Baby Doll

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Walt Kelly’s final contributions to Dell’s Christmas comics were published in Four Color #254 (Dell, December 1949).

The issue included a surprise appearance by Albert and Pogo, but the great writer-artist reached whole new levels of crazed holiday hi-jinks in a story that featured a cross-dressing elf (hello again, Google search bots!), a surprisingly worldly dog and a little girl who required a lesson in generosity.

Here’s “Santa’s First Helper” by Walt Kelly.

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Santa Clothes

Santa is stranded on Christmas Eve! Who will save the world’s children from a holiday of disappointment?

How about some naked elves? (Hmmm … wonder why my Google search stats suddenly skyrocketed? Oh well.)

Writer-artist Walt Kelly sorts out this not-so-merry X-mess in the scintillating tale of “How Santa Got His Red Suit.” The story originally appeared in Four Color #61 (Dell, December 1944).

A Very Kelly Xmas

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Walt Kelly’s Pogo is justly lauded for the brave stands it took against McCarthyism, segregationists, Vietnam and just about every other controversial issue of the time.

The strip, however, had its more sentimental side as well. Most notable was Kelly’s apparent soft spot for the Christmas holidays, because the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp always celebrated the Yuletide in style.

The care and craftsmanship Kelly brought to his Noel-themed work  also extends to his time as a writer-artist for Dell Comics, where he wrote and illustrated several holiday annuals.

For the next few days, we’re going to feature a sampling of Kelly’s holiday comics for Dell. The first tale, “Christmas Comes To The Wood Land,” originally appeared in the publisher’s long-running anthology Four Color Comics, which adopted the title “Santa Claus Funnies” for the occasion.

(Dell published more than 1,000 issues of Four Color, although the title was usually downplayed in favor of whatever character or concept was published that particular month. It’s a long story.)

Today’s comic first appeared in Four Color #91 (Dell, December 1945).

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A quick note for Daniel, a longtime visitor to this and our previous blog: I don’t believe Flickr allows the sort of links you’ve requested. Sorry!

Radio Active

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Radior, the “X-Ray Powerman,” made his sole appearance in Dell’s Key Ring Comics #1, a publication that has a legitimate claim to being the industry’s first magazine with multiple variant covers.

The comic introduced five characters – “Radior,” “Sky Hawk,” “Greg Gilday,” “Viking Carter” and “Sleepy Samson” –  in separate 16-page adventures, a break from the already standard practice of one long feature and numerous, shorter back-ups.

Key Ring Comics was further distinguished by the inclusion of five separate covers featuring each character. (Paving the way for the future excesses of Marvel, Image and – of course – DC.) The real selling point, however, were the two hole punches on the side of the book that allowed readers to arrange the stories in any order they wish and place them in a school binder.

Theoretically, this would make Key Ring Comics easier to read at school and give kids the option to pick their own cover feature. Who needs the Internet to create interactive comics?!?

Dell unfortunately proved to be a bit too far ahead of its time as the comic only lasted a single issue, consigning Radior and his fellow “Key Ringers” to funny-book oblivion. The book is extremely hard to find these days, although the Radior story has been exhumed thanks to the intrepid scanners of the Digital Comic Museum.

From Key Ring Comics #1 (Dell, 1941), here’s “Radior, The X-Ray Powerman.” The writer and artist are uncredited.

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Golden-Age justice! Although, if I were the guy’s newly elected secretary I’d be careful not to trigger that temper.

As a bonus, here’s the three remaining variant Key Ring Comics covers that survived the ravages of time.

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Pudd’nhead Kelly

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Walt Kelly is rightfully lauded for Pogo, but his more obscure efforts for Dell’s Animal Comics possess the same magic that made the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp so unique and memorable.

“Nibble and Nubble,” a charming strip about a gadabout mouse and a friendly kitten, is a nice example of how Kelly could find humor in the simplest of situations – in this case, a well-intentioned if misguided attempt to make pudding.

The story, written and drawn by Kelly, originally appeared in Animal Comics #29 (Dell, October-November 1947).

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Schoolboys In Disgrace

Before Walt Kelly’s Pogo began its legendary run as a syndicated newspaper strip, the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp – specifically Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum himself – debuted as supporting characters in Dell’s Animal Comics series. Originally cast as foils to a young boy, Kelly soon discovered the feature worked better without the presence of humans and elevated Pogo and Albert to starring roles.

The following story appeared about a year before the Pogo syndicated strip began, but Kelly’s distinctive art and humor are already in full bloom. The remarkable part is that Kelly command of his craft and characters would only get better over time.

Howland Owl learns just how difficult it is to properly educate “nature’s screechers” in an untitled story from Animal Comics #25 (Dell, February-March 1947). The story and art are by Kelly.

