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Walt Kelly

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Waltkelly
Pogopossum
HensonandKelly

Comparison of a page from Jim Henson's 1960 sketchbook (upper) with characters from Walt Kelly's The Pogo Stepmother Goose (lower.) [1]

Gilchrist-pogo

Kermit and Piggy in Okefenokee Swamp, featuring cameo appearances by the Kelly characters Pogo and Churchy LaFemme, as drawn by Guy Gilchrist

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) was a cartoonist, humorist, and animator, best known as the creator of the long-running comic strip Pogo. His early career included a stint as a reporter and political cartoonist for The Bridgeport Post, followed by nearly seven years at the Walt Disney Studio. While at Disney, Kelly worked his way from assistant to full animator, animating on Mickey Mouse shorts and contributing to such features as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia, often under the supervision of friend Ward Kimball. Kelly left the studio in 1941, following a labor strike. He remained associated with the Disney characters, however, contributing covers and stories for Dell's Disney comic book line throughout the 1940s.

In 1942, Kelly, still working for Dell, introduced Pogo Possum in the debut issue of Animal Comics, along with a black child named Bumbazine and a hungry alligator named Albert. Sans Bumbazine, who was gradually phased out, Pogo and Albert accrued new friends until the end of the comic book in 1947, and made a successful transition as a newspaper comic in 1949. Pogo followed Pogo, Albert, and such diverse (and often punningly named) characters as Howland Owl, superstitous turtle Churchy LaFemme, and dour Porkypine in often surreal adventures in, around, and outside of the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia (in real life, the largest swamp in the US). The comic was characterized by a "Southern-fried" dialect, the inventive use of distinctive lettering to visually illustrate a character's speaking habits and personality, open acknowledgment by the characters of such comic strip conventions as panel borders and word balloons, poetic lyrics and songs, and variations on existing tunes such as "Deck the Halls," most famously transposed as "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie." Political humor was a mainstay, with caricatures of such figures as J. Edgar Hoover, Communist leaders like Kruschev and Castro, and Joseph McCarthy, turned into recurring antagonist Simple J. Malarkey.

The strip ran until Kelly's death in 1973, was continued by widow Selby Kelly and assistant Don Morgan for two years, and revived yet again in 1989. A television special was produced by Chuck Jones in 1969 with Kelly and Jones supplying some character voices, and in 1980, a stop-motion feature entitled Pogo for President was released, featuring the voices of The Electric Company alumnus Skip Hinnant (as Pogo), Stan Freberg, Vincent Price, Jonathan Winters, and Ruth Buzzi.

Influence

According to Jim Henson: The Works, Henson "eagerly followed" the Pogo comic strip, which "went into national syndication around the time Jim began high school." Pogo is said to have "influenced Jim Henson's development of Muppet characters." [2] In addition, Galen Fott has noted that a page from Henson's sketchbook circa 1960 includes drawings of Pogo characters including Sarcophagus MacAbre, a worm, a frog, and various beasts from Kelly's 1954 book The Pogo Stepmother Goose. [1][3] Furthermore, the Henson family "often gathered around the organ and sang songs from the A. A. Milne and Pogo songbooks." [4]

In a 1987 interview, Henson explained Kelly's influence on the entire structure of The Muppet Show: "Walt Kelly put together a team of characters. And it started with Pogo as the central character... a fairly normal, ordinary person... and all around him, he had Albert Alligator and a bunch of comedy characters bouncing off him. We use a very similar chemistry. Kermit is the Pogo. You have one normal person who represents the way people ordinarily think. And everything else, slightly crazier comedy characters are all around that person."[5]

References

  • Robin's Frog Scout troop is the Okefenokee Pack 12, referencing the Pogo character's stomping grounds.
  • Kelly characters Pogo (in silhouette) and the turtle Churchy LaFemme appear in the background of a Muppet comic strip by Guy and Brad Gilchrist. (reprinted in On the Town). In the strip, Kermit and Miss Piggy are in Okefenokee Swamp vising Kermit's relatives. Artist Guy Gilchrist was also a particular fan of Pogo, and kept framed Walt Kelly artwork on his studio walls.

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 Grundoon.com- Henson draws Kelly
  2. Inches, Alison Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles; New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001, p. 13,
  3. Kelly, Walt The Pogo Stepmother Goose; New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1954.
  4. Designs and Doodles; p. 18.
  5. Volgenau, Gerald. Henson's Off-Stage Voice Surprises Muppet Family Christmas Visitor. Knight-Ridder News Service, December 16, 1987.

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