Go, go, Pogo!


Dawn Eden earlier today posted this interesting entry, reflecting on an essay about Catholicism and the empowerment of women. I'll get back to that thought, perhaps, but what caught my eye was her clever headline, "Churchy La Femme", which was hot-linked somewhere. Merely a pun on the French epigram, cherchez la femme, I wondered? (Churchy instead of cherchez, because it's about a church and women, geddit? as my seven-year old would say when he feels compelled to explain a joke that didn't get a big enough laugh.)

Or was this a knowing reference to my favorite comic strip, and its poet laureate, the turtle Churchy La Femme? Could it be that Dawn is a fellow Pogophile? The title was linked to to this review of a CD reissue of "Songs of the Pogo", a collection of Walt Kelly's whimsical poetry set to music, and in many cases, sung by Walt hisself. I am thrilled to learn that this has been reissued for a new generation to discover.

I started to categorize this entry under "Whimsy", but this really deserves to be the next entry in the BatesLine bookshelf, because Walt Kelly's possum had an early and deep influence on my sense of humor.

My grandma introduced me to Pogo when I was about eight or nine. Grandma had a great collection of comic paperbacks -- Peanuts, Andy Capp, and B.C. -- but Pogo was her favorite. She passed on a couple of her paperbacks, collections of the strip published back in the '50s. Pogo had puns, playful language, beautifully drawn art, and gentle satire of pop culture and politics. Every four years, Pogo's friends drafted him to run for president, and did their best to repackage his image -- against his will -- aiming for political success.

While most people enjoy satire because they are already familiar with the referents, growing up, I approached it from the other direction: Pogo helped me learn about Simple J. Malarkey (sorry, Senator Joe McCarthy), Khrushchev and Castro, desegregation, and the space race; old Mad magazine paperbacks taught me about postwar East Coast suburbia and '60s pop culture; Monty Python introduced me to British politics and culture. I was compelled to learn the history so I could get full value out of the humor. (Hmm. This may explain where my son gets his compulsion to explain his jokes. Payin' for my raisin', as my dad says.)

On my bookshelf I've got a dozen original Pogo paperbacks in various states of deterioration -- paperbacks were not made to last in the '50s -- as well as some of the '70s and '80s recompilations and a plastic Albert Alligator figurine.

Walt Kelly died in 1973, only 60 years old, and his widow tried to keep the strip up for a couple of years, but it fell victim to shrinking comic syndrome. An attempt to resurrect the strip since that time managed to approximate Kelly's art, but failed to get the balance right. They didn't have Kelly's gentle touch. As Mike Bennett says in his "Songs of the Pogo" review, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is as close as any strip has come to matching it. I'll add that the long-running British sitcom "Last of the Summer Wine" seems to me like Pogo transplanted from the Okefenokee Swamp to the hills of Yorkshire.

Kelly did draw political figures as animals, but that wasn't all there was to the strip. While Walt Kelly was a liberal, his political satire was aimed at pomposity more than ideology.

At least eighty percent of the strip was whimsy that might tangentially have a satirical point: Howland Owl encased in concrete cake batter; Bun Rabbit trying to get all the holiday celebrating out of the way in one big burst at the beginning of the year; Churchy La Femme getting his head stuck in his shell; Albert and Beauregard facing off in a thinking contest ("My powerful brain is blowed itself up!"); various characters accidentally "blunking out" their eyes while imitating Lulu Arfin' Nanny; and various convention-defying shenanigans involving speech balloons.

If my blogging is a bit slow over the next few days, it's because I'm rereading my old Pogo books.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 26, 2004 11:11 PM.

The latest news from Visitation S. Cadger was the previous entry in this blog.

Silence is golden is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]