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Email Miz Beaver

Animal Comics and early Pogo Appearances

Anthology comic books were common in the Golden Age, collecting a number of short stories or serials featuring different characters.  Sometimes a theme gave the collection some semblance of organization (Action or Detective Comics, for example), but not always.  Dell's most famous anthology title was Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, featuring Walt Kelly art in early issues.  Arguably Dell's second most famous anthology was Animal Comics, famous because it introduced Albert, Pogo and the rest of the Okefenokee Repertory Players.

Starting with the second issue, the star player in Animal Comics was to be Uncle Wiggily and friends, adapted from the story books by Howard R Garis.  The other stories featured characters created just for the comic.  Later issues tried using “Raggedy Animals” by Johnny Gruelle and Famous Studios (Paramount Pictures) cartoon characters to attract readers.  But the only feature that was there in the first issue and the last was “Albert and Pogo.

Issue #1 introduces Albert, a greedy and selfish alligator, Bumbazine, a thoughtful and clever little boy, and Pogo, a possum with a birthday.  In “Albert Takes the Cake,” Albert may have a different personality than his later loveable self, but Pogo has no character at all aside from fast-talking his way out of being eaten.

The opening panel shows a lush swamp with bending trees, hanging moss, twisting flowered vines and exotic, if gooney, birds.  While this kind of spotlight on the setting would become common in the comic strip version, here the swamp will quickly become just the backdrop for all the action, drawn realistically without the later flourishes.

Next issue's “Bumbazine and the Singing Alligator” has Albert pulling a trick instead of being tricked, though it backfires.  Pogo is curmudgeony, of all things, and Bumbazine has an idea that will foil Albert.

By the eighth issue, in what could be called “Albert Takes the Cake II,” Pogo has become younger and is much more his good-natured, optimistic self.  Here he becomes a victim of circumstances, the kind of role Churchy would later play.  Albert, who previously threatened to eat Pogo, is now willing to cut off his tail to save him.  Albert is also featured in Kelly's first one-page gag for Animal on the inside front cover.

In fact, the characters and situations are so close to what Pogo would become by this point that in the next issue we start seeing stories with elements that would later be reused in the strip version.  “Ol' Albert is Really a Deer” introduces Uncle Antler as a friendly foil for Albert in a duel that pits moose horns against tuba horn, reworked for daily strips in late 1949.

Animal #10 sports the first cover with Albert, accompanied by Uncle Wiggily, attesting to the growing popularity of the characters.

#12 is the last appearance of Bumbazine, who had been seen less and less of late.  Perhaps part of the reason for his departure was that, being a child in a child's comic book, he was not allowed to take part freely in all the action.  Everyone else spent their time flying through the air or being swallowed whole.  Bumbazine, with whom readers would identify, had to play the role of parent to these crazy animals and stay reasonably safe.

#13 introduces Churchy LaFemme, Howland Owl and those famous hand-drawn panel borders, complete with notches and the occasional open-end.  These informal borders became a Kelly trademark on most of his comic work, not restricted to Pogo, and gave it an open and friendly feel.

More than half of the “Albert and Pogo” stories in the last twenty issues of Animal Comics feature elements, from a single gag to an entire story, that were “cannibalized,” to use Raymond Chandler's term, in later strip continuities.  Like Chandler, Kelly did not want to see his early stories reprinted, perhaps because he was recycling the ideas in a new form.

“Albert and Pogo” moves to the front of the book, replacing “Uncle Wiggily,” beginning with Animal #23.  But there was trouble at Animal Comics.  #25 sports a redesigned cover, change in features and a reader's questionnaire.  By #27, “Albert and Pogo” lost the dominant cover position and the lead spot, both taken over by the dog feature “Rover.”  They were scrambling to boost sales.

Pogo, himself, in issue #28's story, pleads with readers to send in letters.  But it was too late.  #30 was to be the last of Animal Comics, but not the last of Pogo.  Check your local comic shop or eBay for copies of Norman Hale's All-Natural Pogo (Thinker’s Books, 1991), a book-length look at Pogo's comic book appearances with detailed character and story analyses.

Walt Kelly did over a hundred pages of non-Pogo work for Animal Comics, some of which ties in directly with what he would do later in the Pogo comic strip.  “Muzzy and Ginger,” in issue #1, is the slapstick tale of two animals that escape from a pet shop and the havoc they cause while loose.

Animal #9 introduces “Elephunnies,” a series of one-page gags in pantomime.  Once again Kelly's animation background (particularly on Dumbo) is used to provide some delightfully playful visual gags.  While other artists were satisfied to get one joke out of a one-pager, Kelly built gag upon gag, sometimes getting three laughs in six panels, as in issue #10: a monkey buys a train ticket and grabs a ride in a wagon by holding onto an elephant's tail; when the elephants enter a river, the monkey gets dunked; the monk pulls himself out angrily until he finds a fish caught in his hat.

Animal #22 includes an extended “Elephunnies” running eight pages.  A parrot and a turtle play a lion and an elephant against each other in a series of splashes, pinches and pratfalls in the best silent comedy tradition.

#10's “Why the Butterfly has Beautiful Wings” is the first of four text stories with borders and spot illustrations by Kelly.  Since they appeared on the inside front and back covers, bold black areas helped make up for the lack of full color.   While these are attractive designs, there was little creative thought or artistic effort expended on them.

#15 features the first of a series of stories that Kelly drew based on cartoons from Famous Studios.  Other artists worked on this series before Kelly and may have continued to assist on these as well.

“Cilly Goose” in this issue is the story of a spinster goose living in a Duckburg-like suburb.  Kelly added a brother, Minefield, to help trigger the farcical situations.  In the three stories that Kelly contributed over as many issues, Cilly mistakes a salesman for a suitor, wins a boxing match at the county fair and buys back her own attic antiques, all through the same sort of convoluted misunderstandings that characterize much of Pogo.

