Widely acclaimed as the greatest comic strip of all time, George Herriman's Krazy Kat began publication in 1913 and ran until the author's death in 1944. The strip featured a love triangle of sorts between the titular feline, Ignatz Mouse, and Officer Bull Pupp, with Ignatz frequently beaming Krazy with a thrown brick, an act Krazy interpreted as affectionate.
Over the past several years, Krazy Kat has become more and more accessible with Fantagraphics release of Herriman's full-page Sunday strips, but the dailies have remained by and large unavailable. Which is why IDW Publishing's release last Wednesday of Krazy + Ignatz in Tiger Tea proves so refreshing. The slim volume collects close to a hundred daily strips from the series only extended storyline, published at intervals between May 1936 and March 1937.
In the storyline, Krazy attempts to help his friend, Mr. Meeyowl, revive his katnip business by going in search of a new product, stumbling only to discover the strange Tiger Tea concoction. When brewed, the substance gives its drinker a ferocious burst of energy, making them feel as if they could take on the whole world...or, in other words, it makes them into mini tigers.
The Tiger Tea storyline has all of the dynamics and elements that make Krazy Kat so memorable, but taken as a whole and collected between two covers it also reveals some truly revolutionary and ahead of their time moments in the development of comics as an art form.
As the collection's editor, Craig Yoe, points out in his introduction, a possible impetus for the Tiger Tea storyline could lie in the fact that, just two years prior in 1934, serialized adventure strips became all the rage with Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates, and Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician, among others, making their debut.
While none of these strips could be described as having overly complex or intricate plotlines compared to today s standards, they did have a density of plot that was lacking in comic strips before hand, complete with twists and major climactic segments extended over several days.
Tiger Tea, on the other hand, reveals a much more decompressed style of storytelling in comparison to the work of someone like Raymond or Caniff. The plot is simple: Krazy finds the Tiger Tea, hijinks ensue. Every now and then he might try to hide it and scare the other characters away from it, but beyond that the story follows one simple throughline, which is really just about the different characters experiences with Tiger Tea.
More than that, though, Herriman will at times devote a whole day's strip to nothing more than setting up atmosphere. Early on in Krazy's quest, two strips dated June 2 and 6, 1936 are completely silent. The first features Krazy stumbling across a river and swimming along it until it ends in a waterfall; the second begins by Krazy noticing a coming sandstorm, then features two panels of Krazy lost in the storm until the wind pushes him off a cliff and out of the blinding whirlwind.
Neither strip features much of a punchline, nor do they move the plot forward in any substantial way. Instead, they only serve to illustrate the environment through which Krazy travels. While Herriman couldn't have imagined that his storyline would one day see print as a single book edition, the effect of strips like these is to create a more fulfilling read when the strips are placed in sequence. They let the story breathe in ways that action/adventure strips like Flash Gordon never could.
Krazy + Ignatz in Tiger Tea represents a small sliver of Herriman's genius, but since it doesn't look like any publisher is planning on mounting a full-scale reprint series of the daily Krazy Kat strips, fans will have to make due with what little helpings of brilliance they can find in this forward-think --Examiner.com