Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels, by Jay Cantor – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels, by Jay Cantor. Illustrated by George Herriman.
NYC, A. A. Knopf, January 1988, hardcover $16.95 ([x] + 245 + [viii] pages).
The reviews for this unauthorized (since it was written long after Herriman’s death) sequel to George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat comic strip, all praise how imaginative it is. But they use terminology like “an elaborate intellectual game”, “post-narrative techniques”, “Psychoanalysis, Hollywood, radical politics, television, popular and high art are all grist for Cantor’s satirical mill”, “an X-rated sort-of-sequel to the comic strip”, and “simultaneously maddening, shocking, funny and quite disturbing.” It is, in short, an absurdist, post-modernist novel that carries the cast of the gentle (despite Ignatz’s constant bopping of Krazy’s bean with a brick), isolated Kokonino Kounty into the full complexity of modern civilization.
Cartoonist George Herriman died on April 25, 1944. The Alamogordo test explosion of the atomic bomb was on July 16, 1945. Despite the bomb blast being in the wrong state and over a year later, it is Cantor’s postulate that it was Krazy Kat’s traumatization by the atomic bomb that was responsible for the comic strip’s disappearance.
“Krazy’s unexpected retirement has put the entire cast out of work: KWAKK WAKK, the gossipy duck who sang out Coconino’s dirty linen, has no one to tattle on. JOE STORK, a lean decent creature who brought the babies and the mail from Outside, is a nearly dead letter man, for fickle fans no longer want to get in touch. DON KIYOTI, native-born long-eared snob, lacks an audience to lord it over. BEAU KOO JACK, the black rabbit of thumping paws, finds fancy trade falling off at his grocery store. KOLIN KELLEY, who fired the bricks that Ignatz threw, cleans and recleans his cold kiln, knowing that if Krazy never works again he is cursed king of useless rocks. And MRS. MICE, Ignatz’s big-footed spouse, with MILTON, MARSHALL and IRVING, her Joe-delivered progeny, bicker pointlessly, Dad out of work and time on their hands.
Why did Krazy, they wonder, suddenly shy from the spotlight? And if only she would work again …” (p. x)
The Five Panels into which the novel is divided are described succinctly:
“THE GADGET: In which Krazy and Ignatz watch the first atomic test, and Krazy becomes very depressed.
THE TALKING CURE: Ignatz’s attempt to cure – and transform – the Kat is revealed in his letters to his new ‘colleague,’ the Pup.
THE TALKING PICTURES: In which our cast, its leading lady ready to work once more, goes to Hollywood.
THE POSSESSED: We will get the rights to ourselves – by any means necessary!
VENUS IN FURS: In which, as always, fantasy makes reality.” (p. vii)
The novel is written in unnatural styles. THE GADGET is in long, page-filling paragraphs of meandering prose with little dialogue. THE TALKING CURE is in the form of long letters from Ignatz to Offisa Pup, recounting at exhaustive length the Kat’s and the Mouse’s conversations, with Ignatz’s shallow psychoanalytic analyses of them. THE TALKING PICTURES is more blocky paragraphs. Krazy has been cured of her depression, and Ignatz brings to Coconino County a Hollywood Producer and his Assistant, who bedazzle them with Hollywoodese-speak. THE POSSESSED is the depressing revelation of Krazy’s slavery at the paws of her brainwashed friends:
“Careless hands had broken her Zuni cups – all but the one that Ignatz swilled his endless plum wine from. And his wine spills stained her Hopi rug, which Ignatz used as a blanket, lying rigidly awake all night beneath it, drinking, his beady eyes glowing. Kiyoti and the others – under their leader’s direction – had daubed slogans on her once spotless white walls: Death to the Fascist Copyright Holders Who Suck the Brains of Avant–Garde Artists! And: All Power to the Audiences of the Future! The slogans were crudely lettered – the ComiSalads had worked at making the graffiti badly formed, ‘the way poor folks write’ – in blue and gold fingerpaint.” (p. 129)
In VENUS IN FURS, the final panel, the thoroughly brainwashed Kat becomes Kate, the human starlet, beating them all at their own game. Triumph is Failure is Success is Total Surrender is With It, Baby! is …
Here is the back-cover blurb: “The action begins in 1945, when Ignatz and Krazy witness an awesome explosion engineered by ‘New Clear fizzyits’ near Alamogordo, changing Krazy’s world – and ours – forever. In his attempt to get his top tomato out of her mega-brick depression, Ignatz invents psychoanalysis to therapize her, flies in a Hollywood producer to lure her with stardom, recruits the whole cast to kidnap and terrorize her. And through Ignatz’s machinations, highbrow stuff like sex and death enters their flat cartoon world, until Krazy, Offisa Pup and Ignatz can actually imagine themselves as human beings.”
What do I think of Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels (cover by Steven Guarnaccia)? Too self-consciously Modern Fiction. Artificial in the worst meanings of that word. Cynical. But it is clever. Fans of avant-garde writing are praising it. You may like it.
Note that Jay Cantor refers to Krazy as “she”. The Kat’s gender has long been argued over. This is Cantor’s and many experts’ opinion.
There is a $9.99 Kindle edition of the out-of-print February 2004 Vintage Books trade paperback edition.