Wednesday 20 June 2007

The great George Herriman

Bill Blackbeard, the world's preeminent comic strip historian, made a good point in his article, 'The lost years of George Herriman', in Nemo #1 (1984), that the artist's hard work on the fledgling Los Angeles Examiner, launched in Dec '03, should go some considerable way toward explaining newspaper magnate Hearst's loyalty to the artist in later years. Apparently he personally instructed that Krazy Kat be kept on the King Features rostrum even though it was selling to a minimal number of newspaper clients.
Allan Holtz has gained access to a microfilm record of Herriman's work for the paper beginning in August '06, and Allan's blog is now my first habitual blogosphere port of call every saturday. Last week he showed Herriman's before-and-after coverage of the big fight between Joe Gans and Bat Nelson ( it was a big deal at the time and there was a centenary reenactment last year). I was reminded that I have in my files a cartoon by Tad Dorgan, from Hearst's NY Journal, covering the same event:

Like Tad, Herriman used a big close up image, which is so out of character for him that we could posit that he was following Tad's lead. Herriman and Tad often referred to each other in their work, for instance the Herriman section in Walker's The Comics Before 1945 has a caricature of Herriman by Tad at the top of the first column.
According to The Comic Art of George Herriman (McDonnell, Oconnell and Dehavenon) the sports editor of the NY Journal summoned him back east in 1910, apparently to fill Tad's spot while Dorgan went to San Francisco to cover the colossal Johnson-Jeffries fight. Here Herriman played further with some of the comic strip ideas he had been developing in LA and started the Dingbat Family, (or the Family Upstairs as it was first titled.) I have a clipping of the strip from Nov 28 1912, which features an 'Argentinian guacho' (sic) named Tomas Dorgano:

You can enlarge the above, but below there's an extra zoom on that first panel, including an early view of Krazy Kat at the bottom. She had begun appearing there ony a couple of years before, and would in due course become the raison d'etre of Herriman's oeuvre. I see Fantagraphics have already got three volumes in print of the full color sundays;"And now, starting with the sixth volume in Fantagraphics’ acclaimed Krazy Kat reprint series, finally it’s time for... color! After a brief hiatus in the mid-1930s, the heretofore black-and-white Sunday Krazy Kat returned in full spectacular color in June 1935". I shall be bringing myself up to date at San Diego next month.

The gorgeous object above was a gift from Antonio DiDio, physician of Sydney, who pulled it rolled up out of his bag as though it was that day's daily paper, with bits falling off around the edges. I couldn't decide whether to embrace him or thump him. I scanned it recently at a very high resolution. One should never presume that some other person is preserving these things.
The bogus Latin American in his big sombrero leads me to another precious Herriman object, the brochure of a 1997 exhibition of the artist's work in Angouleme. In the inside front cover is this wonderful photo of Herriman, which I have never as far as I can recall seen reproduced anywhere else:

Patrick McDonnell is one of the co-authors of the superb Herriman monograph quoted above. Read his Speech to the 2007 Graduating Class at Center For Cartoon Studies at Tom Spurgeon's blog. Tom also looks at a week of McDonnell's Mutts strip, with thoughtful analysis.
I would say that McDonnell would be the inheritor of the mantel of some of those grand old cartoonists, except I don't think it works that way. I don't think Tad or Herriman would like the modern crowd very much. Tad certainly wouldn't. The only old time cartoonist I know complained to me recently that the young 'uns nowadays just want to sit in front of their computers all day.

my 'classic strips' label below will take you to posts on: Tad Dorgan, Frank King, Walt Kelly, Leonard Starr and Stan Drake. I hope to add many more as the opportunities present themselves.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love you THIIIIIIIS much!

20 June 2007 at 12:44:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so far off today's subject that I am somewhat embarrassed to to add it, but the story got my interest and is another outing for that Indian Condoms picture of a few months back.

Ben Smith

'cshit' says the word verificator, clearly it knows better.

20 June 2007 at 14:33:00 GMT-5  
Blogger mrjslack said...

And don"t forget about the wonderful illustrations Herriman did for archie and mehitabel... Great stuff.
And the Chris Ware designed Fantagraphics Krazy and Ignatz books are brilliant... in fact, I'm going to go dig mine out and read them today. You see if I don't.

20 June 2007 at 16:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

That Tad Dorgan illustration looks like something R. Crumb would do today. Amazing similarity in style.

20 June 2007 at 18:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Allan Holtz said...

Hi Eddie -
Tis true; Herriman was very much in thrall to Tad's style at this time. In fact sometimes their work of this period is almost indistinguishable. A good thing, that, because Herriman's work from before his Tad period is pretty awful stuff.

I'm sure some academic bore somewhere has or will write a lengthy monograph on the subject.

--Allan Holtz

21 June 2007 at 16:10:00 GMT-5  

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