Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

We HAVE Met the Enemy…

By Rick Marschall

I met Walt Kelly, but I never had a conversation with him. To be less precise, I talked to him a few times. If that isn’t clear – and it hardly is to me; stick with me – we chatted, or people walking about us probably thought we did.

This is a backwards way of admitting that one of the regrets of my life is never having talked to Walt Kelly while he was sober. At the tender age of 11, I was invited by cartoonists to meetings of the National Cartoonists Society in New York; not the annual Reuben awards, but monthly meetings at the legendary Lamb’s Club. It was an old actor’s clubhouse (I don’t mean for old actors… no, I guess I do. I once walked past Brian Aherne asleep in an overstuffed red-leather chair), full of character and memories and ancient cigar smoke and treasured mementos on the walls. Each month the NCS had the dining room and meeting rooms for meetings.

It was a different time. No cartoonist in the tri-state area ever wanted to miss a meeting: drinks; dinner; drinks; some musical or comedy entertainment; drinks; “Shop Talk” – an interview panel with, perhaps, an editor, or a cartoonist from out on town. And drinks.

I was too young to drink anything but ginger ale; but the whole set-up put me at a disadvantage with some of the cartoonists. Particularly Walt Kelly.

Many of my contemporary heroes, like Rube and Russ Patterson, were at those meetings (and some heroes-to-be, like Al Kilgore and Creig Flessel) but seeing a guy with “Walt Kelly” on his name tag sent me to the Moon.

Walt always had a head start on everyone at the bar, and thereafter (as Der Captain might have said) “Society Iss Nix.” I persisted through his fog, and, thinking back, it must have been a ridiculous sight that this kid grilled him about T S Sullivant and his early favorites, and other inanities.

There was one silver lining, perhaps. I must have given him my name and address, as I did to other cartoonists. These slips of paper led to some friendships; with Walt it evidently led to confusion when he found it in his pocket the next morning. God bless him, I’m sure he forgot what exactly the kid was asking for… but he compensated by sending a daily Pogo, some sketchbook material, and – strangely – some old drawings and clippings from his days on the New York Star, and proofs or freelance work for Newsweek.

Gratefully received!

You know, instead of the title I chose above, I could call this essay “Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose,” because some of that old material was political. And… who IS the “enemy”? I will be mysterious. But we are in a political season (in case you haven’t noticed) and Kelly frequently dealt with politics, even of course in Pogo.

The French phrase is translated, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This aphorism is true in politics as in other areas of life – in fact, even my dinner is repeating on me at the moment. But here I will share some of Kelly’s lesser-known, or seldom seen, cartoon work.

See if they foreshadow any politics of our own time. If not… order another drink, and they’ll start to. Trust me.


No comments:

Post a Comment