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.

barnstableandpogo.jpg

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.

hifran1.jpg

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…

All Star Snaps

It’s been All-Star Game Week here in San Francisco, and I’ve partaken in a fair share of it–in part because AT&T Park is three blocks from where I work. Herewith, a few photographs I took…

The current Miss USA goes sashless to take a whack at the ball during a softball game on Sunday:

missusa.jpg

Also from Sunday, more MLB mascots than most of us would care to see in one place at one time:

mascots.jpg

…and some of the most loyal San Francisco fans there are, the nautical types who can’t even see the game from their seats outside the park, but who have an outside (get it?) chance at catching a home run:

boatsball.jpg
The Goodyear Blimp, which has been a fixture above the PC World offices this week, sails past AT&T’s lights last night during the Home Run Derby:

blimp.jpg

The Say Hey Kid himself tonight, surrounded by All Stars (that’s Barry Bonds behind him):

williemays.jpg

The gent in the stands in a dark suit and blue tie is my mayor. (It’s an amazing time for technology when I can spot a celebrity in the crowd in a picture I took with a camera that fits in my pocket from a long, long way away–I was forty rows back on the other side of the field):

gavincrowd.jpg

Call the rest of these photos Captionless All-Star Game Photos:

pitcher.jpg

asgcrowd.jpg

anticipation.jpg

Kwik Change

I’m a li’l late getting these photos up–I took them on July 4th–but I’m fortunate enough to live near one of the dozen 7-Elevens that have been transformed into Kwik-E-Marts as part of a shameless but amusing publicity stunt for The Simpsons Movie.

I liked the standup figures of Springfield denizens and the Simpsons-related products for sale–especially the donuts with bright pink frosting and cartoony-looking sprinkles–but the verisimilitude of the Simps experience at the Mountain View location (around the corner, incidentally, from the Googleplex) was hobbled somewhat by the fact that there was such a long line of shoppers that there was a fifteen-minute wait just to get inside the place. (At least that was less time than I spent waiting to buy an iPhone the week before.) Many of the shoppers were buying Krusty-Os by the caseload; I kinda assumed they were headed for eBay, but I don’t see too many of them there. Surely the shoppers couldn’t be planning to eat them…

Two other notes on the whole experience:

1) I checked out the newsstand shown below for PC World, and didn’t see any copies. We may not get into Kwik-E-Marts, but at least it’s been definitively proven that PCW does in fact exist in the Simpsons universe.

2) One of my photos below is of a product that had nothing to do with the Simps promotion. There’s a fine line between 7-Eleven and Kwik-E-Mart even when the former hasn’t intentionally turned itself into the latter…

squishees.jpg

ralph.jpg

outside.jpg

oldguy.jpg

line.jpg

krusty-os.jpg

homer.jpg

guard.jpg

donuts.jpg

comicbookguy.jpg

chiefwiggum.jpg

checkout.jpg

buzz.jpg

burrito.jpg

apu.jpg

bagman.jpg

Woody Wide Web

woodygrauman.jpgI always tell myself I’ll get to LA to attend the nifty animation evens that are held there with alarming frequency. As my Apatoons friends can attest, I sometimes do–but more often, I’m stuck here in San Francisco.

But I’m happy to report that I can attend next week’s tribute to Woody Woodpecker at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which’ll include appearances by June Foray, Leonard Maltin, Phil Roman, and Billy West, whether or not I actually make it down south. My old friend Gordon Meyer of the Storymakers Studio, which is putting on the event in conjunction with the upcoming Walter Lantz DVD set, reports that it’ll be broadcast on the Web. Neat!

The Mintz Studio Lives!

mintzghosts.jpg

Joe Campana has posted a wonderful item at his blog in which he discovers that the building in front of which the Mintz Studio posed for staff photographs is still there–a bit sadder, perhaps, but intact. Don’t you just love the Web, and all it’s done for animation scholarship?

If you don’t know Joe’s blog, Animation Who & Where, you should–I didn’t, but perusing it just now, I discovered not only that Jay Ward’s birth name was apparently Joseph Cohen Jr.–but that I drive by the house where his lived at the time of his birth every morning on my way to work! I’ll pause tomorrow to pay my respects. And next time I’m down south, I’ll try to stop by the place where Charles Mintz, Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus, Art Davis, and coworkers had their pictures snapped more than 75 years ago.

Joe–Campana, I mean, not Cohen/Ward–has a blog that’s earned a place on my blogroll; at the very least, it should be in your bookmarks…

Ratatouille

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie and thought to myself, There’s so much worthy of comment here that I need to see it again before I’m ready to talk about it. But after seeing Ratatouille last night, that’s how I feel. Review forthcoming once I see it again–very shortly, I hope.

And one initial comment: If Cars felt like a half-step backwards for Pixar, this movie is a confident two steps forward–easily the best computer-based character animation ever done anywhere, and some of the best character animation I’ve seen in a very long time, period.