One of the most popular and influential strips of the early part of the century was Bud Fisher's Mutt And Jeff. Using exaggerated body forms, drawn lightly upon a proletarian background, Fisher's protagonists squirrel their way around the racetracks, bawdy houses and apartments of lower class life. Striking a cord with Americans and the rest of the world, Mutt And Jeff were hugely popular and influential. Picasso was a fan of the strip (and of Jim Swinnerton's Little Jimmy) and a similarity of style between the simplified outline of cubism and the comics is self-evident. Of course, Marcel Duchamp signed his famous readymade Fountain R. Mutt in partial homage to a favorite comic strip character.
Despite Fisher's popularity, the greatest comic strip artist in terms of influence and artistic talent--for who recalls much about Mutt and Jeff today, except as a catchall term for a short guy and tall guy?--is george Hermann's Krazy Kat. From the first appearance of this strangely surreal strip, it was understood that the art-form had taken a great leap forward. As avante guarde as comic strip art has ever been, Krazy Kat was never terribly popular with the general public, but artists always read it as a kindred spirit on the newsprint.
Visiting Arizona's Monument Valley around 1910, Hermann saw the falt bizarre desert landscape and adapted it as the background for his strip. With that innovation he loosed the story from its moorings and set it into archetype. The tension between the city and the country and the real and the unreal has never been so well displayed in the story of a cat a mouse and a dog. In Krazy Kat, the story is always the same, yet endlessly different. The wicked Id-like Ignatz mouse throws a brick at the innocent dreamy Krazy cat, who see's this violence as an expression of love. The dog, Ofissa Pup, is the spirit of the Law and ends every story by tossing Ignatz in jail. he doesn't have to, because Ignatz likes tossing his bricks and Krazy likes being hit by them, but he always does. He does it because he has to and because it is an aesthetically pleasing act and because he loves Krazy but cannot admit it. And in these activities, on its stark black and white background, everything is in perfect harmony.
Krazy Kat was Surrealism before Surrealism was even declared a movement. How can that be? Well, certainly Krazy Kat LOOKS surreal, but it also has great affinity with the singular works of Joan Miro. A series of anthropomorphic forms, drawn with grace placed upon and infinate landscape. The dream of play in the simplest of landscapes.
See Krazy Kat here:
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