Saturday, June 20, 2015

Krazy Kat in France

[Krazy Kat:] Why is “lenguage” “Ignatz”?

[Ignatz Mouse:] “Language” is, that we 
may understand one another.

[K:] Is that so?

[I:] Yes, that’s so.

[K:] Can you unda-stend a Finn, or a 
Leplender, or a Oshkosher, huh?

[I:] No.

[K:] Can a Finn, or a Leplender, or a 
Oshkosher, unda-stend you?

[I:] No.

[K:] Then, I would say, lenguage is, that 
we may mis-unda-stend each udda.

— Krazy Kat daily, January 6, 1918

Beware the little Bolshevik
Avoid the Sovietski
Like Ignatz Mouse he heaves a brick
At bourgeoise Krazy Ketski

The Quill [Greenwich Village], Vol. II, No.7, June 1918

“Krazy Kat, by Herriman, is, in the writer’s estimation, the greatest advance beyond nothingness on record.” [Harold Philips, well-known authority on Swiftian satire, who is not feeling so good today, anyhow, thank you, regards that last paragraph as “a befamixing humdinger.”] — ‘Who Is Your Favorite Comic Artist?’ in The Washington Times, Jan 13, 1922

“…who ducked the missile that came like a toss from Ignatz Mouse toward the head of Krazy Kat failed to identify the culprit…” — Chicago Daily Worker, 1926

“A jazz band of colored Macy’s employees vied for honors with several other musical detachments, including a clown band of other Macy employees, a military band of 75 pieces, a fife and drum corps, and a bugle corps. The comic supplement section of the parade represented a number of the familiar “funny sheet” characters, including Mutt and Jeff, Krazy Kat, Ignatz mouse, and Silk Hat Harry.” — ‘Santa Claus Heads Parade of Macy’s’ in the New York Daily Review, Nov 28, 1926

“Hey, E.E. Cummings, you can’t do that to this cartoon! Krazy Kat is no Republican propaganda. We don’t accept your active argument for passivity, your palming off some fillossiffical-idealism on us, your old love will find a way business and the meek shall inherit the earth stuff.” — ‘Hey, E.E. Cummings, don’t do that to Krazy!’ by Ad Reinhardt, in the daily newspaper PM, 1946
by John Adcock

NO OTHER comic strip in the history of humankind has been the subject of so many different interpretations as Krazy Kat. The slapstick triage of Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, Offissa Pupp and the inanimate brick had appeal for children and adults, capitalists and Bolsheviks, the working classes and the halls of academia.

Adding new aspects to this search for meaning was the discovery that the birth certificate of writer-artist George Herriman identified him as “colored” which subjects the entire oeuvre to a search for racial identifiers. He is reported to have 
used the terms “creole” and “negro blood” to describe himself; his parents were listed as “mulatto” in 1880. (For further reading see Thomas Inge’s Was Krazy Kat Black? HERE and cartoonist Karl Hubenthal’s rebuttal HERE.) Was Krazy Kat Negro?… One might well ask Was Ignatz Mouse Jewish? Or; was the “kopp” Irish? There are no easy answers.

There was a time when Platinum Age comic strips — pre-1938 works — seemed to have sloped down the memory hole and were remembered only by the parents, who had gobbled them up on first appearance, and a few besotted collectors such as August Derleth and Bill Blackbeard. Most North American comic strip enthusiasts of the 60s discovered Krazy, Ignatz and Offissa Pupp through the 1969 Krazy Kat book produced by Woody Gelman and his Nostalgia Press for Madison Square Press/Grosset & Dunlap, a book which conquered Europe at the same time. A hardback book selling for $7.95. It had a foreword by Barbara Gelman and it reprinted the introduction by E.E. Cummings from a similar book collection (with different images) of the same title, published by Henry Holt and Co. in 1946. A hardback book for $3.75.

MEANWHILE the only American comics available in book form in France were Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant, published respectively in 1968 and 1970 by SERG, a non-profit organization animated by the same people who had made the seminal exhibition ‘Bande dessinée et figuration narrative’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in Paris, in 1967. In Italy, the fat Italian magazine Linus began reprinting Krazy Kat strips, in Italian translation, as early as 1965. Linus inspired a French cousin, Charlie mensuel (they shared the same covers), which disseminated comics culture through France from February 1969 to February 1986. Georges Wolinski, the second and principal editor, from 1970 to 1981, opened its columns to Krazy Kat, leading to protests from some of its readers. But for the most part the French reader had to wait until the 1980s to read the Futuropolis Krazy Kat books in native French language.

Recently, another French publisher Les Rêveurs has published three fat volumes of Krazy Kat Sundays, translated into French by Marc Voline, with the fourth and last volume still in production. The Les Rêveurs Krazy Kat volumes use the same boards as the recent Fantagraphics books but there’s a big difference. The covers on the Fantagraphics volumes were designed by Chris Ware, a fantastic artist whose work in this context seems discordant, like it was composed with a mechanical drafting set. Herriman’s style was the exact opposite. He drew in a loose scratchy scribble with an abundance of crosshatching comparable to free-form music — like ragtime or jazz. Very wisely Les Rêveurs chose their cover designs to highlight the enigmatic art of George Herriman.   

