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 you’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 – 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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The Ghost of an Owl

Ghost Owl Tree blog

Ghost Owl Tree (40 cms x 20 cms, ink and coloured pencil on watercolour paper, 2016)

In 2010, an eagle owl flew from the North of England down the eastern coastline to Suffolk. It made its home in a large tree on the edge of farmland, feasting on the rich supply of rabbits and pheasants that lived nearby.

Fearless and with few natural predators, these owls have been known to swoop down into suburban gardens and take out domestic cats. They will see off other hunting birds, such as harriers, and even attack smaller farm animals.

One day the Suffolk eagle owl grew tired of rabbits and decided it would switch to a diet of piglets, but a local farmer took umbrage and shot the magnificent bird when it returned to the tree. Sometimes, on moonlit winter nights, an eerie glow can be seen among its bare branches, said by locals to be the spirit of the owl haunting its former hunting ground.

I’m afraid I’ve made up this story (although the second paragraph is true) to explain this drawing. For some time I’d wanted to do a version of Ernst Haeckel’s Pedigree of Man (1879) tree. I thought I’d draw an owl to collage onto the tree but then felt it looked more mysterious with just the glowing space.

So here it is, with a short story free of charge.