George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Praised as the Greatest Comic Strip of All Time, Gets Digitized as Early Installments Enter the Public Domain

"As a cartoonist, I read Krazy Kat with awe and wonder," writes Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson in his introduction to The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat. The creator of quite possibly the most beloved comic strip of the past thirty years calls Krazy Kat "such a pure and completely realized personal vision that the strip's inner mechanism is ultimately as unknowable as George Herriman," the artist who wrote and drew it for its entire three-decade run from 1913 to 1944. "I marvel at how this fanciful world could be so forcefully imagined and brought to paper with such immediacy. THIS is how good a comic strip can be."

High praise, especially from the hyperbole-resistant Watterson, a sharp-eyed critic of his art form and perceiver of its unrealized potential. "Quirky, individual, and uncompromised, Krazy Kat is one of the very few comic strips that takes full advantage of its medium. There are some things a comic strip can do that no other medium, not even animation, can touch, and Krazy Kat is a virtual essay on comic strip essence."




The "self-consciously baroque narrations and monologues" show that "words can be funny in themselves"; "the sky turns from black to white to zigzags and plaids simply because, in a comic strip, it CAN"; its surreal Arizona desert setting "is a character in the story, and the strip is 'about' that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populate it," Ignatz Mouse, Offissa Pupp, and the titular Krazy Kat.

Ignatz Mouse "demonstrates his contempt for Krazy by throwing bricks at her" (though their genders, so modern observers note, were never quite stable), "Krazy reinterprets the bricks as signs of love," and Offissa Pupp, the desert's lone lawman, is "obliged by duty (and regard for Krazy) to thwart and punish Ignatz's 'sin,' thereby interfering with a process that's satisfying to everyone for all the wrong reasons."

Now readers everywhere can feel that satisfaction for themselves at the web site of Krazy Kat fan Joel Franusic, who has launched a project to find and digitize (using Machine Learning) all of Herriman's strips that have so far fallen into the public domain. Franusic writes of having got into Krazy Kat in the first place because of the presence of Calvin and Hobbes in his childhood: "I remembered how Bill Watterson referenced Krazy Kat as a big reason why he insisted on getting a larger full color format for his Sunday comic strips."

I myself first picked up a Krazy Kat collection as a Calvin and Hobbes-loving elementary schooler, and soon found myself captivated by the sheer density of strangeness in its pages. But read enough of Herriman's masterwork, and that strangeness takes on a strong meaning that nevertheless differs from reader to reader. "Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a 'surrealistic' poem, unfolding over years and years," writes Chris Ware, another of the most respected comic-strip artists alive. "It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range  of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip." And now, 75 years after its conclusion, much more of humanity can enjoy Krazy Kat than ever. Explore digitized scans at Franusic's web site. Or pick up a copy of the new edition of The Complete Krazy Kat in Color, a color facsimile of the complete pages of Krazy Kat 1935–44.

via BoingBoing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Illustrated Version of The Mueller Report: Read Online an Edition Created by the Author of Black Hawk Down and an Illustrator from Archer

The 448 page Mueller Report doesn't make for breezy beach reading. That's for sure. But, "buried within the Mueller report, there is a narrative that reads in parts like a thriller." Working with that theory, Insider.com "hired Mark Bowden, a journalist and author known for his brilliant works of narrative nonfiction like Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo, and Hue 1968." And they gave him an assignment: "Use the interviews and facts laid out in the Mueller Report (plus those from reliable, fact-checked sources and published firsthand accounts)" and create an account that's "so gripping it will hold your attention (and maybe your congressional representative's)." They also hired "Chad Hurd, an illustrator from the art department of Archer," and "asked him to draw out scenes from the report to bring them to life." Find the resulting illustrated edition of The Mueller Report right here.

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The End of an Era: MAD Magazine Will Publish Its Last Issue With Original Content This Fall

As a cultural reference, MAD magazine may have died decades ago. This is a not a disparagement, but a statement of fact. The kind of satire the august, anarchic comic first unleashed on the world of 1952 debuted in a cultural milieu that is no more, and a form—the illustrated, satirical periodical—that is increasingly niche. MAD left an indelible impression on American publishing’s past, but as the magazine’s legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee tells The Washington Post, “it’s mostly nostalgia now.”

