Pogo daily strip from Earth Day 1971
Author(s)Walt Kelly
Current status/scheduleConcluded
Launch dateOctober 4, 1948 (as a newspaper strip)
End dateJuly 20, 1975
Syndicate(s)Post-Hall Syndicate
Publisher(s)Simon & Schuster, Fantagraphics Books, Gregg Press, Eclipse Comics, Spring Hollow Books
Genre(s)Humor, satire, politics

Pogo was a daily comic strip that was created by cartoonist Walt Kelly and syndicated to American newspapers from 1948 until 1975. Set in the Okefenokee Swamp in the Southeastern United States, Pogo followed the adventures of its anthropomorphic animal characters, including the title character, an opossum. The strip was written for both children and adults, with layers of social and political satire targeted to the latter. Pogo was distributed by the Post-Hall Syndicate. The strip earned Kelly a Reuben Award in 1951.


Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in Philadelphia on August 25, 1913. His family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, when he was only two. He went to California at age 22 to work on Donald Duck cartoons at Walt Disney Studios in 1935. He stayed until the animators' strike in 1941 as an animator on The Nifty Nineties, The Little Whirlwind, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon. Kelly then worked for Dell Comics, a division of Western Publishing of Racine, Wisconsin.

Dell Comics

Kelly created the characters of Pogo the possum and Albert the alligator in 1941 for issue No. 1 of Dell's Animal Comics in the story "Albert Takes the Cake".[1] Both were comic foils for a young black character named Bumbazine (a corruption of bombazine, a fabric that was usually dyed black and used largely for mourning wear), who lived in the swamp. Bumbazine was retired early, since Kelly found it hard to write for a human child. He eventually phased humans out of the comics entirely, preferring to use the animal characters for their comic potential. Kelly said he used animals—nature's creatures, or "nature's screechers" as he called them—"largely because you can do more with animals. They don't hurt as easily, and it's possible to make them more believable in an exaggerated pose." Pogo, formerly a "spear carrier" according to Kelly, quickly took center stage, assuming the straight man role that Bumbazine had occupied.[2]

New York Star

In his 1954 autobiography for the Hall Syndicate, Kelly said he "fooled around with the Foreign Language Unit of the Army during World War II, illustrating grunts and groans, and made friends in the newspaper and publishing business." In 1948 he was hired to draw political cartoons for the editorial page of the short-lived New York Star; he decided to do a daily comic strip featuring the characters from Animal Comics. The first comic series to make the permanent transition to newspapers, Pogo debuted on October 4, 1948, and ran continuously until the paper folded on January 28, 1949.[3]


On May 16, 1949, Pogo was picked up for national distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate. George Ward and Henry Shikuma were among Kelly's assistants on the strip. It ran continuously until (and past) Kelly's death from complications of diabetes on October 18, 1973. According to Walt Kelly's widow Selby Kelly,[4] Walt Kelly fell ill in 1972 and was unable to continue the strip. At first, reprints, mostly with minor rewording in the word balloons, from the 1950s and 1960s were used, starting Sunday, June 4, 1972. Kelly returned for just eight Sunday pages, from October 8 to November 26, 1972, but according to Selby was unable to draw the characters as large as he customarily did. The reprints with minor rewording returned, continuing until Kelly's death. Other artists, notably Don Morgan, worked on the strip. Selby Kelly began to draw the strip with the Christmas strip from 1973 from scripts by Walt's son Stephen. The strip ended July 20, 1975. Selby Kelly said in a 1982 interview that she decided to discontinue the strip because newspapers had shrunk the size of strips to the point where people could not easily read it.[5]

1989–1993 revival

Starting on January 8, 1989, the Los Angeles Times Syndicate revived the strip under the title Walt Kelly's Pogo, written by Larry Doyle and drawn by Neal Sternecky. Doyle left the strip as of February 24, 1991, and Sternecky took over as both writer and artist until March 22, 1992. After Sternecky left, Kelly's son Peter and daughter Carolyn continued to produce the daily strip until October 2, 1993. The strip continued to run for a couple months with reprints of Doyle and Sternecky's work, and came to an end on November 28, 1993.[6]


Pogo is set in the Georgia section of the Okefenokee Swamp; Fort Mudge and Waycross are occasionally mentioned.

