Parnassus Books welcomes Michael Tisserand author of Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White.
KRAZY: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White is Michael Tisserand’s probing biography of the pioneering cartoonist. Marking the centenary of the large-scale weekly Krazy Kat strip, one of the greatest—some would say the greatest—and most influential comic strips in history, this exhaustively researched biography explores not only this seminal artist’s work, but also the complex duality of his life. Herriman, a Creole native son of New Orleans, had African American lineage, but lived his adult life passing as white. Tisserand explores how this hidden racial identity shaped Herriman’s work, and how this “secret” was conveyed through his highly original art.
Tisserand has dug deeply into the civil and church archives of New Orleans to clarify Herriman’s origins, discovering that he was the descendent of a prominent Creole family. When young George was ten, the family moved to Los Angeles, where it appears they began living as whites. Herriman’s talents for satiric drawing surfaced while he was in school, and by the time he was sixteen he was already contributing illustrations to newspapers. In the early twentieth century era of competitive, yellow journalism, Herriman worked in New York for both Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst before returning to Los Angeles and signing on solely with Hearst’s newspapers, where his work would lead to him being acclaimed as the “genius of the comic page.”
Vividly capturing the early newspaper world of New York and the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of boom town Los Angeles, Tisserand chronicles the escapades as Herriman and his colleagues as they created a vibrant new art on the comics page. Tisserand searches for the origins of the cartoonist’s vision, locating it not only in the Arizona desert that provided the landscape for his sometimes surreal art, and in the everyday vernacular of the age, but also in the hidden social messages that propelled the odd battle of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse.
With proximity to the burgeoning film community in Hollywood, Krazy Kat would reach new, wider-spread popularity through the movies. Herriman navigated this world as a white man, while playing with Hearst's readers by adding finely drawn messages of racial identity and class into his comics. Herriman would come to influence legions of cartoonists who came after, including Bill Watterson, and Charles M. Schulz, as well as writers such as E. E. Cummings and Jack Kerouac.
Art Spiegelman declares Krazy “essential for every comics and art lover’s library.” Ben Yagoda calls it, “A remarkable work documenting how one of the most singular achievements in twentieth-century popular culture came to be. Michael Tisserand has dug deep in the archives and examined George Herriman’s work with ingenuity and insight, emerging with a riveting narrative that wears its impressive scholarship with lightness and grace.” “For decades I’ve been hoping for a new, experimental African-American voice to emerge in the language of comics,” says Chris Ware, “but Michael Tisserand’s Krazy draws back the curtain on the one who’s been with us all along.”
Michael Tisserand is the author of The Kingdom of Zydeco, which won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for music writing, and the Hurricane Katrina memoir Sugarcane Academy. He lives in New Orleans.