Taylor: Cartoonists tell us about ourselves

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be,” Yogi Berra said. Or maybe he didn’t.

Berra is like Mark Twain – the more outrageous the quote, the more likely it will be attributed to one of them.

Or to Pogo.

Pogo was the lovable possum invented by cartoonist Walt Kelly in 1948.

Pogo’s most famous quote is “We has seen the enemy, and he is us.” People quote it who have never read Kelly’s comic strip.

Forty-five years after Pogo last appeared in newspapers, some of his other quotations seem oddly prescient:

• “Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts.”

• “If you can’t win, don’t join ‘em.”

• “Don’t take life so serious. It ain’t nohow permanent.”

• “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”

Personally, I favour his garbled versions of familiar songs, such as “Deck us all with Boston Charlie…” Or his ode to the northern lights: “Oh roar a roar for Norah, Norah Alice in the night/ For she has seen Aurora Borealis burning bright.”

Still, Kelly’s genius was not so much his insightful quips as his memorable characters: cynical PorkyPine, southern-gentleman hound Beauregard, turtle Churchy LaFemme…

The same holds for another comic strip genius, Al Capp. Capp created Li’l Abner, a handsome (of course) and likeable hillbilly. But around him were Mammy Yokum; the military disaster Jubilation T Cornpone; the shapeless and generous Schmoos; Joe Btfsplk, always under his personal storm cloud….

Abner’s girlfriend was Daisy Mae, a Barbie Doll before Barbie Dolls were invented, wearing mini-skirts before they were invented.

Capp also bequeathed Dogpatch as a name for a run-down rural community, and Sadie Hawkins Day when girls could (gasp!) invite a boy on a date.

And in a spinoff from L’il Abner, we sometimes got a comic strip within a comic strip – Fearless Fosdick, a satire on Dick Tracy. Fosdick’s victims sported bullet holes like Swiss cheese.

My memory for nostalgia is excellent; it’s just your name I can’t remember.

I didn’t remember how the Peanuts strip got a black character, Franklin. Fortunately, Tom Watson told the story in his blog, The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony.

“On July 31, 1968, Franklin – Charlie Brown’s African American friend – made his debut.

“Pushback came. United Features Syndicate didn’t like scenes in which Franklin played with the other children. One editor even complained that Franklin shouldn’t be seen sharing a desk with Peppermint Patty…

“After a long phone conversation, Schulz told Larry Rutman, president of United Features at the time, ‘Let’s put it this way: Either you print it the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?’

“And that’s the way that conversation ended. Franklin was a permanent member of the Peanuts gang.”

Schulz, Capp, and Kelly all poked fun – literally – at conventional social wisdom.

I’ve never understood why no cartoonist made a comic strip about Jesus. After all, Jesus delivered just as many quotable zingers as Pogo did.

Imagine him telling General Bullmoose to turn the other cheek. Urging Dick Tracy to love his enemies. Perhaps likening Daddy Warbucks to a camel trying to fit through the eye of a needl e. Or calling Senator Jack S. Phogbound a whited sepulchre.

Well, maybe that’s too outrageous. Even for cartoonists.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.


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