By Christopher Arnott
12:43 PM EST, January 21, 2013
Bonafide Balderdash, the second volume of Fantagraphic's reprinting of the entire 26 year run of Walt Kelly's comic strip pogo came out a couple of months ago. Two years are covered in each Pogo edition. (Volume one had a bonus multi-month section of Pogo's initial run in the leftist newspaper The Star; when that paper ceased publication, the strip was reborn in syndication.) We’re in the early 1950s now, and Kelly is dropping references to McCarthyism and Eisenhower's presidency.
These early years of what became one of the most important and popular comic strips of the 20th century—the work of a Connecticut-raised cartoonist, yet!—introduces new characters at a rapid pace. It also expands the concept of daily comic strips as a forum for political opinion as strident as those uttered by their cartoon brethren on the Op-Ed pages.
One who does both is P.T. Bridgeport, the blowhard entrepreneur whose speech balloons are lettered in circus-style fonts. Arriving shortly afterwards is Mr. Tammanany, a tiger named for the famous Thomas Nast depiction of the Tammany Hall political machine in New York as a jungle beast on a rampage, attacking democracy.
But Mr. Tammanany is mainly a big ungainly goof of a pussycat, who talks like this:
Cats and dogs is traditionary enemies so pup-dog gotta chaw up my tailbone. …
You know the po’r scaper got a peakeied look from trottin’ ‘long carryin’ my accoutermints. Mebbe there’s a gewgaw in the tuckerbag what’ll help out.
There’s no sense in runnin’ away from home in discomfort…
And then sings:
mm… Muss I den zum
Stadt-le hin-aus, und du
Oh, for the days when comics were so wordy and worldly, before (with few exceptions) they shrank in both size and intellect.
This collection's annotator, RC Harvey, notes that P.T. Bridgeport is a tribute to P.T. Barnum, and mentions Barnum’s circus, museum and humbug-hype legacies, but doesn't seem to know (as Kelly did) that Barnum was a bonafide Connecticut politician, serving two terms in the state legislature, running unsuccessfully for Congress and spending a year (1875) as mayor of Bridgeport.
In any case, Walt Kelly was really coming into his own at this point in his career, creating new critters by the swampful, and letting these cute little varmints spout about tough subjects. He never lets the strip get away from him, always providing the required gag or humorous reflection that avid readers would expect. In Volume Two, the lead characters have found their physiques and their key relationships. Pogo goes strong, and is a pleasure to read, both in the context of its time, and just because it’s still funny and great.
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