Images © Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc.
With this first volume of Pogo newspaper strips, Fantagraphics Books is beginning the Pogo collection I’ve long wanted to read. I grew up reading and loving Pogo, but almost never saw the original strips. What I read was the paperback book collections published by Simon and Schuster beginning with this one in 1951:
They’re all great, but I knew from reading about the strip that the books only used some of the material that ran there. Thanks to this super new collection I’m able to read everything. There are even two versions of the earliest storylines, the first from the New York Star, where the strip began, and ran for a few months in 1948-49 before that paper folded, then some of the same material redrawn and reworked when the strip restarted in syndication the following May. Plus there are the Sunday strips in color, reproduced from the printed strips. I never saw most of those, none of them in color. And articles and commentary about Pogo from Jimmy Breslin, Steve Thompson, Mark Evanier and R.C. Harvey.
The reproduction is as good as possible given that Kelly and his family did not have copies of much of the art, and Kelly’s clear animation-trained penwork makes it appealing and inviting to read. If anything, that work is so good that it slows you down, as you study all the great character bits and details. The language is also complex and full of dialect, so that takes some time, too. In fact, this strip is perhaps the opposite of “Peanuts,” which went with a minimalist approach. “Pogo” is maximalist! Both are great fun and often quite funny.
The book is also seasoned with examples of Walt Kelly’s original art, which is easy to spot, as you can see the blue pencil lines beneath the inks, all Kelly needed to create his masterful linework. There’s really not a single thing to fault in this fine book, the paper and production values are excellent, and the wide-screen format gives all 290-plus pages a chance to show off the work at a good size.
How does it compare to the “Pogo” book shown above? First, as I suspected, there’s quite a lot in the strips that did not make it into the book, but on the other hand, a strip requires a fair amount of repetition and restatement to keep readers in the story, and the book cuts out most of that, and adds some new transition panels to help the story flow. As a reading experience, the strip is rather tiring, and I was only able to read a dozen pages (three dailies per page) at a time before becoming overwhelmed by the amount of information there. The book flows better, and is divided into sensible chapters, making for easier reading. So I won’t be getting rid of the books, I’ll keep and enjoy both versions.
Pogo is one of the best comic strips ever produced, and this series is a glorious showcase for it. Very highly recommended.
Couldn’t agree more, Todd. I tend to keep volumes of Pogo (currently on Vol 2), Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, etc near to hand for reading before calling it a day.
Though Pogo ran in a local paper while I was growing up, my main exposure to the feature was through the paperbacks (in trade format, though I’m not sure if that’s what they were called back then) that my grandparents had bought to entertain my mom and aunt when they were young. This included that very first volume of daily strips, some of its sequels, several Sunday collections and the gold standard for material created especially by Kelly for book publication: Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories. I would add some of the later volumes to this collection myself, and you’re perfectly right, Todd: these have the smooth narrative flow a straight collection of strips of necessity lacks (and as Eclipses’ valiant but abortive attempt to produce in paperback made plain a number of years ago). And there is quite a lot of material in these books that straight strip collections will very likely never include, simply because that stuff isn’t in the strips.
That said, the first two volumes of this new Pogo comic strip collection effort by Fantagraphics really are wonderful. While the early paperbacks make it pretty clear that Kelly knew when he’d hit the comedic bulls-eye, there’s still an enormous amount to enjoy in the unexpurgated corpus. It even shows that Kelly, in trying to construct a tighter narrative, occasionally may have cut it a bit too lean. I’ve got every finger and toe crossed that Fantagraphics will be able to see this project through to its conclusion.