Saturday, November 7, 2009

Know Yourself

Walt Kelly was a fascinating man, yet I will tell you only little about him. His bio has been told again and again, but only in short little blurbs. A promotional press release here, a standard interview there. He himself reinvented his own facts from time to time. The facts are pretty much public record and don't need to be rehashed here.

But what do we really know about the man? Only what he wanted us to know.

Kelly had a lot of fun at his own expense.

Quoting Kelly from the piece above, he " 'created' his gags thru a process known only to God and the FBI, using cuteness, solid black panels and solid lettering on 'tough' days."

Yet the only time that I have, offhand, seen him use solid black panels was twice and were a week apart in 1965. This is one of them:

And if you're wondering who that character with the gee-tar is . . . good. Then you'll find out when I post that daily arc.

Kelly looked deep into a mirror to know himself and his weaknesses, before he took on others in his satires to expose theirs. To quote a post I made on the Pandemonia 'blog:

Kelly gave a lot of talks over the years, many to college students, nationwide. In 1960 he gave this message to an auditorium of students (as excerpted and compacted from an article):

"Know yourself. Our problem is that we don't understand ourselves. Without self-understanding, it is impossible to comprehend the political and social problems of today.

However if you can find out who you are and if you can talk to yourself, the problems will be solved. Language will be unnecessary and love important.

Cartoons can't teach you anything. They can only try to make you see what you already know."

Of course that's Kelly above as Danny the Dip/Front View, as first printed in Four Color Comics #105 (Where Albert gets top billing on their first full length comic). I'm guessing the dapper Side View guy below him is Ernie ('Nancy') Bushmiller, by the looks of him, but I could be entirely wrong. And Perty Boy John, I made several guesses that I'm guessing were all wrong.

The people who knew Kelly well are mostly gone. Kelly's work will have to do for now to let us know what sort of person he was. But that may change—I see that an actual biography is forthcoming. Hmm, we shall see.

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