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The Hidden Life of ‘Krazy Kat’

George Herriman biographer to speak at Boswell

Jan. 31, 2017
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“Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz cites George Herriman as an inspiration, but the influence of the early-20th-century cartoonist can be seen more clearly in the likes of Robert Crumb and the underground comix of the 1960s. Herriman’s anarchic Krazy Kat cartoon, syndicated by the Hearst papers from 1913 to 1944, brought adult-talking cats and mice into the imagination of millions of Americans. Unlike Disney’s Mickey Mouse and friends, Herriman’s cast of critters looked as if they might bite. 

As Michael Tisserand reminds us in his biography, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, the cartoonist kept a secret throughout his career. Although the swarthy, dark-haired Herriman was taken for Jewish or Greek, which themselves could be problematic identities in some precincts of early-20th-century America, his hidden origins were in New Orleans’ multi-racial Creole culture. By the social standards of his time, he was black. Had anyone known, he would never have been allowed to draw for America’s largest newspaper chain. He might never have risen beyond office boy.

Tisserand brings to life Herriman’s story, including his ancestry in Louisiana’s slavery years, through a mass of well-chose detail.

Michael Tisserand, an award-winning New Orleans-based author whose previous books include The Kingdom of Zydeco, will discuss Krazy at Boswell Book Co. at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4.

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