Walt Kelly was born on August 25, 1913, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died October 18, 1973.
Cartoonist and animator. Post, Bridgeport, CT, newspaper reporter, writer, and artist, 1928-35; Walt Disney Studios, Hollywood, CA, animator, 1935-41; commercial artist in New York, NY, 1941-48; New York Star (newspaper), art director, political cartoonist, editorial adviser, and originator of the daily comic strip, “Pogo,” 1948-49; employed by Post Syndicate (later Post-Hall) to produce syndicated “Pogo” comic strip, beginning 1949. Wartime service: U.S. Army foreign-language unit, civilian employee during World War II.
National Cartoonist Society (president, 1954).
Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year, National Cartoonists Society, 1952.
Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1951, with a new introduction by Selby Kelly, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
I Go Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1952, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Pogo Papers, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1953, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Uncle Pogo So-So-Stories, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1953, reprinted Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Incompleat Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1954, with a new introduction by Selby Kelly, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Pogo Stepmother Goose, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1954, with a new introduction by Selby Kelly, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Pogo Peek-a-Book, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Potluck Pogo, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Pogo Party, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1956.
The Pogo Sunday Book, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1956.
Songs of the Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1956, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1968.
Pogo’s Sunday Punch, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1957.
Positively Pogo, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1957.
G.O. Fizzickle Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1958.
The Pogo Sunday Parade, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1958.
The Pogo Sunday Brunch, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1959.
Ten Ever-Lovin’ Blue-eyed Years with Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1959.
Beau Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1960.
Pogo Extra (Election Special), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1960.
Gone Pogo, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1961, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Pogo à la Sundae, Including Australia and the Two Egg Candidates, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1961, reprinted, Gregg Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Instant Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1962.
The Jack Acid Society Black Book, by Pogo, as Told to Walt Kelly, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1962.
Deck Us All with Boston Charlie, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1963.
Pogo Puce Stamp Catalog, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1963.
The Return of Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1965.
The Pogo Poop Book, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1966.
Prehysterical Pogo (in Pandemonia), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1967.
Equal Time for Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1968.
Can’t, Lancelot Books, 1969.
Pogo: Prisoner of Love, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1969.
Walt Kelly’s No, Lancelot Books, 1969.
Impollutable Pogo, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1970.
Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1972.
Pogo Re-Runs: Some Reflections on Elections(selected from I Go Pogo, The Pogo Party, and Pogo Extra), introduction and commentaries by Bill Vaughan), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.
Pogo Revisited (contains Instant Pogo, The Pogo Poop Book, and The Jack Acid Society Black Book), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.
Pogo Romances Recaptured (contains Pogo: Prisoner of Love and The Incompleat Pogo), edited by Selby Kelly, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
Pogo’s Bats and the Belles Free, edited by Selby Kelly, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
Pogo’s Body Politic, edited by Selby Kelly, with a foreword by Jimmy Breslin, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Selby Kelly) The Pogo Candidature: A Cartoon Story for New Children, Sheed, Andrews, and McMeel (New York, NY), 1976.
A Pogo Panorama: Three Pogo Classics of Parody, Prose, and Poetry Complete and Unabridged (contains The Pogo Stepmother Goose, The Pogo Peek-a-Book, and Uncle Pogo So-So Stories), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1977.
Pogo’s Double Sundae: Two Unabridged Helpings of Past Pogo Classics: The Sunday Pogo Parade, The Pogo Sunday Brunch, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
Pogo’s Will Be That Was (contains Positively Pogo and G.O. Fizzickle Pogo), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
Pogo Even Better, edited by Selby Kelly and Bill Crouch, Jr., Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
Outrageous Pogo, edited by Selby Kelly and Bill Crouch, Jr., Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
Walt Kelly’s Pluperfect Pogo, edited by Selby Kelly and Bill Crouch, Jr., Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.
Walt Kelly: A Retrospective Exhibition to Celebrate the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of His Birth (catalog), The Libraries (Columbus, OH), 1988.
Phi Beta Pogo, edited by Selby Kelly and Bill Crouch, Jr., introduction by Bill Marlette, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.
Inez Bertil, editor, Complete Nursery Song Book, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1947.
