POGO POSSUMOriginal Medium: Comic books
Published by: Dell Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Walt Kelly
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Donald Duck. When Dell decided to try a comic containing original characters, Animal Comics, he became a contributor with its first issue, which hit the stands in 1941. Kelly's story, "Albert Takes the Cake," introduced Pogo Possum — but few of today's readers would recognize Pogo as he appeared back then; it would be a couple of years before he evolved into his more familiar form.
Nor was the Possum quick to achieve starring status. It was 1945 before he shared billing with Albert the Alligator, or appeared on the comic's cover — and when he did make his first cover appearance, he was scarcely noticeable in the picture's background. His name continued to appear under Albert's when they shared billing in two issues of Dell's Four Color Comics (1946 and '47). It was 1949 before he finally began to star in comic books of his own, in a Dell series that lasted until 1954.
By that time, Pogo had begun to star in his second major venue, newspaper strips. On Oct. 4, 1948, the Possum began as a daily strip in The New York Star. It was then that Kelly's political views began to be noticed in what had formerly been strictly a children's feature. (In comic books, however, Pogo remained free of politics as long as the series lasted.)
Less than four months after the strip's debut, the Star folded. But Kelly had become fond of the daily strip form, and soon succeeded in selling the feature to Post-Hall Syndicate (The Ryatts). The syndicated Pogo began on May 16, 1949. Kelly wrote and drew it, with the humor becoming ever more topical, until his death in 1973. His wife, Selby, continued it for a time, but it ended in 1975. The syndicated version achieved a rare distinction for Kelly — critical acclaim, as had earlier been won by Krazy Kat and Barnaby, combined with a level of popularity with the general public which, while never really approaching that of Blondie or Hagar the Horrible, was nonetheless far higher than that of those other highly respected strips. It also, in 1951, netted Kelly a Reuben Award.
Pogo's third major venue was a long series of trade paperback books, beginning in 1950. At first, these simply reprinted the syndicated strip — but with the 1953 publication of Uncle Pogo So-So Stories, they began to diversify, with many featuring original material of a sort that would be hard to fit in either a newspaper strip or a comic book. Some have longer stories — today, they would be called graphic novels. Some show the characters reciting Kelly's poetry. Some contain acid-tongued political commentary, while others are simple flights of fancy. All are highly prized by collectors, and are seldom reprinted.
Pogo has been animated a couple of times. The first. The Pogo Special Birthday Special, was broadcast on May 18, 1969. It was produced by Chuck Jones, known for his faithful adaptations of stories like Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudyard Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, who also did the voice of Porky Pine. Walt Kelly himself did Albert the Alligator's voice, and Pogo was voiced by June Foray (Granny in the Tweety & Sylvester cartoons).
The other was Pogo for President, aka I Go Pogo, which ran August 1, 1980. There, Pogo's voice was done by Skip Hinnant (Fritz the Cat, several voices in My Little Pony), with Stan Freberg (Bertie, Tosh) as Albert. Also heard in that production were Vincent Price (at least one recurring villain in Scooby-Doo), Arnold Stang (Top Cat) and Jonathan Winters (Mayor Cod in Fish Police). In neither case was the special charm of Kelly's strip captured, and they're seldom rerun.
Another thing that failed to capture Kelly's charm was an attempted revival of the strip. Walt Kelly's Pogo, by Larry Doyle and Neal Sternecky, ran during the late 1980s and early '90s, but failed to find acceptance among Kelly's die-hard fans.
Today, Fantagraphics Books is reprinting the daily strip from its beginning. With only one person able to write and draw authentic Pogo, and with that person no longer available for the task, this is the strip's only possible future.