Oct 5, 2015

Krazy Kat: The First Gay Comic Character

From 1913 to 1944, newspaper readers could read a sparely drawn comic strip, an anomaly in the era of lush art deco masterpieces like Little Nemo, in which a small, squiggly cat named Krazy professes undying romantic love for the mouse Ignatz, who responds by lobbing a brick at Krazy's head.  But the cat is not dissuaded, accepting even violence as a signifier of desire. And, in fact, Ignatz often gives in and grudgingly accepts Krazy's affection.

 Meanwhile Officer Pup hangs around to throw Ignatz in jail or pontificate on the evil of brick-throwing.

The general public wasn't impressed, but the elites loved it, exuding comparisons to Charlie Chaplin and German expressionism. Gilbert Seldes’ The Seven Lively Arts (1924) devoted a chapter to the strip, and today most histories of the comic strip include warmly appreciative paragraphs.  Literary figures as diverse as Jack Kerouac and Umberto Eco have praised it.  It has influenced every comic strip from Peanuts to Pearls Before Swine. 

But heterosexuals try desperately to avoid admitting that Krazy Kat is gay.

The evidence is incontrovertible.  Cartoonist George Herriman always refers to Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse with the pronouns "he," "him," and "his," not to mention "Mr. Kat" and "Mr. Mouse."  I haven't read all 1500 strips, but I've read several hundred, and never once is Krazy Kat referred to with any feminine pronouns.  Krazy Kat is most definitely a male, experiencing same-sex desire.  He's gay.

Yet Gilbert Selden ("The Seven Lively Arts") and Robert Harvey ("The Art of the Comic Book") insist that Krazy's gender is indeterminate or ambiguous.

Gene Deitch ("The Comics Journal") calls Krazy a "he/she."

Martin Burgess ("The Comics Journal") says that Krazy is "always changing genders."

Miles Orville suggests that there is some ambiguity, but adds “for the sake of consistency, I am going to refer to Krazy as ‘she.’”

Poet E.E. Cummings, cartoonist Bill Watterson, and encyclopedist Ron Goulart have no qualms it: Krazy is a girl. Period.

A classic example of refusing to recognize same-sex desire even when it is hitting you in the head like a well-thrown brick.

When cornered, even cartoonist George Herriman backed off.  He was questioned about Krazy's gender, but not with homophobic disgust -- with honest confusion, in those days before the general public knew that gay people existed.  Wow could a male possibly desire another male?  It made no sense.

He responded that "The Kat can't be a he or a she.  The Kat's a spirit -- a pixie -- free to butt into anything.  Don't you think so?"


No evidence that Herriman was gay, but he was hiding, of mixed race in the all-white world of newspaper cartooning.  He explained his dusky looks by claiming to be half Greek, and always wore a hat to hide his kinky hair.  He knew all about masks.

See also: Pogo, the Gay Possum of Okefenokee Swamp