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George Herriman (American, 1880-1944)

Comic Book Art

The playful and intellectually informed comics of George Herriman have left a lasting impression on artists, intellectuals, and, now, comic collectors throughout the century. Herriman was born in Louisiana to mixed-race, “Creole” family, which, though influential within his comics, was not something he talked about for fear of hurting his reputation. When Herriman was still a child, his family moved to Los Angeles to escape the Jim Crow South, and it was here that he received his first job drawing daily strips, political cartoons, and spot illustrations for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Between 1900 and 1910, Herriman moved to New York and produced strips such as Mary’s Home from College, Baron Mooch, and Gooseberry Sprig for Pulitzer papers and the TC McClure Syndicate. In 1910 Herriman was hired to work in the Comic Art Department of The New York Evening Journal. It was here that he created the Krazy Kat, which is now considered one of his most influential comics, though not well received by the public when it was running. Krazy Kat originated as a character in Herriman’s strip The Dingbat Family (later The Family Upstairs), and in 1911 Krazy Kat spun off into its own comic strip. Krazy Kat features Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Offissa Pupp, 3 animals involved in an unexpected love triangle. The characters reflect Herriman’s multi-cultural background, and speak in phonetic dialects inspired by Creole, African-American, Brooklyn English, Yiddish, American-Indian, and Spanish. The humor and plot of the Krazy Kat comics were often vague and inaccessible to the public, but Krazy Kat had a strong following in artist and intellectual communities. One of Krazy Kat’s largest fans was William Randolph Hearst, owner of the King Feature Syndicate, which kept Krazy Kat alive until Herriman’s death in 1944. Recently, Krazy Kat had become very popular amongst collectors, and George Herriman is heralded as one of the greatest cartoonists in the 20th century.

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