- Hardcover: 122 pages
- Publisher: IDW Publishing (January 1, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1600106455
- ISBN-13: 978-1600106453
- Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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George Herriman's Krazy & Ignatz in "Tiger Tea" Hardcover – January 1, 2010
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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
About the Author
The creator of the zenith of comic strip art Krazy Kat, George Joseph Herriman, was born on August 22, 1880, in New Orleans. When he was still a teenager, George and his family moved to Los Angeles, as many African-American Creole families did, to escape the restrictions of the Jim Crow laws. Herriman never publicly acknowledged his ethnicity, probably fearful of its effects on his reputation. Herriman's death certificate lists him as Caucasian.
Between 1901 and 1910, Herriman produced his first, regular strip, Musical Mose, as well as other features like Acrobatic Archie, Professor Otto and His Auto, Major Ozone's Fresh Air Crusade, Mary's Home from College, and Gooseberry Sprig, for the Pulitzer papers and the prestigious T.C. McClure Syndicate.
In 1910, the artist inaugurated The Dingbat Family, later renamed The Family Upstairs, for The New York Evening Journal, a Hearst paper. The strip featured the adventures of an ordinary family dealing with their annoying upstairs neighbors.
In The Family Upstairs the artist used the bottom part of each panel to narrate the stories of the Dingbats' pet, Krazy Kat, and a mouse named Ignatz, whose adventures were unrelated to those of the Dingbats. On July 29, 1910, Ignatz Mouse threw an object at Krazy Kat's head for the first time. and bonking Krazy's brain with a brick, with all its attendant meanings, became the strip's main motif. In 1913, Krazy Kat and Ignatz finally had a strip on their own, while The Family Upstairs folded in 1916. It was at this time that Herriman began another strip, Baron Bean, which ran until 1919.
Herriman's creative use of language narrates the whimsical adventures of three main characters, Krazy, Ignatz, and Offissa Pupp. The unfortunate feline is in love with Ignatz, who does not reciprocate his feelings (or her? Krazy's gender was never clearly established) and likes to hurl bricks at the cat's head. This violent treatment only seems to throw Krazy more deeply in love.
The strip's subtleties and surrealism never made it very popular with the public en masse, but it had an enthusiastic following among artistic and intellectual circles. Writer Gilbert Seldes dubbed Herriman "the counterpart of Chaplin in the comic film" in his Seven Lively Arts, in 1924. President Woodrow Wilson never missed reading it, and Picasso was reputedly a fan. But the artist's most ardent supporter was William Randolph Hearst. Hearst owned the King Feature Syndicate and refused to drop Herriman's Krazy Kat even when it was carried by fewer than 50 papers. It was Hearst who ordered the strip to be cancelled in 1944, upon learning of Herriman's passing. In his opinion, no one could replace the artist and Krazy Kat was possibly the first strip to die with his creator.
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The book itself is beautifully designed and manufactured, with a printed hardcover, and with enlarged single panels on the endpapers and on several preliminary pages, some of which have added color highlights or backgrounds. There also is a wonderful photograph of Herriman wearing a Mexican sombrero, holding a hand rolled cigarette, with a look that is purely enigmatic. The book will make a wonderful gift, especially for those new to the world of Krazy Kat, and at a list price of $12.99 (even less on line), is a true bargain. (How can they make any money at that price?)
The primary criticism I have is that the book does not expressly inform the reader that it contains only a portion of all the daily strips comprising Krazy Kat's Tiger Tea adventure. According to the printed text, Krazy was on his quest for TT from May 15, 1936 through March 17, 1937, so there should be about 255-260 daily strips (excluding Sundays which were independent and did not follow the daily story line). From this one can deduce that the strips reproduced are only a "selection", yet there is no statement on the title page or cover of this fact. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reproducing a sample of the strips (which will whet the desire of readers for the complete series), but the fact that the book is not complete should be made clear to the reader. I mistakenly assumed it contained the entire series.
A few other minor points: Paul Krassner's (an odd choice here) introduction includes a gratuitious swipe at Obama, something completely irrelevant to Herriman's inscrutable work of timeless beauty and jarringly out of place here. Both printed introductions are double spaced and reproduce a little image of Krazy above the text each time he is mentioned, an unnecessary affectation that interferes with readability. Also, although a number of Sunday cartoons involving catnip are included, it is not explained that those originate from other decades and are not part of the Tiger Tea saga.
