Not "Christmas, nonsense!" in the Scroogian sense of "Bah, humbug!" ie "If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart", but pure, simple, funny Christmas nonsense. Along with the family Christmas, the consumer Christmas, the religious Christmas, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the funny Christmas. If you'd like to join in, the first thing to do is to sing these lines to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas":
Good King Sauerkraut look out
On your feets uneven...
This is just one of a series of splendidly mangled Christmas carols which appeared in the classic (we're talking back in the Kennedy era, the Cold War era, the Race to the Moon era) American comic strip Pogo, written by a genius named Walt Kelly. Pogo is a chipper little possum who lives in the Okefenokee Swamp in America's Deep South, along with his best friend Albert the Alligator (big and a bit stupid, in that classic best friends tradition where one has the brains and one has the brawn) and a slew of other swamp creatures incarnating various human personality types, such as the morose and prickly Porky Pine and Mam'zelle Hepzibah, a sexy French skunk.
In the house where I grew up there were three paperback Pogo collections on a low shelf in the dining room and we kids found them and read them, over and over, without knowing or caring that the animals were actually satires on various political figures of the era, but just because they were so funny. I remember my mother explaining about a bobcat with thick eyebrows who represented Joe McCarthy, the man who led the witchhunt against communists in Hollywood, the Army etc (you know, all those likely places), and how we just didn't really care.
I still don't really care about the political jibes, but I have enjoyed over the years catching on to various clever literary allusions with which Pogo was also sprinkled, my favourite being the mud turtle named Churchill La Femme, nicknamed "Churchy".
It turns out Roger Ebert, the American film critic famous for the entertaining "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" reviews he used to do on TV with Gene Siskel, vestiges of which can still be spotted on DVD cases as "Two thumbs up! -- Siskel and Ebert", and for his clear and intelligent writing style which made him the only film reviewer to have won a Pulitzer Prize, and then more recently for his clear and intelligent writing about life after thyroid cancer, which left him unable to speak or eat, and now for a memoir called Life itself, is a Pogo fan as well, and he has posted Walt Kelly's Moon Race version of everyone's favourite Christmas poem, "Twas the night before Christmas" as I call it, but which is actually titled "A visit from St. Nicholas", on his blog. If you are a comics reader or writer who would like to sample a fine, aged comic, I recommend taking a look.
There is also an official Walt Kelly site and the vintage newspaper comics site ilovecomixarchive.com has got some good Pogo strips on it. Walt Kelly, I found out, also worked for Walt Disney for a time, and is responsible for animating Geppetto inside the whale in Pinocchio -- is this my favourite Walt Disney animated film, or is it Dumbo? -- hey, look at that, Walt Kelly worked on Dumbo too!
Supposedly a complete Collected Pogo is in the works. I will definitely be requesting a purchase for the library.
Addendum, a year later: it's here! From our friends at Fantagraphics: Pogo, the complete syndicated comic strips. Volume 1, through the wild blue yonder.
"...Due to run 12 volumes, this collection completes the holy trifecta, along with Charles Schulz' Peanuts and George Herriman's Krazy Kat, of comic strips whose influence cannot be overstated." -- Booklist
Merry Christmas to all from Books in the City. And to wrap up, may I offer a Pogo chorus of:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!