News of Yore: Walt Kelly Profiled – 1952

Walt Kelly Is Named Cartoonist of Year
By Erwin Knoll (E&P,4/26/52)

In a smoke-filled room in Darien, Conn., a deceptively mild-looking man named Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr., is grooming a dark-horse Presidential candidate. The candidate hails from the deep South—the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia, as a matter of fact—but he isn’t a Democrat. Nor a Re­publican either.

And though he hasn’t yet de­clared his intention to run, “Pogo for President” clubs are being formed all over the country and “I Go Pogo” buttons will soon be seen on every college campus.
Reason we mention all this at this time, besides the obvious po­litical overtones, is the fact that Walt Kelly, who draws “Pogo” for Post-Hall Syndicate, has just been named outstanding cartoon­ist of the year by his colleagues in the National Cartoonists Society. The sixth annual Billy DeBeck Award, given in honor of the late creator of “Barney Google,” was presented to Mr. Kelly Wed­nesday night at the Society’s ANPA Convention dinner.

Campus Boosters
But to get back to politics, the “Pogo for President” movement seems to be here to stay. The strip, which in less than three years of syndication has built an impressive list of over 250 news­papers, has from the first found its greatest fans among the col­legiate set, and it was on the cam­pus that the Presidential boom began. Early this year political bids started showing up in Mr. Kelly’s ample fan mail—over 100 letters a week. And several weeks ago Mr. Kelly took formal note of the movement in a letter to some of his campus fans. The letter said, in part:
“It seems a lot of college people want Pogo for President. Nobody has made it clear what they want him President of, but presumably they don’t want him for President of Nicaragua or even of General Motors—though they are both nice outfits, no offense.

“What we have come up with is the suspicion that Pogo is in demand for the job of President of these United States. That is, no large party has come out for him unless you count a large party named Harold from Cornell, but many college groups have been demanding something tangible:
some sign, some word, a campaign button, a free trip to Europe. Any­thing that would indicate Pogo is available would do.”

Mr. Kelly has ruled out the free trip to Europe, but the cam­paign button is in the works. So far, requests for 50,000 buttons have been received.

Walt Kelly is no newcomer to the stresses and strains of a po­litical campaign. In 1948, while working for the late New York Star as art director, political car­toonist and editorial advisor, he drew a series of devastating “me­chanical man” cartoons of Gov­ernor Thomas E. Dewey, depict­ing the Republican candidate as an adding machine, a cash register, a tank, a music box and just about every other mechanical de­vice. The cartoons received nation­wide attention and were widely reprinted.

‘Nature’s Screechers’
It was while working for the Star that Mr. Kelly, in his capacity as art director, directed himself to launch the daily “Pogo” strip. He took his cast of talking ani­mals—they call themselves “na­ture’s screechers”—from a series of children’s comic books he had been doing since 1943. (Before that he had worked for Walt Dis­ney Studios for six years.) He still does four “Pogo” comic books a year.

The new strip caught on with Star readers, but the paper didn’t stick around long enough to bene­fit. When the Star folded in Jan­uary, 1949, the New York Post saw a good thing and took “Pogo” on. Several months later, Post-Hall Syndicate started distributing it na­tionally, and added a Sunday page. The list of papers hasn’t stopped growing since.

Fanatic Fans
Editors who try dropping “Pogo” —several have made the attempt— invariably find the strip has an al­most fanatic claque of fans, who usually succeed in getting it re­stored to the comics page. Mr. Kelly himself is at a loss to ex­plain this great enthusiasm.

“I try to comment on the pass­ing scene,” he says, “and get peo­ple to stop taking themselves and the world quite as seriously as they seem to be doing. It’s a good thing, these days, to make people relax and feel that there’s always tomorrow. The Okefenokee swamp, where Pogo and his friends live, is a land of its own, enabling read­ers to escape into another environ­ment for a few seconds every day. But after all, these are things that so many comic strips try to do, and most of them succeed.”

Some of “Pogo’s” special appeal may be in the almost hypnotic weirdness of the dialogue, a syn­thesis of Elizabethan English, French, Negro and Indian dialects heavily interspersed with out­rageous puns. Mr. Kelly is a stu­dent of languages and a former civilian employee of the Army’s Foreign Language Unit. The “Pogo” dialect is definitely not genuine Okefenokee talk, since Mr. Kelly has never been to the swamp country.

Poison Pun
But “Pogo’s” main asset is un­doubtedly the friendly satire which spares no institution from Mr. Kelly’s poison pun. His credo when he launched his cartooning career was: “I just want to be friendly and maybe make a buck at it.” At 38, Mr. Kelly seems to be succeeding pretty well on both counts.

