Saturday, December 27, 2008

Interpreting Krazy Kat

The original 1918 strip used for the Spitting Image Test below, (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

A fatter Krazy from the 40's in color.

The test from Spitting Image Productions

Over the holiday season Cartoon Brew posted a test done in 1996 by Spitting Image Productions for King Features Syndicate. The test was done to see if King Features could create new interest in one of their most eccentric and highly regarded properties: “Krazy Kat” by George Herriman.

Krazy was animated for the silent screen during its earliest appearances as a comic strip around 1914. But the treatment was the same as any silent animated characters at the time and never tried to capture the strips idiosyncrasies. Later in the 60’s, almost twenty years after the strip had stopped and fallen into oblivion, another attempt was made to revise interest with a new animated series with sound and color. The voice casting and limited animation satisfied no one, especially anyone with any familiarity with the strip.

Even as a comic strip cartoon Krazy was an acquired taste and would have been dropped had it not been championed by William Randolph Hearst who owned the paper. So great was Hearst’s admiration that he gave Herriman a guaranteed life time promise that Krazy would always have a home in his paper.

This long term agreement for the life span of Krazy began around 1913 and ended in 1944 with the death of Herriman. The 31 year run saw an evolution in style affecting not only the characters appearance but also the formatting and a transition to color. The early prose of K.K. had a running narrative that was lyrical and poetic. This was dropped during the later strips and became limited to the love triangle of Pup, Kat, and Mouse most associate with today.

So which Krazy is Krazy? The Kat from the 20’s is leaner and has a finer line quality than the Kat from the 40’s with its scratchier loose and thick strokes caused by Herriman’s increasing arthritics and bad health. Add to this the phantasmagorical backgrounds of Coconino County which morphed from panel to panel turning day into night and back again during the same action and conversation.

Although faithful to the original strip this test minimizes the transitional landscapes, wisely going with cuts, and prettifies the designs over what Herriman conceived. The premise comes from a 1918 strip but uses a 1940's Kat. Perhaps stop-motion wasn’t the best choice because it couldn’t carry the graphic nature so essential to the strip. Yet you can't argue the fine animation. The narrative is perhaps the weakest part of this presentation being far too modern and lacking the poetic flavor of the original. Unlike other comic characters like Popeye and Charlie Brown, Krazy Kat has proven to be too unique a vision to bring to the screen so far.


jriggity said...

what a cool find man!!

I just favorited i can study later.


r8r said...

why do they insist upon making him/her/it dimensional, when Krazy Kat is so definitely a graphic animal?

imagine it drawn in Herriman's splotchy linework, composited against a yellowing newspaper background, with a 'wiggle-vision' sensibility... Dead silent, with word balloons appearing and disappearing... Panel borders appearing and disappearing with camera moves... it could be great.

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

Interesting idea. I sometimes think the best way to enjoy Krazy maybe to stick with the original strip.