Pogo : The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder (v. 1)by: Walt Kelly
“EDITORIAL CARTOONS ARE STALE, Simplistic, and Just Not Funny,” read a recent headline in Slate. “If you study all of the recent Pulitzer winners in the cartooning category,” writes Farhad Manjoo, “you’ll see that single-panel editorial cartoons are an increasingly timeworn form. Even the best ones traffic in blunt, one-dimensional jokes, rarely exhibiting nuance, irony, or subtext.” Particularly galling for him are the clichés that afflict the form, visual semaphores trotted out by prize-winner after prize-winner, in which “the government is an ailing Uncle Sam or a sinking ship (helpfully labeled ‘USA’), Washington is a circus, and there are lots of elephants and donkeys.”
One can readily sympathize with Manjoo’s howl of boredom, given that he was restricting his attention to those cartoons most frequently anointed by the Pulitzer Prize. Yet this is a bit like asking the Oscar winner for Best Picture to actually be the finest, deepest, most innovative movie of a given year. Prizes by their natures reward a conventional mindset which mirrors those doing the judging. If you want the good stuff, you have to look to the visions of individuals.
Dwayne Booth, better known as “Mr. Fish,” and Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, offer two vibrant examples of political cartooning as it is practiced at its heights. Booth may modestly argue that this is not saying much — but then he has been, by his own account, in love and at war with the notion of “genius” since his teens. Walt Kelly seems never to have troubled himself with either the notion or the word: he simply put it into effect, day after day, for a quarter-century. Anyone who thinks political cartooning is stale need only take a closer look at these two bodies of work.
“I am not a cartoonist,” insists Dwayne Booth, the certifiably brilliant cartoonist who signs himself “Mr. Fish.” This insistence (akin to Magritte’s painting a pipe but labeling it, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”) is comically perverse, but entirely in character. Fore and aft in his debut book Go Fish, Booth/Fish tells us what he does is “not editorial cartooning,” despite the editorial pages being where his work inevitably appears. “A guy who wears a cowboy hat isn’t always trying to be John Wayne. Sometimes he’s trying to be Jon Voight.” As he stresses in his take-no-prisoners appendix at the book’s back, “Editorial Cartooning has never had a Mozart, much less a Bob Dylan. ,… The occupation of cartoonist is too narrowly defined to contain within it something so vast as the concept of genius.”
I’m not so sure about this; certainly Kelly’s body of work would argue otherwise, if we define “genius” as the ability to originate whole worlds. And Booth possesses, if not genius, at the very least an exceptional talent, which typically manifests a dynamic identity purely through one’s work, whatever that work may be. The more emotionally and intellectually involving, the better, and the work collected in Go Fish achieves this, even at first glance. To give Booth’s chosen secret identity its due (the name is shared with an obscure Marvel Co...read more