Pogo Comic Strip
In 1954 the characters of a popular comic strip met up with a "Kansas crittur"--the mythological Jayhawk.
"Pogo" was the name of the critically acclaimed strip, drawn by Walt Kelly since 1948. This satirical cartoon poked fun at American life and politics. Set in Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp, it featured a cast of animals with a peculiarly human outlook. The lead character was Pogo the Possum, whose optimism was countered by the cynicism of Albert the Alligator. The strip lasted until 1975, and is perhaps best remembered for the oft-repeated line, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
About six years into the strip's run, the gang in the swamp was visited by a small bird identifying itself as a Jayhawk. The exact origins of the Jayhawk are unclear. Some stories refer to it as a mythical bird that makes its living off other birds. It has been associated with Kansas since the territorial period of the 1850s, when Kansans who raided across the border into Missouri were known as Jayhawkers.
Over a series of comic strips appearing in May and June 1954, the Jayhawk related stories about its origins to Pogo, who was interested, and Albert, who was skeptical. In one such tale, the Jayhawk claims to have been raised by "a tribe of invisible Indians north of the Kaw." When Albert demands proof, the Jayhawk responds in the rural southern dialect adopted by the strip's creator:
Bein' invisible they natural din't leave no traces an' to this day, no sign of 'em is ever been found . . . sheer proof!
In the strip pictured here, the Jayhawk tells of the great size of its species' eggs, composed of solid Kansas marble. When the character Albert expresses his disbelief, the Jayhawk responds:
Ma used to say: "'Tain't layin' 'em what's a chore . . . but, land . . .hatchin 'em do wear a body down."
One of Walt Kelly's trademarks for the strip was to incorporate the names of friends or people with a connection to the storyline. These typically appeared on the side of a rowboat used by the main characters. In one frame of this particular strip, the boat reads "Kirke Mechem." Mechem was the author of an article titled "The Mythical Jayhawk," and had previously been Secretary of the Kansas Historical Society. It is unclear exactly why Kelly chose to highlight the Jayhawk in his strip, although by this time the character was well established as the mascot of the University of Kansas.
This comic strip was presented to the Kansas Historical Society by Walt Kelly, who inscribed and presented it. The strip includes blue pencil layout marks and inking showing the final work that appeared in newspapers. It is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Pogo Comic Strip
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: August 2010
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.