But some years later, Hearst came across another strip that truly captured his imagination. With this comic he cut against his usual razor instincts for business and made what appear to be irrational decisions: he spent far more money on it than even the artist—and certainly the public—thought it was worth, and he issued the artist a stunning no-strings-attached lifetime contract that guaranteed George Herriman complete creative freedom. […]
While the setup is not altogether different than other strips that appeared alongside Krazy Kat, Herriman’s comic transmogrified into something radical. By refusing to settle into the very formula it invites upon itself, Krazy Kat works the same way a hallucination does—or a dream, a vision. That is, in both language and pictures, it contains multiple realities at once. It is a typical playful strip featuring anthropomorphic characters and a theater of physical lunacy, and, at the same time, it is pioneering art that literally breaks outside the box with compositional innovations and astoundingly good drawing. […]
Unusually, Krazy Kat’s admirers included artists, writers, and art critics. Poet e.e. cummings wrote the introduction to the very first collection of Krazy Kat strips. Willem de Kooning was an avid fan, especially of the fanciful southwestern landscapes. So was Walt Disney. After Herriman’s death, Disney wrote to the artist’s daughter: “As one of the pioneers in the cartoon business, his contributions to it were so numerous that they may well never be estimated.”
H.L. Mencken loved Krazy Kat too, as did Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot. Jack Kerouac said the strip was a precursor to the Beat Generation, with common roots in “the glee of America, the honesty of America, its wild and self-believing individuality.” Even President Woodrow Wilson was a noted fan.
In what is almost certainly the first instance of an art critic taking comics seriously as art, Gilbert Seldes devoted a whole chapter to the strip in his 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts. He wrote that the strip was “the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America today.”
Full Story: Guernica Magazine: Krazy Komik