Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Review: Krazy & Ignatz: A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims

Fantagraphics continues their run of reprints of George Herriman's Krazy Kat series with this beautifully designed eighth edition, collecting all the full color Sunday strips printed in the Hearst newspapers between 1939 and 1940. Most of the stories focus on the enduring character triangle of a Kat deep in love with a mouse, a spiteful mouse named Ignatz who returns the affection by tossing a brick, and Offisa Pupp, the staunch defender of Krazy Kat who constantly seeks to catch Ignatz in the act.

Despite the repetitive nature of the stories, Herriman makes it work by giving Ignatz a delightfully crafty mind for creating wild schemes. In this volume we see Ignatz don bizarre disguises, hide the brick in boxes and even create Rube Goldberg-style machines all to sharply deliver that brick to Krazy Kat's head. The vaudevillian slapstick will certainly entertain young readers while the cleverness of the characters and fun wordplay in the dialogue will grab older readers looking for more depth. A set of endnotes help readers new to the series orient themselves in this world while an introduction by journalist Jeet Heer helps place Herriman's work within a cultural context.

This was my first exposure to Herrriman, and I was a little dubious at first. I initially found the stories simple-minded and repetive, and the art often cluttered. But as the book moves forward Herriman finds his way to creating large-scale color pages; bold reds and glowing yellows of the landscape shine behind the sketchy and surreal characters in the foreground, creating page after page of comic strip masterpieces. We even see him experimenting a bit with page layouts, breaking the mold from the static square block design common to comics by shaping things around a circle and even using a single image on a page. It's smart, but it still manages to be a hell of a lot of fun. By the end I didn't just warm up to Herriman, I became awed by everything he was able to accomplish with so little.


1 comment:

Maktaaq said...

I'm glad you ended up liking Herriman. I find his stuff repetitive too, but his best stuff so outshines the main story, I can forgive him. His most famous strips have wonderful language. Patrick MacDonnell's The Comic Art of George Herriman (I think) has all the really famous ones together.

Then there is the Tiger Tea saga. This took place in the thirties, lasted for about two years, and finally has Krazy giving Ignatz what he deserves. That series is really fun.

Anyhow, thanks for the heads up on the 1939-40 volume. I'll have to buy this one before it goes out of print. :)