Does George Herriman’s name not ring a bell? Maybe his creation Krazy Kat does. A surreal, seemingly slapstick comic strip it was also playful, dark and subversive—a piece of 20th century pop culture that influenced everything that came after it. Charles Schultz once noted that “Krazy Kat was always my goal.” Maus creator Art Spiegelman said, “For me and my generation, Herriman loomed really large, because Herriman crossed all kinds of boundaries, between high and low, between vulgar and gentile.”
Michael Chabon contextualizes Herriman this way: “One could argue the claim, confidently, persuasively, and with an all-but-inexhaustible store of ever fresh evidence, that George Herriman was one of the very great artists in any medium of the 20th century.”
In Shelf Awareness, reviewer Bruce Jacobs of Watermark Books discusses Herriman’s work this way:
A multilingual combination of vaudeville pratfalls and violence, minstrel show imitation, the optimism and good-heartedness of Chaplin’s Tramp, and the Beckettian dialogue of Vladimir and Estragon, Krazy Kat was a precursor of the chaos and upheaval of the 20th century. An example from April of 1921 says it all:
“IGNATZ: Now, “Krazy,” do you look upon the future as a pessimist, or an optimist?
“KRAZY KAT: I look upon it as just mist–
“Herriman’s vision, sketches and dialogue influenced the epochal comic strips of Charles M. Schulz and Gary Trudeau. With substantial background fieldwork, Tisserand eloquently demonstrates that this self-effacing, mixed-race high school graduate from the streets of the Tremé, laboring for 40 years over a schedule of daily cartoons, became the inspiration of a century of artists, intellectuals, filmmakers and writers.”
“Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.”
— Kirkus (starred review)
“Tisserand weaves American history, pop culture, and racial politics with biography to elucidate and celebrate the life of cartoonist George Herriman (1880–1944), the creator of the Krazy Kat comic strip. Readers gain a glut of insight into the development of Krazy Kat, and the many ways the character served as an outlet for Herriman to playfully explore the human condition, which Tisserand sets against the backdrop of Herriman’s own little-known racial identity. Though Herriman passed as a white man his whole life, he was actually African-American, born during Reconstruction to a Creole family that hid its racial identity….This is a gripping read at the intersection of pop culture and American history.”
— Publishers Weekly
Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (9780061732997) by Michael Tisserand. $35.00 hardcover. 12/6/16 on sale.