Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Romney, a la Kelly

Since this caricature of Mitt Romney is pretty much a rip-off of a Walt Kelly cartoon, I'm not putting it up on the AAEC site. But it's something I wanted to draw, and I'm posting it here anyway -- which, I suppose makes this a Bergetoons Exclusive. Count yourself among a privileged few!

If you recognize the name Walt Kelly, it's probably as the cartoonist who created Pogo, a daily comic strip about an unassuming possum and a huge cast of animal characters who inhabited the Okefenokee swamp. Actually, the cartoon first appeared in book form in 1941 before moving to newspapers when Kelly was hired as editorial cartoonist of the New York Star in 1948.

Kelly drew a series of cartoons depicting the 1948 Republican presidential nominee with a cash register for a body. One such cartoon depicted Dewey placidly scooting along railroad tracks as two of the other three major candidates race to catch up to him. Kelly drew incumbent President Truman running blindfolded, alongside Progressive candidate Henry Wallace, who is encumbered by "168 gross of old boomerangs." Another cartoon showed the three candidates jealously sporting identical women's hats. (Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond is missing from these cartoons, I suppose, because as a strictly southern candidate, he wasn't a significant factor in New York.)

The Star folded a few months after Kelly started work there, and Kelly's editorial cartoons disappeared along with it. Pogo survived to be picked up by Post-Hall syndicate. Kelly still worked politics into his comic strip: a wildcat named Simple J. Malarkey appeared in 1953 as an obvious caricature of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy. J. Edgar Hoover showed up as a secretive, suspicious bulldog, and Vice President Spiro Agnew was a self-important hyena. Those are but the best examples out of many. Mitt's father, George Romney, made a brief appearance as a wind-up toy who sticks his foot in Pogo's mouth.

After Kelly's death in 1973, his widow, Selby Kelly, and son Stephen continued drawing for a couple of years. But the ever-shrinking size of newspaper comic space (which was still bigger in 1975 than it is today) was ill-suited for the densely drawn and wordy comic strip -- not to mention the lettering: there were characters who spoke in Gothic lettering, ornate script, or other flashy fonts. I have read that the Los Angeles Times revived the strip for a while starting in 1989, but that didn't last long, apparently.

Pogo remains one of my all-time favorite comic strips. Walt Kelly's uncanny ability to transmogrify politicians and issues into goats, spiders and wilder creatures, and his ability to entertain without sacrificing his message, are an inspiration to any editorial cartoonist who aspires to draw more than just didactic talking heads.

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