George Herriman has been called an original Dadaist and Surrealist, a poet, and commentator on fatalism and hope. His character Krazy Kat was androgynous, and maintained an innocent point of view, like the classic fool, through which Herriman could question the absurd nature of certain cultural norms.
He produced hundreds of Krazy Kat comic strips over a period of 30 years, but left very little else behind about what his artistic motivations were, or how he wanted his work to be received.
Below are pieces of the Herriman puzzle:
Herriman on Krazy Kat’s character
“…be not harsh with ‘Krazy’ – He is but a shadow himself, caught in the web of this mortal skein. We call him ‘cat,’ we call him “crazy,” yet he is neither. At some time he will ride away to you, people of the twilight, his password will be the echoes of a vesper bell, his coach, a zephyr from the West. Forgive him, for you will understand him no better than we who linger on this side of the pale.”
Quoted in M. Thomas Inge’s Comics as Culture.
Herriman on Krazy Kat’s gender
“ ‘You know.’ He mused, lighting his pipe, ‘I get dozens of letters asking me the same question. I don’t know. I fooled around with it once; began to think the cat is a girl – even drew up some strips with her being pregnant. It wasn’t the Kat any longer; too much concerned with her own problems – like a soap opera. Know what I mean? Then I realized Krazy was something like a sprite, an elf. They have no sex. So the Kat can’t be a he or a she. The kat’s a spirit – a pixie…’”
From the director Frank Capra’s The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography.
Herriman on Charlie Chaplin
“…We have waited long to katch this sprite at play…rich man , poor man, beggar man, thief – leveled to a kommon denomination…No elf made more mischief…And now Ignatz!!
From Herriman’s review (writing as Krazy Kat) of “The Gold Rush” in the October 1925 issue of Movie Classics Magazine.
A published letter from Herriman
“…Once when a youth, I aspired to become a baker, a kneader of dough, to mould bread and fashion a doughnut or stencil a cookie…I slit a 200 pound sack of flour over a four foot five inch baker - we barely got him out alive, when we did, looking like a ‘pose plastique,’ he took away the last remnant of ambition out of me. Then I became a cartoonist – as a sort of revenge on the world. We’re doing our stuff for Mr. W. R. Hearst, but don’t let him know anything about it. Oy, if he should know!…We love the Desert – the dry…old Desert, and that’s where you will find us – when the last drop of ink is out of our bottle and the pen snaps.
Yern, George Herriman”
From the April 1926 issue of Ziff’s magazine.
Herriman’s written response to a fan letter
“Your strange interest in my efforts sure has me in a quandary – yes sir I can’t add it up at all – It must be something you give to it.”
Quoted in David Carrier’s the Aesthetics of Comics