Brick by well-flung verbal brick, Craig Yoe has constructed an utterly seductive tribute to “Krazy Kat.”
And if, as in George Herriman’s classic comic, love is best requited through the hurling of housing objects, then Yoe has expressed high affection by assembling the choicest of aerodynamic building materials. The stories and strips and original art delivered in his new “Krazy Kat & the Art of George Herriman: A Celebration” (Abrams ComicArts) deftly reflect the rare brilliance of the cartoonist’s creative magic.
From front to endpapers, Yoe the Kareful Kurator has built this book with such tender regard, he appropriately fosters a love triangle among the Reader, the Page and the Great Legacy that is Herriman.
If you haven’t yet conceded that the “Krazy Kat” creator was the greatest strip cartoonist of his era — as well as one for the ages — then luxuriate in this book’s essays. Offered by A-list serenaders, they alone are worth the price of submission.
Writes “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson: “No other cartoonist every approached his blank sheet of paper with so much affection for all its possibilities.”
“Cul de Sac” creator Richard Thompson waxes rhapsodic about Herriman: “...He ties together all the parts of his strip, drawing, character, language, and theme, and made ‘Krazy Kat’ the greatest comic strip yet created.”
Yoe even pulls from e.e. cummings, who raved in the ‘40s of this “meteoric burlesk melodrama” by “a poet-painter called George Herriman.”
Then, of course, are the original artworks. With such treasures, quality of reproduction is all, and “A Celebration” lets us study with clarity the loose precision of Herriman’s melted moons and hatched jailhouses and inky mesas.
So lush, it’s krazy.
“Krazy Kat’s” narrative fulcrum, of course, revolved with endless invention around the triangle of the title kat, Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pupp. “A Celebration” also plumbs the deeper-than-meets-the-cartoon-eye mechanics of that trio.
On Saturday, Yoe was exhibiting at the Small Press Expo in suburban Washington, his “Krazy Kat” book sandwiched between “Amazing 3-D Comics” and “Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Shuster,” with “Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers” perched chastely nearby. (The co-creative director of YOE! Studio is scheduled to be on hand again today.)
Comic Riffs caught up with Yoe to talk about the joys and cross-hatched wonders of Kokonino County:
MICHAEL CAVNA: The language, the style, the exploration...Is "Krazy Kat" the most innovative comic strip ever? Where do you place it among the greats?
CRAIG YOE: There's “Krazy Kat” and then there's everything else. Of course, let me qualify that…I'm not just talking about comics or fine art or poetry — I'm talking about EVERYTHING ELSE!
MC: In researching this book, did you uncover anything that was new or surprising to you?
CY: The incredible number of unknown never-before-published and extremely rare drawings and paintings and photos that exist was mind-blowiing. And the book is bringing more out of the woodwork, people are contacting me about more Herriman treasures.
Along with that, I'm astonished that Herriman had the time to execute so many works of art for his family, friends and fans while doing his demanding daily comic strip . Not only the time he spent creating these special works of art, but his generosity in undertaking them says a lot about what kind of person he was.
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MC: What about Herriman's art — be it his precisely "sketched" lines, or desert landscapes, or watercolors -- most beguiles you?
CY: He created another world. I can admire, even get excited about the "worlds" that say Picasso or Dali or Ditko and Kirby have created — but I wouldn't want to live in any of them. The landscapes in Herriman's Kokonino Kounty is somewhere I'd like to reside in while watching and interacting with the fascinating characters that populated it. I'm packing my bags — book my flight!
MC: How thrilled were you to score the previously unpublished endpapers for this book?
CY: They really are astonishing, aren't they? The original art to the endpapers hangs above my mantle now and my breath is taken away every time I see it.
MC: Why do you think "Krazy Kat" is not more appreciated by newer generations?
CY: They're cretins, ignoramuses, uncultured blockheads? Of course, all that can be rectified when the get a copy of my book.
MC: Among artists, who are the greatest inheritors of Herriman's influence and legacy?
CY: Patrick McDonnell, maybe more than anyone else, has been inspired by Herriman to create his own genius comic strip “Mutts.” Of course Patrick, who co-authored a great seminal book on Herriman, is his own man and has his own unique approach to stripping. But I see a little bit of his love for Krazy Kat reflected in his menagerie. When Patrick showed me his own collection of “Krazy,” it inspired me to track some Herriman goodness for myself down. Surprisingly, Will Eisner decades ago told me he was a big Herriman fan and you can kind of see it in his expert blend of black-and-white drawings.
Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson are other rightfully lauded brilliant ink slingers who must be inspired by Herriman — I love their essays in my book. Charles Schulz proudly showed me his original “Krazy Kat” Sunday page when I visited his studio. I told him I saw some of the pacing of Krazy in Peanuts and he found that remark very gratifying. Am I doing too much name dropping? I was just saying to Madonna the other day that I hate name-droppers!
MC: It is a tribute to Herriman that not only are artists such as Watterson and Thompson such big fans, but also that they write so movingly about Herriman. What was your process for landing these essays?
CY: The magic of George Herriman drew them in. My problem wasn't finding great artists and writers who had something to say about “Krazy Kat,” but gently turning some suchdown, as I only had so much space between the covers. Much has previously been written about Herriman, but I was so happy about the passion, yes, and the many new fascinating insights the new essayists in my book came up with from their own hearts and minds.
MC: Given Herriman's personal history — including deciding to “pass” as white — do you think race or identity played a distinct role in “Krazy Kat”?
CY: George's Creole background was acknowledged in the book, but myself or other writers didn't make a big deal about it. This wasn't a subject George himself brought up. Those were different times, of course. And prejudice was a horrible sin of our country's past and hasn't yet even been completely eradicated. We can only guess why Herriman chose to "pass" in his day. I'm sure Krazy Kat reflected Herriman's DNA and life experiences, but in what exact ways I think can be just playing parlor games.
MC: Do you have a single favorite quote about Herriman that encapsulates, or gives especial insight into, the man?
CY: I thought Michael Chabon's quote on the back of the book put it pretty succinctly, "George Herriman was one of the very great artists, in any medium, of the 20th century.