A good argument for why Krazy Kat's George Herriman is the best cartoonist of all time

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27 Responses to “A good argument for why Krazy Kat's George Herriman is the best cartoonist of all time”

  1. irksome says:

    If only for his backgrounds alone. Windsor McKay should be right up there in the pantheon as well.

    • Mark_Frauenfelder says:

      Absolutely. By the way, I’m interviewing Craig Yoe in an hour. If anyone has a question you’d like me to ask him, fire away!

  2. irksome says:

    He also did some serious effing around with page layout.

  3. Electro_Jones says:

    If he’s so great then why is he dead?

  4. MrWednesday7 says:

    Walt Kelly & Will Eisner.

  5. Grey Devil says:

    One of the greatest cartoonists i admire is Quino, a latin american artist. My family has a rare hardcover art book of his that’s pretty well worn from looking at it so often <3

  6. Walter Guyll says:

    We are in the golden age of comic strip reprints. Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, E.C. Segar’s Popeye…
    Four color Heaven.

  7. B A says:

    I have the collection of panoramic ‘dailies’ called “The Kat who Walked in Beauty”.
    Krazy and Ignatz started out as extras in the strip ‘The Dingbat Family’ and eventually took over the Dingbat’s strip to become the main feature.
    Most of the newspaper strips were  destroyed by the King Syndicate in the 1950s during a ‘purge’ and have largely survived due to private collectors.
    To me, his skill with language was what gave his comics the edge.
    @boingboing-5cffb62c1b0c3b3b0e5692e1c02a9d7e:disqus
    “Ah, Kat, were you not such a low brow, I would a tale unfold you”.

  8. B A says:

    It would be interesting to know what became of the silent, short cartoons of Ignatz and Krazy from the 1930s, how many were produced and if George Herriman had anything to do with their production (if That’s within his sphere).
    There was a colour ‘soundie’ in the 70s that was absolutely terrible, but served as my initial introduction to the ‘brick-love’.

    • Julian Fine says:

      Herriman had nothing to do with any of the cartoons that were produced. Most of them can be found online and if you need help Mark Newgarden is the man to ask.

  9. DoraLives says:

    Thanks ever so kindly for putting this one up, folks. It’s well appreciated.

    I stumbled upon Herriman’s work back in the 70′s and it has yet to grow
    old or stale. Why this is so, I have no idea, but if he’s not my
    favorite cartoonist of all time, he’s certainly shoulder to shoulder
    with guys like Walt Kelly and R. Crumb.

  10. jkg says:

    Dr. Seuss aka Theodore Geisel? surely he belongs in that pantheon too

  11. UncaScrooge says:

    He’s corny as hell, but for sheer impact it’s hard to beat Al Capp.  Sure, that means that Frazetta was the greatest cartoonist and, sure, Al Capp had a repulsive personal life and, sure, he became an establishment reactionary in his later days (Baby Boomers have a HUGE chip on their shoulder about Lil’ Abner), but Fearless Fosdick?  C’mon.  Al Capp did everything first and was hugely popular to boot.  People that have never heard of his strip go to Sadie Hawkins Dances, buy Snapple soda and recognize a Schmoo on sight.

    • Julian Fine says:

      Yeah. Lil’ Abner isn’t really my thing but you cannot deny that Capp permeates the American cultural landscape.

  12. Stefan Jones says:

    I read four or five volumes of the Fantagraphics collections before burning out. (They do get repetitive after a while.)

    The backgrounds (and other “set” details) in Kokomino County can be pretty damn trippy. Sometimes the sky is a patterned screen or grid. Planters — a very common feature — change shape and contents.

  13. DavidPursel says:

    I happen to be listening to the _Kink ClassX_ radio station in iTunes {which BTW has been blowing my mind for the past week — just discovered it) while viewing these stunning works of art. Listening to Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and slowly engaging with the second to last image/cartoon is a kind of warm, psychedelic ecstasy.

