24.10.04

Love Letters in Ancient Brick



Ignatz the Mouse wants nothing more than to hit Krazy Kat in the head with a brick. Krazy Kat loves being the target of Ignatz's masonry affection. And the local policeman, Offica Pup, struggles to keep them apart.

I first heard of George Herriman's "Krazy Kat" comic strip in Bill Watterson's 10th anniversary Calvin and Hobbes book, where he cites it, along with Peanuts and Pogo, as the strongest influences of his work. Also in the book, Watterson laments the contraction of the comic strip, from full page canvases in the first half of the 20th century down to the three tiny frames we have today. I never understood this complaint until I got my hands on a collection of George Harriman's work.

Krazy Kat is like no other comic I've seen. The way the central themes of violence, love, and justice are juxtaposed is far more twisted and challenging than anything I've seen on a comics page. The interactions three primary characters, in particular Krazy Kat's interpretation of acts of violence as love, challenges the reader to create some allegory to resolve the relationships in the comic. Krazy Kat can yield to many explanations yet never fully completes any.

The presentation is as challenging as the central theme. Herriman boldly toys with the comic format; creating strips designed to be read backward and forward, characters manipulating and viewing past and future frames, and single frame interludes in the middle of the page that have nothing to do with the short story surrounding it. The character dialog can be difficult for modern readers because many of Herriman's characters speak phonetically, allowing him to define how his character's sound, not only what they say.

Krazy Kat is a challenging comic to read. I've owned one volume for over a year, and it has taken over dozen perusals before I realized the depth and richness George Herriman's work.

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