For What Ails You

Sometimes when I’m blue
and nothing seems to do
where I go
is Pogo.

I scrounge my Pogo books from Burke’s Bookstore. They’re cheap, used as they are. I lie in bed and read about Churchy LaFemme and Howland Owl conniving to drag Pogo into their latest scheme. I laugh. I turn the page.

These are not comics popular during my childhood, oh no. Walt Kelly wrote in the 1940s or something (I’d know if I weren’t so lazy and willing to do a little research, but it’s one of those days.) The books belonged to my mother when she was a young woman—not a girl; these are adult comics. I first found them in the attic of our house on Belhaven Street when I was in elementary school. I poured over them, losing entire afternoons as I lounged on the attic steps, dust motes drifting in the rays of sunlight cutting through the louvers at the end of the roof. I lingered, studying the pictures. I read and re-read and re-read again—my supply was limited.

The books are funny, full of puns and misunderstandings. (I’m beginning to think this may have been the source of my affinity for puns.)

owl
Puns galore

The illustrations of Pogo (a possum), Albert (the alligator), Churchy LaFemme (a turtle) (you know Howland is an Owl, right?) and all the baby critters (affectionately known as tads) match the comic tone perfectly. Once, after we moved from Belhaven Street to Arlington Street, I became so enamored with one of the bug children, I sat in my bedroom that opened onto the Romeo and Juliet balcony and cut and stitched my very own bug from scrap fabric, making my love real. I recreated the bug’s needle nose, his pinstripe wings—where did I find pinstriped fabric? When he was finished, I taught the bug his lessons using a small wood-framed chalkboard. I don’t remember the subject matter, but I do recall how attentive he was to what I had to say.

A bug and his dad
A bug and his dad

There are no morals in Pogo. Okay, maybe “don’t eat the sandwiches before you really need them.” What there is is swamp boats poled through shallow waters and friends distraught because their latest shenanigans have led to the demise of their other friends (never true). Sometimes in the books written in the ‘70s there’s a lament for the swamp and the environmental damage being done in the name of progress. These books aren’t as good. Best are the ones featuring the bats cheating their brother bats in strip poker; or Pogo dressing up with a mop on his head; or the tads agitating to find the true Easter Bunny.

The timelessness of the humor reminds me of Don Quixote, written in the 1600s or something (again, I ain’t doing the research) but still funny today (yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re saying to yourself, she had to mention Don Quixote to offset a post about comics; if you consider this a highbrow reference, you haven’t read Don Quixote.)

Low-brow humor
of animals
in a swamp
what you are and
what you aren’t
is lucky.

Burke's Bookstore, churchy lafemme, comics, Don Quixote, howland owl, pogo, Walt Kelly

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