Thursday, January 05, 2012


A lot of people don't know that Herriman tried several different styles before he settled on the Krazy Kat style that he's most remembered for. When he first started out in 1901 he worked in the German style of the day, and was pretty good at it. That's his very first strip, above. It was done for Pulitzer's New York World.

How do you like the story? 

Only two months later we find him experimenting with an illustration style (above).

 By 1902 (above) he's dumped illustration and tries pure cartooning, a bit in the Opper/"Kattzenjammer Kids" style. 

He comes under the influence of a lot of other artists in 1902, possibly including Windsor McKay (above).

Now HERE'S (above) an interesting strip! It looks like something Milt Gross might have done, or maybe the young Sterrett.  My source attributed this to Herriman, with a date of 1903, but I can't remember where I got the picture from, so I can't check it. If Herriman did draw this then it seems fair to say that both Gross, Sterrett, Barks and others were influenced by this strip, and Herriman the copier of others transformed during this period in to Herriman, whom others copy.

Gee, I got to say "whom."

I'm aware that Gross fans will find this connection between Herriman and Gross to be shocking. I'm not a historian, so if I'm wrong I hope a reader will let me know.

Somewhere in this period Herriman began to experiment with a scratchy pen and ink style. You see it in some of Herriman's "Baron Bean" drawings. I'm guessing that he got it from Bud Fisher, who did Mutt and Jeff.

I wonder if Kurtzman was influenced by this strip. Some of the Baron Bean sketches (not shown) look like Kurtzman's could have drawn them.

By 1907 (if not earlier) Herriman had perfected yet another style (above). Maybe it came out of the political cartoons he was doing in in 1904 and 5. This is my hands down favorite Herriman

With Krazy Kat, Herriman's pen and ink style evolved even farther, Here the scratchy, funny lines appear slightly liquid, as if they were brushed on. Were they? I don't think so. Maybe he smeared his ink lines with a little benzine. Or maybe the lines look liquid because they weren't photocopied right. I wish I knew.


Brubaker said...

Out of curiosity, are you familiar with a strip called "Mutts" by Patrick McDonnell? It's done in classical style and the creator is heavily influenced by Herriman (he even wrote a book about "Krazy Kat" several years before he started the strip).

I love the art, but unfortunately most papers print the strip in tiny size so the details can get lost. Thankfully there are book collections of the strip printed in reasonable size.

The art style went through changes over the years. The early strips were rather crudely drawn and the characters weren't as fleshed out yet, but it gradually began taking shape after a couple years. The strip began in 1994, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Cool post! Could you do one of these on Carl Bark's or Floyd Gottfredson's style. Those are also two of my favorite print cartoonists, besides George Herriman. I wanna know how they evolved to have such distinctive styles too!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Eddie. I have a weird theory of my own: if we had 10-15 years of print cartoons this fun and experimental again, then down the road the effects would rub off on animated cartoons. It's interesting as well how many different strip ideas Herriman toyed with (not to mention all the topical/political cartooning) before settling on Krazy. That's quite diffferent from the later model of getting one strip/group of characters syndicated ASAP.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Brubaker, Stephen: Mutts is definitely a classier strip than most, though I get mad at the artist for not doing more backgrounds, at least in his Sunday pages.

Stephen was right when he made the point about artists influencing other artists. The Mutts artist would have been even better if he'd had the advantage of working in the kind of competitive environment that prevailed in the early 20th Century.

Lots of current artists work way beneath capacity because the standards are so low.

Roberto: Good idea!

The Mush said...

I think there's a book coming out soon on Herriman's strips with humans, like Baron Bean
Fantastic post as usual, Eddie. Herriman is one of my favorite artists, but I never knew how long it took him to get "his" style.

Shawn Luke said...

I prefer the 1907 style as well. Perhaps his style kept changing because he really loved a wide variety of cartooning styles and had a hard time deciding on a style he liked best. Or, perhaps, he was struggling to get away from the influences of the other popular cartoonists before he could confidently settle on his own style. I have to wonder though why he went from his 1907 style to the final Krazy Kats style. Perhaps he felt it was more economical and far enough removed form everyone else's styles. Great post, Eddie.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick anonymous thank you Eddie! This site has been one of my favorite secret-hideouts on the internet for years now. You've built something great here!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mush: A book on Baron Bean!!!??? That's great! There may be a couple of digital books about Herriman's early work, but I they might require an app that only works on the iPad.

Shawn: Thanks!

Anon: Aaaargh! It's frustrating to get that kind of anonymous compliment. Holy Cow, you're not Johnny Depp are you? Romney? Obama? Angelena Joli?
By any chance do you work for John Beresford Tipton!????

Eddie Fitzgerald said...
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