Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pogo: Prisoner of Love

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 Pogo: Prisoner of Love (Simon & Schuster, 1969).

I've always liked the fact that a comic strip as beautiful as Pogo existed more than I liked reading it. Take a look at the funny pages today. Not one of them is as well-drawn as Pogo. Nobody is able to match Walt Kelly's beautiful linework. Even if newspaper designers were giving strips the space today that they did fifty years ago, you wouldn't see such gorgeous art.

We found a first printing of this 1969 collection for a quarter recently. You haven't bought anything this good for a quarter since you were five years old. I think that it reprints a nearly complete set of daily strips from late January through August, 1968. A few panels were truncated for space reasons, and the Sundays, which I believe told a different continuity, are not included. Fantagraphics has been releasing nice annual hardback archives of the strip, each of which compile about two years of story. So I guess that in 2021 or so, we'll be able to compare the two and see how much was excised.

Having said that, I've honestly never before enjoyed Pogo as much as I did reading this. No matter how much I love Kelly's art, and no matter how much the wordplay and the puns make me chuckle, every time I've tried to read some of this stuff, I've been put off by the characters. I just can't tell any of them apart. There seems to be about fifteen innocent, kindhearted good guys who get a little confused over the modern world's complexities, and about fifteen mischievous ne'er-do-wells who take advantage of them. None are distinctive enough for me to embrace; the alligator and the hound dog could have swapped places in the story and I wouldn't have noticed.

The rambling storyline hangs together on gossamer-thin lines, but it's so darn cute, and punctuated by so much sweet silliness, that I smiled all the way through it. Some of the swamp's residents decide that the Okeefenokee should secede from the country, or at least suppose in innocent agreement to other characters' more rascally suggestions that it's an idea worth considering. The mole, the bobcat, and the muskrat engineer some of this before getting distracted on a search for hidden treasure, leaving the other characters to debate positions in their new government and the tone of a new national anthem. Pogo is propped up as the least objectionable president - and, by the baddies, the easiest to manipulate - which leaves the swamp's ladyfolk in a lengthy tussle as to who will become the First Lady. In the end, the lovely and innocent flirting between Pogo and the skunk, Ma'm'selle Hepzibah, has an incredibly sweet little hands-holding payoff. If you can read it without a big, dumb grin, then something is downright wrong with you.

Despite my own stumbles and bellyaching, Pogo was a terrific strip, and whenever you find one of these books, you should snatch it up. I probably should start getting those Fantagraphics collections of the 1950s stuff, shouldn't I? The one with the Joe McCarthy character is coming out in August. Recommended.

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