For your viewing pleasure: a piece of original art I bought on eBay last week, a Pogo Sunday page from 1965 by the great, great Mr. Walt Kelly:
All collectors have a “grail list,” of the items they dream of finding. I started collecting original art early enough to be able to own a few of mine — a Jack Kirby Thor page I got over a decade ago, a Gene Colan Tomb of Dracula page, a Jim Aparo Batman Brave and the Bold cover, and some others — but lately I’ve despaired of getting any more, especially by the top newspaper strip artists. Bill Watterson kept almost all of his Calvin and Hobbes art, and the few in private hands are out of reach for anyone but a millionaire (the first one to be on the market in ages sold for a little over $200,000 last week). Similarly, unless I win the lottery I’m not likely to be able to get a Peanuts page, or an Elzie Segar Popeye page, or Krazy Kat.
However, just when you think there’s nothing left, you get lucky: I got on eBay last Monday afternoon, and there was the Walt Kelly Pogo page shown above, coming up for final bid in a little over an hour, and at a reasonable price (the most recent edition of the Comic Art Price Guide lists the minimum price for a Pogo Sunday at $1,000, rising to well over $2,000, and it was, while not cheap, considerably less than that minimum). I put in a bid, fully expecting that five or six dealers/collectors would swoop in at the last second, but… nothing. My bid was higher than the previous bidder’s maximum (by quite a bit), and no one else bid. It’s not because there was anything wrong with the page, either, as you can see (that glare in the bottom middle is from my camera flash, and not on the art): it’s just that it was 2:00 on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and everybody was at work, or preoccupied, or whatever… and so, thanks to the miracle of Paypal, the art was in my hands by Friday afternoon.
If you click on the picture, you’ll get a bigger version, so do that and check it out, in its full rectangular glory, and not squashed like it is here: you can even see the faint blue lines of Kelly’s original pencils, and the circles where he worked out the dialogue balloon placement. Marvel at his sharp, crystal-clear line (like Carl Barks, he started as a Disney animator in the ’30s, working on Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo, among others, and that training shows). He transferred to comics work in the early ’40s — the Pogo characters, in fact, first appeared in Animal Comics in 1943 — and in 1949 Kelly launched it as a syndicated newspaper strip. The strip is famous both for its gentle whimsy and for its sharp political satire (Kelly took on Joseph McCarthy, one of the major American demagogues of the 20th century, much earlier than most, depicting him as an evil bobcat named “Simple J. Malarky,” and in the ’60s Spiro Agnew showed up in animal form, too), and paved the way for strips like Doonesbury.
Just about any fan of newspaper strips will have Pogo in their all-time top ten, and I’m no exception. Kelly died in 1973 — he was only 60, so Pogo only lasted about 25 years — and this art is from 1965, still in his prime period. There’s no political satire — just that wonderful long first panel with the elephant (he’s an occasional member of the supporting cast, and his name is Peanie Brickle), Pogo’s tree house, and all those other foreground and background swamp details, and then the carefully-timed buildups to the various gags, culminating in Albert showing up and getting his coffee hijacked (note the “slurrap,” which nails the actual sound of an elephant sucking up coffee through its trunk, when a lesser writer would have used the generic “slurp,” and the way Kelly draws the exclamation point; note, also, Albert’s startled “oig?”) Look at that last panel, too: the three main characters of the piece, perfectly posed, each with his own perfect expression: Pogo’s mischievously haughty head-waiter look, the elephant’s satisfied “Who, me?,” and Albert’s comically-irritated closer.
I’m looking at the page right now — it’s hanging in the dining room part of the kitchen, right over the computer, where I can see it as I work — and I expect that it’ll give me pleasure for a good couple of decades before someone else gets it: exactly what a great piece of art should do. Posting it here lets me simultaneously share it with you, and brag about it, which for a collector is just about heaven.
Now, if anyone has a cheap Segar Popeye to sell….