Finally, the book is printed on a fancy stock resembling hand made paper and containing irregular inclusions in the paper. This makes the book a lovely object, but it also results in a dusty or dirty background for the cartoons, to which purists might with some justification object. It does detract a little from any photocopies one might make to post on one's wall.
The story is sheer simplicity: Krazy learns that the "kollepse" of Katnip Konsolidated has left its owner, Mr. Meeyowl, impoverished, and so the fond feline tries to help by finding a way to restore the magnet's fortune, which, with typical Krazy logic, he decides can best be achieved with a fresh supply of catnip. The catnip he finds and delivers is the famed Tiger Tea, which, imbibed, turns our erstwhile tame tabby into a tiger, a pup dog into a wolf and a worm into a cobra, revives a dying tiger lily, and heartens the downhearted Mr. Meeyowl. The denizens of Coconino County try to learn the secret of Tiger Tea, but Krazy guards his stash ferociously, keeping it in a mysterious cave behind a rock that blocks the entrance and changes identity from day to day. More antics ensue, but for learning about them, I'll not deny you the pleasure of reading the book yourself.
The simplicity of Herriman's story has become complicated and encrusted with mysterious meanings. Nevin Martell at washingtoncitypaper.com in the fall of 2010 cites what he calls "a rogue theory" that "tiger tea" is actually a code word for weed."
Yoe, in an interview with Steve Bunche at publishersweekly.com, displays a somewhat larger grasp of the Herriman, er, reality: "By combining comics, fine art, and poetry George Herriman's Krazy Kat transcends all three. The writing is enigmatic. It has depth that invites and rewards continuous rereading. Each perusal is a terrific experience and new nuggets of desert gold are found. The art is breathtaking. Herriman is like a Zen master. I imagine the process was like automatic writing--or drawing in this case--when Herriman put pen to paper. He must have been channeling a benevolent cartooning god. ... You see the art and you experience a soul, Herriman's, and realize he was a gentle, whimsical, romantic, yet complicated person that you would enjoy conversing with, learning from, getting to know. The strip is, of course, ultimately about love, not in a sappy greeting card way, but love with its highs and lows."
And Yoe, too, sees in the Tiger Tea episodes a meaning somewhat below the surface of the narrative: "The Tiger Tea series of strips is a rare instance where Herriman did explore a topical theme along with his other usual discourses. Prohibition was happening. Anti-marijuana legislation was being enacted. These Krazy Kat episodes are famous--or infamous. Krazy and the other citizens of Coconino County imbibe an illegal mysterious substance called Tiger Tea and have psychedelic experiences and extreme personality changes. This is also the longest period where Herriman explored one theme, possibly inspired by the success of adventure strips like Terry and the Pirates and Flash Gordon. But the Tiger Tea strips aren't exactly a straight narrative plot, but dreamy little sequences."
Yoe includes in the book a photograph of Herriman wearing a Mexican sombrero and smoking "a funny-looking cigarette," but, he says, "I make no claims that Herriman himself was a toker, but he certainly seemed to have a good time exploring a getting high experience in his High Art comic in Tiger Tea."
As much fun as we can have with such interpretations, I suspect that Herriman soon saw that the personality changes wrought by ingesting Tiger Tea changed the core of the strip's ambiance. And so he headed off in a different direction. Krazy abandons his plan to become a Tiger Tea tycoon. And Tiger Tea disappears from the strip. And so do weed and booze, both mind altering substances, both rejected by Krazy and his kreator. If, indeed, Herriman had them in mind at all. In the last analysis (which is somewhat more elongated in my online magazine Rants & Raves than it is here), I find myself agreeing with Martell: "The thing is though, these outlandish slices of absurdity are just plain funny. Not necessarily laugh out loud funny, but the kind of funny that tickles your brain and sticks with you over time. Who cares what was in Herriman's cigarettes? He was a brilliant soul no matter how he achieved it."
And this handsomely designed book unveils a tantalizing hunk of his achievement.
Keep in mind, Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics said on the company blog:
"We have all of these strips ourselves (scanned, ready for the eventual complete KRAZY KAT dailies books we'll get to after we finish the Sundays) and a spot check from our resident scanmaster/organizer Paul Baresh confirms that most or all of the ones missing from the Yoe book are in fact part of the 'Tiger Tea' continuity..."
Just wait for the Fantagraphics collection to come out. This is a half empty cup of tea...literally.
If you can't wait, then buy my copy used.