George Ward, the Greatest Cartoonist Who Ever Lived

“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.

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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.

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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…

 

11 comments to George Ward, the Greatest Cartoonist Who Ever Lived

  • Brian Huntley

    I know it’s really a place in Massawhatsit, but I always associate the name “Barnstable” with Kurt Vonnegut. And for reasons I’m not sure of, I file Kurt and Walt Kelly in the same part of my brain. Maybe this ‘bears’ looking into.

  • Kip W

    Wally Wood could certainly draw a good Pogo strip, though it’s possible to tell by looking that the effects were achieved by more painstaking means than Kelly’s. Walt could toss the stuff off, and Wally had to work to duplicate it — but I still think Wally’s work was damn good, and if he was drawing Pogo all the time, I expect it would have gotten easier for him.

  • I have 2 western type cartoon drawings signed by Ward.
    I would like to find the first name and if they may
    be worth something. They are dated 1960. Thanks for your help.

  • Mark Morey

    I have a non-Pogo-related Ward cartoon that certainly bears out his drawing and brush skills, as well as ways in which is both like and unlike Kelly. However, to assert that the Sundays are better than the dailies is almost like asserting that the comic books were better than the developed strip. The depth of content, both written and drawn, in the dailies, esp. 1953-1958, consistently outpaces the Sundays.

  • Gary Marr

    I also have a George Ward cartoon circa 1979 given by Ward to my father Joseph Marr, who worked for newsweek magazine at the time. I never knew who the cartoonist was til I read this thread this morning and his relationship with Walt Kelly and Pogo. My father was dying of cancer at the time and the note at the bottom which Ward had signed by my father’s staff reads “Love ya Joe, George Ward”. I have it hanging in my living room. It’d done in ink.

  • Gaye Dorsey

    In the artwork above..the top Pogo is not George (Bud)but the lower is, for sure…I am a 1st Cousin once removed from George and have several examples of his early work, which is distinctive from Kelly’s, He drew much less hair on Pogo. Also the autograph at the top is not Ward’s. but the signature, with the heart is most certainly his, note the difference in the “G” with the Ward signature. Many of his Sunday Pogo’s had this distinctive G in the Pogo title, looks almost like a 6. If you have any of those they were George’s. My father used to read Pogo every Sunday and I would always ask “Is that Uncle Bud’s?”. For many years he would cut out George’s work. The bear you refer to is George’s. It was actually patterned after a housekeeper my Grandmother had whose name was Mildred. “Bud” always said she was big as a bear but gentle as a lamb. I have an original 1945 Poster that he did for my father (his 1st cousin) depicting his return to US from WWII. Would love to know what it is worth, can’t imagine. I also have several illustrations he did for his Aunt Mary (my grandmother). I remember, who we called Uncle Bud, well..he was a fun, very intelligent, and loving man. And yes, I agree….probably the best cartoonist ever.

  • Marilyn

    I remember George Ward as my cartoonist neighbor in the 1950′s. His wife was friends with my mother their entire adult lives after they met. George was so energetic and funny! I was just an elementary school kid, and he gave me a Pogo cartoon book…which I will dig up. I know I still have it. He also frequented my father’s diner in suburbia for years. He definitely had a talent and was some influence on my own art to a degree as well. Fun to remember the old days.

  • Dennis Wickman

    I worked with George at Newsweek Magazine in the late 70s. He was a photo retoucher on the international edition. I was working part time with him once a week for about 5 months. He was quite a character. He called everyone ‘vet’ and was always introducing me to every one he saw. We went out to eat every night and made sure he introduced me to all the pretty waitresses.

    He told me that he had every intention of continuing Pogo after Kelly died but Kelly’s wife said the strip had to end with his death. He seemed pretty bitter about it.
    I was surprised to see the family let the strip continue years later after all.

  • i have tons of these books and have just now started listing some….i had no idea what a fabulous collection they were….i purchased a box full at an estate sale and have lots of duplicates….they are so fun to read!!!

  • Gary

    I worked in the Newsweek art department for 20 years and if it wasn’t for the presence of George, it would have been a slightly less crazy place. I remember him telling me about his work with Kelly and as you needed any proof, he would whip up a Pogo character on the spot. Walking around the office with his tie flung over his shoulder, a cigar in one hand and food in the other (“Hey vet, you want a bite”!), he was a wonder to be around. He was always pressed into service ( he didn’t need any prodding) to provide a cartoon for any event. I have one for my marriage. Of course the face of my wife Linda is great, but somehow her body wound up belonging to Betty Page. There will never be another George Ward.

  • Galen Fott

    Bill Crouch’s interview with Selby Kelly printed in “Phi Beta Pogo” seems to cast doubt on the theory of Ward ever drawing Pogo. A quote:

    Kelly tried to get George Ward to do some drawing. He gave him a Sunday page and asked him to do it in blue pencil. He told Ward to bring it back and show him as he wasn’t sure of the storyline. After George went away, Kelly said, “I’m not sure he can draw it and I want to see what it looks like.”
    When George brought it back he looked at it and told George, “I’ve changed my mind — I’m not going to use this.” Kelly was a perfectionist and he wasn’t totally happy with the results. For one thing, George had no animation background.