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Friday, December 16, 2011

Pogo Should Be at the Top of Your Christmas List

Posted by on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 5:15 PM

After years and years and years, Fantagraphics has finally started their deluxe reprint series of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo. The first volume is available right now, and it's absolutely beautiful, a big comic book with real heft and majesty*. I had heard about Pogo for years, and I was familiar with the characters and concept, but I'd never sat down with it and read it the way I've pored over Charlie Brown collections. Pogo always felt, to me, like a strip you should read like a novel, a continuing sitcom about the personality-heavy critters who live in a swamp. This collection proves that I was right. This isn't a book you read so much as sink into: Kelly's brilliant ear for dialect and voice lulls you along, and then you're lost in his beautiful artwork. He can take the fecundity of a swamp and make it into something at once friendly and familiar.

Take a look (click to enlarge) at the first panel of this one strip:


You don't get depth like that very often on the comics page, outside of Herriman's Krazy Kat. Just take a second to absorb how much information we've been given in that one panel: In the very far background, you've got two figures running with guns. A little further in the middle distance, we see that they're chasing Pogo, who has a giant kettle stuck on his back. We can see we're in a dense swamp. In the foreground, we see a dog who, from his stuffy, self-important dialogue and deerstalker cap, we can determine is intent on solving a mystery. We can see an alligator with a blunderbuss, whose body language suggests that he doesn't seem to be as sure that the mystery needs solving. That is a tremendous amount of information to display, and Kelly does so with great clarity and style. The whole book is like that, a series of packed—but crystal clear—panels that grow together to establish a world of curious characters whose misunderstandings lead to great adventures.

If I had to make one complaint about this Pogo collection, it'd be that it ends too soon. From what I hear, the glory days of the strip are still ahead, (Fantagraphics plans 12 volumes to complete the collection) and I can't wait to get there. If you like comics, or if you know any kids who read comic strip collections, this is the Christmas book for you.

* Around the same time that I got the Pogo collection in the mail, DC Comics sent me DC Comics: The New 52, which is a $150, 1216-page tome containing every single issue number one that DC published back in September. The book is impressive in size, but it's a truly weird choice for the publisher; why would you want to buy a ridiculously expensive book containing a whole bunch of chapter ones that each end with a cliffhanger? Compared to the craftsmanship of Pogo, The New 52 looks like a crash course in how not to do comics. A few chapters are very well-done, but compared to Walt Kelly's storytelling, this giant book looks ridiculously small.


Comments (13) RSS

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I like you SO MUCH.
Posted by laurax on December 16, 2011 at 5:23 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 2
Oh my gawd! Picked that up last week, as an X-mas gift for my brother. Thanks for posting this, I would introduce everyone in the world to Pogo if I could.

My brother and I grew up reading our mother's old copies of Pogo. Simply, utterly, beautiful artwork and amazing stories. They entertained us as pre-teens, but still read well for adults. I still use words and idioms that Kelly created for his characters (but nobody gets 'em).

I'm waiting impatiently for the edition that carries his non-Pogo story "The Edge of the End." It's a re-telling of the Pied Piper tale, and is simply haunting The artwork is in the same style as Pogo, but is far more spooky, full of fog, mist, foreboding sunsets and creepy trees and shadows. With an unhappy ending to boot!
Posted by Dr_Awesome on December 16, 2011 at 6:13 PM · Report this
I grew up with Pogo collections in the house. They are brilliant. Good to know they are being reprinted!

"We have met the enemy, and he is us!"
Posted by Lymis on December 16, 2011 at 7:25 PM · Report this
Fantagraphics started a reprint of the complete Pogo that they never finished. Back in the '90s, I believe. Any word as to why that one petered out (and why we should believe this one will be completed)? I'm not eager to have another complete collection of the first 10 years or so of Pogo.
Posted by Greg Barnes on December 16, 2011 at 7:31 PM · Report this
ceefurn 6
I love this book and I bought a copy for my Dad for Christmas. I grew up reading his old Pogo collections on his bookshelf and loving them to death. This book is even more beautiful than I imagined. The sketches alone are incredible! I love how they kept the subtle blue pencil lines. Walt Kelly's draftsmanship was the standard which people like Jeff Smith, Bill Watterson et al measured themselves against for sure.
Posted by ceefurn on December 16, 2011 at 10:14 PM · Report this
Kelly could draw. Look at the comic you posted. Then look at a Dilbert. See?
Posted by yuiop on December 16, 2011 at 10:22 PM · Report this
Paul you couldn't be more right about Pogo. Unlike you I am not a big comics reader, but I make an exception for Walt Kelly. One of the masters.
Posted by gberry on December 16, 2011 at 10:25 PM · Report this
Demetria 9
From the commentary blog of animation and comic strip historian Michael Barrier, here's a thorough and extremely positive review of the new Pogo reprint collection from Fantagaphics:…
Posted by Demetria on December 16, 2011 at 10:36 PM · Report this
Fnarf 10
I am not a comics nerd by any stretch of the imagination, but I will echo what Paul says at 120 decibels. Pogo is just magnificent. A friend of mine had a big stack of Pogo collections, and reading them was heaven. One of the great American literary products, from a deeper, darker age.
Posted by Fnarf on December 16, 2011 at 11:48 PM · Report this
I'm also getting this for my Dad, he will love it.
Posted by elaineinballard on December 17, 2011 at 6:00 PM · Report this
willendorf 12
I too grew up reading old Pogo collections, and I have a few that were printed in the 80s. This is wonderful, wonderful news.
Posted by willendorf on December 19, 2011 at 8:25 AM · Report this
Dang it! Too late. I grew up with a huge number of the original Pogo books in the house, and this would've been great for anyone in my immediate family. Definitely keeping in mind for the next round of birthdays and holidays . . . thanks Paul!
Posted by Levislade on December 19, 2011 at 9:48 AM · Report this
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 14
I grew up reading Pogo (in the 80's and 90's). It was a thing that made my childhood almost bearable. Due to some cognitive issues (long story, but true, I have a doctor's not) it's actually really hard to keep track of books in physical form. The advent of the ereader was a goddamn blessing to me. I've already written to Fantagraphics asking them to release a digital version.

Posted by Whiskey Tango Foxtrot on December 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM · Report this

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