The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 1

By Walt Kelly

Fantagraphics. 290 pp. $39.99

‘Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Wonder: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Volume 1’ by Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics)

For years devotees of Walt Kelly’s immortal “Pogo” comic strip have been pleading for a complete and definitive collection. Here at last is the first of a promised dozen volumes, each to cover about two years of the strip’s run from 1948 until Kelly’s death in 1973. To say that it has been worth the wait is wild understatement. “Pogo Through the Wild Blue Wonder” is beautifully produced — no surprise to anyone familiar with the
work of Fantagraphics Books in Seattle — and a joy to read. It comes as a genuine gift to anyone who loved “Pogo” and, it is to be hoped, as an introduction for younger readers to what many people believe was the best comic strip ever drawn in this country.

Pogo himself is a gentle possum, living in the Okefenokee Swamp with, among many others, his friends Albert the Alligator, Beauregard Bugleboy (a dog), Churchy LaFemme (a turtle) and Howland Owl. Their antics occupy a territory that often borders on the surreal, as they recite brilliant nonsense verses and get themselves into the most improbable fixes imaginable. Thus in one of these early strips Albert finds himself the the guardian of a nestful of baby birds, an utterly adorable puppy dog manages to get himself lost, and a bookworm gets into the book-reviewing business. “This book will never get by,” he tells Pogo and Beauregard. “Its pace is ALL wrong . . . the plot is disjointed . . . the characters are weak [and] its spelling is BAD.” The book, we discover at the end of the strip, is Webster’s Dictionary.

During the 1950s, as Kelly became ever more angry at McCarthyism and related phenomena, the strip took on a political coloration, though it was far more satirical than partisan or ideological. In the early years, though, “Pogo” was as innocent and endearing as the little possum himself, qualities that shine through in this entirely lovely book.

Jonathan Yardley