Krazy Kat

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Krazy Kat

The newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat by George Herriman (1880-1944) concerns a love triangle between Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Officer Pupp: Krazy loves Ignatz, Ignatz hates Krazy, Pupp loves Krazy. Ignatz feels compelled to express his hatred of Krazy by tossing a brick at the unoffending cat's head. Krazy longs for the bricks as tokens of the mouse's love. Not realizing that Krazy desires to be pelted by masonry, Pupp pursues Ignatz in order to arrest the mouse before the brick is thrown. One of the strip's major themes is obsession: Ignatz is obsessed with throwing the brick, Krazy with receiving it, and Pupp with stopping it. From this simple premise, Herriman's imagination produced a unique series that many consider the greatest comic strip ever produced.

The action takes place in Coconino County, Arizona, a desert landscape of buttes and mesas. Other residents of Coconino County include Joe Stork ("purveyor of progeny to prince and proletariat"), Kolin Kelly (brick merchant), Walter Cephus Austridge, Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, Gooseberry Sprigg (the Duck Duke), Marijuana Pelona (widow with an ever-growing brood), Don Kiyoti (Mexican bandit), Mock Duck (Chinese launderer), Bum Bill Bee ("pilgrim on the road to nowhere"), Krazy's cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird, and Ignatz's wife and three sons.

The strip began as a doodle at the bottom of an episode of The Dingbat Family, another Herriman strip, on July 26, 1910. Krazy and Ignatz continued to frolic along the bottom border of their parent strip until 1913, when they were granted a regular daily strip of their own. Krazy Kat premiered on Sunday, April 23, 1916, but not in the color supplement; instead, the Krazy Kat Sunday page appeared in the drama and art section. The placement of Krazy in a different section from the other "Sunday funnies" indicates the strip's appeal to a smaller audience. Krazy Kat was beloved by writers, artists, and intellectuals, but did not catch on with the average newspaper reader. Under normal market conditions, the strip might have been cancelled early in its run. Krazy Kat, however, had a devoted fan in its publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who kept the strip running.

In 1924, respected critic Gilbert Seldes devoted a chapter of his book The Seven Lively Arts to praise for Krazy Kat, calling it "the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America today." The 1946 collection of the strip boasted an introduction by famous poet e. e. cummings. Few comic strips received such attention from the artistic elite. One element of the strip that attracted this praise was its play with language. Krazy Kat speaks a bizarre and unique dialect, a mixture of a variety of real-life dialects, and creates bizarre puns from what Ignatz says. As Krazy says in a 1918 episode, "lenguage is, that we may mis-unda-stend each udda." Another unique aspect of the strip was its constantly changing landscape. Even as the characters remain stationary, the background often shifts behind them, creating a surreal effect. Other elements in the strip are as indeterminate as the scenery—Krazy's gender, for one. Sometimes Krazy is a "she," sometimes a "he." When questioned about the inconsistency, Herriman explained that Krazy was "a sprite," a magical being with no gender. A final aspect that often garnered praise was the self-reflexivity of many episodes. Because they live in a world of ink on paper, characters are allowed to redraw their environment.

Krazy Kat died with its creator in 1944. Despite the fact that it has long since passed from the funny pages, Krazy Kat has never been forgotten. Scholars often place Herriman in the company of the great modernists. For example, M. Thomas Inge has declared that "to the world of comic art George Herriman was its Picasso in visual style and innovation, its Joyce in stretching the limitations of language, and its Beckett in staging the absurdities of life."

—Christian L. Pyle

Further Reading:

Herriman, George. The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat. Ed. Richard Marschall. Princeton, Wisconsin, Remco/Kitchen Sink, 1990-91. 2 vols.

——. Krazy & Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics. Edited by Bill Blackbeard. 9 Vols. Forestville, California, Eclipse/Turtle Island, 1988-92.

——. Krazy Kat. New York, Henry Holt, 1946.

Inge, M. Thomas. Comics as Culture. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

McDonnell, Patrick, Karen O'Connell, and Georgia Riley de Havenon.Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. New York, Abrams, 1986.

Seldes, Gilbert. The Seven Lively Arts. New York, Harper, 1924.