Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Pogofenokee Swamp

What follows here is an article that Pogo himself wrote for the POGO Fan Newsletter (aka fanzines) The Okefenokee Star back in 1969. It's basically Pogo's "Secret Origin." Although I have never seen a copy of The Okefenokee Star  (I was too young to be a subscriber and by the time I had heard of it it had ceased publication), the following article was re-printed in the great POGO Even Better  (1984, Simon & Shuster) probably available at your local library. (If not, ask for it!)

The Pogofenokee Swamp
Written especially for Okefonokee Star readers by Pogo

In 1943 I was born, not in the real Okefenokee Swamp, but in a comic book. (The real Okefenokee Swamp is a wildlife wilderness, 30 x 40 miles, in southeastern Georgia and notrheastern Florida). At that time I played only a bit part. The leading character was a little boy. And next to him there was an alligator whose name was Albert. In those days Albert Alligator was ferocious and a braggart. He was always boasting about the things he was going to do. He never did any of them. He tried, though. I am very glad he didn't succeed because one of the things he wanted to do was quite distasteful to me. Albert wanted to eat me. Maybe that's why I looked so sad in those days.
Later it seemed to Mr. Walt Kelly, the boss, that the boy slowed us animals down. "Animals are much more sensible and a lot more fun to work with," said Mr. Kelly, and he threw the little boy out....gently. Then when the animals in POGO talked to each other, it made more sense. Animals do not really say anything much to humans, or in front of humans either. "It doesn't pay to let them know too much," says Mr. Rackety Coon.
 When the little boy had gone off, Albert turned out to be a real friend to the other animals in Okefenokee Swamp. He was still very grumpy, though, and still acting ferocious when he felt like it; he was still boasting. Every once in a while, even now, he swallows somebody by mistake. Spelunkers (people who explore caves) then go in and rescue the poor lost soul. Albert does not do this very often, because spelunkers are apt to light matches and to carry torches around in your insides in case you've swallowed anybody. Very uncomfortable. "It gives me hearth-burn," says Albert, "and then stomach-burn and then liver-burn." 

We all lived in the comic-book swamp until about 1947. Mr. Kelly went to work then for a newspaper in New York City, and in 1948 he made a comic strip out of our adventures. The first thing Albert did was to swallow a pollywog child. It took two months to get the poor little beast out of there.
Exactly 20 years ago, May 1949 to be exact, Albert Alligator and I started our first work in national syndication. That means that in strip form, we were sent off to newspapers all around the country where we appeared every day on the comics page. This takes a lot of work. Mr. Kelly makes the drawings, and then they are engraved. The plates or engravings are then impressed on a matrix...on many matrices, in fact. A matrix is a lightweight asbestos paperboard mold into which melted zinc can be poured to make a printing plate. This is done at each of the newspapers so that the drawings can be printed in every city. 

Along the way we had gathered many friends in the swamp. Churcy La Femme is a turtle by trade. Howland Owl is a scientific type, who pretends to be very knowledgeable. Beauregard Bugleboy Frontenac, a hound-dog, came into the swamp looking for someone who was lost. It turned out to be him. Porkypine is a gruff little philosopher with a heart bigger than he is. Bun Rabbit, a virtuoso drummer, likes to collect holidays. The Rackety Coon Chile is sometimes smarter than the adults. And Miss Mamselle Hepzibah, a lady skunk, is much admired. 

Besides these special friends, many other people joined our company...bears, snakes, butterflies, worms, and mice. Somebody tried to count them all one time, but gave up after identifying about 150.

Mr. Kelly confesses that each of the characters, good and bad alike, represents a side or two of his own personality, for better or worse. This is why he says that we should not judge the other fellow too harshly. "You may be somewhat like him yourself. Try to understand him."

Bun Rabbit's interest in holidays led to a story that is being adapted for television in animation. I thought that anybody should be allowed to celebrate the holiday of his choice any time he wanted to. So we set about acting that out. The story mainly involves Porkypine and a lot of confusion.

Confusion seems to be a way of life in the Okefenokee Swamp that we live in. We try to do things right but they turn out a little upside down or inside out. So, as Porkypine says, we don't take life too seriously, "because it ain't nohow permanent."

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