Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Obscurity of the Day: Walt Kelly's Pogo

How can Pogo be an obscurity of the day? When it's the ill-starred revival of 1989-1993 (officially titled Walt Kelly's Pogo), that's how. You'd think that the ill-advised continuation of the original strip after Walt Kelly's death in the 70s would have been lesson enough that newspaper readers insisted that their beloved Pogo be the product of Walt Kelly's fertile imagination, but obviously it wasn't.

It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Writer Larry Doyle (later a writer for The Simpsons TV show) was able to give the strip the classic Kelly flavor, and artist Neal Sternecky was a more than capable cartoonist. Both creators understood that the Pogo storylines had to be somewhat simplified for the taste of the current generation of newspaper readers (or at least so syndicate editors preached), and that the art had to be simplified for today's miniscule printing sizes. Given those strictures they did an admirable job of adapting Walt Kelly's classic to a new generation.

What Doyle and Sternecky did to modernize the strip, though, was anathema to fans of the Walt Kelly original. The belly-aching began immediately on the new strip's much-heralded appearance. The two creators were demonized by many old-time fans. Worse, in trying to appeal to old fans the creators did a poor job of introducing the strip to a younger generation that had never seen Pogo, and the die was cast. No one, old fan or new, was willing to give the revival much of a chance.

I'm afraid I don't know the inside story of the strip's creative changes, so I can only say that Larry Doyle was the first creator to jump ship in February 1991, but not whether he got a better offer elsewhere or just simply got tired of hearing all the carping. Neal Sternecky then took over the writing duties for another year before he too bailed out. Then it was up to Peter and Carolyn Kelly, both children of Walt, to carry the torch. They gave up the Sunday in favor of reprints of the original strip (with a few exceptions, see below), but continued the daily. Then in mid-1993 Peter Kelly also dropped out and Michael Lewis wrote for awhile before Carolyn took over all the duties. Finally the foundering strip was put out of its misery in November 1993.

Here are the credits as near as I can figure them out. This list is an adaptation of a rather confusing rundown that appeared in the Kelly fan publication The Fort Mudge Most:

Sunday Art:
Neal Sternecky 1/8/89 - 3/22/92
Walt Kelly reprints 3/29/92 - 11/15/92
Carolyn Kelly 11/22/92 - 12/27/92
Walt Kelly reprints 1/3/93 - 6/27/93
Carolyn Kelly 7/4/93 - 10/10/93
Sternecky reprints 10/17/93 - 11/28/93

Daily Art:
Neal Sternecky 1/9/89 - 3/21/92
Carolyn Kelly 3/23/92 - 10/2/93
Sternecky reprints 10/4/93 - 11/27/93

Sunday Scripts:
Larry Doyle 1/8/89 - 2/24/91
Neal Sternecky 3/3/91 - 3/22/92
Walt Kelly reprints 3/29/92 - 11/15/92
Peter Kelly 11/22/92 - 12/27/92
Walt Kelly reprints 1/3/93 - 6/27/93
Peter Kelly 7/4/93 - 7/18/93
Michael Lewis 7/25/93 - 10/3/93
Carolyn Kelly 10/10/93
Doyle reprints 10/17/93 - 10/31/93
Sternecky reprints 11/7/93 - 11/28/93

Daily Scripts:
Larry Doyle 1/9/89 - 2/23/91
Neal Sternecky 2/25/91 - 3/21/92
Peter Kelly 3/23/92 - 9/11/93
Michael Lewis 9/13/93 - 9/18/93
Peter Kelly 9/20/93 - 10/2/93
Sternecky reprints 10/4/93 - 11/27/93

What a shame that Doyle and Sternecky were haunted by the ghost of Walt Kelly. There was more than enough creative horsepower in this fine team to create a modern classic. But they were doomed from the start to live in the shadow of a master. Rather than castigate them for failing to fill the shoes of a giant perhaps we should better ask why they were foolish enough to take on the impossible task in the first place.

