Nov. 20, 2012 by Leith Johnson
This week, a patron requested to see the SC&A copy of Krazy Kat by George Herriman with an introduction by the avant-garde poet E. E. Cummings (New York: H. Holt and Company, 1946). For the uninitiated, Krazy Kat was a bizarre, existential comic strip that involved a clueless cat (the title character); Ignatz Mouse, whose ambition in life seems to be no more than to throw bricks at Krazy Kat, who mistakes them for love tokens; and Offissa Pupp, a law enforcement official who is determined to keep Ignatz in jail. I’m sorry I can’t do the strip justice here…you really need to read it to get it.
Herriman published his comic in daily newspapers from 1913 until his death in 1944, and early on, it was viewed as more than a mere frivolity. The art critic Gilbert Seldes wrote a long, admiring, analytical article about the comic in Vanity Fair magazine in 1924, declaring in the opening paragraph that “The correct thing to say about Krazy Kat is How wonderful that such a delightfully fantastic creature should be found in the company of the vulgar comic strip. Mr. Herriman is much too intelligent to think it, but he alone could express it, in Krazy’s own language, with appropriate floral irony. Krazy Kat is, to be sure, different in quality from all other comics, but it is comic none the less, and the perception, the mere awareness that a distinct work of art has been created in the medium is something to think about. It gives, at least, perspective.”
When Holt published the first collection of Krazy Kat strips in 1946, Cummings was called on to write the introduction, in which he shows that Krazy Kat is a metaphor for democracy. Kurious? Request this book and read more.