John Lardner, Strong Cigars and Lovely Women, Funk and Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1951.
John O’Reilly, The Glob, Viking (New York, NY), 1952.
Charles Ellis and Frank Weir, I’d Rather Be President, Simon, and Schuster (New York, NY), 1956.
Norman F. Hale, All-Natural Pogo, Thinker’s Books, 1991.
(Author of lyrics and coauthor of music with Norman Monath) Songs of the Pogo, A. A. Records, 1956.
An animated television show The Pogo Special Birthday Special was broadcast on television, 1969; the stop-motion animated film I Go Pogowas released in 1979.
Walt Kelly was the creator of the popular and acclaimed comic strip “Pogo,” whose memorable characters and potent political satire set a new standard for topical humor and complexity in the mid-twentieth century. At its peak, the comic strip was carried in more than four hundred newspapers with an estimated readership of over twenty million in the United States and abroad. The work of Kelly has influenced the creators of “Bone,” “Calvin and Hobbes,” “Liberty Meadows,” “Mutts,” and hundreds of other comic strips and books.
Walter Crawford Walt Kelly was born on August 25, 1913, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While he was still a child, Kelly’s family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Kelly’s father, who worked in a munitions plant but dabbled in painting and drawing, exposed his son to art and art technique.
Recalling an early artwork he did when he was a child, Kelly told Steve Thompson in Comics Journal: “I remember being about three and drawing something; it wasn’t anything more than a scribble. My aunt and other family members looked at it and asked what it was. At a loss for an answer, I responded that it was a cat.
Everyone exclaimed how marvelous a cat it was, showing it around and praising it. I was distinctly puzzled at this reaction since even I could tell it didn’t look anything like a cat.” In high school, Kelly drew illustrations and cartoons for the school paper and yearbook and illustrated a biography of Bridgeport native P. T. Barnum for the local newspaper.
Walt Kelly graduated from high school in 1930. That same year he met Helen DeLacy at choir practice. For the next five years, Kelly pursued DeLacy, who was a few years older than he was.
DeLacy took a job as a Girl Scout executive in southern California in 1935, hoping to leave Kelly behind. But Walt Kelly left his job at General Electric in Bridgeport and moved to Los Angeles, not only to be near DeLacy but also to work for Walt Disney Studios. There, he finally won her over and they eventually married.
Shows Singlemindedness in Love, Career
At Disney, Studios Kelly started as a story man and sketch artist on Pinocchio and then became an assistant animator. In addition to working on short subjects, he also animated sequences for the films Fantasia and Dumbo. However, Kelly had problems at the studio, according to his long-time friend, Disney animator Ward Kimball.
Most of the creative staff dressed in casual clothes, but Kelly always worked in a three-piece suit, starched collar, and bow tie. And his highly personal drawing style made it hard for him to copy the model sheets other artists designed. Scenes Kelly drew were too distinct, spoiling the seamlessness of the studio’s animation.
Kelly soon grew tired of trying to suppress his style. More a writer than an animator, he wanted to do his work and be his boss, and a strike by Disney animators in 1941 handed him an opportunity. Although he agreed with the strikers, mainly in-betweeners and assistants, Kelly had friends in supervisory positions as well and he did not want to be forced to choose between the two camps.
He got out of the situation by taking a leave of absence, claiming that his sister was ill, and moved back to Connecticut. Speaking to Gil Kane in an interview published in Comics Journal, Kelly recounted his days at Disney: “Disney was a good training school in that the people he had working for him were amongst the best cartoonists that I have ever seen in a group…
Then the place folded, practically, and I came straight back to the United States, left California entirely; but I carried over those good things that I did learn there, like how to make a line come around from under another line, and how to make lines which create figures in the round.”
After months of commuting to New York City looking for freelance work, Kelly took advantage of contact from his work with Disney at Western Printing and Lithographing Company, the printer that produced Disney and Dell comics, and began writing comic books. In late 1942 his first original comic story, “Albert Takes the Cake,” appeared in the inaugural issue of Animal Comics.
It was the first appearance in the long-running Animal Comicsof Pogo Possum, the character that would make Kelly famous. Pogo and other residents, including Albert the Alligator, and a small boy named Bumbazine, lived in and around a swamp Kelly imagined somewhere in the southern United States. Pogo and Bumbazine are both thoughtful, intelligent characters that provide contrast to the antics of others.