Responding to the market’s cues, MAD will more or less disappear from newsstands, publishing legacy content on a subscription-only basis and on the direct market, “a.k.a. specialty and comic book stores,” writes Gizmodo, “like the vast majority of DC’s comics output is already.” MAD shaped itself in opposition to Cold War paranoia and never seemed to find a new edge after favorite targets like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan left the scene. The magazine turned almost exclusively to pop culture parody in the 90s. As ABC News reports, MAD “peaked at 2.8 million subscribers in 1973,” then began its decline, with only “140,000 left as of 2017.”




The magazine’s founding editor, cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, passed away in 1993. His successor Al Feldstein, who brought the magazine to international prominence, died in 2014. MAD's longtime, tight-knit staff of writers and cartoonists are mostly retired, and most are sanguine about the winding down. “It’s been a logical development,” comments another MAD cartooning legend, Sergio Aragonés. To wit, after Issue 10 (MAD re-numbered last June) comes out this fall, there will be no new content, “except for the end-of-year specials,” notes The Post. “All issues after that will be republished content culled from 67 years of publication.”

This still represents a great way for newcomers to MAD to catch up on its wildly skewed view of the last half of the 20th century, though some imagination is required to appreciate how subversive their humor was for much of its run. MAD inspired countless offshoots in the decade after its founding, setting the tone for radical campus publications, countercultural cartoonists, and comic writers, some of whom went on to become Stephen Colbert and Judd Apatow, who both wrote in the pages of MAD about how much the magazine meant to them during their apprentice years.

The list of MAD devotees, both famous and not (I count myself among the latter), runs into the millions, but it runs along some obvious demographic divides. As the magazine is poised to become a gift-shop version of itself, tributes have poured in for its editors, writers, and cartoonists—all of them, to a man, well, men. And most of those tributes—those from prominent cartoonists and writers claiming MAD as a formative influence, at least—are also from men of a certain generation, most of them straight and white.

Such market segmentation, one might say, speaks to the way MAD's brand of political satire remained embedded in its heyday. As laid-back cartoonists Jaffee and Aragonés recognize, you can’t stay young and relevant forever—though MAD had a remarkably good run. The Post offers a notable example of Mad’s passage into history. When the current president “mockingly referred to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Neuman”—the once-ubiquitous, gap-toothed symbol of take-no-prisoners irreverence—the 37-year-old Buttigieg replied, “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Teaches You How to Draw

Friend, are you paralyzed by your ironclad conviction that you can't draw?

Professor Chewbacca aka Professor Old Skull aka cartoonist Lynda Barry has had quite enough of that nonsense!

So stop dissembling, grab a pen and a hand-sized piece of paper, and follow her instructions to Anne Strainchamps, host of NPR's To The Best Of Our Knowledge, below.

It’s better to throw yourself into it without knowing precisely what the ten minute exercise holds (other than drawing, of course).

We know, we know, you can’t, except that you can. Like Strainchamps, you’re probably just rusty.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly if things look “terrible.”

In Barry’s view, that’s relative, particularly if you were drawing with your eyes closed.

A neurology nerd, Barry cites Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray, and Juan Muniz’ study Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants' Responses Following Art Making. It’s the action, not the subjective artistic merit of what winds up on the page that counts in this regard.

For more of Barry’s exercises and delightfully droll presence, check out this playlist on Dr. Michael Green's Graphic Medicine Channel.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine... Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Story of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Rise in the 1980s Art World Gets Told in a New Graphic Novel

Jean-Michel Basquiat was keenly sensitive to the way the art market thought about him. He was compared to “a preacher possessed by the spirit,” his art, wrote critics, indicative of his “inner child.” This talk, writes Artnet's Bruce Gopnik, “could easily veer into ideas of the Noble Savage.” The artist thought so; he was disgusted by his portrayal as “a wild man running around,” he said. He wanted no part of the primitivist image forced upon him. Yet “to this day, he’s almost always billed as being more in touch with his emotions and the passions of urban life than with the orderly reasoning of post-Enlightenment culture.”

