“Pogo” (May 18, 1955)
by Walter Crawford “Walt” Kelly, Jr (1913-1973)
6.75 x 20 in., ink on paper
He began his animation career in 1936 at Walt Disney Studios, contributing to Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo. In 1941, at the age of 28, Kelly transferred to work at Dell Comics, where he created Pogo, which eventually became his platform for political and philosophical commentary.
Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro were both communist leaders during the Cold War. Occasionally, they would take trips to America to extol Communism’s virtues. Some thought that their appearance in Pogo would provoke conflict.
Kelly satirized these trips three times in Pogo. The first time, a pig who bore a resemblance to Khrushchev and a parrot who said “you said it” whenever the pig said something. The second time, the pig came with a goat who was a parody of Fidel Castro. Castro had recently taken power in Cuba in the late 1950s and early ’60s when these strips were written. Many newspapers thought this was going to provoke nuclear war with Russia, and some papers dropped the strip. Ironically, this strip is from just months before the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet Embassy complained. The Post Hall Syndicate did not drop the strip, and Kelly continued the satire until it was played out.
Kelly also poked fun of the practice popularized by US supermarket chain Sperry & Hutchinson (“S&H”) of giving out bonus stamps with each purchase. These green stamps could later be traded for household goods of all kind, giving customers the (false) idea of getting something for nothing, while at the same time making them spend more.
Kelly’s “Puce Stamps” were an obvious scam, promoted by Mr. Pig (the barely disguised caricature of Nikita Kruschev) and aimed at abusing the naivity of the denizens of the Okefenokee Swamp.
In real life, a set of nine Puce Stamps, featuring the main characters of the Pogo strip, was created in 1963, and included by publishers Simon & Schuster with the first edition of the Pogo compilation, “The Puce Stamp Catalog.” I have two sets.