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Night Of The Owl

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Thanks to Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and a cast of thousands over at the Nu52, owl-themed super-characters are experiencing their biggest surge in comic-book popularity since Nite-Owl admitted that life is best experienced while wearing spandex.

Of course, owls didn’t always provide handy comic-book totems for nefarious cults and critically acclaimed deconstructions of super-heroic tropes. One of Daredevil’s early arch-villains patterned himself after the bird of prey while Golden-Age publisher Crestwood drafted The Black Owl to serve as its answer to Batman from 1940-47.

And nobody can forget long-time Justice League foe (and, much like The Black Owl, an analogue of the Caped Crusader) Owlman …

One of the more notable members of this august group was The Owl, who was just about the only all-original super-hero published by Dell Comics in the 1940s.

(Although the company published one of the earliest all-original comic-books, The Funnies, in 1929, by the 1940s Dell specialized in producing the adventures of such licensed properties as Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters. The Owl – along with Walt Kelly’s Pogo and a few other funny animal features – were rare exceptions to this rule.)

The Owl was created by Frank Thomas, the man responsible for The Eye. Despite the main character’s fantastic appearance, Thomas grounded the strip in reality – or as close to reality as you’d find in a early ‘40s Golden Age comic.

The Owl, like many Golden Age super-heroes, was a law enforcement officer frustrated by red tape. Although he possessed a few gadget a la Batman, the Owl steered away from the larger-than-life super villains found in other books and concentrated his efforts on garden-variety crooks and saboteurs.

Thomas’ artistic style, reminiscent of Roy Crane, fit in well with the reprinted newspaper strips that surrounded The Owl in the two Dell publications the character called home: Crackajack Funnies and Popular Comics. The cartoonist also broke a few super-heroic tropes along the way, such allowing The Owl to revealing his secret I.D. to the Lois Lane stand-in.

The Owl faded into obscurity by 1943, but the character was revived in the mid-60s by Dell in a campy series that unsuccessfully attempted to exploit the success of the Adam West Batman show. The character re-emerged again a few years later in a cross-over with Doctor Spektor that hinted the crime-fighter was immortal.

Nothing came of that revival either, but a good Batman analogue is hard to keep down and The Owl returned once again in Alex Ross’ Project Superpowers.

“The Murder Of Whitney Morgan” originally appeared in Crackajack Funnies #28 (Dell, October 1940). The story is by Frank Thomas.

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Playing Possum

Although Pogo Possum long served as the Okefenokee Swamp’s voice of reason, the little critter was originally just as untamed as the rest of the fabled comic strip’s characters.

(Well … nobody really topped Albert in that category. His personality was pretty much set from Day 1.)

Pogo’s actions in the following story are largely derived from the character’s feelings of anger and spite toward his invading relatives, a rarity in later years as Kelly’s “every-possum” grew more reflective and even-tempered as he “matured.”

The untitled tale originally  appeared in Animal Comics #17 (Dell Comics, October-November 1945). The story and art are by Walt Kelly.

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I believe Fantagraphics’ long-awaited collection of Pogo comic strips is finally due to appear. It’s definitely must-read material, Time Bulleteers.

Like Father, Like Son

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Professor Supermind and Son, Dell’s apparent answer to Superman, appeared in 12 consecutive issues of the publisher’s Popular Comics title back in 1941 before disappearing off the face of the Earth.

During that short span of time, the father-son team battled the forces of tyranny as embodied by the marauding armies of “Cruelblitz” and “Dictoriana”: thinly veiled substitutes for Adolph Hitler’s Germany.

The stories were copyrighted to “RS Callendar.” Other than the name of the artist who drew the characters’ debut in Popular Comics #60 – Maurice Kashuba, who is primarily remembered today for working on early issues of DC’s Detective Comics – no creator credits appeared in any other Supermind & Son story.

To be honest, that’s all you need to know to enjoy the following tale. Everything else is explained in the opening panel, a nice bit of economic storytelling that would be spread out over five or six issues in modern comics.

Here’s Supermind & Son versus the Dictator of Cruelblitz. The story originally appeared in Popular Comics #64, Dell Comics (June, 1941).

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It’s not every day that you see a super-hero call Adolph Hitler a “woman in man’s clothes.” Well, at least in a comic that isn’t written by Frank Miller …

Hey Kids, Comickals!

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April Fools Day is a time for lightening things up a bit, so let’s sit back and enjoy a Walt Kelly classic from Pogo Possum #5 (Dell Publishing, 1951).

Here’s “The Big Comickal Book Business,” proof positive that the residents of the Okefenokee Swamp were “meta” before most people even knew what “meta” meant.

Story and art are by Kelly.

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By the way, when is Fantagraphics supposed to begin publishing Pogo collections again?