Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Friday the 13th Comes On a Wednesday This Month!"

If you recognize this quote, then you are part of a dying breed. I consider you a friend.

If you don't know, I will be happy to explain it to you. It comes from a character named Churchy LaFemme, one of the stars of the comic-strip POGO by Walt Kelly. Mr. Kelly died in 1973, so I didn't have much chance to read many of his new strips, but I must have liked what I did see because I don't remember not having a few of his collections around such as Impollutable Pogo (1970) that I read and re-read constantly.

The stars of the strip were the following six characters, with a befuddled Churcy at the end:

They inhabited the Okefenokee (sp?) Swamp, always going fishing or on picnics, playing baseball, or arguing about the words to that classic Christmas Carol, "Deck the Halls With Boston Charlie." If you've heard of the phrase "We have met the enemy and he is us" that was coined by Mr. Kelly in 1971 to help begin Earth Day in the US. Seeing as how his creations lived out-of-doors, Mr. Kelly was a very vocal supporter of what we would nowadays call The Green Movement.
Pogo of course was the easy-going and calm leader around which all the other characters stormed. He was drafted to run for President in 1952, the favorite of many college students. He didn't want to run...except away from his supporters. He was my favorite as a little boy; him and Porky Pine (who acted as if he hated everybody but who actually had a heart of gold) and Beauregard the Hound-dog, who was the cutest. As an adult I find the bravery and chivalry of Beauregard to be the most enjoyable....he is a DOG, Man's Best Friend, and he takes himself (way too) seriously.

Anyway, POGO as a comic-strip was funny (of course) but it was also beautifully drawn (especially on the full-color Sunday strips). Mr. Kelly had a habit of using what today we would call "fonts" for special characters...for example, his priggish and self-important Deacon Muskrat spoke in Olde English stylings. Circus Bear PT Bridgeport spoke in Circus Talk. As a kid I remember some of this was hard to read; as an adult, it helps me "hear" these different voices. And as an amateur artist I am wowed by the sheer effort Mr. Kelly put into his work.

Surprisingly enough, the comic-strip is also well known as being political as all get out. During the McCarthy hearings of the 50s Walt Kelly had a mean polecat character named Simple J. Malarkey appear who bore more than a strking resemblance to the Senator from Wisconsin. In a decade that seemed to be populated by milquetoasts, this took a lot of nerve on Kelly's part. As an amateur historian and comic buff, I salute him. During the 1968 Presidential elections he caricatured President Johnson as a Texas long-horn and the other Democratic candidates as wind-up toys. Even now when I read this story arc, I think, Wow.

I missed the Silver Age of POGO because I was born too late. However, I want to try to keep POGO from disappearing off the pop culture map completely. Similar to such greats as DICK TRACY and LIL ABNER, POGO deserves to be read and appreciated by a whole new generation of readers. Go to your public library and check out a POGO book. I'm sure there will be several to choose from. Then come back here and tell me if you don't think it was great.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this panel, from June 13, 1970. You see, Churchy is EXTREMELY superstitious, so it's not just Friday the 13th that he worries about....well, I guess it is, but to him, that unlucky day  simply moves around every month. It's more slippery than a catfish in a muddy lake.   

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite running gags from Pogo. Like you, I was born too late to really enjoy Pogo in its heyday but it was a favorite of my father's and of mine.