That’s not easy to explain. Herriman’s strip is so complex, playing with so many elements simultaneously, that it’s impossible to explain quickly.
So I am taking one tiny element of a single Sunday “Krazy Kat” to show a few of the games Herriman plays with language. In this strip,Â a simple exchange between a cop and a prisoner becomes a dance between two poets.
By the way, here are the main plot points of “Krazy Kat,” in case you need to know. Ignatz Mouse throws bricks at Krazy in disgust, anger, or for the sheer joy of Â ”beaning” Krazy. Krazy interprets these bricks as tokens of love. Offissa Pupp loves Krazy, and dedicates his duties to thwarting and arresting Ignatz. That’s it, more or less. For 34 years.
Ah, but let us look under the surface of this comic strip!
Our slapstick scenario, in which Ignatz Mouse obtains a bean and escaping jail by climbing down its vine, is surrounded by speech as poetry. This is one of George Herriman’s favorite jokes: juxtaposing fancy talk with violent action. (And the words are worth hearing. Try saying these lines aloud.)
Herriman’s second joke is that nothing the characters say is what it appears to be. Offissa Pupp’s melodramatic repetition of the word “long” and his alliterative assault emphasize the heaviness of the court’s sentence: 6 months in jail for Ignatz. This is ridiculous – the strip cannot function without Ignatz being free to sin. Regular readers know that no matter how this strip ends, Ignatz will be free in the next episode, without explanation.
The speech of Ignatz is equally ridiculous, equally denying the norms of the comic strip. Ignatz repeats his key word for emphasis, beginning: “If – “yes” – I say ’If I have in any way sinned -” Therein lies the joke: Ignatz always “sins,” and always commits the same “sin”: throwing a brick at Krazy Kat’s eager head.
And perhaps “joke” is the wrong word, and “joy” is better.
We now skip to the final panel, after Ignatz has escaped. The local gossip, Miss Kwakk-Wakk, comes to alert Offissa Pupp of the news. Not a poetic duck-bone in her body! No extra flab on her facts; she just says that she saw what she saw. But she also repeats her main point (withmyowneye), reminding the reader of the repetitions of the first panel.
Offissa Pupp, apathetic in his confidence, insists that her eye “mocks you with ‘mirage’, flays you with ‘fantasy’ “… and Herriman hands the final word to poetry. And all is well: Ignatz will sin again, Krazy will love again, Offissa Pupp will arrest again – the Krazy Kat world is returned to perfect balance.