Yes I Can

By John Hertz:  Maybe the spirit of Sammy Davis, Jr., will allow my borrowing his title. My reason can wait till the end.  You may find it sooner.

In this year’s Hugo Awards I’ve recommended Alternate Routes (Powers) for Best Novel and The Glass Bead Game for Best Novel of 1943 (Hesse; Retrospective Hugo).  Nominations close March 15th.

We’ll have a trial run of Best Art Book, besides our regular Best Related Work.  University of Chicago professor Harry Kalven used to talk of United States law on freedom of speech “working itself pure”, which seems to have been the story of Best Related Work so far, and may continue if Best Art Book is established.

Meanwhile I can recommend Out of This World at Home, vol. 5 of Mark Evanier’s Pogo collection The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, without injustice to the Michael Whelan art book Beyond Science Fiction – which, if regrettably titled, is full of wonders; see my note on an exhibit preceding it here.

Evanier says This World contains “two prime years of what I think is the best newspaper strip ever – and even folks who disagree with me on that don’t usually disagree by much.”

He knows a lot more about comics than I do, but I don’t have to decide about Little Nemo — or Krazy Kat — to applaud This World.

Rick Marschall in America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists (rev. 1997; p. 255) says, “Walt Kelly was master of all that could be surveyed….  Pogo generously included … fantasy, literary and intellectual touches, farce and parody, graphic brilliance … poetry … and good old-fashioned slapstick.”

Pogo, in the Okefenokee Swamp where he lives, is a possum.  Many things prove to be possible, or impossible, there.  In Latin – we can all guess whether Kelly delighted in this – possum means I can.

4 thoughts on “Yes I Can

  1. I’m a big Pogo fan myself, but only have the first two volumes and so far have read only the first. It was wonderful!

  2. Did Marschall’s review of Pogo mention that it was highly political? It satirized Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1953 when he was at the peak of his power. It is some of the best political satire ever done. “Simple J. Malarkey” is recognizably McCarthy, clearly a menace, and all his schemes are just barely defeated in the funniest possible ways. Walt Kelly’s vision of a swamp where the denizens get along is also political. I was going to say “especially for its time” but look around now.

  3. John Hertz replies by carrier pigeon:

    Certainly. Pogo satirizes McCarthy – and the creatures who follow him – and Khrushchev – and Communists. Marschall reminds us (p. 263) that Pogo “became the most controversial comic strip of the day because of the political commentary Kelly readily injected”. As for the denizens’ getting along – well –

    I respectfully suggest that, elemental as this is, it is not the only nor the greatest element. More fundamentally Pogo satirizes, not merely particular fools, but human follies. And it does so bearing in mind Sarcasm is in anger, satire is with love. Nor is satire its greatest element.

    In an earlier draft I named a third predecessor, Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. I promptly added,

    My own political views are closer to what’s shown in Pogo than in Annie. But there’s a sense in which I don’t care. The spirits of Gray and Kelly might not like my setting aside their politics. Maybe I’ll discuss it with them in Heaven.

    Marschall says (pp. 165, 181),

    [If] critics missed … millions of readers, perhaps by instinct, did not … the superb sense of craft that permeated … Annie.... Gray … used his tools as no other cartoonist did…. Annie … intensely personal … revealed the personality of a genius.

    That’s what I had in mind when I recommended Out of This World at Home.

  4. Far be it from me to say that politics is the greatest element in Pogo! Just that it is a well-known element. Although the vision of all the swamp critters living together in their own strange form of harmony is itself political, especially considering its deep folkloric roots.

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