thrift store finds: walt kelly’s santa claus adventures

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

When I was in middle school, I was a great fan of Jeff Smith’s Bone comics.

I don’t want you to be mistaken, I still remain a great fan of Smith and all his work… but the tween-aged Chris was OBSESSED with Bone. He ordered comics from Cartoon Books directly. He drew the characters in the margins of all his tests. He collected the Bone trading cards, lucking out enough to find a SIGNED Smith sketch card.

He also followed any and all interviews with Jeff Smith. When Smith mentioned his influences in an old issue of the now defunct comic magazine Heroes Illustrated, Walt Kelly’s Pogo was mentioned.

Pogo is one of the most beloved newspaper comic strips of all time, an ongoing humor strip featuring the denziens of the Okefenokee Swamp and their interactions and frequent misunderstandings with one another. Kelly worked at Disney for a time and it shows in his wonderfully expressive characters who are often oblivious but always endearing. Kelly was a master of dialect and pioneered a lazy drawling, phonetical manner in which the characters talked that was hilarious and rewarded close reading.

My local library had exactly ONE Pogo book, Phi Beta Pogo. I probably checked that book out about three dozen times while I was in high school. I always loved the way that Kelly inked his comics… the small details and the bold use of blacks in the daily strips. They stood in stark contrast to the comics that litter newspapers today. I’m anxiously awaiting Fantagraphic Books’ The Complete Pogo series as I’ve had little luck finding the old Simon & Schuster paperbacks in my thrift store.

I did run across this old comic, however:

published by Innovation Comics in 1991. I wasn’t altogether familiar with Innovation’s publishing output outside of a metric ton of awful looking licensed properties like Quantum Leap and that old Beauty and the Beast show starring Linda Hamilton. Innovation also, as evidenced by this, did a booming business in reprint comics.

Now, by all accounts, Kelly was a big proponent of Christmas. Ask any fan of Pogo and they will regale you with a stanza or two of Pogo’s signature carol, “Deck the Halls with Boston Charlie” if you don’t believe me. Aside from being a big Kelly fan, I’m also a HUGE fan of Christmas comics, a few of which I’ll likely be spotlighting a few of those in the upcoming weeks. When I saw this sitting in a bin at Half-Price Books last weekend, I had to have it.

Collected here are several of Kelly’s Christmas-themed comics as well as a few lovely illustrated poems, starting with Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”

and continuing on with several other Kelly originals in the same vein. My personal favorite of the poems is “Santa’s Story” wherein Santa fights a Cossack-looking giant and, through magical means, get shrunk down to the size of an insect.

I’ve always liked the idea of Santa as an action hero; it’s probably a holdover from 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie wherein producers seemed to try their hardest to turn Santa Claus into a kind of holiday superhero.

There are three comics included in this collection: Santa’s First Helper, How Santa Got His Red Suit, and my personal favorite Jeminy’s Christmas, a story that has some general “talking animal” ties to Pogo. It’s one of the long line of stories I’ve come across by writers who work backwards to create some kind of connection between Christmas and Easter. 

The Easter mythology with its giant talking bunny and multicolored eggs always seemed a little out of left field, so I get why tying the two together would be catnip for some cartoonists.

Anyhow, I scrounged this from Half-Price Books for a quarter and I’m a huge fan. Even with some of the archival Walt Kelly collections that are already in stores or due to hit shelves sometime soon, I don’t see a natural place for these stories to be reprinted, so I’m glad to have ’em on my shelf.



4 Responses to “thrift store finds: walt kelly’s santa claus adventures”

  1. I’m lucky enough to own a few of the originals that this book reprints, they are BEAUTIFUL! Walt Kelly’s work on the “Our Gang” comics is also a must-see if you’re a big fan… it’s Pogo, but with KIDS instead of animals. How weird is THAT?!?!?

    Also, still waiting for that Star Trek pop-up book…

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Y’know Brian, I was cleaning this weekend and I found the package sitting behind my filing cabinet. My bad- I will send it out before the close of the week.

  2. NinevehRains Says:

    The artwork of Pogo reminds me a lot of the Bernstein Bears illustrations.

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Elliot and I have been looking at a lot of Stan & Jan Berenstein in our house the past few months- I see what you’re talking about.

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