Best known for Pogo, Walt Kelly was a star artist for Disney in the 1940s. He drew centaurs for Fantasia (silly people added bras to the female centaurs later) and comic books for the Dell publishing company who printed a number of Disney titles. He turned out work at an alarming rate and Dell actually gave him credit for some comics — a rare thing in those days. Among the titles that Kelly worked on were Santa Claus Funnies and some Christmas one-offs, but the book close to his heart was Animal Comics, where Pogo Possum got his start.
Early on Kelly put his characters in Christmas stories. Here’s a few pages from Animal Comics December issue, 1945. Note that Pogo looked alot different then he did later, and his personality is also different: he’s more cunning and sly. The little boy in the story is Bumbazine, gentle voice of reason when dealing with the animals in the swamp. Later, Bumbazine would be dropped from the comic and his personality shifted to Pogo. [Most images in this post can be made bigger by clicking on them.]
The story concept — putting on a Christmas party for the orphans — is one that Kelly used over and over. Although Albert is identified here as an orphan, a few years later Pogo calls Albert a fake when he claims to be orphaned — it seems his parents are travelling circus performers. Porky Pine becomes the swamp’s token orphan. Although Kelly often re-hashed material, he never bothered too much with continuity.
Kelly’s most famous Christmas trope was introduced in 1948 during a brief comic strip run in a short-lived paper. I mean, of course, the carol, “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”. Here’s a much later version [from The Return of Pogo, originally published 1965]:
The lyrics changed over the years; possibly the key version is the one in Songs of the Pogo which you can read here in its entirety.
“Boston Charlie” was a hit, of sorts. People argued about the lyrics and tried to find meaning in them. Kelly was bemused by this and often said that the song was what it was at any given moment and didn’t mean anything. Of course, no one paid any attention any more then Charlie Manson paid attention when people said Helter Skelter” was just a pop song.
Kelly did other carols, too:
Good King Sauerkraut, Look out!
On your feets uneven.
While the snoo lay round about…
“Snoo? What’s snoo?”
“Not Much. What’s snoo with you?”
And he tackled this gem [from Pogo Sunday Brunch, originally appeared 1955]:
Then there was Clement Moore’s poem [from Pogo Sunday Parade, originally published 1954]:
That Sunday page was originally in color and you will be able to see it in all its glory in the Fantagraphics complete Pogo comic strips series when it is printed — volume four, I think, but maybe five.[Pogo, Vol. 1: Complete Syndicated Comic Strips ]
But Kelly’s own favorite Christmas carol was probably the one that he used on his Christmas cards, year after year.
Merry Christmas everyone, be merry and never give in to dismay.
[If you want more Pogo, check out Whirled of Kelly which reprints lots of stuff.]