“Though George Ward drew cartoons on his own, he’s best remembered for his work as Walt Kelly’s assistant on the newspaper comic strip Pogo. Ward was particularly known for drawing the bear depicted with Howland Owl and Albert the Alligator in these panels from the June 16 1957, Sunday strip; indeed, it’s said that Kelly let Ward totally handle many Sundays, which can supposedly be identified by the presence of the bear, whom Kelly apparently never drew. (Did the bear even have a name?)”
–unsigned caption to a picture accompanying the interesting interview with Ramona Fradon (a friend of Ward’s) in Alter Ego #69, June 2007.
When a statement includes the words “it’s said,” “supposedly,” and “apparently,” it’s doing something less than making a declarative statement of fact. But the gist of the above text is that George Ward often ghosted Pogo on Sundays, and that it may be the case that all Pogo Sundays with the bear were by Ward, not Kelly. I’ve seen this notion expressed before. It originated somewhere, although I can’t say where.
Could it possibly be true?
Sundays featuring the bear were particularly prominent in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s–and for me, at least, these strips are among the very best Pogo ever done, in both words and pictures. (The art I reprint here, from a Sunday in the brilliant sequence in which the bear starts his own comic strip, Li’l Orphan Abner, is a scan from Kelly’s Ten Ever Lovin’ Blue Eyed Years From Pogo, which includes ten bear Sundays. I’m fortunate enough to own the original art of that strip.)
If George Ward wrote and drew those strips, he did work that was at least as good as any that Kelly did. In other words, he was one of the greatest cartoonists who ever touched brush to bristol board.
Now, here are certainly lots and lots of examples of ghosts doing cartooning as good or better than that of the people who took credit for their work. But if it’s true that Ward was entirely responsible for some of the greatest moments in comics history, it’s an extraordinary revelation. It’s the equivalent of learning that F. Scott Fitzgerald let someone else write The Great Gatsby.
So I’m not willing to accept it without lots of definitive proof. And I’d be stunned to learn that such evidence exists.
Like I say, I’m not sure where the Ward-ghosting-Pogo idea first popped up. The Best of Pogo has an interview with George Ward, by Bill Crouch Jr., that includes the following explanation of how Sunday Pogo strips were done:
“[Kelly] could sit down, lay in the pencil lettering and throw the rough pencil drawings in within twenty to thirty minutes, tight penciling in maybe thirty to forty-five minutes, and then he’d throw the page over to me…in those days every Sunday Pogo was drawn in and the job of lettering and inking in the first Sunday took me nearly three days.”
The notion that Kelly did most of the inking on daily Pogo himself but had Ward ink the Sundays is entirely plausible; if it’s true, Ward was a superb inker–maybe as good a brushman as Kelly himself. But nowhere in the interview does Ward say that Kelly had him ghost Pogo. He does say that he left Kelly’s staff in April of 1959; the bear continued to appear, which would seem to be proof that the character wasn’t Ward’s alone.
And here’s a question: If George Ward had done some of the best Pogo ever, why on earth didn’t he take over the strip after Kelly’s passing? If he was the guy who did the bear Sundays, and he had taken over the strip in 1973, it would have been by far the best continuation of a great comic strip after its originator’s death.
Anyhow, if anyone reading this can prove that George Ward did ghost Pogo Sundays–or that he didn’t–I’d love to hear from you. Absent that, informed speculation would also be appreciated.
For now, here’s a piece of art that may be either Kelly and Ward or pure Ward. It’s a sketch in a copy of Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories which I bought at a New York Comic-Con in the 1970s. For $5. Which was a deal, but I don’t think this drawing is supporting evidence for the contention that George Ward could do Pogo as well as Walt Kelly could. (If he could, he was the one human being on the planet who was capable of that feat.)
Oh, and the bear does have a name. He’s Barnstable. And he’s one of the finest and funniest characters ever to appear in the finest and funniest comic strip ever…