Feb 14, 2016

Pogo: The Gay Possum of Okefenokee Swamp

There have been three major comic strips devoted to the naivete, colorful traditions, and homespun wisdom of the hillbilly:
Li'l Abner, about a backwoods Adonis allergic to hetero-romance.

Snuffy Smith, who doesn't seem particularly romantic toward his towering wife Loweezie.

And Pogo, about a possum who lives in Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.

Created by Walt Kelly for a line of Dell comic books in 1941, Pogo premiered in The New York Star in 1948, and entered national syndication in a year later.

The titular Pogo, "a possum by trade," is laconic and soft-spoken, the foil, best friend, and sometime domestic partner of the loud, blustering Albert the Alligator.  (we see a similar "forbidden" predator-prey relationship in the animated Sitting Ducks)

 They are intimates, sharing a house and a bed.  Moreover, their physicality, the grabbing of arms and shoulders, the hugging, the casual pressing against each other, is quite surprising for the 1950s, and suggests a homoerotic subtext even more strongly.

Pogo's other friends include the turtle Churchy LaFemme ("Ah loves yo', Churchy"); the misanthropic Porky Pine, who doesn't like anybody -- except Pogo; Howland Owl; Beauregard the Hound Dog; and the young "sprat" Rackety Coon Chile, who is studying to become an elephant when he grows up.

But Pogo makes new friends easily, with a zeal that veers into the homoerotic.  In a 1951 continuity, a carrier pigeon arrives with a "secret message," and the next day the two are shown walking off together, a new male bond formed.  One wonders what the "secret message" was.

The swamp animals have little use for heterosexual romance.  The flirtatious French skunk Mam'zelle Hepzibah is sometimes an object of affection, but more often a "sivilizing" attempt to introduce culture into their backwoods idyll.  When she presses the matter, Pogo admits that "I'm just not the marrying kind," 1950s code for "gay."

On November 10th, 1950, the entire cast watches the sunset, dismal over the conservative turn in the midterm elections (the Democrats lost 28 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate).  And the political satire began.

Pogo ran for President regularly, with a campaign platform supporting various liberal causes.

Political figures were regularly satirized, beginning with witch-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy, and moving on to Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and Spiro Agnew.

But the gay subtexts continued unabated until the strip ended with Walt Kelly's death in 1973.

Although probably not intended in this "Gay and Fey" association between Albert the Alligator and his creator.

Everyone sees Albert in Pogo's bed, and assumes that they're married.

A male flea asks Beauregard Dog to marry him.

A male cat begins chucking bricks at Beauregard, and the other characters conclude that he is in love with him.

On and on, giving us the impression that everyone in Okefenokee Swamp is either gay, or nonchalant about gay people.

See also: Krazy Kat, the First Gay Comic Strip Character; and The Surprising Gay Origin of "Deck us all"

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