Pogo Possum, born in 1943 from the fertile imagination of Walt Kelly, emerged full grown and a possum to be beckoned with. From the very beginning, Pogo’s clear perspective on the world was sharp, yet not surgical. Was uncluttered, yet not simplicity.
In a very real sense, Walt Kelly and Pogo were the same. Walt Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1913, and grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. After gaining experience as a high school newspaper editor and cartoonist, and as a reporter and part-time artist for the Bridgeport Post, Walt set out for Hollywood and the Disney Studios in 1935 to find employment. For six years he worked as an animator on such films as Snow White, Fantasia, and Pinocchio, learning the skills of the cartooning craft that were to become so important in the later years. Upon returning east in 1941, Walt began illustrating a series of comic books which featured a “furred and feathered” bunch of creatures who lived deep in the Okefenokee Swamp, just outside of Waycross, Ga. As art editor for the New York Star in 1948, Walt introduced the first Pogo comic strip, using the same anthropomorphic animals that had appeared in the comic books. Pogo’s career was well on the way. His only trouble was that he looked just like a possum, a problem soon to be rectified.
After the Star folded in 1949, Kelly sold the strip to a major syndicate, and Pogo began a rapid rise to fame. Along the way, Pogo evolved into the Disneyesque ‘aww-shucks’ kind of character that the world has grown to recognize. At its peak, Walt Kelly’s Pogo appeared in nearly 500 papers in 14 countries, and sold close to 300 million copies of books about Pogo and his friends. Kelly died in 1973 and his widow, Selby, continued the internationally syndicated comic strip until July, 1975. After 26 years of syndication, Pogo was completely discontinued. In People Magazine, Pogo Possum bravely announced to the world that he was merely in a pause between engagements. One might have expected Pogo to drop from the scene much like Al Capp’s “Lil Abner”, but Pogo was far from dead. The Pogo phenomenon continued to be a vital cultural phenomenon.
In 1987, Selby Kelly granted the City of Waycross permission to adopt Pogo as it’s goodwill ambassador and in July she brought Pogo home to the Okefenokee and Waycross for it’s first Annual Homecoming. This was Selby’s first visit to the Swamp and Waycross, but not her last. She returned in1988 for the July 4th celebration and again in January, 1989 she and Pogo helped celebrate the U.S. Postal’s Service inauguration of a National Wetlands postcard dedicated to the Okefenokee Swamp. Also in January, 1989, after 14 years absence from the comic pages of America, Pogo returned to syndication through the efforts of the Kelly family and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. The team of writer, Larry Doyle and artist, Neal Sternecky have Pogo and his “swamp critter friends” once again philosophizing and poking gentle fun at the social and political successes and follies of the 1980’s.