Saturday, April 20, 2013

Krazy Kat

A Book Review.

Title: Krazy Kat — The Comic Art of George Herriman
Author: Patrick McDonnell, et al

George Herriman the cartoonist died in 1944. I spotted this gem of a book at the public library which contained a sampling of his cartoons. When I took it home and looked through it, I was completely fascinated by Herriman's very unique comic strip Krazy Kat.

Herriman was a sure footed draftsman with pen and ink. As someone who occasionally dabbles in ink and pen drawing (as well as graphite), I was very impressed with how well he gestured with the pen to create his characters and imbue them with personalities. No pen stroke was ever superfluous or wasted. Herriman limned like he knew exactly what he was doing and how to do it. As best as I try to use the pen and ink, here is my poor imitation of a typical situation between the two primary characters in the comic strip, Krazy Kat and Ignatz the mouse:
The place where these events occur is a mythical land called Coconino, modeled after locations in Arizona which Herrimen very much loved, especially the region of Monument Valley. Krazy Kat has a ribbon tied around his neck, his only mode of dress. And how would I describe him? For me, Krazy Kat seems almost like an angelic being. He is entirely untouched by evil and never thinks evil of anyone, and he finds the world a place that is full of wonders. He is always a "heppy cat," and he is pure in heart. Like the angels in Heaven, he has an Invisible Source of joy to draw from. Even though Ignatz the mouse has made a habitual sport out of throwing bricks at him, Krazy Kat always interprets this somehow as really a sign of affection instead of hostility, and often calls Ignatz "my lil anjil". There are also many other characters in Herriman's comic strip. Most importantly, there is officer Bull Pup, who is repeatedly hauling Ignatz off to jail for his nefarious brick tossing proclivities.

The comic strip Krazy Kat also exhibits whimsicalness with bending the language and the context, which suggested to me that Herriman was, in his own way, a kind of harbinger of post-modernism. For example, in one strip, Krazy Kat and Ignatz have a debate about where they are. Up in the air in a balloon in one frame, or in a boat the next, Krazy simply takes note of where they are, up in the air or out on the water, but Ignatz vehemently denies what seems to be the obvious. The final frame has Ignatz, ever the hardened realist, saying that they have always been "on paper" as he points down at it with his tiny mouse finger. Of course, Ignatz was wrong. He started out in Herriman's heart, and now is part of mine.

Krazy Kat is indeed a beautiful work of art. I very much wish that George Herriman was still around designing comic strips. Every time I think about it, it makes me sad that he died almost 70 years ago.

I felt some reluctance about parting with it but I finally had to return the book to the public library today. I highly recommend Patrick McDonnell's book if you can find it.