When Kelly realized his two characters were redundant, Bumbazine left the strip, and human beings never again appeared in Kelly’s swamp.
Health problems kept Kelly from military service during World War II. Instead, he illustrated dictionaries and guidebooks for the U.S. Army. He also continued drawing for Animal Comics and other Dell titles, such as Our Gang and Raggedy Ann and Andy. Animal Comics finally ended its run in 1947, and the following June, just as Kelly was about to attempt a career as a political cartoonist, a new opportunity came his way.
The independent liberal newspaper PM renamed the New York Star under new ownership, hired Kelly as art director and general illustrator. Kelly provided spot drawings, decorative borders, and even the daily “ears” that accompanied the one-word weather forecasts on the newspaper’s masthead.
In his new job Kelly also became the New York Star‘s political cartoonist, and in September of 1948, he published his first comic strip for the paper, using the swamp creatures from his earlier story but making the strip more sophisticated. Kelly indulged his love of language with stronger Southern accents, more colorful word choices, malapropisms, and plenty of puns. While the strip proved popular, the Star folded the following January.
Banking on its success, Kelly shopped his strip to several syndicates, and Post-Hall agreed to give it a try. “Pogo” debuted nationally on May 16, 1949, its creator reusing some of the material from the Star strips with revisions. Over the next year, “Pogo” grew in circulation while Kelly’s style also matured. Kenneth Smith, writing in Comics Journal, explained that “from his journeyman years at Disney, Kelly trained his cartooning genius to acuity: he became an utter master of characterization, a virtuoso with a brush, and his taste for childlike ludicrous logic . . . grew into an effortless improvisational talent.”
Walt Kelly and his wife had three children, Kathy, Carolyn, and Peter, but in 1951 their marriage ended. He soon married his second wife, Stephanie, who may have been the model for Pogo’s love interest, Mam’selle Hepzibah, a cute skunk with a French accent. With Stephanie, Kelly’s family grew to include three more children: Andrew, John, and Stephen.
“Pogo” Enters Politics
In 1952 Walt Kelly began to hit his stride with “Pogo,” when the possum threw his hat into the ring for the U.S. presidential election. He became the candidate of many college students, and the slogan “I Go Pogo” appeared on posters and lapel pins. Pogo continued his run for president in every election through 1972 and returned in 1988. Also in 1952, the first caricature of an identifiable public figure appeared in “Pogo,” a bullying backwoods wildcat named Simple J. Malarkey, who bore more than a passing resemblance to U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.
A controversial figure, Senator McCarthy was at this time climbing to fame by investigating the U.S. Army and searching for communists within the U.S. State Department. He used misinformation and bullying tactics to manipulate the media and U.S. Senate witnesses to support his claims. These were tactics Kelly despised, and consequently, he made Malarkey look evil and dangerous.
Some newspapers complained that the comics pages were not the place for politics. Some editors moved the strip to the editorial page, others dropped it altogether, and a few demanded that Walt Kelly stop drawing caricatures of McCarthy. Walt Kelly responded by putting Malarkey’s head in a sack, which only made the character more ominous since the sack resembled the hoods worn by Klansmen and executioners.
The rest of the 1950s was Pogo’s heyday. Kelly wrote articles and nonsense verse, illustrated books, drew magazine covers, delivered hundreds of lectures, and wrote and sang some of the strip’s many songs in the record Songs of the Pogo. In 1952 his peers elected him president of the National Cartoonists Society, and in 1954 Walt Kelly became the first comic-strip artist to be invited to contribute his works to the Library of Congress files.
Kelly’s strips championed the underdog, the powerless, and the threatened. Calling the author/illustrator “as uninhibitedly inventive with language as he is gifted a draftsman,” a critic for commonweal reviewed Kelly’s 1960 collection, Ten Ever-Loving’ Blue-eyed Years with Pogo and noted that the book “belongs on the Americana book-shelf, somewhere between ‘Krazy Kat’ and ‘Charlie Brown.'” Although an unapologetic liberal, Walt Kelly was never afraid to poke fun at any politician.