MARC VOLINE writes to Yesterday’s Papers —
French Krazy Kat volumes are more than just reprints of the Fantagraphics editions. In order to contextualize, and fill — as well as I could — the double time-gap (one century!) and space (an ocean!) for French readers, I substantially expanded Ignatz Mouse’s debaffler pages. Thus it may be of some interest to Americans who read Rabelais’ language, and even to those who don’t: if they miss the additional debaffling, they’ll at least partake in the lyrics of all the songs uttered by Krazy and his fellow Coconinians.” [Editor’s Note: Songs from the comic strips are treated in the endnotes for the years 1925-44 of the Sundays.]
I asked Voline for details of his work as a translator. Was Krazy Kat his first venture into translating comics?
“After having spent three first semesters studying History at Paris 1 Sorbonne University, and having just begun working as a journalist (in the cultural field), my first translation in 1977 — I was 20— was a literary one: three Chesterton short stories. From the Other Stories section of the 1922 collection The Man Who Knew Too Much (The Garden of Smoke, The Five of Spades, The Tower of Treason), published as a little book under the French title of the latter: La Tour de la Trahison. The following year, for a literary review, I translated a small text from a big Krazy Kat fan: Gertrude Stein. Since then, I translated works by Jack London (To Build a Fire), Thomas de Quincey (The Avenger), Giovanni Papini (Gog), Jeff Noon (Vurt, Pollen)…
My first venture into translating comics occurred in 1982 when I was writer-editor at Métal Hurlant, a comics monthly created by Mœbius and Druillet (you may remember its American edition, Heavy Metal). My first two translations from English were Mike McMahon’s Judge Dredd and the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets. Then I began translating Lorenzo Mattotti and other Italian artists from the Valvoline group.From 1984, I was comics editor at Albin Michel publishers. There I translated strips, which are amongst the most demanding — and rewarding! Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, ten volumes of Tales from the Crypt (mostly Jack Davis, plus some Wally Wood and Reed Crandall), and eight volumes of Scott Adams’ Dilbert. As a writer, I worked on comics and children’s books with comic strip authors like Yves Chaland, Jean-Louis Floch, Max, Tramber… All of Métal Hurlant extraction.
My first brief round of Krazy Kat translating was in 1996, for a short lived comics tabloid weekly called Strips, edited by artist Placid. Actually, the Strips magazine episode wasn’t my first foray into Krazy’s wonderland. Translating and publishing Krazy Kat had been a personal obsession for a long time! I first ordered Krazy Kat strips — through Opera Mundi, the distributor of King Features Syndicate in France — in April 1974, for a fanzine I was planning, and, as attested by the fact I still received the KFS microfilm catalog in 1982, I must have nurtured the same project when I was a Métal Hurlant editor at Les Humanoïdes Associés publishers. The more recent Krazy Kat venture began as a project with Jean-Louis Gauthey, of Cornélius publishers (who published Crumb and Burns in France). But being a perfectionist, Jean-Louis was quite reluctant in view of the poor quality of some of the material (obvious in the Les Rêveurs volume 2, for the years 1930-34), and he eventually renounced it. As for the genesis of the Rêveurs edition, I told it in a June 2012 interview with the comics site Du9, whose English translation — with a few mistakes — you’ll find HERE.
Les Rêveurs is the creation of two friends, the comic artist Manu Larcenet and Nicolas Lebedel, who is the acting editor. Manu Larcenet conceives and colors the Krazy Kat covers (“his great pleasure”). As for the inside layout of this series, the title pages are those of the first volumes of Fantagraphics, the rest of the books contain layouts by graphic designer Camille Aubry.

A BETTER LOOK. The French volumes are nearly twice the size of the Fantagraphics editions (26,5 x 37 cm, or 10 5/8 x 14 3/4 inches) which makes for easier reading and allows for a better look at the fine feathered and crosshatched ink-lines as in the originals. The first volume features 273 pages, the second 264, and the third 272. Krazy Kat kompletists will want to own both publisher’s worthy efforts.

Vol. 1 [1925-1929] Articles and Notes Krazy Kat & Années Folles by Marc Voline L’homme Derrière le Chien, Derrière la Souris, Derrière la Chat – George Herriman 1880-1944 by Bill Blackbeard Le Bouffon de Cour, Hearst, Herriman et la mort du nonsense by Ben Schwartz Krazy Notes 1926-1929 [Similar to the ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ in the Fantagraphics volumes] by Bill Blackbeard and Marc Voline
Vol. 2 [1930-1934] Articles and Notes Le Baron et le Duc by Bill Blackbeard Krazy Notes 1930-1934 by Derya Ataker, Bill Blackbeard and Marc Voline
Vol. 3 [1935-1939] Articles and Notes Krazy Kolors of Kokonino by Marc Voline Krazy Notes 1935-1939 by Marc Voline