The characters live, for the most part, in hollow trees amidst lushly rendered backdrops of North American wetlands, bayous, lagoons and backwoods. Fictitious local landmarks—such as "Miggle's General Store and Emporium" (a.k.a. "Miggle's Miracle Mart") and the "Fort Mudge Memorial Dump", etc.—are occasionally featured. The landscape is fluid and vividly detailed, with a dense variety of (often caricatured) flora and fauna. The richly textured trees and marshlands frequently change from panel to panel within the same strip. Like the Coconino County depicted in Krazy Kat and the Dogpatch of Li'l Abner, the distinctive cartoon landscape of Kelly's Okefenokee Swamp became as strongly identified with the strip as any of its characters.

There are occasional forays into exotic locations as well, including at least two visits to Australia (during the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, and again in 1961). The Aussie natives include a bandicoot, a lady wallaby, and a mustachioed, aviator kangaroo named "Basher". In 1967, Pogo, Albert and Churchy visit primeval "Pandemonia"—a vivid, "prehysterical" place of Kelly's imagination, complete with mythical beasts (including dragons and a zebra-striped unicorn), primitive humans, arks, volcanoes, saber-toothed cats, pterodactyls and dinosaurs.

Kelly also frequently parodied Mother Goose nursery rhymes and fairy tales featuring the characters in period costume: "Cinderola", "Goldie Lox and the Fore-bears", "Handle and Gristle", etc. These offbeat sequences, usually presented as a staged play or a story within a story related by one of the characters, seem to take place in the fairy tale dreamscapes of children's literature, with European storybook-style cottages and forests, etc.—rather than in the swamp, per se.

Cast of characters

Permanent residents

Frequent visitors

Dialogue and "swamp-speak"

The strip was notable for its distinctive and whimsical use of language. Kelly, a native northeasterner, had a sharply perceptive ear for language and used it to great humorous effect. The predominant vernacular in Pogo, sometimes referred to as "swamp-speak", is essentially a rural southern U.S. dialect laced with nonstop malapropisms, fractured grammar, "creative" spelling and mangled polysyllables such as "incredibobble," "hysteriwockle", and "redickledockle," plus invented words such as the exasperated exclamations "Bazz Fazz!", "Rowrbazzle!" and "Moomph!"[11] Here is an example:[12]

Pogo has been engaged in his favorite pastime, fishing in the swamp from a flat-bottomed boat, and has hooked a small catfish. "Ha!" he exclaims, "A small fry!" At this point Hoss-Head the Champeen Catfish, bigger than Pogo himself, rears out of the swamp and the following dialogue ensues:

Hoss-Head [with fins on hips and an angry scowl]: Chonk back that catfish chile, Pogo, afore I whops you!
Pogo: Yassuree, Champeen Hoss-Head, yassuh yassuh yassuh yassuh yassuh ... [tosses infant catfish back in water]
Pogo [walks away, muttering discontentedly]: Things gettin' so humane 'round this swamp, us folks will have to take up eatin' MUD TURKLES!
Churchy (a turtle) [eavesdropping from behind a tree with Howland Owl]: Horroars! A cannibobble! [passes out]
Howland [holding the unconscious Churchy]: You say you gone eat mud turkles! Ol' Churchy is done overcame!
Pogo: It was a finger of speech—I apologize! Why, I LOVES yo', Churchy LaFemme!
Churchy [suddenly recovered from his swoon]: With pot licker an' black-eye peas, you loves me, sir—HA! Us is through, Pogo!

