Books That Built Me/ Recommended Authors

Books That Built Me: Pogo and other Walt Kelly books

I’ve just spent the last half hour or so entering my recently inherited Pogo collection into LibraryThing. When Dad first started collecting Pogo, he wrote his name in the books. Sometimes, underneath, he’d write the city he was living in. Every time I pulled a book off the shelf to enter its title, I looked for the signature.

I wish I could remember exactly when Dad decided I was ready for Pogo. It wasn’t the sophistication of the humor or the complexity of the language that concerned him, but rather the fact that the collection is all fragile paperbacks. I don’t think Dad ever wanted to sell the Pogo collection, but humor was one of his specialties when he was selling rare books, and my precocious affection for certain Algonquin Round Table members cost him. (In other words: at an early age, I read first editions of Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. In the bathtub.)

I think the way it happened was that Dad got me a “reading copy” of Ten Ever-Lovin Blue-Eyed Years With Pogo. When I managed not to destroy it, he let me at the old paperbacks. What I got from Pogo includes, but is not limited to:

  • A much better grasp of relatively recent American history than I got from textbooks
  • A huge appreciation for colorful language and surreal connections
  • Any number of useful phrases such as “I carry the hose”
  • An understanding that sometimes being funny is the best way to be serious

With that last in mind, I’ll transcribe “Word to the Fore” from Positively Pogo, published in 1957:

The antics which have been drawn together in this book are huddled together for mutual protection like sheep. If they had half a wit apiece each would bound off in many directions, to unsimplify the target.These continue to be wondrous times when every man tries to find a formula for keeping the stranger’s fingers from his throat. The simple expedient of holding hands will someday occur to a couple of people who will forever after be forgotten. We need to read and to think and to study the faces of our friends…a peaceful pursuit. But, in the light of our trial bombs bursting in air and the flash of the practice red rockets’ glittering glare, the study of peace is a blinky business. This collection of strips reflects the skulking state of mind of one startled student.


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  • dunkley kong
    March 21, 2008 at 11:10 am

    My mother decided I was “ready” for Pogo when she realized I would be *interested*. We were not lucky enough to have books at our house, just the revived 80s strip with the occasional “classic” thrown in, as syndicated nationwide.

    It looks like MCL has 4 or so Pogo books, more than enough to use up my remaining holds on, but we can work on this.

  • Lorna Weis
    March 21, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I love reading your blogs! Thank you!

  • Jeff P
    March 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    I can’t remember when my dad let my sister and I loose on his Pogo books, either. He wasn’t a collector, and he never seemed to mind that we completely destroyed them — most of them, except the handful that were on low-acid paper, including ironically, the Jack Acid Society Black Book, are now held together by (horrors!) Scotch &/or masking tape.

  • Delia
    March 23, 2008 at 9:00 am

    I loved Pogo, too, and that “Word to the Fore” made me remember why. One book (long-gone, alas) was just hanging out on my parents’ shelf, and I read it before I really understood it (I just liked the animals), and then again later (because I liked the language and the surrealism), and then in the late 60’s, when I finally got the politics.

    They don’t date, really. Very good comedy seldom does.