By Leroy Douresseaux
February 20, 2007 - 21:31
FANTAGRAPHICS TO PUBLISH WALT KELLY'S POGO, DESIGNED BY JEFF SMITH
Fantagraphics Books announced that it has acquired the rights to publish a comprehensive series comprising Walt Kelly's classic POGO comic strip. The first volume of Fantagraphics' POGO will appear in October 2007, and the series will run approximately 12 volumes.
Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Smith will design each Pogo volume. A winner of several Harvey Awards and honored four times by the National Cartoonists Society, Smith is the creator of the long-running Bone comic books series, which Smith self-published through his own Cartoon Books for most of its run. Smith, who says that he is a lifelong admirer of Walt Kelly, is currently writing and drawing: Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil for DC Comics.
Pogo creator Walt Kelly was born Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. on August 25, 1913 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kelly started his career at age 13 in Connecticut as a cartoonist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post, his local newspaper. In 1935, he moved to Los Angeles and joined the Walt Disney Studio, working on Donald Duck cartoons. Kelly later worked on classic animated films, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia. From about 1935-36, he drew his first comics work for the company that would eventually become DC Comics.
Kelly left Disney in 1941 rather than take sides in their bitter labor strike. He moved back east and began drawing comic books for Western Publishing Company and the Dell line of comics. There he produced comics based upon the Our Gang film series and drew covers for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, as well drawing comic book adaptations of Disney films such as Snow White and Pinocchio.
It was during this time that Kelly created the character " Pogo Possum." The character first appeared in Dell's Animal Comics as a secondary player in the " Albert the Alligator" feature. It didn't take long until Pogo became the comic's leading character. After the Second World War, Kelly became artistic director at the New York Star, where he turned Pogo into a daily strip, with the first episode appearing on October 4,1948. When the Star folded in 1949, the Hall Syndicate took Pogo into syndication, so that the strip soon appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Until his death in 1973, he produced a feature that has become widely cherished among casual readers and aficionados alike as a classic comic strip.
Kelly blended nonsense, poetry, and political and social satire in making POGO an essential contribution to American intellectual comics. As the strip progressed, it became a hilarious platform for Kelly's scathing political views in which he skewered national boogeymen like Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon. (Kelly was considered a sufficient threat that his phone was tapped and the US Government corresponded with a newspaper reporter who claimed that the eccentric patois Kelly created was a secret Russian code.) Pogo is well known for its elaborate and ornate lettering and for Kelly's distinctive use of language and lush brushwork. It is one of the few comic strips that succeeded in blending humor and politics into an uncompromising and entertaining whole.
The consecutive run of Pogo has never before been systematically collected into book form. (Fantagraphics published a series of 11 soft cover volumes reprinting five-and-a-half years of the strip in the '90s.) This will be the definitive series collecting all of his Pogo strips from 1949 to 1973. "Walt Kelly is unquestionably in the pantheon of great newspaper strip cartoonists," said Gary Groth, President & Publisher of Fantagraphics Books. "Our Pogo books will present Kelly's work the way it should be published - in a beautifully designed hardcover format, with careful attention paid to reproduction quality, and with knowledgeable introductory material."
"I am very excited that Fantagraphics has chosen to publish Pogo in such wonderful books," said Carolyn Kelly, Walt's daughter. "For many years people have been telling me how much they want to own this series, and I am thrilled that Pogo will now be so carefully compiled and available to us. Ol' Walt would be proud."
"This collection has been a long time coming," said Jeff Smith, "I've been waiting for it ever since I was nine. I'm very happy to be helping the Kelly family and Fantagraphics bring this comic strip masterpiece to a new audience."
In addition, to Walt Kelly, Fantagraphics currently publishes collections of the works of such legendary cartoonists as George Herriman (
Krazy Kat), Charles Schulz (
Peanuts), E.C. Segar (
Popeye), Hal Foster (
Prince Valiant), Harold Gray (
Little Orphan Annie), and Hank Ketcham (
Dennis the Menace).