Satire and politics

Kelly used Pogo to comment on the human condition, and, from time to time, this drifted into politics. "I finally came to understand that if I were looking for comic material, I would never have to look long," Kelly wrote. "The news of the day would be enough. Perhaps the complexion of the strip changed a little in that direction after 1951. After all, it is pretty hard to walk past an unguarded gold mine and remain empty-handed."[13]

Pogo was a reluctant "candidate" for President (although he never campaigned) in 1952 and 1956. (The phrase "I Go Pogo", originally a parody of Dwight D. Eisenhower's iconic campaign slogan "I Like Ike", appeared on giveaway promotional lapel pins featuring Pogo, and it was also used by Kelly as a book title.) A 1952 campaign rally at Harvard degenerated into chaos sufficient to be officially termed a riot, and police responded. The Pogo Riot was a significant event for the class of '52; for its 25th reunion, Pogo was the official mascot.[14]

Kelly's interest in keeping the strip topical meant that he sometimes worked closer to the deadline than the syndicate wanted. "The syndicates and the newspapers always like to stay about eight weeks in advance," Kelly said in a 1959 interview, "but because I like to stay as topical as I can and because I'm sure something will always come up that I'd like to comment on, I try to keep it somewhere between four and six weeks. Even then it gets rather difficult to forecast what is going to happen six weeks, four weeks, ahead of time. For example, I have a sequence coming on this moonshot that the Russians made. I was able to file it just by a month, but I wish I had known about it a little in advance because I could have hit it right on the nose."[15]

Simple J. Malarkey

Perhaps the most famous example of the strip's satirical edge came into being on May 1, 1953, when Kelly introduced a friend of Mole's: a wildcat named "Simple J. Malarkey", an obvious caricature of Senator Joseph McCarthy. This showed significant courage on Kelly's part, considering the influence the politician wielded at the time and the possibility of scaring away subscribing newspapers.[16]

When The Providence Bulletin issued an ultimatum in 1954, threatening to drop the strip if Malarkey's face appeared in the strip again, Kelly had Malarkey throw a bag over his head as Miss "Sis" Boombah (a Rhode Island Red hen) approached, explaining "no one from Providence should see me!" Kelly thought Malarkey's new look was especially appropriate because the bag over his head resembled a Klansman's hood.[17] (Kelly later attacked the Klan directly, in a comic nightmare parable called "The Kluck Klams", included in The Pogo Poop Book, 1966.)[18]

Malarkey appeared in the strip only once after that sequence ended, during Kelly's tenure, on October 15, 1955. Again his face was covered, this time by his speech balloons as he stood on a soapbox shouting to general uninterest. Kelly had planned to defy the threats made by the Bulletin and show Malarkey's face, but decided it was more fun to see how many people recognized the character and the man he lampooned by speech patterns alone. When Kelly got letters of complaint about kicking the senator when he was down (McCarthy had been censured by that time, and had lost most of his influence), Kelly responded, "They identified him, I didn't."[19]

Malarkey reappeared on April 1, 1989, when the strip had been resurrected by Larry Doyle and Neal Sternecky. It was hinted that he was a ghost. (A gag used several times in the original strip, for both Wiley Catt and Simple J Malarkey, was his unexpected reappearance to the Swamp with a frightened regular saying "I didn't know you was alive" - responded to with "Would you stop shakin' if I tole you...I AIN'T?!"

Later politics

As the 1960s loomed, even foreign "gummint" figures found themselves caricatured in the pages of Pogo, including in 1962 communist leaders Fidel Castro, who appeared as an agitator goat named Fido, and Nikita Khrushchev, who emerged as both an unnamed Russian bear and a pig. Other Soviet characters include a pair of cosmonaut seals who arrive at the swamp in 1959 via Sputnik, initiating a topical spoof of the Space Race.[20] In 1964, the strip spoofed the presidential election with P.T. Bridgeport providing wind-up dolls that looked like Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and George W. Romney.[21] The wind-up caricatures of Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, George W. Romney, Ronald Reagan, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy appeared in 1968, during the presidential election. [22]

Lyndon B. Johnson appeared in two caricatures in the strip. In 1966, he appeared as "The Loan Arranger," a character that Pogo, Albert, and Churchy La Femme met in Pandamonia. In a reference to Johnson's Texas heritage, the Loan Arranger was a centaur, half-human, half-horse, wearing a cowboy hat that was pulled down over his eyes, with Johnson's famous chin visible beneath it. He also wore a cowboy shirt and a bandolero of bullets around his waist. Kelly satirized the Vietnam War by having the Loan Arranger compete against Gwhan Shi Foah (a Buddha-like caricature of Mao Zedong) in a hand-shaking contest, for the right to "protect" a young Asian girl named Sha-Lan (representing South Vietnam). Later, during the 1968 presidential election, Johnson reappeared in the strip as an aging, bespectacled Texas longhorn who knew his time was fading and was trying to make a graceful exit.

