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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

OUR GANG - Early Walt Kelly

In 1942 Walt Kelly began producing work for DELL Comics
The first was a series of  fables and fairy tales transformed into comic form, aptly titled FAIRY TALE PARADE, which premiered in June. Later that year he began adapting the popular Hal Roach franchise (by then owned by MGM) OUR GANG, also known as THE LITTLE RASCALS, or Spanky and Our Gang, writing and drawing new adventures for the comics. At approximately the same time he also contributed work for ANIMAL COMICS, which featured the funny animal adventures of his swamp-centered creations of Albert the alligator, Bumbazine (a little black boy), and another peripheral character, Pogo possum.

Kelly's first story for ANIMAL COMICS was about Albert the alligator,
and Pogo possum shows up, looking very different from his later incarnations...

After several years, Pogo evolved, becoming the centerpiece
of the Southern swampland soiree...
...and becoming the crowning creation of Kelly's charming artistic prolificity.

Walt Kelly worked for another famous Walt, that being Disney, from 1936 through 1941, much of it as an animator, where he refined the drawing style of cute whimsy which would later garner him fame. After experiencing the stresses of an Animator's strike in 1941, Kelly left Disney and soon found work at DELL.

The OUR GANG shorts that this comic was based upon had gone through many transitions since their inception in 1922, and by 1942 the line-up of children consisted of George "Spanky" Mcfarland, Mickey Gubitosi(who changed his name later to Robert Blake, of Baretta and murderer fame), Billy "Froggy" Laughlin, Janet Burston, and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. Although the OUR GANG films ended in 1944, the comic continued until October 1947, when it changed it's name to TOM AND JERRY COMICS.

Here now is Walt Kelly's excellent rendition of OUR GANG
from OUR GANG # 1, 1942.




From the same issue of OUR GANG # 1 is another story by Walt Kelly.
Here he illustrates a story featuring Barney Bear, that reveals glimpses of the genius 
to come later in his beloved POGO adventures.


OUR GANG # 1 cover, 1942 - art by Walt Kelly

The OUR GANG kids experienced their fair share of hardship, controversy, and drama, most notably being the fatal shooting (and apparent murder) of Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in 1959 (see here). Billy "Froggy" Laughlin died by being run over by a bus while delivering newspapers in 1948, at age 16. Also, for OUR GANG trivia buffs, when comedian Eddie Murphy popularized his parodied imitation of Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas in the early 1980's, "Spanky" McFarland took offense, citing it as an insult and a stereotype. In 1990, a man named Bill English claimed to be the adult "Buckwheat", appearing on television's 20/20, and was finally exposed as a fraud when "Spanky" confronted him live on TV's A Current Affair, confirming the actual "Buckwheat" died in 1980. Lastly, Robert "Mickey" Blake's more recent true-life murder trial brought new meaning to 'In Cold Blood'.

The OUR GANG comics remain a charming reminder of childhood adventure and innocent humor from an era since past, as well as evidence of the artistic talents of one of the giants in the field. Kelly's excellent artwork and stories, as well as cover art, appear throughout the OUR GANG comics 39 issue run, ending in 1947.

For more Walt Kelly click here

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