Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Herriman, George

(1880-1944) US Comics artist and writer who began to publish visual work as early as 1897. By the first years of the new century GH had actively begun to create and/or write and illustrate comic strips. His first weekday strip, Home Sweet Home, appeared in 1904, the year he began his lifelong relationship with William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), who gave him unprecedented artistic freedom for his work; after 1910 GH worked as a comics artist for no one but Hearst. That year he began to draw the cat and mouse who became the main figures in Krazy Kat, which ran from 1913 until his death. It is one of the 20th century's greatest fantasy sequences, as well as almost certainly the longest Comics sequence of any fantasy importance to have been solely the creation of one person.

In the first half of the century, most comic strips were under the ultimate control of the newspaper or syndicate which ran them, and tended to continue, drawn by others, after their initial creator's retirement or death. It may be that Krazy Kat's lack of mass appeal was the reason for its termination when GH died (in 1944 it was circulating to only 35 newspapers), but the sequence was, in fact, inimitable.

Its basic Beast-Fable premise, reiterated literally thousands of times, is a simple love triangle. Krazy Kat loves Ignatz Mouse, who does not love her in return, and torments her by throwing bricks at her. For Krazy Kat, the brickbats are signs of devotion, but Offissa B Pupp, who loves her, "defends" her from Ignatz Mouse by sticking him in the jailhouse hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times. Krazy Kat does not seem to know that Pupp loves her. From this shifting triangle, GH spins a surreal (see Surrealism) fantasy world of great intensity, set from the mid-1920s in a dream-like rendering of Coconino County, Arizona; it is a Landscape which borrows some mesas and high-desert chiaroscuro from nearby Monument Valley, but which in the end amalgamates geography and vision into a unique and immediately recognizable inscape. The Diction of the strip is half Katzenjammer Kids and half James Joyce, and the individual episodes are recounted with a loving savour that has occasioned comparisons to Miguel de Cervantes, Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Charles Dickens and others. GH's visual style occasioned a similar range of comparisons to 20th-century artists. In later years – especially after the large Sunday pages went to colour in 1935 – the increasing concentration of GH's work tended to transform individual episodes into autonomous works of art, not easily decipherable but haunting.

In 1916, the world's first Animated Movie to feature a Cat, Krazy Kat (1916), was made by International Film Service. Many more Krazy Kat animated shorts followed. A ballet suite by John Alden Carpenter was produced in 1922, with scenario and libretto by GH; the score was later published as Krazy Kat * (1923). Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse in Koko Land (graph 1934) was a Little Big Book. The first Krazy Kat collection proper – Krazy Kat (graph coll 1946), with an introduction by e e cummings (1894-1962) – gave a scattered selection of strips, poorly reproduced. More recently, attempts have begun to make more of the strip available. Though its overall title is a misnomer, as it covers only Sunday pages, the Komplete Kat Komics sequence – The Komplete Kat Komics #1: 1916: Krazy Ignatz (graph coll 1988), #2: 1917: The Other-Side to the Shore of Here (graph coll 1989), #3: 1918 (graph coll 1989), #4: 1919: Howling Among the Halls of Night (graph coll 1989), #5: 1920: Pilgrims on the Road to Nowhere (graph coll 1920), #6: 1921: Sure as Moons is Cheeses (graph coll 1990), #7: 1922: A Katnip Kantata in the Key of K (graph coll 1991) and #8: 1923: Inna Yott on the Muddy Geranium (graph coll 1991), with further vols projected – is invaluable. Of the Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat so far only The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat #1: 1935-1936 (graph coll 1990) has appeared. The best study of the strip is Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman (1986) by Patrick McDonnell, Karen O'Connell and Georgia Riley de Havenon.

Although he rarely worked outside his chosen format, GH did famously illustrate the last two of Don Marquis's archy and mehitabel books, archy's life of mehitabel (coll 1933) and archy does his part (coll 1935). [JC]

George Joseph Herriman


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.