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Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White Hardcover – December 6, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of December 2016: Krazy: A Life in Black and White is the exhaustively researched and fascinating story of a trailblazer with a secret. Nicknamed “The Greek” by a fellow cartoonist, owing to his swarthy complexion and curly hair (which he typically kept hidden under a fedora), it wasn’t until George Herriman, creator of the perpetually lovestruck Krazy Kat, had been dead for twenty-seven years that a would-be biographer discovered the secret Herriman had guarded all his life. He was the product of a mixed-race marriage, and had, like two generations of Herrimans before him, been able to “pass for white.” The creator of a comic strip that has been infinitely more influential among cartoonists and intellectuals than it was popular with the American public (the strips only appeared in newspapers for twenty years because newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was such a fan he gave Herriman a lifetime contract; a visitor to Herriman’s editor found an office junior sopping up a water leak with original Krazy Kat art), this new biography finally gives Herriman his due and frames him as a visionary whose influence helped shape popular culture for decades after his death. It takes a fresh and knowing look at the cheerfully subversive cartoons involving the put-upon but loving black cat and his white, brick-throwing love/nemesis. In addition, Tisserand provides eye-opening dimension with regard to the scale of Herriman’s influence: Michael Chabon, Will Eisner, Charles Schulz, ee cummings and many others credit him with inspiring their work (you may never look at the zigzag on Charlie Brown’s t-shirt again without remembering that it was Charles Schulz’s tribute to the Navaho designs that recurred in Herriman’s work). Ultimately, the reader comes away with a sobering idea of what an exhausting job it must have been for a gentle genius, living on the color line in the first half of twentieth century America, pursuing a career and a point of view that never would have been open to him had his true racial identity been known. —Vannessa Cronin, The Amazon Book Review
“A fine new biography.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.” (Kirkus (starred))
“A visionary strip. Who drew it, and wherefrom? Tisserand’s robust research illuminates, without diminishing, the mystery.” (Roy Blount Jr..)
“An athletic feat of scholarship and an effort of love—like one of Ignatz’s bricks to the head. Tisserand’s immaculately researched and super-readable biography captures the madcap modernist Herriman and the weird America of surreal racial realities and publishing superpowers that shaped his revolutionary art.” (Hillary Chute)
“George Herriman was a poet in a new visual language. As a man, he was an enigma to match his greatest creation, the sublime Krazy Kat. Michael Tisserand has done a masterful job of illuminating this life lived in the shadowy borderlands of racial identity; along the way he also gives a brilliant overview of the golden years of American cartooning. Krazy is a monumental work of biography about a true American genius.” (Tom Piazza)
“This is a gripping read at the intersection of pop culture and American history.” (Publisher's Weekly )
“Tisserand presents a well-researched, engaging biography of George Herriman (1880-1944), creator of the comic strip Krazy Kat....At every step, this work brilliantly re-creates the milieu of its subject’s life by shading in the historical context. A significant book for comics scholars and those interesterd in tracing Herriman’s development from novice to master of the medium.” (Paul Steins, Library Journal)
“An absorbing study of a genius with a secret.” (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
“Rich in original research, New Orleans writer Tisserand’s encyclopedia biography of Krazy Kat artist George Herriman is also an enlightening history of modern comics strips.” (Shelf Awareness)
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Top Customer Reviews
I can still recall the first time I saw a big sample of his work, in a battered library book with an introduction by E. E. Cummings (if I remember correctly). It completely blew me away. [I was a teenager.] I had never seen anything even remotely like it. I still haven't.
Michael Tisserand has used meticulous and difficult research to outline Herriman's life, and clear away some of the mystery. The result is a thick but readable book that begins with Herriman's ancestors and carries on past his death up to his graduate rediscovery.
But the weeds Tisserand gets into are high indeed. There were scores of times when I wanted to scream, "Editor! Somebody get a scissors!"
Do we really need to know about every time one of Herriman's colleagues mentioned him in a cartoon or column? Is it absolutely necessary to catalogue the cartoonist's every trip between New York and LA? Do I really care about every minor (and major) boxing match he attended or every house he ever rented or owned or the little pranks he and his fellow artists played in the office? Quite frankly, all this "detail" gets tedious and frankly, boring.
It's nearly 200 pages into the book before Krazy Kat him/herself really shows up. Before that we are treated to an avalanche of minuntae, at least half of which could only interest the most fanatically devoted completist or the most annoying autodidact eager to use the contents of this work to show how much he or she knows about the creator of Ignatz, et al.
Also, Krazy Kat is funny; this book decidedly isn't, turning Herriman's wonderful, mystifying fantasy land into a heavy tome with all the humor of a master's thesis.
Don't get me wrong: if you really are interested in Krazy Kat this is an essential book. But at about half the length it would have been much better. Herriman and Krazy Kat are a subject I have been interested in for the past 40 years. I would have enjoyed this book far more if I didn't have to fight to stay awake while reading it.