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Krazy Kat A Love Story
There’s a corner of every Americans heart that is reserved for a cartoon cat. Its name might be Garfield, Sylvester, Fritz, or Felix. But there will never be another Krazy.
August/September 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 5
Born in New Orleans in 1881 to Greek parents who moved to Los Angeles before the turn of the century, George was soon pressed into service in his father’s bakery. Papa vehemently disapproved of his son’s cartooning, and young Herriman broke free of the family business when he got a job as a house painter. That career came to an abrupt end when he fell off a scaffold. More determined than ever to be a cartoonist, he rode the rails to New York, taking only his drawings and his young wife. In New York he succeeded in getting a staff job on the World and later the Journal . There he created a series of comic strips ( Professor Otto and His Auto, Doc Archie and Bean, The Dingbat Family ), all of which were very much in the mode of the day. In fact, one must admit that his penwork at this time looked like a crude imitation of Bud Fisher, who drew Mutt and Jeff . But The Dingbat Family had a cat who was madly in love with a mouse, and this odd couple proved to be more amusing than the Dingbats themselves.
In 1913 Krazy Kat became the star of her own strip. Freed of the necessity of drawing people, Herriman’s penwork quickly evolved into the liberated, spontaneous-looking style we now recognize as his alone. Little has been written about Herriman the artist. Seldes, Cummings, and the other literati who extolled Herriman’s work were, quite naturally, enchanted by the literary idea behind Krazy Kat. But try to imagine for a moment the Krazy saga drawn by another cartoonist—say Chic Young or Walt Kelly. Suddenly the magic is gone. It is Herriman’s pen, with its thick and thin line and its unmechanical, emotional crosshatching, that turns Krazy Kat into a cartoon counterpart of expressionism.
But it was in the large, full-page Sunday comic section, with its hand-separated color overlays, that Herriman’s graphic genius can be best appreciated. For one thing, Herriman never seemed to repeat himself. Each Sunday page looked entirely different from the one before. The Krazy Kat logo not only changed its character from week to week but kept moving about the page, on occasion settling down right in the middle. Nor could one count on a set number of squares or even sequential narration. The only thing one could depend on was the aesthetic beauty of the page. These Sunday color pages represent the peak of twentieth-century comic art.
Herriman died on April 26,1944. The Journal’s page-one obituary described him as slight of build, a devoted husband and father, mild-mannered, and a generous (and anonymous) contributor to charities for the needv.
But, of course, I never believed anything I read in a Hearst paper.