I must confess that I became acquainted with Krazy Kat just recently. It wasn’t one of those cartoons I watched as a child, like Felix the Cat or Garfield. However, once I started learning more and more about this “krazy” feline, I became hooked. Decidedly, this is not your typical children’s cartoon. And it’s not your typical cartoon cat either. This comic strip has even been called a masterpiece by many of its fans.
This unusual feline was created by American cartoonist George Herriman (1880-1944). It was first published in the New York’s Evening Journal, which was owned by William Randolph Hearst. Luckily for its fans, the strip had a long run, from 1913 until the mid-1940s.
Originally, Krazy and the other characters first appeared in Herriman’s The Dingbat Family (which was later renamed The Family Upstairs). This strip, which began in 1910, told the story of the Dingbat family and their mysterious upstairs neighbors. At the bottom of this strip appeared another strip featuring a mouse (who lived upstairs) and the Dingbats’ cat. This secondary strip chronicled the attacks of the upstairs rodent against the cat. Eventually, this strip developed into the Krazy Kat comic.
Interestingly enough, Krazy was not popular among the general public, but it was very popular among the artists and intellectuals of the time. Even William Randolph Hearst counted himself among Krazy’s fans. Despite the lack of popularity of the strip, he granted Herriman a life contract and gave him complete creative freedom.
The plot of this strip is as unusual as the characters themselves. Basically, the story line revolves around the complicated relationships among the three main characters. In other words, this is an uncommon “love triangle”. In this triangle we have a cat, a mouse, and a dog. Krazy is in love with Ignatz (the mouse); Officer Pupp (the dog) is in love with the cat, and Ignatz hates Krazy and is always trying to outwit Officer Pupp.
Krazy is a naïve, free-spirited, simple-minded, but inquisitive, cat of undetermined gender. In most cartoons Krazy is referred to as a female cat, but in some instances it is referred to as a male. Herriman himself never clarified Krazy’s gender, even when he was asked directly.
Krazy is desperately (and hopelessly) in love with Ignatz mouse. She doesn’t know that Ignatz despises her and mistakes his hostile behavior (he’s always throwing bricks at Krazy) for a passionate demonstration of his affection.
Krazy has a language all her own. Experts suggest that Krazy’s dialect is a combination of English, Spanish, French, and even Yiddish. Herriman’s own New Orleans’s dialect is also present in Krazy’s lingo.
This little mouse has no patience when it comes to Krazy’s carefree and childlike behavior. Indeed, Ignatz despises Krazy. He’s always throwing (or attempting to throw) a brick at Krazy. Ignatz also takes great pains at hiding his bricks from his archenemy, Officer Pupp (Krazy’s protector).
Officer (Offisa) Pupp
Officer Bull Pupp (his full name) is Coconino County’s law enforcement chief. He’s Krazy’s protector and is always trying to stop Ignatz from hurting Krazy.
There is a host of minor characters that appeared in the Krazy comic strip, including:
- Krazy’s cousins – Krazy Katbird and Krazy Katfish.
- Kolin Kelly – The town’s brickmaker and Ignatz’s wary supplier.
- Joe Stork – Coconino’s baby deliverer. He’s disliked by many – especially when he delivers unwanted babies.
- Don Kiyote – A Mexican coyote.
The backdrop to this eccentric host of characters is Coconino County, Arizona. Herriman did a terrific job at portraying the beauty of the desert he knew so well (in fact, he had a home in Coconino County). The strip showcases beautiful landscapes, which usually change from one panel to the next. The landscapes have a definite Southwestern feel: a mix of Mexican, Spanish, and Navajo influences.
Cartoons as art
Herriman was a master of visual imagery and language. His poetic narrative and unique use of language were considered a masterpiece by many comics’ devotees, artists and intellectuals. Indeed, many consider Krazy to be a clear exponent of surrealism. Other authors also recognized the strip as an example of dadaism and postmodernism.
Krazy Kat's admirers
As I mentioned before, this uncommon feline was admired by many artists and intellectuals of the time, including film director Frank Capra, poet E.E. Cummings, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and artist Willem de Kooning.
In addition, cartoonists Charles Shultz (Peanuts), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), among others, have said that the Krazy-Kat comic strip was a major influence in their works.
Krazy on film
Krazy made it to celluloid a few times. The first shorts were produced by William Randolph Hearst (under the Hearst-Vitagraph News Pictorial). These short films were produced from 1916 to 1918. In 1920 the John R. Bray studio started producing another series of Krazy shorts.
Another version was produced by animator Bill Nolan (whose Krazy had a strong resemblance to Felix the Cat. In fact, he was a former employee of the Pat Sullivan studios and that may have influenced his version of Krazy). Other versions were created by Charles B. Mintz and Isadore Klein. All these versions were produced between 1925 and 1940.
Gene Deitch produced Krazy films in the 1960s.
There are plenty of books, comic books, and even DVDs about Krazy. So if you or your friends are fans of this extraordinary cat, or you want to learn more about this unique comic, then consider the following ideas (this is a very brief list):
-- The Krazy Kat Kartoon Kollection (1963)
-- George Herriman's Kinomatic Krazy Kat Kartoon Klassics. Starring: Lenard Robinson, Gene Deitch, Directed by: Ray Pointer
-- Krazy & Ignatz, The Dailies. Vol 1. 1918 -1919 by George Herriman
-- Krazy & Ignatz: The Kat Who Walked in Beauty (Fantagraphics) by George Herriman and Derya Ataker
-- Krazy Kat : The Comic Art of George Herrimanby Karen O'Connell, Georgia Riley de Havenon, and Patrick McDonnell
Note: All the copyrighted characters mentioned here are trademarks of their owners.
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