The next Famous Studios player to get the Kelly treatment is “Hector the Henpecked Rooster” in #s 16 and 17.  The first has Hector's wife Bertha swallowing soap and constantly bursting into bubbles while the second has Hector run into a series of mishaps when he gets trapped in a barrel of herring.  Hector's mouse friend Herman tries to smooth things over with Bertha in both cases (“Lady, there's bad news tonight!  There's a herring shortage!  Take my advice, lady--Snap up every herring you see!  You won't get any a week from now!”).

The third Famous cartoon adaptation is “Blackie” featuring a family of lambs in a modern suburb doing their best not to be caught by a wolf.  In Animal #17, Kelly's only outing with these characters, the wolf hides in a piano to infiltrate the household, then has to perform a cacophonous concert when Blackie tries to play the instrument.

Issue #19 presents the first of two “Goozy” the monkey tales in a looser, more expressive style that would show up in Pogo a couple of years later.  Here, the jungle animals choose a leader, first Tuscaloosa the elephant, then Chanel the skunk (“He's strong, allright.”), and finally Goozy, though the lion and tiger object.  The other “Goozy” in #23 has the monkey and his friends greeting a safari, then starting one of their own to search for Willy the quarry.  Judging by the wild sight-gags, “Elephunnies” probably takes place in this same jungle.

“Prehysteria with Koko” in Animal #21 is a one-shot story that gives us a first look at a much simpler Prehysteria than we see twenty years later in Pogo.  Koko the cave kid, goes hunting with Goo Goo, an ape, and Man's Best Friend, a faithful hound that is in character and appearance the prototype for Beauregard Bugleboy (“Fleet of foot, dignified of mien, fearless and self sacrificing, he leads man on the hunt and through vicissitudes of life--Who?  The Dog!”).

The last new characters Kelly brought to Animal Comics were “Nibble and Nubble” beginning in issue #28.  Nibble, a derbied mouse of distinction, is the forerunner of Ol' Mouse in Pogo.  Nubble, a kitten, befriends Nibble and together they raid the kitchen and blame it on a bossy parrot.  This scenario is reused with variations in the next issue when the family pudding is devoured.  Issue #30 finds the same theme, this time sans Nubble, with Nibble and the parrot laying it at the gullible dog's feet.

Character interplay between the fast-talking mouse, naive kitten and greedy parrot heightens the comedy.  Nubble: “Mother said something about mice--what was it?”  Nibble: “Something complimentary, no doubt!”  Parrot: “It's bad enough living in a drafty cage--do I have to have mice too?”  Nibble: “Ah yes, some people even mistake me for a famous cinema personality.”  In the final story, Nibble is seen complete with cane and carpet bag, just as he would show up in the Okenenokee Swamp three years later.

It would be almost two years between the final issue of Animal Comics (#30) and Pogo's next comic book appearance as the star of his own magazine.  In that time, Kelly would continue to work on other stories for Dell Comics.  But it was characters from Animal from which he would draw his Okefenokee Repertory Company for the newspaper strip, including Beauregard and Ol'Mouse.  Obviously he felt his work here was worth continuing, if in a new form.

Reprints

The good news is that most of the Pogo material from Animal Comics has been reprinted and is still fairly easy to get at reasonable prices.  The bad news is that almost none of the non-Pogo Kelly material has been reprinted.  All of Pogo from the first twenty issues, including covers and one-page gags, as well as the Our Gang #6 story and all of Four Color #105, can be found in the four volume Complete Pogo Comics from Eclipse Books.  These may still be available through larger comic shops or on eBay.  Unfortunately, Eclipse folded before any further volumes were published.

Until the Eclipse books, the only extensive reprinting was in the Dell Giant comic book Pogo Parade #1 from 1953.  It is relatively easy to find at conventions and includes three later stories not in the Eclipse books, but has, itself, become an expensive collectable.

The last three issues of Pogo Possum (#14-16) reprint one story each from Animal, plus there is the advantage of all that new Pogo material in the rest of the comic.

The only non-Pogo story from Animal that has seen reprint is the first “Nibble and Nubble” story from #28, which appeared in The Fort Mudge Most #23, the official publication of The Pogo Fan Club (and in the obscure magazine The Golden Age of Comics #1 before that).

Best Buys

If money is no object, Animal Comics #1 with the first appearance of Albert and Pogo and an extra Kelly story (“Muzzy and Ginger”) is an exemplary addition to any comic collection.  Wizard magazine included it in its list of the top 100 comics of all time.  But, let's face it: for most of us it’s just not gonna happen.

#16 features “Albert and Pogo,” “Cilly Goose,” and “Hector the Henpecked Rooster,” plus a one-page “Elephunnies,” all exceptionally funny.  #17 has all of that plus a “Blackie” tale for a total of 25 Kelly pages plus cover!

#21 has a long “Albert and Pogo” story and the short but important “Prehysteria” tale.  #23 has two long efforts, including a very funny “Goozy” with jungle jokes that “hit below the veldt!”

#28-30 all contain “Nibble” the mouse, though the middle effort appears to be inked by someone other than Kelly.  Any or all of these are worthy additions to your collection.

While Walt Kelly is our main focus here, there were many other fine contributors to Animal Comics including Dan Noonan in most issues and, in later issues, John Stanley, best known for his Little Lulu comics.  While Dell Comics has gotten little attention in comic histories due to its focus on younger readers and lack of superheroes, they published much of interest to the discerning reader.

Index to Walt Kelly Material in Animal comics

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All Walt Kelly art used on these pages is ©O.G.P.I. - other material ©2000-2008 by Marilyn White

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