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.