Walt Kelly’s Son Criticizes ‘Doonesbury’ Poll

By: Dave Astor

More than 150 e-mails poured in after E&P wrote about the vote to drop “Doonesbury” from 38 newspapers. One message that stood out was from the son of late “Pogo” creator Walt Kelly, who — like Garry Trudeau does now — dealt with conservative newspaper executives not fond of his topical commentary.

After Dr. Andrew Kelly sent his e-mail criticizing the “Doonesbury” vote (the letter is reprinted below), he was interviewed by E&P. One thing he recalled was his father having to draw extra comics for papers that deemed some of the regular “Pogo” installments too controversial. “But I believe he eventually ceased doing that,” said Kelly, 49, a clinical psychologist based in and near New York City.

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) — who coined the famous phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us” — mixed gags, commentary, and more into one of the most intellectual comics ever. His son is not that impressed with the intellectual content in today’s comics or today’s media as a whole. “There’s too much fluff, and an intolerance of disparate ideas,” said Kelly. “I wish the media would provoke more thought. Not engaging the intellects of people represents a real shirking of responsibility in the democratic process.”

The poll leading to the drop-“Doonesbury” vote was conducted by Continental Features President Van Wilkerson, whose company produces Sunday comics sections for 38 mostly Southeast papers. He said last week that his survey “was not a political statement of any kind,” but rather stemmed from “Doonesbury” generating more complaints than the other 21 comics in Continental’s package. Wilkerson added that the 21-15 vote to pull Trudeau’s Universal Press Syndicate strip reflected majority opinion.

In his letter, Kelly wrote: “This poll was obviously not a poll — it was a statement asking for a majority endorsement. My father, who wrote the comic strip ‘Pogo,’ had to endure such ‘small-mindedness.’ This is small-minded because publishers, more than anyone in a democracy, have to understand the role of controversy — this is what keeps us a free people. When those in power begin to feel criticism is ‘wrong’ or ‘troublesome,’ they betray their authoritarian leanings — they believe their position is right, and the others are wrong. They begin a sycophantic process of listening to a smaller and smaller group of people, establishing an oligarchy. This is the beginning of the erosion of democracy, NOT the support. This publisher needs to do what this White House needs to do — uphold democracy and learn to view controversy as exactly what the founding fathers counted on to keep us free. Nixon’s White House could not do this, nor can this one, nor can this publisher.”

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