Saturday, September 12, 2009


In one of his most famous sonnets, Shakespeare claims that true love is the permanent thing, the polar star by which we can all guide our ship. Love, he explains, never alters its path no matter what kind of impediment it encounters:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark [ship]....
But here is an opposite view from Yeats. For him, love is crooked and bewildering. And you can forget about that polar star business, love will continue to drive us nuts until those stars have all gone out:

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
The following episode from the ongoing love/hate saga of Krazy Kat and Ignatz mouse shows Ignatz determined to overcome all obstacles and consummate a brick toss:

Notice how Herriman has provided us with a polar star to make sense of the visual pandemonium. That sun appears to bounce up and down on the horizon, but we soon realize that it is the horizon (along with everything else in the picture) that is bouncing around. The sun is the only thing that remains constant. It is the fixed reference point that gives these drawings the continuity necessary for us to figure out what the heck is going on:

Herriman doesn't side with either Shakespeare or Yeats. Artists speak in pictures rather than words, so Herriman does not need to worry about reconciling the two conflicting texts. Leave that dirty work to poets and lawyers. Pictures enjoy an ambivalence (and a truth) that words can't match; Herriman depicts an undeterrable Ignatz and a polar star such as Shakespeare might expect, but any love that involves being brained by a brick probably belongs on one of those crooked corners Yeats describes.

Herriman does contribute the insight that sometimes the only resolution of conflicts is found in the limp exhaustion of the couple (whether from happy activity or sad).


dave said...

I suppose in life there are many instances of being flung around helplessly while attempting to keep the starry prize in sight. These comic panels are a wonderful metaphor for that (and ingeniously sequenced to boot). After checking out the Krazy Kat posts on your blog I am convinced I should become more familiar with Herriman's comic work.

In many ways your blog has been very illuminating to me. Not only for the artwork but also for the discussions surrounding them (and uplifting them). It has certainly made me THINK critically again about standards in artwork. But more importantly, your blog has encouraged me to appreciate again the illustrations of yesteryear. I'll be coming around weekly, see you next time.

MORAN said...

I have never understood that "love" relationship between Krazy Kat and Ignatz. And when you add in the dog, Officer Pup, it really gets confusing. Can somebody explain that to me?

Anonymous said...


Ignatz, the mouse, flips the usual cat / mouse relationship and likes to bean the cat with a brick.

Krazy, the cat, flips the aggression by misinterpreting the missiles as gestures of affection. She eagerly anticipates getting hit in the head.

Offisa Pup, the policeman dog, is determined to thwart the brick assaults. He jails Ignatz to protect Krazy, and therefore frustrates them both.

kev ferrara said...

That's weird, I recently downloaded this exact page of Krazy Kat from some other site. Now I can't remember where. Was it comicartfans? Or Heritage Auctions?

Dunno. Anyhow, I love the Krazy Kat.

This one in particular struck me because of the facility in the drawing. For instance, I was totally knocked out by the absolutely minimal means by which Herriman was able to achieve movement, texture, solidity and mass in each of about 10 or so wave crests, each of which is coming out of pure blank white paper and competing with all the other versions of wave crests on the same page to project out its own depth and reality. The economy of expression is tops... with a few jots, Ignatz gets his adorable facial character, and we have a setting sun that, with a bit of scribbled shading, somehow reads as red.

This is really a virtuoso performance in a very very unforgiving medium.


Mark said...

What kills me is that Ignatz is such a simple design and Herriman gets so much expressive millage out of a handful of ovals and lines. Makes me want to abandon any thought of more complex pen and ink line work and do this. Anyway great blog post as always!!

Diego Fernetti said...

Great post as usual!

David Apatoff said...

Dave-- Thanks! I find Herriman's work erratic so I am not quite the crazy maniac gonzo fan that some people are, but when he connects, he is really great. Plus, his personality and eccentricities add a marvelous ingredient that you just don't find anywhere else.

MORAN-- Anonymous has pretty well laid it out; it is a weird, counter-intuitive triangle and over time relationships (and perhaps even genders?) change but I can't say that KK is any weirder than what you can encounter in real human relationships.

David Apatoff said...

Kev, I believe this page was sold at auction by Illustration House recently. I remember looking at it back then too; that's what brought the Shakespeare sonnet to mind. I agree with you about the artwork, and the treatment of those waves. It's a great thing when the art and the content come together in KK.

Thanx, Mark. I agree with your point about Herriman's simplicity. If I thought I could achieve similarly great effects by giving up complexity and detail I would do it tomorrow!

Anonymous said... :)


denis said...

and when you would post about drawners to the sea? or the most greats illustrators of the ocean?
or how to draw the waves?thanx a lot

Dwayne said...

I love these! Is Herriman doing any graphic novels these days or is he working in animation doing pre-viz? Does he have a website coz I'd like to check out some more of this great stuff?

Matthew Adams said...

Herriman is now a herringbone. He was producing krazy kat from 1913 until death beamed him in the head with a brick in 1944.

Anonymous said...

David... thanks for the great illo's
I just wanted to let you know that a feature on Steranko's 1976 ground breaking graphic novel RED TIDE is up... the art still holds up well after all these years... and we have some excellent articles and great BW scans of his art... many times Frank Miller has stated that RED TIDE was an inspiration to his SIN CITY saga, as well as influencing artists such as Paul Gulacy, Eduardo Risso, Tim Sale and host of others.

Hope you the enjoy what we've done (I'm the designer and Tony Robertson is the owner of the site).


Another good feature we call Homages (with some great Steranko commentary):


Have a great day