A life in black and white

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Do you ever have that thing where you buy a new book – perhaps one that you’ve been waiting to turn up for a while – and when it arrives you can’t bear to read it because you want a time free of interruptions to do it justice? What’s more once you’ve read it, you won’t have it to look forward to any more.

At the moment, Krazy, a life of Krazy Kat comic artist George Herriman, by Michael Tisserand, sits on my table unread until my next holiday. If you don’t know Krazy Kat, there is much online, and if you do, you’ll want this already acclaimed biography.

The subtitle of the book is worth mentioning, George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. This refers not only to the black and white Krazy Kat comics, but also the fact that Herriman, know as ‘The Greek’ because of his swarthy complexion, was actually African American, born to a Creole family that hid its racial identity in the dangerous days of Reconstruction.

Herriman began publishing Krazy Kat cartoons in 1916, but the strange adventures of Krazy, Ignatz the abusive mouse, and lovesick Offisa Pupp still charm and amaze today, seeming both contemporary and timeless. But look behind the main characters in his strips and youโ€™ll see backgrounds that repay careful study. Shifting vistas inspired by Monument Valley and the Enchanted Mesa come and go, a rocky outcrop in one frame replaced by a shack with a crooked chimney in another.

Herriman Trees blog

George Herriman trees (A5 ink 2011)

I was always fascinated by his trees, however, which twist and zigzag in ways that few do in nature. I was so captivated by them that I filled this sketchbook page with a few examples. Unusually for me, I copied them line for line โ€“ after all, who could improve on Herriman? I posted this drawing when I first started this blog, but as I only had about three followers then, I don’t mind posting it again.

Now that you’ve read this, please go down to your local independent bookshop – no, don’t click on you-know-where – and order a copy of Michael Tisserand’s Krazy.

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25 thoughts on “A life in black and white

  1. Yes know the feeling….saving and savouring. I’ve got a Scottish, Norman Ackroyd, original plein-air watercolour sketches book coming in the post. Afraid the postman may come too soon….it will be like early Christmas packages…I can never wait.

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  2. I’ve felt this same way about anticipating reading a book. For me, reading is something I can’t get enough of and that’s just how I feel about ordinary books! I’m going to look into getting hold of this book, it sounds fascinating. Thank you.

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  3. Hey Michael, thanks for putting me onto George Herriman, I’d never really looked at his work but having had a good browse online i’m loving it, fabulous drawing.

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  4. He sounds fascinating. Your first post on his trees is right here, in the More on… section. Will read. โœจ
    In my younger days of having at least six books on the go at one time, and yes I did keep up with what was happening, I also had a few just sitting, waiting to be read. Now, only one at a time. Continues to feed my soul. Will search for this Herriman book. His drawing style is enchanting. I wonder if he was too?!

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  5. Like Claudia, I have requested a copy of the book from my library and am looking forward to it. I love to anticipate, read, and reread all kinds of books, especially children’s books/picture books and I think I may finish creating a picture book someday. I’m intrigued by this author. I’m trying to mindfully read books by people of color to be a better mother to the young men my African American sons are becoming. This is a welcome addition to my reading list. And I love the trees.

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    • Thanks Jeanette. I think Herriman was a fascinating figure: his birth certificate said he was ‘colored’ and his death certificate ‘Caucasian’ – isn’t that interesting? Also Krazy – who misuses words all the time- refers to his/her ‘inferiority complexion’, not without some underlying meaning there I imagine. I’d love to know what you think about the book when you’ve finished it.

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  6. Hi! It sounds really good. The image with the trees reminded me of Bruno Munariยดs book “Disegnare un Albero” (Drawing a Tree), from 1977, a book that I love. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  7. These are delightful, Michael, as is your book review. I know what you mean about waiting to read a book. Sometimes I linger with a book I am enjoying because I am so in love with the characters (or plot or setting) that I don’t want to let them go. I have more than once gotten to the last few pages of a book, or especially a series, and refuse to read the last pages. I know it’s silly but for some reason I hate to say goodbye.

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