If the general excellence of his work isn’t justification enough for the book length treatment, he was also a significant cultural figure in the 1950s and 1960s. He challenged and satirized McCarthyism in his strip, ran successful mock-presidential campaigns several times, and excelled as a pundit and general representative of the craft of cartooning
A few years later, in grad school, I had set aside dreams of being a professional cartoonist, but I remained interested in comic strips and their place in our cultural history. I wrote a dissertation about satire in comic strips and one of the chapters ended up being about Kelly and his great work.
One clarification: I’m not sure if this qualifies as a thorough biography of Kelly. It is a thorough, scholarly treatment of various aspects of his career and work, but I can imagine that someone close to his family could write a more focused and accessible book about his life. I should also mention that it’s a more densely written book than the one I did on Trudeau, and it ranges more widely in using Kelly as an entry into talking about larger issues related to mid-century American culture and the evolution of several comics mediums. If readers simply want to enjoy Kelly’s humor and great art directly, they should purchase some of the collections of his work that are now being published by Fantagraphic Books.
Which came first--your plans to write this one or the Doonesbury one?
I was originally hoping to write We Go Pogo book about six years ago, but at that time there was another writer under contract with my press (Mississippi) to do a book length treatment of Pogo. So I ended up writing the Trudeau book first. When I found out that the Kelly project had opened several years ago, I jumped at the chance.
Did you intentionally set out to write books on two satirical cartoonists? Is this related to what you teach and study? Are you planning a third book and, if so, about who or what?
Part of that decision is based on the structure of Mississippi’s great cartoonists series—the books focus on one particular cartoonist’s work and career. I think my impulse would be to write a more complicated book that would explore the history of satire in the medium across a number of decades. (But that would probably be a bit too long and unmanageable in the end.)