Obscurity of the Day: Bible Stories

You won’t hear me say this too often, but Dan Smith may well have been to good an artist for newspapers. His delicately detailed realistic rendering usually turned to mud when subjected to the treatment of a high-speed newspaper press. When Smith was afforded a large enough format to really shine it was generally for cover and interior illustrations in Hearst Sunday magazine sections. The interior black and white illustrations are breathtaking, the color covers less so (Smith understood that bold colors were supposed to be the star of the show and considerably simplified his drawing style).

Here is Smith’s only ‘standard’ comic strip, Bible Stories. He did some continued magazine cover series and occasionally contributed to Hearst’s daily romantic cartoon series, but this is the only one I know of in daily strip format (though it was a weekly).

Bible strips came into vogue starting in the 1920s when cartoonists began to look for niche subjects for their wares. There were radio strips for the radio page, romance cartoons for the womens page, sports strips for the sports page. Religious strips for the weekly church pages were a natural, and quite a few came and went over the years.

Dan Smith’s Bible Stories was one of the less successful entries in the market (by the way, it never actually ran with that title – it was only used in marketing). In Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner it started on June 10 1933 and ran until August 31 1935. Smith handed off the creative chores to Dan Komisarow for the final month and a half of the run. The stories were generally short and the art (if a newspaper actually managed to print it clearly) was spectacular. Here are the stories titles; dates are from the Examiner which evidently didn’t run the series strictly according to Hoyle since the proof dates don’t match up properly:

Life of Samson, Strong Man of the Bible : 6/10 – 7/22/33
The Story of Queen Esther : 7/29 – 9/30/33
The Story of Joseph : 10/7 – 12/23/33
The Story of Ruth : 12/30/33 – 1/27/34
The Story of David : 2/3 – 6/9/34
The Story of Solomon : 6/16 – 7/21/34
The Story of Jezebel : 7/28 – 9/1/34
The Story of Salome : 9/8 – 10/6/34
The Story of Elijah : 10/13 – 11/3/34
The Story of Joel : 11/10 – 12/8/34
The Story of Abraham : 12/15/34 – 3/9/35
The Story of the Holy Child : 3/16 – 4/6/35
The Story of Moses : 4/13 – 7/6/35
The Story of Noah : 7/13 – 8/31/35 (by Komisarow)

The examples displayed above are from proofs. I regret that there is absolutely no way to give you a sense of Smith’s art through these scans, but computer monitors, just like newspapers, do no justice to the art of Dan Smith.

A big tip of the Stripper’s triregnum to Cole Johnson who provided the samples.

Obscurity of the Day: Adventures of Powder Pete

Lute Pease was the editorial cartoonist for the Newark Evening News for almost forty years, from the teens to the fifties. He won a Pulitzer for a cartoon about union leader John L. Lewis in 1949 at the age of 80 — I believe he still holds the record as oldest recipient. As with many Pulitzer winning cartoons, Pease’s was a pedestrian effort. It didn’t hold the power and style of his earlier work; evidence of his bold and evocative style are far more evident in the Pease strips above.

Pease went to the Klondike in the 1890s gold rush and from then on styled himself something of a frontiersman. That made it a natural subject when he created a comic strip for the Newark paper in 1926, a lighthearted strip about a grizzled pioneer, treasure-hunter and adventurer. Adventures of Powder Pete began on March 29 1926 and ended on October 2 of the same year. The samples above include the first and the last strips.

A hearty tip of the Stripper’s ten gallon hat to Sara Duke at the Library of Congress who provided samples and information about this rare strip.

Fun Fact: Lute’s real first name was Lucius.

Obscurity of the Day: Over Here – Over There

Ernest Henderson took on the task of chronicling World War I in a comic strip that lasted as long as the American involvement in that conflict.

Over Here – Over There began (in the few papers that started it on time) on April 6 1927, exactly ten years after the U.S. entered the war. And for the few papers that stuck with the series to the bitter end, the feature ended on September 29 1928, a decade to the day after the armistice was signed. In the interim Henderson described the war in exacting detail over the span of 407 comic strip installments. The strip was syndicated by the Register & Tribune Syndicate.

Those good with dates will wonder how the number of strips meshes with the start and end dates. There should be a total of 465 strips if the series ran continuously. Unfortunately I don’t have a satisfactory answer to that because I have had no luck finding a paper that started the strip on time and stuck with it until the end. My information is cobbled together from several different papers (specifically, the Oakland Tribune, the Jackson Daily News, the Nashville Tennessean), none from which I have a complete unbroken run. My best guess is that the strip took occasional vacations during its run.

