Pogo 'Earthday' strip by Walt Kelly

Walt Kelly (a diminutive of Walter Crawford Jr.) is a comic artist who was influenced by his father, who painted backgrounds for the theater. Two other strong influences on his work were Al Capp and T.S. Sullivant. Walt Kelly started his career as a reporter and cartoonist for the Bridgeport Post, his local newspaper. In 1935, he joined the Walt Disney Studios, where worked as a story man and animator on movies like 'Pinocchio' (1940), 'Fantasia' (1940) and 'Dumbo' (1940). One of Kelly's assistants at Disney was Bob Moore. In the mid-1930s, Kelly did his first comics work at the future DC Comics. Kelly was fired from the Disney studios in 1941, after taking part in a strike.

Cover for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, by Walt KellyCover for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, by Walt Kelly
Covers by Walt Kelly for Walt Disney's Comics.

He then found a job at Dell Publishing, where he drew comics with licensed characters. Kelly did the lead series in the MGM title Our Gang Comics, and contributed to Dell's Disney titles. He did several classic covers for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, and wrote and drew stories with 'Donald Duck', as well as the 'Three Caballeros' comics adaptation. He was the artist of the pantomime 'Gremlins' comic strip, which appeared as a back-up comic. Another comic by Kelly for Dell was 'The Adventures of Peter Wheat' (1950-1956), later continued by Al Hubbard

Kelly also contributed to Santa Claus Funnies and Fairy Tale Parade. In a more adult register, he drew 'Seaman Sy Wheeler' in Camp Comics and 'Pat, Patsy and Pete' in Looney Tunes. 'Pat, Patsy and Pete' was originally created by Win Smith

Gremlins, by Walt Kelly

It was during his time at Dell that Kelly created the character of Pogo, a humourous possum. The character first appeared in Dell's Animal Comics, as a secondary character in the 'Albert the Alligator' strip. It didn't take long until 'Pogo' became the comic's leading character. After the second World War, Walt Kelly became artistic director at the New York Star, and turned Pogo into a daily strip. When the Star folded in 1949, Bob Hall took 'Pogo' into syndication, so that the strip soon appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Until his death in 1973, he dedicated himself completely to this series, which has become a classic in comics. In 1954, he was nominated president of the National Cartoonists Society.

Pogo, by Walt Kelly 1966

Playing with the codes of the genre, Walt Kelly developed a personal oeuvre that blended social satire, nonsense and poetry. He made an essential contribution to American "intellectual" comics. Among his assistants were Dan Noonan

After Kelly's death, the strip was continued by his widow Selby Kelly, Henry Shikuma, Willie Ito and Don Morgan. His son Stephen Kelly took on the writing duties. In 1989, the strip was shortly revived by Larry Doyle and Neal Sternecky, and in 1992/93, Kelly's daughter Carolyn Kelly drew the 'Pogo' strip for a while.

'Pogo' was parodied by Harvey Kurtzman and Wallace Wood in Mad Magazine (1955). Roger Brunel also drew a porn parody. The French magazine Pogo-Poco, edited by Moliterni, was once forced to changed their title to Poco, after copyright claims by Kelly on the name "Pogo". 

In the United States, Walt Kelly was a strong influence on Joel BeckMark Campos, Frank ChoRobert Crumb, Jules Feiffer, Mike FontanelliGuy Gilchrist, Matt GroeningStuart Hample, Denis KitchenJohn Blair Moore, Joe MurrayDan NoonanBob Scott, Dana SimpsonJeff Smith, Neal SterneckyBill Watterson and S. Clay Wilson. 'Muppets' creator Jim Henson based some of his earliest designs of the Muppets on the design of 'Pogo' characters. In Canada, Walt Kelly was cited as an inspiration by John Kricfalusi. In the Netherlands, Kelly inspired Evert GeradtsStefan de GrootFrank Hasselaar, Daan JippesFred Julsing, Jr., Marten Toonder and Gerben Valkema. He also found admirers in Belgium (Got, AKA Gommaar Timmermans), Denmark (Børge Ring), Finland (Kari Korhonen), France (Nikita Mandryka), Mexico (Juanele Tamal) and The United Kingdom (Richard Yeend). 

Pogo Possum comic cover, by Walt Kelly

Pogo, by Walt Kelly 1966

Official Pogo site

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