*Pogo Volumes 1 and 2 — Recommended

These upscale volumes collecting the classic Pogo comic strip are archival quality, beautifully reproduced and a pleasure to look upon. They’re clearly assembled with love — beyond the affection for the work demonstrated in the text pieces, Walt Kelly’s daughter Carolyn is one of the editors.

To someone today, Pogo can be something of a difficult read to start. For one thing, there’s the dialect. I find that reading the strip works best if I can set aside a chunk of time, so that my brain has time to adapt to the rhythms and pacing and I can concentrate on the meaning. (Shakespeare in the original works the same way.)

Then there’s the time period. The comics in volume 1, Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Wonder, date from 1949 and 1950 (both dailies and Sundays). Expectations and references were different, but the outstanding art and expressive cartooning remains as attractive as ever. As are the jabs at human nature.

Pogo is appealing as an every-Possum, with those around him misleading or maltreating him either out of greed or accidentally. I was surprised to see how often, in the earliest strips, he’s taking care of others, whether a tadpole kid or a gangly bloodhound. Much of the humor comes from a cock-eyed view of the world, made more entertaining by creative takes on common sayings or the silly things people (or swamp critters) do when they’re trying to put one over on someone else.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d appreciate grumpy ol’ Porkypine, with his lonesome nature hiding a caring heart, particularly during the holiday strips. A particular sequence, about halfway through the dailies in the first book, has the crew creating a newspaper, which allows for various gags about the business.

The nature of the animals varies — some are human-like, talking, while others are more like pets. At one point, Albert the alligator is put on trial for eating a puppy, who acts just like one. This is also where we first meet Deacon Mushrat, the hypocritical preacher who speaks in gothic font to better demonstrate his old-fashioned attitudes.

I’m glad to see how much context the well-done text pieces provide. The introduction, by editors Kelly and Kim Thompson, lay out plans for a series of twelve volumes total to collect all of Kelly’s syndicated Pogo and talk about the difficulties in finding good-quality sources for reprinting. A lengthy introduction covers Walt Kelly’s life and career. The table of contents not only list the strips by date but also include short descriptions of the contents of the week, for aid in cross-reference.

The Sundays, which appear in a section after the weekday black-and-white strips, are introduced by Mark Evanier, who explains the mechanics of the format and their reproduction here. The colors are outstanding (and freshly restored). Evanier calls Kelly’s choices “unconventional”, and they are, with purples and yellows and oranges and the occasional blue tree, but they suit the general mood of Pogo, a world with talking animals where anything could happen.

Following the Sundays are the strips that make up the “trial run” of Pogo in the New York Star from 1948 to early 1949, and then some annotations about the historical context by R.C. Harvey.

Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash has fewer text pages, but that’s to make space for the full years of 1951 and 1952, plus Harvey’s annotations. This time, they’re split between the dailies and Sundays to better match the flow of the book. This volume includes Pogo’s first run for President, in 1952, driven by P.T. Bridgeport, inspired by the same-initialed Barnum.

Pogo is well-loved for a reason. The strips are beautifully drawn and keenly observent of human nature.

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