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I guess my current Hero is George Herriman, perpetrator of the Krazy Kat cartoon epic, syndicated in US newspapers from around 1913 until the artist's death in 1944.
The basic plot of this strip is simply stated: Policeman-dog, Offissa B. Pupp loves a cat named Krazy, who - alas - loves Ignatz, a cynical brick-heaving mouse. Oddly, when Ignatz fends off Krazy with an adroitly thrown brick, the cat regards it as a sign of affection. So Offissa Pupp spends his time protecting Krazy from assaults by Ignatz, the action taking place in the ever-changing surreal desert landscape of Coconino County, Arizona. If that strikes you, perhaps, as a limited and boring theme, be assured that Herriman is deliciously offbeat and varied in his rambling story lines, delivered with much philosophic comment on life's frustrations. And there's a supporting cast of diverse and entertaining characters -
Joe Stork, "purveyor of progeny to prince & proletarian", who lives on top of the Enchanted Mesa; Kolin Kelly, supplier of bricks to Ignatz; Mrs Kwak Wak, local gossip; Walter C. Austridge, a Dickey Bird, i.e. a bird wearing a dickey; Bum Bill Bee, busily not going anywhere; Don Kiyoti & Sancho Pansy; Mock Duck, oriental launderer; to name but a few - who impinge on the action in a multitude of diverting ways.
Herriman was a frequent visitor to the Navajo country straddling Arizona. Images of the strange rock formations of Monument Valley - like Agathlan, Thunder Needle, Chuckawalla Butte, Pika Mesa, the Elephant's Feet - are part of the ever-changing background to Krazy Kat, as are images linked with Indian culture. And Herriman is adventurous, occasionally roaming down the passages of time to Ancient Egypt, or the prehistoric past. On occasion he even reverses Time, invokes alternate universes...
When I showed Steve Sneyd a page dating from May 1930, headed by a pic of Krazy gazing in wonder at a tall mesa block shaped like a giant brick set against a dark sky, he commented that the Mega-brick was a definite monolith-alike, and wondered if Arthur Clarke was a Krazy Kat fan. However, in his short story The Sentinel Arthur describes the alien artefact as a "pyramidal structure, twice as high as a man", which suggests to me rather that it was Kubrick or an associate, influenced by memories of Krazy Kat, who transformed pyramid into monolith for the film 2001...
In its early days, Krazy Kat appeared as black&white pages in the Sunday papers. Then in June '35, the Hearst editors decided to shift KK to their new tabloid-format coloured comic sections While there were some editors and readers who apparently didn't appreciate the near-Joycean dialogue and bizarre situations of Herriman's cartoon artistry, it survived - above all because it enjoyed the insistent support of the publisher and press magnate William Randolph Hearst. He was Herriman's staunchest fan, who early on gave him a lifetime contract with King Features Syndicate.
Now, inhabitants of the 21st century are privileged - we have the opportunity to dip into, wallow in, and enjoy the continuities of several compilations of Krazy Kat cartoons.
In the late '8os and early '90s, collections of Krazy Kat Sunday pages were published by Eclipse Books and the Turtle Island Foundation, which are now collectors' items at fancy prices. Fortunately, Fantagraphics Books, of 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, Washington, 98115, USA have recently embarked on a series of paperback volumes, edited by enthusiast Bill Blackbeard, featuring the complete full-page comics.
The years 1925-6, 1927-8, and 1929-30 are already available, with a further five volumes, covering the Eclipse material, in the pipeline. Consult www.fantagraphics.com.
A few years back I was lucky enough to pick up a remaindered copy of Vol.1 of "The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat", edited by Rick Marschall, published in the UK by Titan Books, 1990. Look around for a copy [but ignore the info on the dust-jacket that it is the first of seven volumes - so far as I know the rest of the series has still to materialise]. Or you might like to contact the Amazon Books website for a listing of available Krazy Kat books. I bought a copy from them of the Abradale Press "Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman", a generous sample of his work, published in 1999. Highly recommended! ■
|Sole © RFV&SDS, 2009.|