Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Krazy and Ignatz: "Love Letters in Ancient Brick": 1927-1928, by George Herriman: edited by Bill Blackbeard, designed by Chris Ware

You've probably heard of Krazy Kat but never seen it. That was me until I picked up Krazy and Ignatz: "There Is a Heppy Lend--Fur, Fur Away": 1925-1926 when it came out last year. I wondered at first if I'd made a mistake. Despite the striking design by Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan creator Chris Ware, it seemed to be simply about a mouse named Ignatz hitting a kat with a brick, and a gruff canine named Officer Pupp running the mouse into jail every week. And--although that doesn't happen in every strip--that is basically what the strip is about. But what became quickly clear was that this simple structure was not as simple as it appeared, and also that it allowed Mr. Herriman a nearly infinite leeway to play with his characters and their home of Coconino County.

Listen: Krazy Kat loves Ignatz, and Officer Pupp loves Krazy Kat. Ignatz seems either immune to the pangs of love, or incapable of expressing them through anything other than one of Kolin Kelly's twice-baked bricks. (The question of homosexual themes is ambiguously posed, since Krazy is referred to alternately as "he" or "she," and Herriman insisted that his titular character was genderless.) In true romantic fashion, none of the three suspects the feelings of the others. So Officer Pupp takes great pains to protect his beloved Krazy from the predations of the conflicted Ignatz, while Krazy interprets each brick to the back of the head as a message of love. It's madness, and appropriately so. Is love not madness? (He asked pompously.)

Coconino County is the comic strip equivalent of Yoknapatawpha, as strange and wonderful as Faulkner's fictional reflection of his Mississippi. Krazy Kat's home lies somewhere in Arizona, and the landscape of that state lives inside the strip, albeit in surrealized form; the pictures evoke the Southwest emerging from its wild days, marked little by the presence of civilization aside from Officer Pupp's sturdy jail. From the mesa where Joe Stork ("Purveyor of Progeny to Prince & Proletariat") dwells, to the Red Lake where the disembodied Elephant's Legs rest (except for the occassional walkabout), it is a real place, even if the events which occur there seem less so.

There are many odd inhabitants of Coconino, from Mrs. Kwak-Wak to Don Kiyoti to Bum Bill Bee to Krazy's cousins Katbird and Katfish, but the stars of this strip are the art and the words. The backgrounds are forever shifting, dream landscapes of rock and desert, of Navajo and Mexican culture. And the words . . . "Officer Pupp lies somniferous upon his official pallet . . . Sweetly adenoiding a haunting melody, Torpidly tonsiling a tender tune." "Bum 'Bill' Bee, returning from whence he had not been, pauses on his way there, and with his usual energetic inertia changes his mind." "It grew with no great gusto--frail and fragile of frame--suppliant and servile of spine--a 'maple,' so full of a pretty promise of possibilities which its infirmity forbids." And dialogue! "Wotta reckliss life a 'pen cake' has got to contempt with--if it ain't a flip, it's a flop." "I'm all by myself--that's why I'm alone." "It's all did, and done, and I must say to myself that my eye is plizzed at the rizzult."

Fantagraphics is collecting all of Krazy Kat, starting with the 20 + years of Sunday strips. (I'd have linked to their website at the top of this entry, but they don't appear to have updated it with the current volume yet.) Between this and their Pogo collections (and if anyone has Vols. 2, 3 or 4 of that series to sell, please email me), they're doing us all a great service.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Redsine, Number Nine

Number Nine, Number Nine . . .

I know, you're all wondering, "Is this all he reads is this Redsine?" Well, I bought up a bunch of back issues, and I'm in the middle of a couple of long books. So back off.

Number Nine has an interview with Kim Newman, whom I must admit I haven't read. The rest, again, is stories.

First up is Kim Westwood's "The Oracle," a post-apocalyptic satiri-surrealistic story about the U.S. Air Force, TOYS "R" US and Barbie. It's a weird and mysterious story, which I like.

Next is "Clowning Around" by Richard Robbins. This is an extremely bizarre and wonderful story, but I'm not going to say much about the plot because that wouldn't be fair to you, the reader. Here: it's about a clown. Read it.

"Don't Drown the Man Who Taught You How to Swim" is by D.F. Lewis and David Mathew. Lewis is the editor of the wonderful magazine Nemonymous, so you've been disclaimed. Again, without giving away too much (How much is too much? Is anyone even reading this?), Nathaniel is the key to finding a place that his lover Paul and his employee Katie found when they drowned. This is a compact and complex story about trying to recapture something lost in another life. It's eccentric and elegant.

David Alexander's "Larval Tuesday" is a funny, frightening tale about identity, madness and murder. Is he a bum who kills yuppies or a yuppie who pretends to be a bum who kills yuppies or a janitor who poses as a cop to kill yuppies or a thief? Or is he a thief of identity? Or all of the above? The madness of this protagonist is unnerving and uncensored; the laughs the story provides are hesitant, wary. As you can tell, this one has stuck with me. I'm not sure if that in itself makes it a great story; that it is a good story, I have no question.

"Glacier" by D. Harlan Wilson is an absurdist short story about a suburban family man who wakes up one morning to find a glacier on his front lawn. His attempts to save himself and his wife and children from the glacier--between his anxiety attacks--put them in more peril than the glacier itself. This is a satisfyingly weird man vs. glacier story.

Overall I wasn't as impressed with this issue as I was with #7-8, but the stories that were good were excellent.