In 1968, “Pogo” strips featured characters based on Democratic presidential candidates Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. The 1970s brought even more acidic caricatures of U.S. Vice PresidentSpiro Agnew and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Once again, some newspapers dropped “Pogo” and others moved it off the comics page. This time, Kelly provided replacement “bunny strips,” non-political gags often featuring cute rabbits.
In the late 1960s, Kelly’s attention turned to the environment, and he provided the world with an unforgettable slogan. As Pogo looked upon a large pile of trash that was cluttering the swamp, he said: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” This was a paraphrase of a famous dispatch announcing the victory at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” Kelly’s version became a household catchphrase.
Cartooning Takes Its Toll
By the 1960s Kelly’s ongoing bout with heart disease and diabetes, as well as a life of smoking, drinking, and hard work, began to catch up with him. After his wife, Stephanie, was diagnosed with cancer, assistants George Ward and Henry Shikuma began to take over more of the art chores on “Pogo,” and Kelly cut back on some of his outside interests.
Despite his flagging health, in the late 1960s, Kelly began to toy with the idea of animating his characters. Legendary cartoon director Chuck Jones, famous for creating the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons during the 1950s, teamed up with Kelly to produce a half-hour television cartoon, The Pogo Special Birthday Special. Selby Daley of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, who had also worked for Disney in the 1930s, became Kelly’s assistant on the production.
The Pogo Special Birthday Special aired in May of 1969, and although it was a rating success, it disappointed fans of the comic strip. Most disappointed was Kelly. The characters—-although they were speaking Kelly’s words, and in some cases, even using his voice—-were drawn in a style that unmistakably belonged to Jones, not to Kelly. After his wife died in early 1970, Kelly decided that he wanted to see his characters animated correctly, and he began to work with Daley on a new television special, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us.
In October of 1972, Kelly had his left leg amputated above the knee as a result of his diabetes. He and Daley have married in the intensive care ward a half-hour before Walt Kelly was wheeled into surgery. The two lived in New York City for the next year, and in the fall of 1973 they traveled to Hollywood to work on We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. Though under doctor’s orders not to drink alcohol, Kelly had one or two drinks and lapsed into a coma. He died in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, on October 18, 1973. The film, though completed by Daley, was never broadcast.
Strip Languishes after Creator’s Death
After Kelly’s death, Daley and Kelly’s son Stephen, with the help of several assistants, continued the “Pogo” strip for a few years. In 1989, the Walt Kelly Estate authorized a new version, titled “Walt Kelly’s Pogo,” which was written by Larry Doyle and drawn by Neal Sternecky. After Doyle left the strip in 1991, Sternecky went solo with it until 1992, when Walt Kelly’s children Pete and Carolyn took over. It only lasted one more year.
All other attempts at rekindling the energy of Kelly’s original “Pogo” strips paled in comparison with the originals. Simon and Schuster, for years the publisher of the “Pogo” strips in book form, kept many of the thirty plus titles in print long past Walt Kelly’s death and the strip’s disappearance from newspapers. Early editions of the books soon became prized by collectors and commanded large sums of money.
Writing in the Comics Journal, Bill Watterson commented: “It is a shame that these books are so rare. They are the last glimpses we have of the comic art form at its peak. There have been a few fines and imaginative strips since Pogo, of course, but none has taken such complete advantage of the cartoon medium. Pogo shows what a comic strip can be.”
Biographical and Critical Sources
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement Nine, 1971-1975, Charles Scribner’s Sons (New York, NY), 1994.
Levin, Martin, editor, Five Boyhoods, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.
Wilson, Charles Reagan, and William Ferris, editors, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1989.
Comics Journal, February 1991, Kenneth Smith, “Pogophilia,” pp. 41-42, Gil Kane, “Walt Kelly Interview,” pp. 50-58, Norman Hale, “Natural Foods,” pp. 59-60, Bill Watterson, “Some Thoughts on Pogo,” pp.63-66, Steve Thompson, “A Walt Kelly Biography,” pp. 67-70, “A Walt Kelly Sketchbook,” pp. 70-71.
Commonweal, December 11, 1959.
Reader’s Digest, July, 19
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