Krazy Kat and the Art of George Herriman
By Dennis Drabelle,
KRAZY KAT & THE ART OF GEORGE HERRIMAN
Edited and designed by Craig Yoe Abrams ComicArts. 176 pp. $29.95
Not only is “Krazy Kat” (1913-44) the chief glory of the American newspaper comic strip, it evokes the salad days of the American newspaper itself, when a broadsheet was truly broad, not to mention tall. Lavished with inches, comic strips had room to breathe, stretch and fool around, and “Krazy Kat” did all three.
At the heart of the strip was an offbeat love triangle. Krazy, a cat of indeterminate sex, loves Ignatz, a male mouse. Far from requiting that love, Ignatz persecutes Krazy by throwing bricks at him/her. Krazy, however, takes these brick-blows as love-pats and resents the interference of Offissa Pupp, the local cop, who happens to be enamored of Krazy. From these simple premises, George Herriman spun an almost infinite number of variations, all depicted in his jagged, earth-toned artwork.
A strip from 1919, reproduced in this handsome new book, will give a sense of the playfulness. No bricks, for once. About three-fourths of the space depicts a field full of writhing, cavorting felines. In the last panel at the bottom, Offissa Pup says to Krazy, “I hear you kats had a big time in the katnip field today, Krazy.” Replies the kat, “I should say we did . . . At least a hundrid of us kets ettended the fit party.” Observing their colloquy is Ignatz, from the interior of a building marked “PROHIBITION HEADQUARTERS,” the idea being that catnip is to felines what booze is to humans.
Poets and artists and culture critics fell over themselves in praising the strip, and they still do. According to an essay in this volume by the well-named Harry L. Katz, by the 1930s Herriman was creating “some of the most contemporary, forward-looking art in the world, evoking the high-minded, easel-and-stretcher work of the Futurists and such Surrealists as Giorgio de Chirico.”