  14. gwailo_joe says:

    This is good stuff.  Influential and innovative indeed, there can be no argument.

    But for myself, I’m putting Walt Kelly and Carl Barks on the twin thrones of my own personal pantheon.

    I have boxes of comics and graphic novels, but mostly they just sit and decrease in value in their bags and boards; rarely do I pull out any for a re-read (Sandman, Watchmen when the movie came out; yeah…Punisher and X-Men…not so much)

    But if I have the flu or feel really shitty, I can dig out my old coverless Duck comics or my Dad’s old Pogo books and escape to a happy place.

    Can’t put a price on that.

  15. spool32 says:

    Herriman isn’t funny. Meh!

    • David R. Neff says:

      spool32: “Herriman isn’t funny. Meh!”

      Yeah! And you know what else sucks? Pickles! They do a totally crappy job of tasting like chocolate! Pickles suck!

      Herriman was a bonafide American genius, still influential many decades later, and that remains true whether you get the humor or not. But being “funny” is not the only point of Krazy Kat. His art was not merely a backdrop for simple-minded gags. Apparently it isn’t for everybody; that’s true for a lot of art.

  16. TaymonBeal says:

    Was Krazy Kat widely popular in its day? I was under the impression that it lasted as long as it did primarily because Hearst was a fan.

    • Julian Fine says:

      It was popular among the intelligentsia of the day. Gilbert Seldes, E.E. Cummings, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Capra, Jack Kerouac, Willem de Kooning, Gertrude Stien, and Umberto Eco were all fans and he’s very popular among cartoonists from Walt Disney to Walt Kelly to Bill Waterson to Chris Ware. Hearst being a major fan was definitely what kept it going, and even more unusually made sure that no other cartoonist continued the strip when Herriman died. If I remember the anecdote right, Hearst forced Herriman to take a raise on threat of terminating his contract he was that much of a fan of the artist.

  17. oliver beatty says:

    Paraphrasing a quote from Herriman that I love, when asked by a friend as to why he always drew three rocks in his backgrounds he said, ‘A rock is a rock. Two rocks is a couple of rocks. Three rocks is rocks.’ 

    • irksome says:

      Great quote but I’m pretty certain that it was Ernie Bushmiller, of “Nancy” fame. Google “3 rocks” and watch the fun. Also, “5-card Nancy.”

  18. Craig Yoe says:

    this is great, mark, thanks! see more of my past and upcoming books about comics and cartoonists here: http://yoebooks.com

  19. bunaen says:

    My mom was a fan.  And yes, according to her, Krazy Kat was hugely popular.  At least it was in our house.  Which, the more I read here from the haters, is the only criterion that matters.

    To put things in perspective, my mom also loved Thomas Hart Benton, Abba-Zaba bars, Japanese green tea, but hated Ayn Rand (she insulted my mom at a cocktail party).

  20. Oliver: Where did that great quote first appear? 

  21. Julian Fine says:

    Herriman writes the thinking man’s gags and they tend to have more to do with racial tensions and anxieties, phonetic puns, a longing for Navajo culture, and design. Some of the humor is just lost to time and some of the meaning is ineffable if you don’t know about Herriman’s personal history, but the strip is still a self apparent masterpiece without all the pieces of the puzzle. If you want to talk solely about composition and design the strip is damn near untouchable both in its more frenetic black and white days and in its more modernist folk art color years. 

    While the gags themselves might be more obtuse in their pure form, Krazy Kat is the foundation for every animal cartoon that came about from 1920 on. Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes… all of them rely in some way on the cues and character dynamics that Herriman created. 

    Finally, who says “funny” is the gold standard of good cartooning? Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo and Rarebit Fiend were rarely all that “funny” but they are universally understood to be comic masterpieces. Frank King’s Gasoline Alley went for poignancy much more often than it went for pratfalls. You yourself brought up Pekar, for whom humor was obviously an incidental concern.

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