Kat Kollectin' 

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Krazy Kat's greatness lies in its thorough exploration of the comic strip medium's possibilities.

Far more than any oh-yawn superhero comic or copycat manga borebook, George Herriman's comic toyed with the ideas of visual narrative continuity, gender and miscegenation of sorts, and language fluency through exacting dialogue.

The artist, who, a refugee from Jim Crow laws, passed for white in the Los Angeles and New York of the early twentieth century, refused to pin down the gender of his main character. His characters' language ranged from something I've been told was the way black people spoke to Spanglishisms to Shakespearean fits to gross Chinese stereotypes.

Ask a Kat fan what the comic is about and you get the eponymous kat, a mouse, a dog and a brick, in endless combinations. I would say also, add the fantastic landscape of Arizona's Coconino County as rendered by Herriman to the mix. My opinion is that, entranced with the Navajo world, the cartoonist couldn't help but squeeze in as many vistas of the land as he could and occasionally turn the Navajo rug into a landscape.

Krazy Kat the comic, however, carries a curse. After Herriman's death in 1944, a number of publishing houses attempted to reprint all the strips, only to go bankrupt in the process. The first was Eclipse Comics, which managed only the 1916-1924 Sunday strips; Kitchen Sink Press snagged a couple volumes of the 1935-37 Sunday strips. The Comics Revue, which is still around, nailed down the September 8, 1930-1934 dailies somewhere, while Pacific Comic Club's still has some of the 1000 copies each of Krazy and Ignatz: 1921, Krazy and Ignatz: 1922 and Krazy and Ignatz: 1923.

My book moratorium, meant to contain my almost 2000-volume library, allows for certain exceptions: rare books, art books or Romanian books. Krazy Kat, under its curse, encourages my urgency in accumulating its reprints.

The bible of all Kat fans, this baby has been in my personal collection for years now. I only read Herriman's biography contained within once, during my childhood. This was not the book through which I discovered the great man; that honour goes to a nameless green-covered volume that my public library discarded at the turn of this century.

From Alberta-based Stinging Monkey come the 1918-1919 dailies. The company's website leads to nowhere - the curse of Krazy Kat publishing strikes again. Luckily, I have acquired this volume before it escalated in price on eBay.

The 1925-1926 Sundays in There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay are mine. Take that, curse!

Love Letters in Ancient Brick
(1927-1928) includes "reproductions of rare Herriman ephemera from [book designer Chris] Ware's own extensive collection."

A Mice, A Brick, A Lovely Night (1929-1930) reprints sheet music for the 1911 "Krazy Kat Rag."

The next ones on my to-accumulate list:

A Kat a'Lilt with Song reputedly has some Gooseberry Sprig, the Duck Duke from 1909. I'm almost strictly a funny animal fan - for those of you not into comics, funny animal is the anthropomorphic animal genre. (I do stray into Sacco-Marjane-Herge-Goscinny-Uderzo-Dirge territory occasionally.) Herriman's earlier comics were mostly human-centred, though, as I get older, I am intrigued by how they address earlier American racial and immigration issues.

According to publisher Fantagraphics, the 1933-1934 series in Necromancy by the Blue Bean Bush were the most difficult to acquire. This volume is part of Herriman's orthodox period, when his biggest contemporary fan, William Randolph Hearst, forced the cartoonist to contain the comic in convention panel format in order to gain more mainstream interest in the strip.

Herriman started publishing his Sunday strips in colour in 1935. More importantly, the two-month Tiger Tea adventure took place in 1936. The tea turns the usually placid Krazy into a steamroller of testosterone. Having read portions of this chapter in my childhood, I remember this being my favourite story. A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy will be a treat.

Shifting Sands Dusts its Cheeks in Powdered Beauty is not yet released, though its cover especially tantalizes.

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