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IT'S KRAZY TIME AT LAST

KRAZY coverThe long-awaited critical biography of Krazy Kat and the strip’s creator George Herriman by Michael Tisserand has finally arrived — Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White 560 pages by Harper/Collins. Amazon encapsulates the history of the strip: Appearing in the biggest newspapers of the early twentieth century — including those owned by William Randolph Hearst — Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons propelled him, eventually, to fame. Although fitfully popular with readers of the period, his work has been widely credited with elevating cartoons from daily amusements to anarchic art.

The Kirkus Review begins: “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 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.”

“Herriman used his work to explore the human condition,” saith Amazon, “creating a modernist fantasia that was inspired by the landscapes he discovered in his travels — from chaotic urban life to the Beckett-like desert vistas of the Southwest.”

Kirkus: “Krazy Kat always had a racial angle: Herriman was born a fair-skinned boy to African-American [or Creole] parents and grew up in the Creole community of New Orleans. His complexion allowed him to ‘pass’ as white, a controversial practice [since the dangerous days of post-Civil War Reconstruction].

“Though he penned numerous strips — Us Husbands, Baron Mooch, Family Upstairs — it wasn’t until after the arrival of Krazy Kat in 1913 that he moved toward the life of a celebrated artist, garnering praise from the Krazy Kat panellikes 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.’”

Amazon: “Drawing on exhaustive original research into Herriman’s family history, interviews with surviving friends and family, and deep analysis of the artist’s work and surviving written records, Tisserand brings this little-understood figure to vivid life, paying homage to a visionary artist who helped shape modern culture.”

Kirkus: “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.”

Writing to others on the Platinum Age list, Tisserand said: “If someone is going to spend eight years researching a life, I highly recommend George Herriman. Pretty sure it's impossible to tire of Herriman and his work, or to learn all there is to learn.”

I haven’t finished reading my copy yet, but as far as I’ve gone, the research is impressive

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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