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George Herriman’s mixed race and its influence in Krazy Kat
The “Don’t Touch My Comics” blog over on at the Times-Union has an interesting post about the mixed race heritage of Krazy Kat creator George Herriman. Apparently, his true race is somewhat of a mystery. His birth certificate says “colored” and his death certificate says “caucasian”. Many feel he spent his whole life trying to conceal his black heritage.
The interesting part of the issue is how his mixed race influenced his cartooning. In the same Times-Union blog post it explores episodes in Krazy Kat
Herriman introduced similar commentary into Krazy Kat. One gag, which ran during both the black and white and color eras, has Krazy going to a beauty shop and having his black fur died white. Ignatz (who usually hates Krazy and seeks to bean with him a brick, recall) is instantly smitten by the vision of the White Kat that emerges from the salon. It is only when he finds out the White Kat’s true identity that Ignatz reaches for his trusty brick. This is revealing. It suggests that Ignatz does not hate Krazy because he is a cat, but because he is a black cat. Similarly, Herriman employed a gag (again, in both the color and black and white periods of the strip) in which Ignatz falls into a stove-pipe and is turned black by the coal dust. When he throws his customary brick, Krazy is incensed. “A lil Eetiopium Mice, black like a month from midnights. Fuwi!” Krazy declares when he sees Ignatz in blackface. Again, Krazy only loves Ignatz when he is white.