George Herriman

George Herriman

George Herriman III was born in New Orleans in 1880 to Creole parents. The family moved to Los Angeles a few years later and worked with his father as a barber and then a baker where he drove the family bread truck, but his pranksterish attitude frequently irritated his parents, and after baking a mouse into a loaf of bread his parents implored him to perform his pranks elsewhere, and relieved him of his position at the bakery.

In 1900, Herriman emigrated to New York City and in 1901, his first cartoons began to appear in Judge magazine. Shortly thereafter he landed a job at Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” and began creating Sunday & daily comic strips for the fledgling medium. In 1906 he left Pulitzer to do a strip for the McClure syndicate, went back to Pulitzer & finally left Pulitzer again to work for William Randolph Hearst at the “New York Journal American”. It would be here that Herriman created his most famous & popular characters, the animal residents of Coconino County, USA. 

In 1910 Herriman created “Krazy Kat along with Ignatz Mouse and later he added the indomitable “Offissa Pupp” into the mix. Originally appearing as a companion to his “Family Upstairs” strips Krazy & Ignatz became the more popular of the two in a short time the Family Upstairs” was discontinued.

“That Kat” as he (or she?) was continually referred to by Ignatz was the quintessentially innocent, hair-brained foible for Ignatz’ continual assaults. The lovesick Offissa Pupp was the ever-vigilant eye that protected Krazy from his arch nemesis Ignatz, and usually his vigilance was repaid by the eventual return of the evil mouse to his domicile away from his domicile – the Jail.

On occasion however, Pupp’s authority was usurped by the trickster mouse, and it was not infrequent to see the mouse walk hand in hand with the Kat as the perplexed Offissa Pupp attempted to unwrap the vexing riddle that strolled by.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the strip was the perfection of a new vernacular which served as an adjunct to the wildly graphic images. It was not uncommon to hear of a large body of water called “Lake Zuperia”; to look at an “old feshioned pitcha”; or to learn that the “sun rises from the yeast”. Whichever one, it was always an “edwenture”.

All of this took place in Coconino which was Herriman’s bastardisation of the scenery of the South West. Many well known land marks posed as the backdrop for these whimsical stories. The Mittens, a major landmark in Monument Valley,Arizona found it’s way into Herriman’s art so often you wonder if the landmark wasn’t created as an homage to Herriman. Also prevalent are the symbols of the American Indian, with whom Herriman felt great emotional ties, and of whose culture he was entralled. He would later in life move to Arizona and live there for the rest of his life.

But, due to the baroque concepts, the wry wit & eerily dark pages, Herriman’s Krazy Kat would continually be overlooked as entertainment by Hearst who would frequently excise the strip from newspapers until his editors would rebel and demand it’s return. Even then the Sunday version would appear in the business or editorial section instead of it’s rightful place in the color funnies.

Finally in 1944 after a long illness, Herriman passed away & Krazy’s tenure in the papers ended shortly thereafter, after a run of 34 years.