As Bill Blackbeard notes in his introduction to Krazy & Ignatz, George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” was not a wildly popular comic. Its lengthy run was in fact due partly to a guardian angel named William Randolph Hearst, who continually ignored editors inclined to kill the full-page strip — Herriman‘s artwork and Zen-poesy storylines left most of their readers baffled. Herriman was clearly ahead of his time; in significant ways the strip bears more resemblance to “Zap Comix” than to its peers of the ’20s and ‘30s. And if the average reader didn’t grasp the strip, Herriman could always count among his fans Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway.
Most “Krazy”s are black-and-white — a result of the section in which they ran — but monochrome did nothing to hamper Herriman‘s genius pen. His elegant scribbles move Krazy, Ignatz (the mouse) and Officer Pup through a circuitous ritual of unrequited love — often unfettered by the formality of borders — amid Southwestern mesas, yuccas and “archichoke” bushes; settings no doubt influenced by the artist’s many years in Los Angeles. Incredibly, Herriman was as prolific as he was underappreciated and even today — more than half a century after his death — barely a third of his oeuvre has been republished. Fantagraphics goes a way toward remedying that by reprinting two years‘ worth of Herriman’s funnies. Enough to immerse you in the hebdomadal rhythms of kat and mouse. Enough to make you read it twice and wonder how fur awa-a-ay is the next volume.