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A Day in the Life: Walt Kelly, 1955

By Michael Barrier

By 1955, Walt Kelly's Pogo was one of the most famous and popular American comic strips. In the fall of that year, Kelly's distributor, the Hall Syndicate, sent client newspapers eight photographs of its star cartoonist, along with gag captions, a four-page tongue-in-cheek biography of Kelly, and introductory paragraphs that were, a brief "note to editors" explained, "designed as a lead-in or box or brief story to accompany the feature spread."

All of this material, the "note to editors" excepted, was almost certainly written by Kelly. His "lead-in" explained that "somebody sent this fellow Shrdlu to find out whether the Walt Kelly who signed POGO was that way all by himself or whether he was really a bunch of fugitives from PS 77.....and whether he drew the comic strip standing on his head or crouched behind a strong barricade."

It is in the captions for the photos that the whimsy becomes, well, more than a little forced. Kelly probably couldn't take this project seriously, and so let himself be as silly as possible. And I have to wonder: Did very many of the papers that carried Pogo run any of this stuff? I doubt it. But, onward. Here is the caption for the first photo, just below:

"Good news!" A lady, forgotten from childhood, has called and invited Thurnig to lunch. He was about to eat his seventh POGO book. The first six went down without a struggle. "Who are you?" laughs Thirsty Thurnig into the phone. (For, who knows, romance may be afoot!) "Just show up," trills the lady, "you'll know me for I shall wear a potted palm at my breast." Excitement like this is part of the daily routine of a big time cartoonist.

I will spare you more captions (they don't get any better). It's the photos—all of them, to judge from clues like Kelly's attire, taken on the same day—that are of real interest, anyway. They show us Kelly in early middle age, around the time he turned 42 (in August 1955), and not long after he shaved off the mustache that was a trademark in Pogo's early days. They give us a glimpse back 53 years into the workaday world of the man who was in the eyes of some, myself included, the greatest comic-strip creator, ever.

Walt Kelly No. 1

Walt Kelly No. 2

Walt Kelly No. 3

The other man in this photo is Kelly's longtime assistant, George Ward.

Walt Kelly No. 4

Kelly is entering the offices of the Hall Syndicate at 342 Madison Avenue in New York.

Walt Kelly No. 5

Walt Kelly No. 6

The other man in this photo is Robert Hall, president of the Hall Syndicate.

Walt Kelly No. 7

Walt Kelly No. 8

And what the hell—just to wrap things up, here's Kelly's caption for the eighth photo, above:

"Problems, problems!" sighs Misthug, the Arabian Bear Cat. At this time he is deciding on lunch. He always eats peanut butter soup and lettuce. His problem, laughs Rudy, is which to eat first. Here he is eating his pencil. It is safe, fans, there is no lead in it.

[Posted March 13, 2008]