January 23, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
My grandmother was a puzzle to me, growing up. Marked by the Depression, her care for her family often emerged as criticism, and our visits there simmered uneasily at her corrective opinions. But my grandparents’ house had an isolated room of books where a hectored child could steal a layabout hour. The prize of this library was my grandmother’s collection — two whole feet of shelf-space — of Pogo books, dating from the 1940s to the 1960s. She even had a few rare issues of Dell’s Animal Comics from the beginning of the strip, where the animal characters still interacted with a young boy. I spent weeks inside those pages, collections of daily strips and one-offs where the strip characters took on Mother Goose, Lewis Carroll, Mickey Spillane, and much more. My enthusiasm didn’t actually bridge a gap with my grandmother — she was more concerned that the books not be damaged. But it did offer a glimpse into a sympathetic humor she found hard to express, something I feel even more now, looking back and realizing that she was collecting these books as a middle-aged woman with four kids. Hers is an emotional divide I associate with post-war America. It’s also something Pogo exploits as a source of endless foolishness.
It’s hard to know where to start with Pogo, a comic strip about animals living in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. The material is both arrantly silly and satirically sharp. Walt Kelly’s insistent lampooning of McCarthyism takes a place next to The Crucible as far as artistic stands of the American 1950s, but political commentary is only a grace note to the fullness of this world. The detail and depth of the art, the whimsical quasi-Southern dialect (and spelling, and lettering), and the expansive range of characters (and characterizations) are equally singular. Kelly lays out a crackling music-hall sensibility of routines, equal parts word-play and slap-stick, self-consciously old-fashioned and slyly up to the moment. Though it’s impossible to imagine strips like Doonesbury or Bloom County without it, Pogo is like nothing before or since in the newspapers.
Pogo also offers an authorial sleight of hand where the interplay between jokes and satire — where the jokes come at a cost — somehow rises from a forgiving awareness of human frailty. Despite the darker nonsense, the baseline of the strip is the banality — and resilience — of goodness. Like the Okefenokee itself, Pogo the possum is often silent, often put-upon, taken for granted, ignored, and regularly too hospitable to the selfishness around him. But it’s Pogo the strip is named for, and it’s Pogo gamely seeing the antics through and talking sense afterwards.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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