Using Walt Kelly’s work as a focus, this article explores facets of the complex and controversial history of how African American character types and folk forms were represented in early to mid-twentieth century comics. Pushing past reductive treatments that posit a melioristic arc (racist uses progressing into fully sanitized or deracialized texts), the author makes two key points: that early twentieth century comics within this genre were varied and conflicted in their meanings and uses, with their key characters often embodying a number of sympathetic roles beyond the denigrated scapegoat (the trickster figure, carnival clown, wise fool and downtrodden everyman); and that even when outward markers of ethnic identity were eliminated from comic texts—most often in response to public pressure—the essential identity and comedic functions of those African American types often persisted in reracialized animal figures. Walt Kelly’s track record in this genre, as traced through three fields—animation, comic books, and comic books—provides a useful case study because he found creative ways to push past crude appropriations, racist typing, and condescending tributes to engage in syncretic fusions in his most mature work, Pogo, that were harnessed to topical satire and progressive politics.


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pp. 4-26
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