The Father of Krazy Kat

Damon Runyon

Pittsburgh Press/November 26, 1920

Charley Van Loan—peace to his ashes!—used to tell me about “The Greek.”

“Funny guy, the Greek,” said Charley. “You’ll have to meet him.”

It so happened that the meeting never took place until one day out in Los Angeles. I was visiting at Charley’s house, and Charley answered a ring at the door bell.

Presently I heard him whooping, and in a moment he returned dragging, with what seemed to me outrageous violence, a mild-looking gentleman in impeccable attire, who was plaintively submissive to Charley’s handling.

“This is ‘The Greek,’” roared Charley; “meet ‘The Greek.’”

So I met “The Greek,” who is not a Greek at all, but who looked like a Greek to Van Loan’s fanciful eyes. I met George Herriman, the cartoonist who draws “Krazy Kat,” and one of the sweetest, gentlest souls I have ever known.


It is my opinion that Fate originally intended George Herriman to write another “Alice in Wonderland” or some new fairy tales for the children, but inadvertently it gave him great facility for drawing pictures.

Having arrived in an era when drawing pictures was productive of more immediate returns than writing stories, Herriman began drawing. In drawing, however, he also began telling his fairy stories, probably in a ruder form than his gentle artistic sense dictates, but none the less stories.

“Krazy Kat” is the quaintest conceit in what I might call cartooning history. George has invented dozens of more or less famous pen and ink characters, including “Dingbat” and “Baron Bean,” but none of them ever compared with “Krazy Kat” in humor.


Only Herriman could have thought of reversing the real relation of the cat and the mouse, making the cat the victim of torment by the mouse, but always enjoying the inevitable brick bouncing off its feline head. And only Herriman could write the lines that accompany the pictures. It is in these lines, I think, that he attains a higher degree of humor than even in his pictures.

Take one of Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” strips and study it well. Note the amazing character delineation in the funny little birds and animals he draws. What could be more appropriate than having “Mock Duck” a Chinese character, the coyote a Spaniard, the doctor a stork and the cop a bull pup.


James Montgomery Flagg, Ellis Parker Butler, Charles M. Schwab, Neysa McMein, Enrico Caruso and Percival Grenville Wodehouse are among those who have praised Herriman’s work, but I imagine, knowing George, that the finest praise to him must be the praise of his brother cartoonists.

I don’t know whether he is aware of it or not, but he is the cartoonist’s cartoonist. By that I mean his is their favorite. I have talked with many of them in my time, and I have yet to find one that did not immediately declare that George is the greatest of them all in point of humor, originality and execution.

Cartoonists, more than any other professional man, are quick to praise a contemporary if he is doing good work.


Personally, Herriman is so modest and self-effacing that he is almost annoying. He talks very little, and then in a soft, low tone. He is full of sentiment and it leaks out through his pen.

One of these days George may take it into his head to do some writing, and when that times comes I predict we will have a new master of tales for children such as we have not had within the memory of the present generation.

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