Krazy Philosophy: Herriman At His Best

I have to admit that I have always admired and appreciated George Herriman more than I enjoyed reading him. The gush of praise for his work among American intellectuals in the 1920s was deserved and an important piece of pop culture history. My own favorite pioneer of pop culture criticism Gilbert Seldes famously declared Krazy Kat among the most satisfying works of American art in the 1920s. But I always have had trouble really getting into him. I have to dip in and out of Herriman, sip him briefly, in order to appreciate the full effect of his offbeat sensibility, linguistic play, hit-and-miss humor. The characters and their world, while wonderfully abstract and even surreal, also create a distance for me.

All that is to say that there are also times when the abstraction and subtle philosophizing in Krazy Kat really pops through and reminds me what a rich mind was at work behind the strip. This daily from 1922 is one example of the ways in which Ignatz and Krazy really do represent fundamentally different sensibilities that were quite relevant to the America Herriman was experiencing in the inter-war years. Ignatz, the worldly, materialist, the jaded modern defender of “realism” is not only opposed to Krazy’s more ethereal, romantic approach to the universe, he is moved to violence at the very sight of it. That to me is the most interesting dynamic in their relationship. It is not the difference between the two world views they represent. It is how they react to one another, Ignatz’s frustration and intolerance of the very existence of a Krazy-eyed view of the world, that activates the strip for me and speaks to its age. Most Krazy Kat dailies don’t end with a brick to Kracy’s head but instead Ignatz reaching for a brick as a primitive response to Krazy’s musings or poor pun or nonsensical quip. Herriman calls attention to our own response. Who are you? Ignatz or Krazy?

Like Krazy her/himself, I find that I am appreciating Herriman by taking it slow through his dailies and Sundays. Others that caught my eye are here and of course the discussion of Krazy’s gender here.

3 thoughts on “Krazy Philosophy: Herriman At His Best

  1. I understand your “concern” with Krazy Kat. It took me several attempts along several years to finally love it. It was really frustrating for me to read all that praise for Krazy Kat and at the same time being unable to understand for myself just why all those people were so crazy about this strip, because I really wanted to understand – was the problem in me or was it just not my type of a thing? Then Fantagraphics anounced their new Krazy Sundays reprint and with that I decided to do my “final” attempt=) And it worked – somehow now I could see all the poetry, all the magic that made that strange world so special. I stopped looking for jokes where there weren’t any and instead looked for a story that Herriman was willing to tell. Some were thoughtful, some were funny, but they all were about something. Here I’m not pretending to “understand” Herriman, I’m just sharing how I came to love and enjoy Krazy Kat =)

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful note Kirill. I am using the new Fantagraphics reprints similarly. I also subscribe to Comics Kingdom where I get a daily dose of Krazy dailies, which also helps. Michael Tisserand’s superb bio also helps get into Herriman’s head a bit,

    • Oh, thank you for pointing out Michael Tisserand’s book, I’ll look into it! And I’ll also see what they have at Comics Kingdom – I’ve tried to subscribe once but found out that most strips I’ve wanted to read were not from the beginning so I dropped the idea. With Krazy dailies I got only LOAC Essentials book, but haven’t read it yet(

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