In my mind there have been three important, long lasting comic strips that have defined the genre. Peanuts, Doonsbury, and Pogo. What? You haven’t heard of Pogo? Walt Kelly, the creator, died in the mid 70’s so those of you in my generation or later can be forgiven for not being familiar with it. Kelly was able to use swampland animals to make pithy comments on culture and skewer politicians that went too far. His most famous series involved making fun of Joe Mcarthy and the House Unamerican activities committee. It was pretty bold back then. Not only that, Kelly was a master illustrator. His panels are masterpieces, his drawing and lettering are still unsurpassed. He was able to do slapstick very well because of the artistry of his drawings. His lettering did an amazing job of differentiating between characters and their personalities. The strip ran for 30 years or so and had a tremendous influence.
So where the reprints? It’s a fair question. I don’t have a good answer for it. There seems to have been a sort of curse when it came to Pogo reprints. There were a bunch of them done in the 60’s or 70’s I think but they weren’t particularly comprehensive. My father has a handful of these and this is where I discovered Pogo. I once brought some up and let my roommate in college read some of them and he got hooked too. Eclipse comics tried to reprint some of the old Pogo comic books and they went out of business after publishing only 5 of them. Fantagraphics started a reprint series and got about 10 thin soft cover books out. That petered out too, and I never did find out why.
Fantagraphics announced that they were going to do a proper reprint of all of the Pogo books, starting from the very first ones going all the way through to the end of the series. Things stalled for years, most people assumed that it just wasn’t going to happen. Fantagraphics finally had a ship date, and I got really excited, so I ordered the book. That was in June 2010. I just got the book today.
It did take a while to get here, but it is a beautiful book. It’s bigger than the Peanuts books Fantagraphics is doing, and it’s a good thing. Kelly wrote for the larger panels that were available in papers back then. His artwork is filled with amazing details and you really do need to have larger panels to take advantage of it. It took a long time, but the wait has been worth it. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that they are able to release the entire series, Walt Kelly’s legacy has been waiting too long!