Thursday, August 25, 2011

Love Is Like a Brick to the Head

As good as Understanding Comics is, it's a lot of theorizing and explaining, and every now and then you need a change of pace. So I started off today's class with a brief introduction to Krazy Kat.

George Herriman's Krazy Kat, as you may be aware, is considered by many to be the Great American Comic Strip, the Citizen Kane of newspaper comics. It ran from 1916 to 1944, only ending when Herriman died. It's about a cat named Krazy who loves a mouse named Ignatz. Ignatz throws bricks at Krazy, which Krazy interprets as gestures of love.

Krazy and Ignatz and their friends live in Coconino County, which I always assumed was a made up place, like Duckburg or Gotham City, but which it turns out is an actual place in Arizona. When we drove through there a few summers ago I really wanted to get a picture of me in front of a "Welcome to Coconino County" sign, but sadly we did not see one.

Anyway, these animals live in the southwest and they go on about their lives and there's really no way to describe the strip that does it justice. You have to read it, and you have to read several of them to get into the rhythm of the comic and enter into Herriman's strange fantasy world. Unfortunately I am limited on time and resources, so I only showed the students one strip.

Fantagraphics has almost wrapped up their complete reprinting of all the Krazy Kat Sunday strips--and really, if you're only going to buy one comic strip reprint series, this is the one--so I've got 23 years worth of weekly comic strips on my shelf. I wasn't willing to comb through them all to find the perfect strip, so I decided to just go  with the first volume:

I flipped through that and chose the fourth ever Krazy Kat strip, from May 14, 1916. It's 22 panels long, which is a ridiculous amount of content for one page.

Krazy is floating down the river in a shoe box, and goes over a waterfall. Ignatz thinks that Krazy is dead and celebrates. Then, after he sits down to think about it, he starts to cry. Krazy, now underwater, runs into a relative, Krazy Kat-Fish. Krazy Kat-Fish leads Krazy Kat to Mannie Mush-Rat's home underground.  Ignatz is sitting and weeping when Krazy pops out of a tree and says, "Why, li'il ainjil, why weeps thou?" Ignatz is surprised, so Krazy adds, "It's only me dahlink." Ignatz throws a rock at Krazy, and in the last panel Krazy reflects, "L'il lolly-pops, how he loves me." 

Krazy stuff!

After that we started on Understanding Comics chapter 2, all about icons, varying levels of abstraction, and the power of cartoons.


  1. I picked up Understanding Comics from the library the other day, and have to say that while he so far breaks things down into manageable chunks, it's still pretty heavy reading. I think that it's format makes it a little more accessible.

    I got the Calvin and Hobbes anthology, and I don't regret it. Though, I am going to have to check into Krazy Kat now, as he looks pretty rad.

  2. Trying to teach the book has confirmed that, yes, it's pretty heavy reading. but soldier on.