(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Subtitled “a novel in five panels,” KRAZY KAT returns to Coconino County and its denizens to explain why the strip vanished at the end of World War II. Krazy Kat, the innocent, is suffering brain-dulling depression after witnessing the end product of the “New Clear fizzyits.” Cynical Ignatz Mouse, whose bricks tossed at Krazy’s noggin serve only to endear Kat to Mouse, yearns for the big time--the success enjoyed by those other famous cartoon cats. If Ignatz cannot shame Krazy into working again, he will invent psychoanalysis to create in Krazy a sick soul, the very stuff of high art. This Round, sick soul will crave to be hit again by Ignatz’s bricks.

With the arrival of the Producer, it appears that Krazy’s comeback is imminent. Offissa Pup, ever protective of his beloved Kat, Joe Stork, Kwakk Wakk the duck-gossip, all will play a part in the post-Bomb world-picture, where it is all right to feel guilty, where the distinction between pleasure and pain has been blurred (so bricks feel like valentines)--until it is discovered that the characters do not own the rights to themselves, so no deal is possible. Krazy becomes hostage to Ignatz and the others, who demand their rights from Hearst, but are tricked by the Producer into such outlandish behavior that they become public figures--exploited, forsaken, broke, and very angry.

Fantasy is next from Ignatz. Krazy and her dollin Mouse become Kate and Dr. Ignatz, whose encounters are blushingly sexual. It is in art, not sex, however, that singer Kate and accompanist Ignatz achieve a kind of fusion, a reconciliation of the overtly sexual and the enduringly innocent, of Roundness and Flatness.

Jay Cantor’s KRAZY KAT is full of wit and candor, but a blue streak runs through the latter half of the novel that makes Coconino-ites sound too disturbingly human: In the world of the Bomb, it is enough to give anyone atomic ache.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIV, January 15, 1988, p. 827. Boston Review. XIII, February, 1988, p. 30.

Choice. XXV, May, 1988, p. 1398.

Kirkus Reviews. LV, December 1, 1987, p. 1636.

Library Journal. CXIII, January, 1988, p. 97.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 10, 1988, p. 3.

The Nation. CCXLVI, May 14, 1988, p. 682.

The New York Times. CXXXVII, January 6, 1988, p. 19.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, January 24, 1988, p. 1.

Newsweek. CXI, February 29, 1988, p. 68.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXII, December 11, 1987, p. 47.

The Village Voice. XXXIII, February 2, 1988, p. 64.

The Washington Post. January 11, 1988, p. B2.

Krazy Kat

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

In The Death of Che Guevara (1983), Jay Cantor mixed fact and fiction, history and imagination to create a deeply meditative first novel. In Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels he attempts to fashion another equally inventive literary hybrid, a comic-strip novel. “Shall we give ’em a new one today?” asks the Kat in a panel from the original strip used on the novel’s title page. “Have you got a new one?” replies the Kat’s beloved nemesis, Ignatz Mouse. Cantor certainly does, for in conception if not entirely in execution, his comic-strip novel is brilliant. What if Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and other of the strip’s regular characters (Offissa Bull Pup, Joe Stork, Mrs. Mice) walked—or perhaps awoke—into the nuclear age? What if the strip ended in 1944 not because of the death of its creator, George Herriman, but because the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo that same year left Krazy too depressed to work? What if the bricks hurled by the Mouse at the ever-loving, ever-innocent Kat escalated into bombs, as well as contemporary bricks of racism and sexism—in short, anything that does what an atom bomb or a cartoon does: make people into shadows, the round into the flat?

The novel’s structure is as simple as that of a comic strip. Sandwiched between a prefatory Thornton Wilderish “Our Town” and two appended songs by Ignatz Mouse are the novel’s five “panels,” or chapters. “The Gadget” depicts the cause and consequence of the Kat’s malaise: the bomb which she at first mistakes for another sign of, or vehicle for, the Mouse’s love. The Kat cannot work in the age of nuclear anxiety; the Mouse’s task is to show her that she must, and much of the novel’s humor derives from his cartoonish efforts to cure her of her dis-ease. When the letters he writes under the nom de plume of an admiring, coaxing J. Robert Oppenheimer fail, the Mouse turns to other, more dramatic means. The novel’s second panel, “The Talking Cure,” written in the form of the Mouse’s self-justifying, Freudian-slip-laden letters to Offissa Bull Pup, concerns his efforts to use psychoanalysis to make the Kat well by making her “round.” His goal is not, however, simply to restore her to what she was before but to transform her and the comic-strip form into something new as well: “America needs a truly democratic high art. America needs the round comic strip!” “The Talking Cure” is so wonderfully and pointedly funny because psychoanalysis, particularly in its most popular manifestations, so readily lends itself to satire, for it frequently misses the point by emphasizing reductive deterministic causes and allegorical correspondences. (What makes the brick hurt, the correspondence-school psychoanalyst Mouse tells the Kat, is her fear of intimacy.)

When “The Talking Cure” fails, which is to say when the panel ends, “The Talking Pictures” begins. Like the Mouse, the Producer is an exploitative male whose power to exploit derives in large measure from the willingness of others to conform to his image of them. His first “bomb” is his decision to make a Krazy Kat film in which all the parts will be played by humans (the fate of Popeye, Superman, Wonderwoman, and Steve Canyon), and the second is his plan for spinoffs: television shows, brick-shaped lunch boxes, and the like. Eventually, however, the Producer abandons his plans when he discovers that Kat and the others do not own their own rights. “Hearst still owns you! And he won’t sell! Not at a price a sane man can afford!”

Twice defeated, the Mouse turns in “The Possessed” to armed revolution. The chapter title reminds the reader of Fyodor Dostoevski’s great work about political revolution, while the radical organization which the Mouse founds, COMISALADONE (Comic Strip Artists Liberation Army, Division One), cartoonishly echoes the Symbionese Liberation Army, with Kat playing the part of hostage, à la Patty Hearst. Taking “Death to the Fascist Copyright Holders Who Suck the Brains of Avant-Garde Artists” as their motto, Mouse and his COMISALAD colleagues advocate radical art, politics, and sex. Their words come to nothing, however, as the Producer and his SWAT team use yet another modern medium, television, to trick the group into believing that the revolution has already begun.

As the group is taken, Kat’s “consciousness flickered,” and the form this consciousness takes is outlined in the last and longest of the novel’s five panels. In “Venus in Furs,” the Kat’s comic-strip näiveté continues to give way to the malaise of uncertainty, as she worries about her sexual, social, and racial roles. At one point, she takes time from the dissertation she is writing on Jasper Johns to have an adulterous affair with a famous art historian, who, she says, makes her feel three-dimensional, and at another she plays masochist to the Mouse’s Sade,...

(The entire section is 2018 words.)