(Roughly) Daily

“I would say lenguage is that we may mis-unda-stend each udda”*…

Long-time readers will know that your correspondent adores George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (c.f., e.g., this post: the remarkable Chris Ware on the modern relevance of the seminal strip). Today, Amber Medland on Krazy Kat‘s huge resonance with Modernists throughout its run…

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. By the thirties, strips like Blondie were appearing daily in roughly a thousand newspapers; Krazy appeared in only thirty-five. The Kat was one of those niche-but-not-really phenomena, a darling of critics and artists alike, even after it stopped appearing in newspapers. Since then: Umberto Eco called Herriman’s work “raw poetry”; Kerouac claimed the Kat as “the immediate progenitor” of the beats; Stan Lee (Spider-Man) went with “genius”; Herriman was revered by Charles Schulz and Theodor Geisel alike. But Krazy Kat was never popular. The strip began as a sideline for Herriman, who had been making a name for himself as a cartoonist since 1902. It ran in “the waste space,” literally underfoot the characters of his more conventional 1910 comic strip The Dingbat Family, published in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal. Hearst gave Herriman a rare lifetime contract and, with his backing, by 1913 the liminal kreatures had their own strip. Most people disliked not being able to understand it. Soon advertisers worried that formerly loyal readers would skip the strips and miss the ads. Editors were infuriated by devices like Herriman’s “intermission” panel, which disrupted the narrative by stalling the action…

For [E.E.] Cummings, who, with his flagrant anti-intellectual stance, privileged what he called “Aliveness” above all else, Charlie Chaplin was the only artist to rival Herriman. But technology disrupted both Chaplin’s and Herriman’s idiosyncratic work. At the introduction of sound in film in 1927, Chaplin said that the “spontaneity of the gags had been lost,” but what he really lost was his control of time. Sound erases distance; there was no longer a delay in which the incongruity between seeing and comprehending could bloom. In his essay “What People Laugh At” (1918), Chaplin noted “the liking of the average person for contrast and surprise in his entertainment.” Both Herriman and Chaplin orchestrated meticulously timed, silent dialogues between images and words. Slapstick—a word that originally referred to two pieces of wood joined together, used by pantomime clowns to make loud noises—is, in their work, a deliberately clumsy cleaving of the relationship between words and images. If people could explain themselves, there would be no time to revel in ludicrous situations, as when in The Kid, Chaplin, caressing the hand of a policeman’s wife, is accidentally caressed by her husband…

The unsung Modernist: “E. E. Cummings and Krazy Kat,” from @ambermedland in @parisreview.

Enjoy Krazy Kat strips here.

* Krazy, to Ignatz (Herriman one-upping Wittgenstein…)

###

As we praise percipience, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, in the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Haredevil Hare,” that Marvin the Martian made his debut.

“Haredevil Hare”: Bugs Bunny, disguised as a Martian, hands Marvin the Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator. (Animation by Ken Harris.)

source

%d bloggers like this: