01/01/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Abrams and Chronicle. 176 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: $29.95 (US), $33.95 (CAN), GBP19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-8109-9594-9).
check out websites: www.abramsbooks.com www.abramsandchronicles.co.uk and www.yoebooks.com
I first came across ‘Krazy Kat’ in ‘The Penguin Book Of Comics’ when I was a youngster and had my first introduction to the newspaper strip. Indeed, I came across a lot of American newspaper strips that way and always thought this was probably the only way I would come across them. What struck me was not so much that Krazy Kat was hit by a brick by Ignatz Mouse, who was actually besotted by the rodent, but that its creator, George Herriman changed the background in every panel which was even more krazy. This book shows that wasn’t always the case and only when he had a lot of empty space in the background and often that would become a running gag itself, like running a black cloud across a sunlit day.
Over the years, I’ve noted ‘Krazy Kat’ has been reprinted but through one thing and another, have never made the time to get around to reading them. A foolish mistake, I know, but hopefully made up for here with a look at its creator and creation in this book compelled by Craig Yoe. Actually, a lot of the written material in this book are pieces by a variety of people who knew Herriman, who died some seventy years ago, a few more contemporary and right at the end, his grand-daughter, Dee Cox. In between this is a selection of sample strips, individual art pieces and even merchandise samples. Above all, it tells the story of the cartoonist and his most famous creation, Krazy Kat.
‘Krazy Kat’ didn’t actually start off as the stars of a newspaper strip. George Herriman was doing ‘The Dingbat Family’ – he came up with the name ‘dingbat’ as a name for an empty-headed person – and ‘The Family Upstairs’. Not wishing to leave any empty space on the fifth day, he put a little cat and mouse play at the bottom of the panel and over three years, their popularity became such that they headlined their own strip from 1913 to 1944, when Herriman died. It’s survival at the King Features Syndicate was because its owner, William Randolph Hearst, refused to drop it even when it only ran in fifty newspapers and only ordered its cancellation with its creator’s death.
The storyline is actually a love triangle. Krazy Kat is in love with Ignatz Mouse who isn’t so resorts at every opportunity to throwing a brick and hitting the back of the feline. Krazy just thinks that’s a demonstration of Ignatz’ affection and a direct contrast to the normal cat chasing the mouse situation. Offissa Pupp doesn’t see things like that and just carts Ignatz off to jail. A tale of an requited love with a touch of violence added. You have to respect any creator who could keep variants of this gag going for over thirty years.
‘Krazy Kate wasn’t just limited to the newspaper strip and what is rather interesting with other interpretations of Krazy Kat is in some early animation cartoons was making him/her/it looking like Felix the Cat and another bearing a look like the UK’s later ‘Dandy’ comic character, Korky the Cat.
However, there is only one Krazy Kat and I suspect Herriman was surprised at his creation’s success as anyone else. A simple design that belittles the actual skill he had in creating this bevy of characters. A beautiful stylist with quirky design. Even Walt Disney was a fan and there is a copy of his letter at the time of Herriman’s death praising his work. How many cartoonists not beholden to Disney can say that. Read, enjoy and seek out his work. A great tribute.
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