The Bridge Between the Okefenokee and Myopia (The Kent-Kelly Letters, Part 2 of 3)

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…

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

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