Saturday Special: Krazy Kat

When I walked into my local bookstore the other day, I was stunned to see that some publishing company had apparently taken upon itself the selfless task of trying to issue the complete Krazy Kat. This comic, which appeared in national newspapers all over the US from the 1910s up to the 1930s, was created by one George Herriman, about whom little is known. The fact that his surreal and wildly experimental comic strips reached such a large audience was largely thanks to William Randolph Hearst. This mind-bogglingly rich newspaper publisher was so charmed by Krazy Kat that he would personally call up regional editions of his newspapers to remove some local arts news so as to accommodate space for Krazy. A heppy, heppy ket.And Krazy keeps appearing in unexpected places: for instance, as a tattoo on the body of Michael Stipe, REM's lead singer; and on a T-shirt worn by Jules, the badass nigger from 'Pulp Fiction'.
So what is Krazy Kat about? The answer is simple. Krazy Kat is in love with Ignatz Mouse. Ignatz hates this and throws bricks at Krazy, who adores Ignatz all the more for it. But Officer Pupp, the pit bull policeman, locks Ignatz up for doing so. Repeat ad infinitum. All of this takes place in Coconino County, Arizona. That's it? Yes, basically, that's it.
But it's a lot. First consider Herriman's style of drawing: crude, jittery, almost like kids' drawings, but subtly expressive in its black and white. Then consider his writing. I quote from a random page I found: 'And with the amazing insipidity that only a mouse can possess, dernd if he didn't mace your cranium with a petrified brick-' No comic before or since has juxtaposed such drawings with such prose.Both these images are copyright George Herriman
And what about Krazy? Krazy is in love with Ignatz. Does that mean Krazy is gay? Or is Krazy a woman? In one comic, (s)he answers 'yes?' twice when asked to produce the man, then the lady, of the house. Krazy, incidentally, is a black cat, and Ignatz is a white mouse. This in itself is not very strange, it being a black and white comic, but Krazy's speech is with a heavy accent, calling his true love "li'l ainjil" or "dahlink". What’s more, two comics seem to play with race. In one, Krazy goes into a beauty salon and reappears from it totally white. Suddenly, Ignatz is deeply interested and doesn't recognize him. Conversely, when Ignatz becomes black by accident, Krazy treats him with nothing but disdain.
But sociological analyses aside, it's the character of Krazy that charms me the most. He is in every sense of the word a 'cronopio', a selfless, playful poetic soul without a care in the world, charmed even by the bricks that are flung at him. He is not a possessive lover but a faithful one, sticking with Ignatz through thick and thin, paying the bricklayer for bricks when Ignatz runs out of money to buy them. And speaking of buying, run to the store now and buy anything Krazy Kat-related you can lay your hands on.

Posted by cronopio at 01:49 AM, December 07, 2002