Best known as a cartoonist and as the creator of Pogo, Walt Kelly also made a small number of recordings associated with Pogo, as a vocalist. Kelly was born in Philadelphia, the son of a theatrical scene painter, and was raised in Bridgeport, CT. He showed remarkable facility as a cartoonist as a boy, in addition to working as a reporter on his school newspaper. Kelly spent his first three years after graduation from high school working in a garment manufacturing plant, and in 1933 took his first newspaper job, with the Bridgeport Post, working as a reporter and also publishing his first regular strip. The latter, an illustrated life of Bridgeport native P.T. Barnum, proved extremely popular and durable, but he quickly grew bored with the subject and gave up the job in 1934.
After a stint as a government inspector and a retail clerk, he left his hometown and headed for New York City, where he found little welcome in the journalistic or comic strip worlds, and subsequently headed for Los Angeles. He worked for Disney for a time, and also married during this period. The association with Disney Studios lasted for four years, until 1941, when he quit amid a labor dispute with the producer. He returned east to Connecticut, and went to work for Dell Comics, which gave him the chance to grow and express himself in far more creative ways than Disney ever had -- it was while working on Animal Comics that he unveiled the character of Pogo. The war created little interruption, as Kelly had been exempt from the draft because of rheumatic fever suffered as a boy, and he continued working in comics during the 1940s, while also illustrating dictionaries and guidebooks published by the Army Service Forces.
After World War II, he returned to New York City and created a comic strip built around the character of Pogo and the other creatures he'd devised for his old Dell comic book Animal Comics. The strip, called Pogo, took off in popularity from its introduction in 1948 and went into national syndication in the spring of that year. With its mix of knowing political satire and old-style vaudeville humor, the strip's appeal cut across cultural and political lines, and it was popular enough to justify the publication of books collecting the Pogo strips, and also the recording of an album, Songs of the Pogo, composed by Norman Monath and featuring Kelly, Mike Stewart, and Bob Miller on vocals.
This album, which became a much sought-after collectable among Pogo enthusiasts in the 1970s and 1980s, constituted Kelly's major contribution to music, although he played an unwanted and indirect role in the history of one major country-rock group -- it was Kelly's threat of a lawsuit that forced the budding L.A.-based band Pogo to change their name to Poco prior to their recording debut in 1969. Kelly passed away in 1973 after years of declining health, but the popularity of his strip lives on, and Songs of the Pogo was reissued on CD in 2003. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi