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


Craig Yoe's new book, Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, published by Abrams ComicArts, is a gorgeous volume of comic strips, unpublished art, essays, memorabilia, and illustrations from one of the world's most talented cartoonists.

My favorite things in Krazy Kat strips are the backgrounds, and I'm glad that Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes) mentions them in his introductory appreciation for the book: "

Nothing in Krazy Kat had a supporting role, least of all the Arizona desert setting. Mountains are striped. Mesas are spotted. Trees grow in pots. The horizon is a low wall the characters climb over. Panels are framed by theater curtains and stage spotlights. Monument Valley monoliths are drawn to look more like their names. The moon is a melon wedge, suspended upside down. And virtually every panel features a different landscape, even if the characters don't move. The land is more than a backdrop. It is a character in the story, and the strip is “about” that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populated it.
Below, sample pages from Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration, By Craig Yoe, published by Abrams ComicArts:

Krazy Kat & the Art of George Herriman is a tribute to one of the most influential and innovative comic strips and creators of all time. This unique collection of rare art, essays, memorabilia, and biography highlights the career of the first genius of comics, George Herriman, and his iconic creations, Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse. 

During its 31-year run, Krazy Kat was enormously popular with the public, as well as influential writers, artists, and intellectuals of the time. This book includes original essays by Jay Cantor, Douglas Wolk, Harry Katz, Richard Thompson, Dee Cox (Herriman's granddaughter), Craig McCracken, Bill Watterson, and authorized reprints of two seminal essays on Herriman by Gilbert Seldes and E. E. Cummings, alongside newly discovered vintage essays by TAD, Summerfield Baldwin, and Toots Herriman. With Krazy Kat & the Art of George Herriman, Craig Yoe reveals this influential artist and writer for a whole new generation.


“Is that art?” Offissa Pupp asks. The inscription reads, “Elmer’––Yern––Herriman.” Elmer “Al” Raguse Sr. was the director of sound at Hal Roach Studios. Late 1930s. Previously unpublished. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Illustration courtesy of The Raguse Family.


Page 8: The essence of the unholy triangle between the Kat, the Mouse, and the Pupp. Previously unpublished. 1930s. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Craig Yoe’s collection of Herriman art. 201108101214-2

Page 20: May 15, 1938. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Craig Yoe’s collection of Herriman images and ephemera. 201108101214-3

Page 22: October 6, 1940. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Craig Yoe’s collection of Herriman images and ephemera. 201108101215

Page 25: December 27, 1942. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Craig Yoe’s collection of Herriman images and ephemera. 201108101216-1

Page 58: June 4, 1939. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Jack Gilbert. 201108101216-2

Page 70: May 1, 1932. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Russ Cochran. 201108101216-3

Page 92-93: A blue velour-covered book was presented to William Randolph Hearst by the artists of the King Features Syndicate in honor of his 79th birthday. The artists included Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Chic Young (Blondie), and George Herriman. Herriman’s dedication reads, “Could be our boss. Could be our chief. Could be our friend. Could BE.––Herriman, ‘Enchanted Masa.’ A.D.?” April 29, 1942. Previously unpublished. Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries. 201108101218

Rear Endpaper: Previously unpublished drawing by George Herriman done as a gift to someone named Harry Fradsen, with the dedication “mit luff und dewotion.” Herriman drew the bookplate for his granddaughter Dinah Pascal (Dee Cox) when she was five years old. Dee says, “The Plato reference is because Pop hoped I would learn to love literature.” Credit: KRAZY KAT™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Courtesy of Craig Yoe’s collection of Herriman art.

Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration


    1. 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!

  1. 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

  2. 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.
    “Ah, Kat, were you not such a low brow, I would a tale unfold you”.

  3. 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’.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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.’ 

    1. 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.”

  11. 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).

  12. 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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