Thursday, February 24, 2011

Comics are Serious Business

All through my childhood and well into my adult years, my dream job was to draw a newspaper comic strip. "Mac Quack: Corporate Duck" was my last attempt at this, and like all others, was universally hated by syndicates. But, like everything else, the electronic media has made newspaper comics an anachronism, and anyone can reach the world with their comics electronically now, if the world can find it. Also, if you are willing to take up the daily grind for no reward whatsoever.

So who cares? Nobody. I only bring it up because I recently bought another original of "Pogo" by Walt Kelly. The remarkable thing about this particular strip is the larger character inside the bag is Simple J. Malarkey, Kelly's caricature of Sen. Joe McCarthy during the height of McCarthyism. Kelly stood among only a handful in the media to publicly challenge McCarthy's innuendo and bullying. Communism was a real threat hanging over the country domestically and internationally during the '50s, but McCarthy's tactics were self-serving, unconstitutional and in the end served only to de-legitimize more measured efforts to protect the nation.

So this drawing is a part of certainly the most significant sequence Kelly did in more than 20 years of drawing the celebrated strip. I can't be sure, but it seems like this character appeared in only about 30 strips. Of course, here you can't see the character per se, but there's even a funny story behind that. There was another character, a chicken, who already had been established as a Rhode Island Red from Providence. When the caricature of McCarthy reappeared in mid-1954 (he had first appeared in 1953), the newspaper in Providence had declared that if his face showed up again they would drop "Pogo." So Kelly, who must have been working on a very short deadline, had Malarkey say "No one from Providence can see me" as the chicken approached, and put a bag over his head. The newspaper got the joke, but indeed Malarkey's face never appeared again.

This strip was relatively cheap, particularly for an example from the '50s. I think maybe the seller didn't know what she had. This feels like a piece of history to me.

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