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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

24,000 Vin­tage Car­toons from the Library of Con­gress Illus­trate the His­to­ry of This Mod­ern Art Form (1780–1977)

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

Down­load Over 22,000 Gold­en & Sil­ver Age Com­ic Books from the Com­ic Book Plus Archive

Clas­sic Children’s Books Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online: Revis­it Vin­tage Works from the 19th & 20th Cen­turies

A Dig­i­tal Archive of Heavy Met­al, the Influ­en­tial “Adult Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine” That Fea­tured the Art of Moe­bius, H.R. Giger & More

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.


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Comments (3)
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  • Arthur Maddox says:

    Won­der­ful! I sent this link to a famous comics artist/historian friend, this is his reply: “… Oooh! Very cool. There’s a link for down­load­ing every Krazy Kat from 1916 to 1924. Her­ri­man’s inven­tive­ness and cre­ative lay­outs are a won­der to behold! …”

  • Joakim Gunnarsson says:

    Noth­ing on that site that hasn’t been reprint­ed recent­ly. Or are the dai­ly strips hid­den some­where on the site?

  • Robert W McKinlay says:

    Crazy Cat was cool. Thanks for arti­cle. Moth­er Goose and Grimm I view as best con­tem­po­rary com­ic.

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