Saturday, September 18, 2010

George Herriman – ‘Love in a Kestle or Love in a Hut: Krazy & Ignatz, 1916 – 1918’

And so Fantagraphics’ Krazy Kat reprint series, having picked up a previous, stalled attempt with the 1925-6 Sunday strips in 2002, finally loops back to the beginning. Now, there is no period of Krazy Kat which is not worthy of attention and love, but I’ve been looking forward to this for ages, because of the larger cast of characters who populate the earlier strips. Here are some of the regulars in a grocery store:

The Krazy of these years is so gallant, forever dashing hither and thither to help out some creature in distress (Mexican jumping beans which have bounced illegally over the border, a hen’s unguarded eggs, orphan kittens hungry for ice cream), but the help itself is often more the result of luck than judgement. In the above strip, the potatoes are saved from a hungry Ignatz because Krazy has nephews and nieces staying over in the cellar, and their luminous eyes in the dark (‘the eyes of the potatoes?’, you are supposed to think) scare him off. Between gallantries, Krazy is curious and whimsical, refusing to operate at anyone’s pace but his own.

(The middle panel there makes more sense once you know the phrase ‘rush the growler’ – it means ‘to take a container to the local bar to buy beer’.)

In Bill Blackbeard’s brief epilogue to this volume, he compares Herriman to Dickens, amongst others (Lewis Carroll, W. C. Fields, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce – I love the extravagance of these claims), which I suppose is true in the way he uses great dollops of colloquial language as texture, but there is no overbearing moralising. Krazy is tender hearted, lovable and off his head (just as Ignatz is sensible, devious, avaricious and somehow lovable too), and readers are free to do with these examples what they will.

One more thing – did you ever wonder how birds and fish take their offspring out for an afternoon stroll?

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