Friday, August 6, 2010

Gone Pogo

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Gone Pogo (Simon & Schuster, 1961)

Now that Fantagraphics has finally announced the release of the first in their series of Pogo collections - would you believe it's said to be out next month? - I think my fellow hobbyists are about to have an autumn full of tributes to Walt Kelly's old strip. I'm curious to read it from the beginning, and get to know the characters better. I imagine that in 1961, when this collection was published, they were a bit more well-known among the public. To be honest - and I know that sounding wishy-washy about Kelly doesn't get you much agreement - not knowing who the heck these characters are helped to make Gone Pogo a surprising chore to read.

The price of these classic editions varies pretty wildly. I've always wanted to read Pogo, but I've turned down $20 and $40 copies of this collection. Clicking the image above takes you to Stuart Ng Books, whom I recommend very highly, and they have two copies priced at $30 and $60. I found this copy in terrific shape for only $13 at Bookman Bookwoman in Nashville. I'm honestly, however, more impressed by the find and the uniqueness of the book than its contents.

On the one hand, it's a fascinating look at how comic strip collections used to be handled. Kelly apparently is quite notorious for the way he would juggle strips and rearrange panels when these books were compiled. A strip, for example, would often be four panels wide in newspapers, but only three in the book, with the fourth moved down to a second tier, followed by a spot illustration and then the first panel of the next four. I was really distracted by it. You know when you go to a show and spot somebody taping it, you're taken out of the moment and can't concentrate on the performance because you're curious how it will look on their bootleg? It was like that; the production was so curious that I found myself not reading the comic, but grouping panels and questioning the production. At one point, I came out of a trance and realized I had no idea what I had been reading for the last ten minutes.

Rereading it, I was oddly disappointed because I didn't know who any of the characters were. Most of them, I can't name. I'm sure that Kelly's legion of fans can tell you the cast in their sleep, just like my kids know everybody who made a one-panel cameo in Fox Trot. A huge number of characters make their way through this narrative, most amusingly a pair of bickering communist crows, but I didn't get to know any of them, and I'm pretty sure this bespectacled owl is never named in the book. Can you imagine reading an old Fawcett Crest Peanuts paperback from the decade and wondering what that bossy dark-haired girl is called? It's that weird.

In addition to the truncated and rearranged strips, there's plenty of additional material that makes this a very fun curiosity, and I can see how these books will remain in demand even once the complete archive becomes available. There's music and lyrics for a song called "Deck us All with Boston Charlie" and a long-form ten-page strip called "A Visit from St. Nicholas (to the Moon)" along with an illustrated text story called "Way Out in the Land of the Calabash." Each chapter - there are 21 - is preceded by its own little verse and the back cover's amusingly clever as well, using old-fashioned traveling showman-styled script to announce the book's content.

It's definitely a book that Kelly aficionados will enjoy more than newcomers. Honestly, I think that I will get more out of Fantagraphics' treatment of the property than Kelly's own efforts. I certainly wasn't expecting to have my enjoyment of the art obscured by the production, but I imagine that in 1961, this would have been a much-beloved gift for families, and that kids familiar with the characters would have left most copies of this book beat up and in tatters, much the way my kids' Fox Trot collections have been read to death. Reckon it was worth $13 to find a good condition survivor.

1 comment:

DeBT said...

Having being lucky enough to snatch up several early Pogo volumes cheap, I also wondered how Fantagraphics would handle the extra Walt Kelly art and titles that he implanted in the books. I imagine it won't be as extensive as the early volumes (getting the Sundays was trouble enough), but I think the extra Pogo stories might be worth having a section of their own.

In addition to the nonsensical poems (some of which were used in the strips and drawn with extra illustrations) there were also several fairy-tale-like stories with no obvious Pogo characters. Considering the man's range of work, the Pogo volumes might've been the only other possible source for his other material.

One story I hope will be reprinted someday is where Albert was Mother Goose and is trying to figure out the answer to the old Nursery Rhyme: "As I was going to St. Ives, I saw a man with seven wives... etc. ...How many were going to St. Ives?" This led Albert to try to figure out (and explain) to Pogo the mathematical ability in the same way Hobbes tried to "help" Calvin with his math problems. It won't be spoiling things much when Pogo told Albert that the answer was one.

"Really? One? Well, huh."

(long pause)

"ONE?!!??!" Then leaning in closer to Pogo, asks, "HOW can you say One?!"
"Easy. Befo' I gets to two, I pops off with one."