This itself is a false dichotomy—between expressionist and conceptual art, “urban” passions and reason—but if anyone gets caught in-between, it’s Basquiat. Gopnick leans, maybe too heavily, on the conceptual side of things, pushing comparisons between Jenny Holzer and Hans Haacke, downplaying Basquiat’s roots as a street artist and his connections to hip hop and new wave. Basquiat had his ear to the street—also an artifact of post-Enlightenment culture—and was hardly comfortable with the orderly reasoning of the massively profitable art market.

Whatever anyone wants to call his work, it makes no sense to separate it from its context: Basquiat’s Brooklyn home and Lower East Side stomping grounds, the downtown scene in which he came of age, his complicated relationships with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Julian Schnabel, three of many figures who, along with Basquiat, created the huge 1980s art market and art gallery culture. A new graphic novel by Italian illustrator Paolo Parisi promises a new take on the now-well-worn biography of Basquiat. It's a story written and drawn by a fellow conceptual artist, albeit one whose work more fits the image.

With eye-popping primary and secondary tones—the comic book colors favored by Basquiat and his contemporaries—Parisi takes some license, imagining conversations that may or may not have occurred. “Basquiat comes off as a bit more naïve and far less conflicted than we now know him to be,” writes Eileen Kinsella at Artnet. The chapter excerpted there, “New Art/New Money,” (see a few pages above and below), has multiple perspectives. In a reconstructed dinner scene between art dealers Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian, Basquiat doesn’t even appear.

But the narrative also draws directly from Basquiat’s own words. One page is a facsimile of a handwritten note the artist made in April 1984. “I have money everywhere, everywhere. I’m paid exorbitant sums for a single piece,” he writes, not to boast but to marvel at the incredible amount of inflation he sees all around him:

A picture I sold to Debbie Harry for $200 only a couple of years ago is now worth $20,000. That’s the art market today. Working with gallery owners is exhausting.

                                                They always want

                                                            More

                                                            More

                                                            More

Later Parisi adapts the artist’s thoughts in a critical monologue: The gallerists “have this way of doing things I’ve never seen before. They focus a lot on the artist’s image, buy in bulk, decide who to promote and how. They often buy and sell among themselves, between galleries. They never respect agreements. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust them.” Basquiat’s frustration at “something rotten in this scene” made him consider giving up painting for good. He didn’t get the chance, though Parisi has him tell a girlfriend “Picasso died at ninety… I’m certainly not going before then.”

Parisi, who has also written and illustrated graphic biographies of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, has an ear for American speech patterns and class and race dynamics, drawing out with more or less subtlety the associations between the art world’s fascination with “primitivist” art and the continuing resonances of slavery and colonialism in its hyper-capitalist economy. Was Basquiat a childlike character who only slowly realized the greedy machinations of the dealers?

In the 2010 documentary The Radiant Child, his former graffiti partner Al Diaz explains his motivations from the very beginning. “We wanted to do some kind of conceptual art project.” Basquiat aimed directly at the art world, writing messages on walls like “4 THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE.” Once in its company, however, he found, like many other fiercely independent artists who make it big, it wasn’t worth the money. Read the fully excerpted chapter at Artnet and purchase Parisi's graphic novel Basquiat online.

via Artnet

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Freddie Mercury Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

Pop culture thrives on superheroes, both fictional and real. This isn’t unique in human history. Read most any collection of ancient myth and literature and you’ll find the same. The demigods and chieftains beating their chests and talking trash in the Iliad, for example, remind me of macho professional wrestlers or characters in the Marvel and DC universes, cultural artifacts indebted in their various ways to classical legends. One thread runs through all of the epic tales of heroes and heroines: a seeming need to immortalize people who embody the qualities we most desire. Heroes may suffer for their tragic flaws, but that's the price they pay for universal acclaim or an iron throne.

The traits ascribed to late modernity’s fictional heroes haven’t changed overmuch from the distant past—power, wit, agility, persistence, anger issues, spicy, complicated love lives…. But when it comes to the real people we admire—the celebrities who get the superhero treatment—creativity, style, and musical talent top the list. Why not?




