Continuing our look at recently-obtained correspondence between Jack (King Aroo) Kent and Walt (Pogo) Kelly that sheds new light on the genesis of Aroo while also showing off some full-color Aroo Sundays I obtained in early March of this year…
The second Kent-to-Kelly letter is dated April 21, 1950 and is the longest of the set, running two pages. It includes a paragraph showing Kent read far more than just comic strips: “My favorite wits have always been Billy Shakespeare, Edmund Rostand (Cyrano and Chantecleer [sic]), W.S. Gilbert (Bab Ballads and the comic operas), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows), and A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh).” It contains three paragraphs of Kelly/Pogo flattery (sincere flattery, but flattery nonetheless), concluding this section by asking, “What’s the secret? What manner of genius is he who can foal a comical that EVERY age and intelligence level votes tops? A Pogo is a Pogo is a Pogo is a Kelly and none other.” It contains a follow-up to the request made in Kent’s first letter to Kelly: “I must also ask your forgiveness for my audacity in reiterating, as I am about to, my request for an original drawing by you.”
The fascinating new angle in this letter is Kent describing his efforts to follow in the footsteps of Herriman and Kelly with a syndicated strip of his own. He tells Kelly, “I submitted samples to Mr. Harry Gilburt of United Features about a year ago – Wonderful person that he is, he took time to comply with my request for criticism… ‘too subtle.'”
He goes on to discuss his local free-lancing and how he “toured the mag-gag mart” as he produced new samples and considered submitting them to Pogo‘s syndicate, Post-Hall (“for POGO is certainly subtle and P-H bought it,” he reasoned), but instead opted to try United Features once again. He discusses the reaction to that second submission:
“In Mr. Gilburt’s letter he expressed the fear that I was still over the heads of too many people,” Kent tells Kelly. “He suggested I aim at a seven-year-old mentality – Both my contributions had been fantasies, so to illustrate his point he enclosed clippings of a fantasy that ‘achieves a larger common denominator’—THE ENCLOSED CLIPPINGS WERE OF POGO! – You could have knocked me over with a rejection slip!—POGO aimed at seven-year-olds????” Kent also says this package from Gilburt was received on Monday, April 17th, so he wasted little time before relating this story to Walt Kelly.
This story appears to have hooked Kelly, as we’ll see when we look at the final three letters in this small-but-fascinating treasure trove of letters.