The Artistic and Linguistic Acrobatics of Krazy Kat

E. E. Cummings was one of the Kat’s biggest fans. In 1922, he wrote from Paris to request clippings from friends in America. (“Thank you moreover for a Kat of indescribable beauty!” he wrote to an obliging friend.) In his 1946 introduction to the first edition of the collected strips, Cummings wrote that the brick unleashed joy within the “ultraprogressive game” of the real world, with its preestablished rules, of which it flouted the most sacred: “THOU SHALT NOT PLAY.” (Winnicott defines play as “the continuous evidence of creativity, which means aliveness.”) Herriman gives pleasure without the instant gratification of a punch line, undercutting the expected gag trajectory. The brick hurtling across the page doesn’t end the joke; games end, but play is infinite. There is no winner, and if there is, it is Krazy, who, for private reasons, interprets the brick as love.

Amber Medland, at The Paris Review, joins the Krazy Kat Kult.

The Kat had a cult following among the modernists. For Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, and Picasso, all of whose work fed on playful energies similar to those unleashed in the strip, he had a double appeal, in being commercially nonviable and carrying the reek of authenticity in seeming to belong to mass culture.

Comics Kingdom offers daily Krazy Kat strips daily.

The Comic Strip Library offers public domain Sunday Kats.

And Amber approves of these online recreations:

Ironically, the digitization of Herriman’s strips has improved the experience of reading them. We read differently on screens; we’re used to tabs, pop-ups, watching movies, toggling around. As I discovered during lockdown, having hijacked the huge monitor my boyfriend’s company sent him, these digital versions of Herriman’s strips preserve their strange logic; technology doesn’t interfere with the artist’s control of time but lets us read vertically and horizontally at once. Gazing at them on the screen made me realize why Cummings felt such a kinship with Herriman, whom he called a “poet-painter,” a title he otherwise reserved for himself.

Though reading the full page Krazy Kat without having to scroll up and down and back and forth,
say through Fantagraphics’ George Herriman Library, is more satisfying in my humble opinion.

© King Features Syndicate