POSTED Tue. Nov 29, 2016

Creative Culture

A Creole's 'Krazy' Take on the Comics

When I moved to New Orleans in 2001, Michael Tisserand was then editor-in-chief at Gambit Weekly. When I worked there, I found him smart, funny, and deeply sympathetic to writers in a way that we all missed once he quit Gambit after Katrina to become a professional author.

Before Michael evacuated, he had begun an ostensible Gambit cover story about New Orleans-born-Los Angeles-raised George Herriman, who drew comics that weren’t traditionally funny — most notably, the much-dissected, early twentieth century cartoon Krazy Kat.

“The last thing I did before I evacuated Katrina was put that stack of Inks comics magazines about Herriman up on my desk so they might stay dry,” says Tisserand.

Over ten years later, in December 2016, Harper Collins will release Tisserand’s 560 page book Krazy – George Herriman, a Life in Black and White.

Some comics fans love reading Krazy Kat but never laugh at it. Others find it (perhaps obliquely) hilarious. “Sometimes I just laugh at the visuals, the way the cat’s tail bends, or the mouse’s single-line arms flail when the brick is sailing,” says Tisserand (every Krazy Kat strip ends with Ignatz Mouse tossing a brick at Krazy Kat). But as with other pathos-driven comics like Charles’Schultz’ Peanuts, and Matt Groening’s Life In Hell, Tisserand ads, “What I read into a Krazy Kat cartoon changes every time I read it. I see it as a very sobering strip sometimes.”

As with the best art, part of Krazy Kat’s fun is learning to understand the artist’s personal language. The central conflict of Herriman’s masterpiece strip revolves around a dog (Offisa Pup) who is in love with a cat (Krazy), who is turn in love with a mouse (Ignatz), who hates said cat. At its core, Krazy Kat was all about disrupting the “natural” order of things.

“Like the background scenes of Coconino County where he lives, Krazy’s gender and race shift, at random sometimes, but more often according to his social situation,” wrote Elisabeth Crocker in the Herriman essay, “Some Say it With A Brick.” Scholars seem to agree that Herriman used Krazy Kat to express his own poetic feelings about living his bi-racial existence in America.

“Krazy’s dialect itself is the entire rude language of America, from Creole to Spanish,” Tisserand points out.

“One thing that’s really unique about Krazy Kat is it’s so basic and simple that people can read all kinds of things into it,” says comics historian Brian Walker, who helped Tisserand with some research and corrections. “Comics historian David Apatoff once said something about how comic art allows that certain auteurism, where one can create their own little world, because it’s not a collaboration with writers and directors and actors — just the artist and their imagination.”

Herriman’s was a special case. Even though Krazy Kat did not set the world on fire at the time, the strip was supported wholeheartedly by Herriman’s employer and fan, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

“So Herriman had an extra advantage because no one was bothering him or paying attention to him,” explains Walker. “There was no interference, and he wasn’t concerned so much with what people thought of his work.”

Tisserand’s ten-year long book project involved much archival research. “I was trying to find letters at City Hall. There was nothing in civil records, so the the Archdiocese archives were especially helpful,” he says. “Herriman’s granddaughter Dee Cox was a huge help. I now know more about her family than I know about mine.”

Currently a Lusher chess team coach, Tisserand previously published The Kingdom of Zydeco, about the history of the famous genre of rural Louisiana dance music. After Katrina he wrote Sugar Cane Academy, a memoir of sorts about helping to start an unusual school for his children in Katrina’s turbulent wake.

“After that, on a personal level, I was looking to write a book that would give me a personal connection to New Orleans, but that I could write while still living outside of New Orleans; I hadn’t come back yet,” he says. “I loved comics so much as a kid, and not much real hardcore investigative work had been done into Herriman’s life.”

Brian Walker, son of Beatle Bailey creator Mort Walker, currently writes for the cartoon Hi and Lois. Much of his academic work revolves around the study of Herriman.

“I though [Tisserand] really had his work cut out for him, because Herriman was kind of a mystery man even during his lifetime,” says Walker. “In the end [Tisserand’s] book is interesting because there has been a lot written about Herriman’s art, but they were mostly visual compilations, whereas this is the first real scholarly work.

“I like what it revealed to me about Herriman’s career before Krazy Kat,” he adds. “All the other strips [Herriman] did – sports cartoons and political cartoons — at a time when the art form was just being invented. Also, people thought of Herriman as fairly reclusive. But in reading this book, it seems Herriman was definitely a carouser, staying up all night with his friends, going to fights and burlesque shows and smoking cigars.”

Tisserand admits that compiling his new book was indeed laborious, but a true labor of love. “I hope people will take this biography and build upon it,” the author says. “I hope I have started some new dialogue on Herriman’s use of language, and how he plays with race and gender in really fresh ways, and hopefully I’ve suggested some ways to look at Krazy Kat anew.”

Images via Wikipedia and Wiki Commons.

POSTED May 10, 2017

Creative Culture

Carnival Redux at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Carnival Redux at the New Orleans Museum of Art

On May 12 the New Orleans Museum of Art will fling open its doors for Masquerade: Late Night at NOMA, a costume party replete with float builders, mask-makers,…....
CONTINUE

Written by DAVID JOHNSON
POSTED Dec 23, 2016

Atmosphere

Some Holiday Music for the Weekend

Some Holiday Music for the Weekend

Happy holidays, y’all. We hope you find plenty to occupy you during this busy Christmas weekend, but if you find yourself having a small, quiet moment, or just…....
CONTINUE

Written by ADAM KARLIN
POSTED Dec 21, 2016

Creative Culture

A Native New Orleanian's Retrospective at NOMA

A Native New Orleanian's Retrospective at NOMA

Imagine doing something you love for seventy years. Many people aren’t lucky enough to live that long, much less put their heart and soul into their passion projects…....
CONTINUE

Written by FRITZ ESKER
POSTED Dec 20, 2016

Atmosphere

Losing Our Heads Over the Asylum Chorus

Losing Our Heads Over the Asylum Chorus

On a Sunday afternoon in November, The Asylum Chorus plays to a packed house at The Spotted Cat on Frenchman. Wandering in off the street, it takes a…....
CONTINUE

Written by MEGHAN HOLMES
PAGE

    Our Local Publisher Partners

    • The Arts Council of New Orleans
    • WWNO
    • WWOZ
    • PRC
    • NOMA
    • The Historic New Orleans Collection
    • Southern Food
    • Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

    WWNO

    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

    WWOZ

    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

    PRC

    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

    NOMA

    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

    X

    Thanks.

    was added to your favorites.

    VIEW YOUR PROFILE

     


    Share On Twitter Share On Facebook