition is that in the beginning, Kelly didn’t fix an actual geographic locale for the strip (he was rumored, in a rumor he started, not to have visited the Okefenokee until 1955), but he may have thought, vaguely, that they live in the swamplands near the mouth of the Mississippi River — Acadia. And he may be toying with Cajun folklore in bringing into the strip these elfish personages. Cajun folklore is full of mischievous characters, tricksters and maybe even dwarfs, from whom Kelly may have conjured up these bayou denizens. The lingo they speak burbles with strange locutions that hint at linguistic origins other than English — French, perhaps? The Christmas greetings this year are in French, and Cajun French is the dialect spoken in Acadia.

On the other hand, in a daily strip earlier this year (1/18/52), Kelly mentions Ware County, presumably in Georgia, the largest county near Okefenokee that is not mostly underwater. At this stage in the evolution of Pogo, maybe both famed swamplands lurked in the back of the cartoonist’s mind.

Plausible but wholly speculative.

Quite the reverse of Pogo, which is implausible but real.


Pogo - Vol. 2 of the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips: Bona Fide Balderdash by Walt Kelly