NOTE: although the paper that printed the samples above was giving credit to Doyle and Sternecky, the strip by this time was Sternecky's alone.


Who was Michael Lewis? Surely it counldn't be the guy who wrote Liar's Poker (among many other excellent books)? Could it?
I read all of Sternecky's run in the FMM and loved it. I never actually read any negative reviews, so I am not sure if the whole negative backlash thing was a real issue, or just something promoted by people who had their own reasons to see the strip fail. The continuation by Kelly's kids was a real abomination and a prime example why creator's kids should never continue their father or mother's legacy (Chris Browne andJohnny Hart's grandson Mason being the two only exceptions).
Hello, Allan---->PHEW!< Don't forget this one when you make a list of the all-time worst!--Cole Johnson.
Robert - Sorry, dunno. Anyone?

Ger - See Cole Johnson's comment -- I heard no end of this criticism when the series was running.

Cole - are you saying the strip was horrible or today's essay was horrible???

I like these. Anyone here seen "Myron"?
Unfortunately, I think to most laypeople/non-comic fans, "Pogo" in general is an obscurity. It's a shame, because it's a terrific strip.
That's a lovely little cartoon.
Yes, I've seen "Myron". It's one of the best strips on the web. Love it!
I wonder Pogo Possum is doing today?
I like the phrase "the majority of my dander".
Just found this blog post a couple of years after the fact because I'm trying to find out what Doyle and Sternecky are doing these days. I'm re-reading my collection of their strips in the Fort Mudge Most; they are the most sure-fired day-brightener I know. I have no hesitation in saying the strip was BRILLIANT. I'll go so far as to make the heretical statement that their version was more consistently funny, day in and day out, than Walt Kelly's (not to take anything away from his own genius, or his gorgeous cartooning).
In 1989 the Walt Kelly Popo did a hilarious SUNDay edition spoof of Batman and Robin played by Albert and Pogo as his sidekick. {The Police commisioner was plaged by Beauregard Bugleboy} They were opposed by the Wizard of OWL and "Dunce" {Churchill LeFemme} in which Albert is captured due to one of his own explosing segar's {The OWL was supposed to get it!} In a cliffhanger ending Albert is tied to a RUBE GOldberg contraction which would end in him being bonked by a weight! Albert thinks he can escape using his tongue but The last part of the comic shows an ending fading-because Albert ran out of Red Crayon! readers were invited to send in their version of how the episode would end. I never did but my ending would be this way-Albert is a little too late and the weight comes down and bonks him. Fortunetely Albert head is too thick for him to be killed off..and instead the weight bounces off Albert and then KO"s the two villians! Albert is making another pompus speech of how good will triumph when he and POgo must fight another dasterly villian Miz Ma'm'selle Hepzibah {A kind of Catwoman type villian} who steals perfume to make herself irresiable and her accomplice Miz Beaver!
PS to last message-there was also a spoof of a Charles Atlas bodybuilding course in which Churchill LeFemme is a weakling who gets tired of having sand kick in his face and his sandwiches stolen on the beach by owl. Churchill makes himself into a tough guy-no less than ALBERT Alligator -who finds that Owl has been bullied himself and his sandwiches taken from him by another bully-BArnstable Bear! The outcome between Albert and Barnstable is not given! {P.S. Chucrhill in his room kicks a Opus doll from Bloom County!}
Actually, January 3, 1993 - June 27, 1993 Sunday Pogo revival strips were all first run Carolyn Kelly reprints, not vintage Walt Kelly reprints.
But Carolyn Kelly only did a few months of Sundays on the strip by that time. How would there be enough material for six months of reprints? Might you mean they were Selby Kelly reprints from the original series?

No, the November 1992-October 1993 Sunday Pogo revival strips were all first run Carolyn Kelly Sunday strips, not reruns nor Selby Kelly/Walt Kelly reprints.
Rest in peace, Carolyn Kelly.
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