Because some newspapers were wary of printing political satire on the comics page, Kelly sometimes drew two strips for the same day — the regular satirical Pogo strip, and a less-pointed version that he called the "Bunny Rabbit" strips. The 1982 book The Best of Pogo reprinted some of the alternate strips from the presidential election years of 1964 and 1968.[23]

In the early 1970s, Kelly used a collection of characters he called "the Bulldogs" to mock the secrecy and paranoia of the Nixon administration. The Bulldogs included caricatures of J. Edgar Hoover (dressed in an overcoat and fedora, and directing a covert bureau of identical frog operatives), Spiro Agnew (portrayed as an unnamed hyena festooned in ornate military regalia, a parody of the ridiculous uniforms supplied to the White House guards[24]), and John Mitchell (portrayed as a pipe-smoking eaglet wearing high-top sneakers.)[25]

Nonsense verse and song parodies

Kelly was an accomplished poet and frequently added pages of original comic verse to his Pogo reprint books, complete with cartoon illustrations. The odd song parody or nonsense poem also occasionally appeared in the newspaper strip. In 1956, Kelly published Songs of the Pogo, an illustrated collection of his original songs, with lyrics by Kelly and music by Kelly and Norman Monath. The tunes were also issued on a vinyl LP, with Kelly himself contributing to the vocals.[26]

The most well-known of Kelly's nonsense verses is "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie", the swamp creatures' interpretation of the Christmas carol "Deck the Halls". Each year at Christmas time, it was traditional for the strip to publish at least the first stanza:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla Wash., and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley
Swaller dollar cauliflower alleygaroo
Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby, lilla boy, Louisville Lou
Trolley Molly don't love Harold
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo

Some years also included other verses and versions: for example, the dog Beauregard knew it as "Bark us all bow-wows of folly, Polly wolly cracker 'n' too-da-loo!"[27]

"Deck Us All with Boston Charlie" was recorded in 1961 by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross for the album ""Jingle Bell Rock".[28]

Personal references

Walt Kelly frequently had his characters poling around the swamp in a flat-bottomed skiff. Invariably, it had a name on the side that was a personal reference of Kelly's: the name of a friend, a political figure, a fellow cartoonist, or the name of a newspaper, its editor or publisher. The name changed from one day to the next, and even from panel to panel in the same strip, but it was usually a tribute to a real-life person Kelly wished to salute in print.[29]

Awards and recognition

Long before I could grasp the satirical significance of his stuff, I was enchanted by Kelly's magnificent artwork ... We'll never see anything like Pogo again in the funnies, I'm afraid.

— Jeff MacNelly, from Pogo Even Better, 1984

A good many of us used hoopla and hype to sell our wares, but Kelly didn't need that. It seemed he simply emerged, was there, and was recognized for what he was, a true natural genius of comic art ... Hell, he could draw a tree that would send God and Joyce Kilmer back to the drawing board.

