A revelatory biography of the influential “Krazy Kat” creator George Herriman (1880-1944).
Set among the desert mesas of Coconino County, “Krazy Kat” graced the funny pages from 1913 to 1944 and featured the philosophical antics of Krazy and the brick-throwing mouse, Ignatz. Tisserand (Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember, 2007, etc.) reveals the depths of their age-old rivalry, tracing influences from Cervantes and Othello to minstrel shows and the Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries bout of 1910. “Krazy Kat” always had a racial angle: Herriman was born a fair-skinned boy to African-American parents and grew up in the Creole community of New Orleans. His complexion allowed him to “pass” as white, a controversial practice that Herriman carried secretly throughout his life. Though he penned numerous strips—e.g., "Us Husbands," "Baron Mooch," and "The Family Upstairs"—it wasn’t until the publication of “Krazy Kat”in 1913 that he moved toward the life of a celebrated artist, garnering praise from the likes of e.e. cummings and President Woodrow Wilson. Herriman’s unique racial perspective allowed him to sneak some remarkably potent themes into his cartoons, many of which were likely lost on his readers at the time: Krazy, for instance, is revealed to have been born in the cellar of a haunted house, in a “tale which must never be told, and yet which everyone knows.” In another gag, Ignatz flings a mug at Krazy saying it’s not the black coffee he wanted. “Sure it is,” Krazy tells him. “Look unda the milk.” Tisserand elevates this exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book beyond the typical comics biography. Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles.
Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.