Jun 7, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists #5: George Herriman

Welcome to another installment of the top 10 most influential artists of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential artist is George Herriman!

Why Is He Influential?

If we as comics fans should thank just one person - if someone put a gun to our heads and said "pick one, no one else" - for showing us that comics can be art, that man we should be thanking is George Herriman, the creator and mastermind of Krazy Kat.

By 1916, comics had a set language. A cartoonist would simulate motion by drawing the same figures in adjacent boxes called "panels" that were read left to right and up to down, just like reading language (or the English language anyway). And just like so many artists on this list (except he did it first), George Herriman defied all conventions with his strip that took place in a desert in Coconino County, about Krazy Kat, a cat who was in love with Ignatz Mouse, who would respond by always hitting him with a brick. The theme has been so immortalized that it's been made into a stamp. Additionally, Offissa Pupp, a dog, was in love with Krazy Kat and would, without fail, try to bring Ignatz to justice.

Krazy Kat broke all the rules. People have compared it to a haiku, a poem in comics form, and art. There have been psychoanalytic interpretations as well as political ones, to name a few, but the beauty of it was it was just a beautifully rendered comic that involved a mouse throwing a brick at a cat.

George Herriman would do all sorts of visual tricks in Krazy Kat, including turning the panels at a 45-degree angle to simulate the motion of a rock rolling down the hill. His most common visual trick was to change the background of each panel, even if the characters didn't resituate themselves. The effect was, as was popular at the time, a surrealistic one.

Beyond that, though, just look at how beautiful that page is. From the colors to the composition, there was no doubt about it. There are people who today believe that the pinnacle of comics art to which modern artists continually aspire to was already reached almost a century ago by George Herriman.

It's tough to argue.

Note in this image how Herriman draws frames within frames, providing techniques that would be replicated in things like Looney Tunes decades later. He also omits panel borders, but never haphazardly - it's always in the context of the composition of the page.

So if you ever get into an argument with an art snob about how comics aren't art, just whip out a George Herriman picture. Comics as art? Thank you, George Herriman, for proving that it can be.

Thanks to Masters of American Comics for the scans (and to the Professor for giving it to me).

What Works of His Should I Read?

Fantagraphics has been putting out collections of Krazy Kat for a few years now. It's well worth it. Additionally, each one has a cover by Chris Ware.

Where Can I See His Influence?

Where can't you see the influence of George Herriman? Do we want comics to be art? Then the entire industry was influenced by George Herriman. People like Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Walt Disney, and even e.e. cummings have all admitted to being influenced by George Herriman!

But if we're talking plain visually and directly (even if a tad superficially), one can see the influence of George Herriman in Art Spiegelman of In the Shadow of No Towers:

Chris Ware in Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth:

and Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes:

Of course, these are just a few examples! The influence of George Herriman can be found anywhere, as long as comics even try to look great!

Where Can I Officially Find Him Online?

Click here for the official Krazy Kat Web site, and here for the official George Herriman Web site!

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