— Mort Walker, from Outrageously Pogo, 1985

The creator and series have received a great deal of recognition over the years. Walt Kelly has been compared to everyone from James Joyce and Lewis Carroll, to Aesop and Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus).[30][31] His skills as a humorous illustrator of animals have been celebrated alongside those of John Tenniel, A. B. Frost, T. S. Sullivant, Heinrich Kley and Lawson Wood. In his essay "The Decline of the Comics" (Canadian Forum, January 1954), literary critic Hugh MacLean classified American comic strips into four types: daily gag, adventure, soap opera and "an almost lost comic ideal: the disinterested comment on life's pattern and meaning." In the fourth type, according to MacLean, there were only two: Pogo and Li'l Abner. When the first Pogo collection was published in 1951, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas declared that "nothing comparable has happened in the history of the comic strip since George Herriman's Krazy Kat."[32]

"Carl Sandburg said that many comics were too sad, but, 'I Go Pogo.' Francis Taylor, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, said before the Herald Tribune Forum: 'Pogo has not yet supplanted Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible in our schools.' "[33] Kelly was elected president of the National Cartoonists Society in 1954, serving until 1956. He was the first strip cartoonist invited to contribute originals to the Library of Congress.[citation needed]

Influence and legacy

Walt Kelly's work has influenced a number of prominent comic artists:

Pogo in other media

At its peak, Walt Kelly's possum appeared in nearly 500 newspapers in 14 countries. Pogo's exploits were collected into more than four dozen books, which collectively sold close to 30 million copies. Pogo already had had a successful life in comic books, previous to syndication. The increased visibility of the newspaper strip and popular trade paperback titles allowed Kelly's characters to branch into other media, such as television, children's records, and even a theatrical film.

In addition, Walt Kelly appeared as himself on television at least twice. He was interviewed live by Edward R. Murrow for the CBS program Person to Person, in an episode originally broadcast on January 14, 1954. Kelly can also be seen briefly in the 1970 NBC special This Is Al Capp talking candidly about his friend, the creator of Li'l Abner.

Comic books and periodicals

All comic book titles are published by Dell Publishing Company, unless otherwise noted:

Music and recordings

Animation and puppetry

Three animated cartoons were created to date based on Pogo:

The Birthday Special and I Go Pogo were released on home video throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Birthday Special was released on VHS by MGM/UA Home Video in 1986 and they alongside Turner Entertainment released it on VHS again on August 1, 1992.

I Go Pogo was handled by Fotomat for its original VHS and Betamax release in September 1980. HBO premiered a re-cut version of the film in October 1982, with added narration by Len Maxwell; this version would continue to air on HBO for some time, and then on other cable movie stations like Cinemax, TMC, and Showtime, until around February 1991. Walt Disney Home Video released a similar cut of the film in 1984, with some deleted scenes added/restored. This version of the film was released on VHS again on December 4, 1989, by Walt Disney Home Video and United American Video to the "sell through" home video market.

As of 2019, there's still no word of Warner Archive planning to release Birthday Special on DVD. That special (along with I Go Pogo) have never officially been made available on DVD. Selby Kelly had been selling specially packaged DVDs of We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us prior to her death, but it is unknown whether or not further copies will be available.

Licensing and promotion

Pogo also branched out from the comic pages into consumer products—including TV sponsor tie-ins to the Birthday Special—although not nearly to the degree of other contemporary comic strips, such as Peanuts. Selby Kelly has attributed the comparative paucity of licensed material to Kelly's pickiness about the quality of merchandise attached to his characters.

Book collections and reprints

Simon & Schuster Pogo books

Simon & Schuster published a long series of Pogo books beginning in 1951. S&S editor Peter Schwed writes, "The first collection of Pogo comic strips burst upon the world in 1951 as the result of [editor] Jack Goodman's insistence that there should be such a book for those who could not afford a daily newspaper, particularly since it was the only thing in the newspapers worth reading... Pogo was the comic strip of the nation and the many books that were published before Walt died each sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies."[29]

Simon & Schuster published 33 Pogo books between 1951 and 1972, often publishing two or three books a year. In addition to strip reprints, Kelly also published books of original material, including Uncle Pogo So-So Stories, The Pogo Stepmother Goose and Songs of the Pogo.[44]

All titles are by Walt Kelly:

Pogo books released by other publishers

All titles are by Walt Kelly unless otherwise noted:

Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips

In February 2007, Fantagraphics Books announced the publication of a projected 12-volume hardcover series collecting the complete chronological run of daily and full-color Sunday syndicated Pogo strips. The series began in 2011 under the title:


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Further reading