Krazy & Ignatz

By David Thompson, 10 May 2002

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic strips of all time, with Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and William Randolph Hearst among its many fans. Ostensibly a unilateral love story involving bricks, mice and misunderstanding, Krazy Kat defies adequate summary. With no concessions to realism or cute caricature, the strip centres on a kind of causal autism as its characters – Krazy, Ignatz and a canine constable named Offissa Pupp – misconceive each other’s motives and the nature of the world around them. The contours of the strip’s Coconino County backdrop shift continually, often in response to textual references and foreground events. At times the landscape is peppered with fantastic rock formations, potted palms, vehicles and housing; at others it is a barren mesa or little more than one horizontal line. The pointed repetition of the strip’s plot seems to have liberated all of its other aspects, freeing them to assume a counterpoint of lyrical abstraction. (Pointing to the mutating backdrop, Krazy ‘explains’ to Ignatz: ‘I ain’t a Kat and I ain’t Krazy. It’s wot’s behind me that I am. It’s the idea behind me, Ignatz, and that’s wot I am.’)

Herriman’s sparse artwork and oblique text encourages the reader’s imagination to expand and fill the cartoon’s surreal spaces, as layers of allusion transform a simple animal vaudeville into something approaching existential opera. With their flights of esoteric whimsy, the strips collected in Krazy & Ignatz remain untouched by time, warranting discovery by each new generation.

David Thompson <david.thompson AT> is a journalist and author

Krazy & Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics 1925-26 // George Herriman // Fantagraphics // $14.95 // Fantagraphics [] // Krazy Kat resources []