David Bowie’s larger-than-life personas surely deserve to live on, transmitted not only via his music but by way of his posthumous transformation into a series of pulp and comic heroes as imagined by screenwriter and designer Todd Alcott, who has given the same treatment to beloved musical characters like Prince and Bob Dylan.

Performing a similar service for Freddie Mercury, Brazilian artist Butcher Billy satisfies the cultural craving for demigods in his immortalization of Freddie Mercury as various heroes like The Hulk, Superman, and Shazam (or “Flash”); a contender for the Iron Throne; and himself: riding on Darth Vader’s shoulders, breaking free in housewife drag, and sporting Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning bolt. What are the superpowers of these super-Freddies? The usual smashing, punching, and flying, it seems, but also the essentials of his real-life power—an impossibly big personality, huge stage presence, personal magnetism, and a godlike force of a voice.

Add to these characteristics a unique talent for writing  lyrics punchier than your favorite Twitter feed, and we have the makings of a modern epic giant with abilities that seemed to surpass those of mere mortals, with the swagger and ego to match. This tribute to Mercury is unabashed hero worship, turning the singer into an archetype. In the simple, bold, colorful lines of comic cover art we might just see that there’s a Freddie Mercury in all of us, wanting to break free, pump a fist in the air, and belt out our biggest feelings in capital letters and giant exclamation marks.

See more "Planet Mercury Comics" below and at Butcher Billy's Behance site.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Andy Warhol and Tintin Creator Hergé Mutually Admired and Influenced One Another

Comic-book stories of a boy reporter and his dog (later accompanied by a foulmouthed sea captain) featuring rocketships and submarines, booby-traps and buried treasure, gangsters and abominable snowmen, smugglers and super-weapons, all told with bright colors, clear lines, and practically no girls in sight: no wonder The Adventures of Tintin at first looks tailor-made for rambunctious youngsters. But now, eighty years after Tintin's debut in the children's supplement of a Belgian Catholic newspaper, his ever-growing fan base surely includes more grown-ups than it does kids, and grown-ups prepared to regard his adventures as serious works of modern art at that.

The field of Tintin enthusiasts (in their most dedicated form, "Tintinologists") includes some of the best-known modern artists in history. Roy Lichtenstein, he of the zoomed-in comic-book aesthetic, once made Tintin his subject, and Tintin's creator Hergé, who cultivated a love for modern art from the 1960s onward, hung a suite of Lichtenstein prints in his office. As Andy Warhol once put it, "Hergé has influenced my work in the same way as Walt Disney. For me, Hergé was more than a comic strip artist." And for Hergé, Warhol seems to have been more than a fashionable American painter: in 1979, Hergé commissioned Warhol to paint his portrait, and Warhol came up with a series of four images in a style reminiscent of the one he'd used to paint Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe.




Hergé and Warhol had first met in 1972, when Hergé paid a visit to Warhol's "Factory" in New York — the kind of setting in which one imagines the straight-laced, sixtysomething Belgian setting foot only with difficulty. But the two had more in common as artists than it may seem: both got their start in commercial illustration, and both soon found their careers defined by particular works that exploded into cultural phenomena. (Warhol may also have felt an affinity with Tintin in their shared recognizability by hairstyle alone.) The Independent's John Lichfield writes that Hergé, who had by that point learned to paint a few modern abstract pieces of his own, "asked Warhol, modestly, whether the father of Tintin should also consider himself a 'Pop Artist.' Warhol, although a great fan of Hergé, simply stared back at him and did not reply."

Warhol may not have known what to say forty years ago, but in that time Hergé has unquestionably ascended into the institutional pantheon of Western art: Lichfield's article is a review of a 2006 Hergé retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, and the years since have seen the opening of the Musée Hergé south of Brussels as well as increasingly elaborate exhibitions on Tintin and his creator all around the world. (I myself attended such an exhibition in Seoul, where I live, just last month.) The French artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud expresses a now-common kind of sentiment when he credits Hergé with "a precision of the kind I love in Mondrian" and "the artistic economy that you find in Matisse." Warhol, who probably wouldn't have phrased his appreciation in quite that way, makes a more tonally characteristic response in the clip above when Hergé tells him about Tintin's latter-day switch from his signature plus fours to jeans: "Oh, great!"

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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