Ernest Henderson was starting on his next comic strip brainchild, Flying To Fame, three months before Over Here-Over There ended.

Herriman Saturday

In this delightful December 15 1906 episode of Zoo Zoo Herriman gives his cat the unequivocal starring role for the only time in the short series. If you’re scratching your head over the final panel read about Comstock Laws here on Wiki.

For the next four days Herriman is relegated to providing only spot illos. On the 20th he has a sports page cartoon commemorating a 50 to 1 longshot coming in at the Ascot race track, and another episode of Zoo Zoo which will have to wait for next Saturday.

Bulletin: Author Goes Mad, Gives Away Books

Alfredo Castelli, Italian comics icon and cartooning history scholar, has been researching and writing his magnum opus, Here We Are Again, for the past decade. The work, which recounts the history of American comic strips in their formative period (up to 1919), was released with Italian text last year and an English translation is in the works.

In a strategy that has some fellow authors aghast Castelli recently announced that anyone who would like a copy of the Italian edition (text in Italian but the voluminous illustrations in their native English), which retails for about $300 US, may download it in PDF form for free. Castelli characterized the offer as “a late Christmas present” to comics fans.

Fellow researcher Allan Holtz, who contributed data to the book, said Here We Are Again “is absolutely the greatest contribution to the scholarship on American comic strip history yet published.” Regarding the giveaway Holtz commented that “Castelli has obviously spent far too much time breathing old newspaper fumes. Mad as a hatter, I’m afraid. He has been struck down by an affliction that all comic strip researchers dread. Every time you open a newspaper bound volume you can feel the brain cells dying. It’s a wonderful but highly addictive and harmful aroma.”

Castelli’s Here We Are Again is downloadable in a series of 12 zipped PDF files, each representing one chapter of the book, plus an English introduction. Those on slow internet connections are cautioned that these files are about 20 MB each:

Castelli says that the offer will expire on February 7 and the PDFs will no longer be available after that date.

Can You ID These Artists?

I’m trying to get my index listing for the True Comics Sunday series as buttoned up as possible. Problem is that many of the toonists who contributed pages (and there were quite a few) didn’t sign their work. I do know, or at least strongly suspect, that all these artists were primarily in the comic book field — all the ones who signed were, anyway. I know Sam Glankoff did lots of the Sundays, with additional contributions by Ed Smalle, Lew Glanz and Chad Grothkopf and others.

I know some of you folks are also comic book fans and researchers, so I’m hoping you can ID some of these guys. Here are four samples from 1942. The first is a guy who did quite a few pages in 1941-42. The style is quite unique — the faces, I think, are a dead giveaway to the artist, but who is it?

Our second contestant only did a few True Comics pages. The style is pretty basic but it has a few stylistic flourishes that may make an ID possible. Certainly this cartoonist was not on the “A” list, but can anyone ID him? The style looks to me like one I remember showing up in a lot of Blue Bolt and Target Comics:

Now here’s a mystery artist with some real panache! Looks sort of like Mac Raboy to me, but I don’t know his work from this era nearly well enough to make a positive ID:

And here’s the last of our group. This cartoonist’s work is pretty generic looking to me, but maybe there’s something distinctive enough for an ID:

Okay, that’s four mystery artists. If anyone has definite ideas on the IDs please let me know. If you’d give me some idea of your certainty (50%? 75%? 99%?) that would be helpful.

Buster’s Last Hurrah

I’m guessing this constitutes Buster Brown’s last appearance, in strip form at least, in the Sunday comics. This 1934 ad campaign for Buster Brown Shoes doesn’t seem to have gone on very long; at least this is the only sample I can recollect seeing.

This Buster strip is penned by the great cartoonist of the Betty Sunday page, C.A. Voight. The work isn’t signed but Voight’s style is distinctive enough to make it an easy call.

Obscurity of the Day: The Matinee Club

Here’s one I was ambivalent about finding.

The Matinee Club ran twice in the New York Herald on 7/10 and 7/17/1898. The feature ran on the back page of the Herald’s Sunday magazine section, not on the comics pages. Ken Barker’s excellent Herald index doesn’t list this feature so I assume he wasn’t checking this section of the paper when he was going through the microfilm. That means the Herald needs to be given a second indexing by me to catch these additional items.

The De Yongh who signed these Sunday panels is probably John de Yongh (1856-1917). A quick Google search finds that he was responsible for a line of humorous postcards in the late oughts, and drew portraits and advertising matter as well.

By the way for the purposes of full disclosure I did replace the original lettering at the bottom of the panel. For some reason though the panel is given half page play the type at the bottom was set in tiny little agate type. Go figure.