Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson thought that George Herriman’s work was peerless. “Krazy Kat is a completely unique strip,” Watterson told Honk magazine. “I think it’s the best comic strip ever drawn…I marvel at it because it’s beyond duplication. It’s like trying to paint a sunrise—you’re better off not even trying.” Watterson even paid artistic tribute to Herriman’s work by slyly slipping a Krazy Kat landscape into a Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip. Despite such a megstar fan though, Herriman’s work isn’t as well known outside cartooning circles as he should be. Krazy & Ignatz in Tiger Tea, lovingly edited by cartoon archivist extraordinaire Craig Yoe, will hopefully expose Herriman to the wider audience he deserves.
The strips that make up Tiger Tea unfolded over the course of almost a year in 1936-37, and it marked the longest serialized storyline in the strip’s entire history. In his introduction, Yoe wonders if it wasn’t the debut of adventure strips such as Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician—-which had long-running storylines—-that inspired Herriman to try this longer narrative. Whatever the inspiration, the outcome is nothing like the work of his contemporaries. Tiger Tea is more like spending 12 months eating magic mushroom for breakfast everyday.
There’s a rogue theory out there that “tiger tea” was actually a code word for weed and these comics seem to include many nods to dope culture. These strips are surreal, hallucinogenic snapshots that wander through worlds and realities without much regard for the reader’s sanity. The series begins with Krazy heading out on an adventure to bring good fortune back to the destitute former owner of Katnip Konsolidated, and this serves as jumping off point for all sorts of whacked out encounters. Nothing is out of bounds or seemingly beyond Herriman’s imagination, which can be as confusing as it is delightful.
The thing is though, these outlandish slices of absurdity are just plain funny. Not necessarily laugh out loud funny, but the kind of funny that tickles your brain and sticks with you over time. Who cares what was in Herriman’s cigarettes? He was a brilliant soul no matter how he achieved it.