George Herriman

If ever a comic strip was Art, "Krazy Kat" was its best candidate for that honor. An undefinable amalgam of drama, humor, poetry line, tone and color, the cartoon feature was created by George Herriman (1880-1944) published from 1916 to 1944. Its plot line was a skewed triangle: the central "Krazy Kat" of ambiguous gender, in love with "Ignatz" mouse, who did not return the compliment but retaliated with a thrown brick, and "Offissa Pup", the constable who ineffectually tried to protect "Krazy" from the brick by remanding Ignatz in jail. "Krazy", however, wanted no protection, misinterpreting the thrown brick as an expression of Ignatz's love. Variations of this theme were played out endlessly with added mixtures of complementary characters, such as "Don Kiyoti", "Sancho Pansy", "Kolin Kelly", who baked the bricks, Joe Stork, and "Gooseberry Sprigg."

The story settings were of the uncertain geography of Coconino County, Ariz., which could vary from panel to panel as the backgrounds moved behind stationary figures in the foreground! This element of fantasy in ignoring constraints of literal facts also played a major role in dialogue. Herriman created a patois of speech based on such diverse elements as American Indian, African-American, Yiddish, Spanish, Shakespearean English and Latin. To this he added his own unique spelling. Various characters also quoted poetic dialogue from the classics - often bent to amplify the story line.

Much of this was over the heads of the casual comic reader and the feature was never a popular or financial success. Fortunately, William Randolph Hearst, who controlled the King Features Syndicate, liked it and kept it in print until the artist's death. No attempt to pass it on to another artist was ever made; the strip was uniquely his. During its existence, it was intellectuals who appreciated the creative complexities that permeated "Krazy Kat", and today's scholars of the subject find ever-renewing appreciation and delight in Herriman's genius.

Walt Reed