Let Me Finish

I checked out the third volume of Walt Kelly’s Pogo strips, Evidence to the Contrary, which runs from from 1953 to 1954. As acknowledged in the notes at the back of the volume, this is when the strip started getting political, satirizing Joseph McCarthy and the fervor for weeding out communists. McCarthy is caricatured in Simple J. Malarkey, a rather sinister wildcat introduced as a cousin of occasional villain Wiley Catt.

He’s assisted by Mole MacCarony, an extreme germophobe who walks around with a Flit gun that he sprays at just about everybody and everything, and later takes issue with migratory birds as well. He’s also incredibly near-sighted, as befits his species. He’s based on Patrick McCarran, an anti-communist senator from Nevada who supported limiting immigration and denying visas for ideological reasons.

The two of them join Deacon Mushrat’s bird-watching club, with Malarkey taking it over by threatening the Deacon with a shotgun, and starts casting suspicion on everyone.

The two are assumed to have killed each other in June 1953, but they both later reappear at a time when McCarthy was no longer being taken as seriously. MacCarony receives a taste of his own medicine when Albert accuses him of kidnapping with absolutely no evidence, and then starts a bomb scare when he mistakes a young woodchuck’s gibberish for subversive foreign speech. In August 1954, Malarkey shows up in the company of a badger named Charlie. He was named after someone called “Indian Charlie” whom McCarthy cited as his childhood mentor, but is drawn to look like Richard Nixon.

Malarkey, MacCarony, and Charlie all wear sacks on their heads a few times, and while of course McCarthy wasn’t affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, Kelly wanted to point out the similarity of their paranoid prejudice. The satire is silly and absurd, yet would presumably have hit close to home when the strips first ran and McCarthy was surprisingly popular. After all, if you DIDN’T support him, he was liable to brand you a communist.

There’s also a bit of Cold War paranoia in the Sunday strips from this period, which have their own storylines that don’t generally coincide with the dailies. Howland Owl comes up with one of his nonsensical get-rich-quick schemes, this time to create an express route to China by digging a hole through the Earth. He and Albert mistakenly think they’re in the Soviet Union instead, and refuse to be convinced otherwise. This is also the story arc that inspired the first line of the They Might Be Giants song “Ana Ng,” as Churchy LaFemme fires a pistol through a globe to determine that Albert and Owl would actually end up in the Indian Ocean.

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2 Responses to Let Me Finish

  1. Joe says:

    I love Pogo and am thrilled that these collections are finally coming out after so many years! Be sure not to miss the comic-book collections. For a few years before Pogo became a newspaper strip, it featured in comic-books. Those stories take place earlier in time. The new collections of these (of which two volumes are out with a third on its way) are called: “Walt Kelly’s Pogo: The Complete Dell Comics.”

  2. Peter Mork says:

    Although everyone seems to think badger Charlie is Nixon, I think more likely he’s Roy Cohn, who was certainly recognizable as McCarthy’s second-in-command back then. (To be honest, the resemblance to both Nixon and Cohn is a bit tentative.)

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