Saturday, April 5, 2008

A County of One's own

When you think regionalism in terms of American literature, your thoughts would likely be drawn sooner or later to Yoknapatawpha, a county in northern Mississippi, and once there, to its county seat, Jefferson. Neither of these venues are to be found on Map Quest or Google maps, but they exist with throbbing presence in much of the short stories and novels of William Faulkner. They began in his mind and were transmogrified into ours to the extent that those of us who have never set foot in Mississippi nevertheless believe we know that part of the world and the complex strata of individuals living in it.

On the other hand, as many Westerners know, Coconino is the name of a county in Arizona, its county seat is Flagstaff. With the exception of San Bernardino County, California, Coconino County is the largest of the counties in mainland United States, containing among other notable features The Grand Canyon. While we're at it, there is another Coconino County, not perhaps as well know or studied as William Faulkner's county, but influential nevertheless to those whose interests and talents reside in the graphic arts and literature.

I speak of the Coconino County of a cat, a mouse, and a dog, a world of surreal and whimsical beauty and accoutrement. The cat, sometimes rendered as male, other times female, is romantically drawn to the mouse. For his part, the mouse is the sworn enemy of the cat. The dog is a sworn member of the law enforcement establishment, one of his major jobs keeping the peace, which translates to preventing the mouse from throwing bricks at the cat or, arriving on the scene too late to prevent the launching of yet another brick, hauling the mouse off to the Coconino County jail for appropriate punishment. Thus you have Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Officer Bull Pupp.

The creator of Krazy Kat drew his last comic strip adventure shortly before his death in 1944, but for over sixty years, the legend and reach of arguably one of the great icons of pictorial story telling has attracted fans, influenced other artists, inspired some writers, and remains a cultural icon. Two other iconic contributors to the Valhalla of comic book art spoke to me with unabashed awe , enthusiasm, and admiration for George Herrimann's creation. Bob Kane, creator of Batman, confessed to an envy for the dream-like beauty of Krazy Kat; Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, said without hesitation that Krazy Kat drew him into wanting to create his own landscape, peopled with his own characters and animals.

Such is the wonderful nature of Krazy Kat, the feline, that he or she (but never it) is always ready to believe that the latest brick missile launched by Ignatz Mouse is a frank admission of requited love. In this image, Ignatz Mouse has pretended to be a picture in order to avoid detection until he has let fly with brick, catching Krazy Kat
unaware until the moment of contact, at which point, ah, true love.

It may be a stretch in time, but to show how iconic the Krazy Kat landscape of Coconino County is, we come half a century later to an equally surreal ensemble cast of characters slinking through the buttes, mesas, and cactus, none other than Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner, their agendas as clearly defined as their artistic forebears. This then becomes a panegyric to the landscape of the heart and mind, the place evolved through a combination of imagination, loneliness, desire for adventure, and the artistic need for much more than a room of one's own. They are there waiting for us, ready to pounce or throw bricks, motivated by love, purpose, and mischief.

1 comment:

Lori Witzel said...

Max Ernst found the red-rock rills and arroyos of Sedona (Yavapai County AZ) a copasetic landscape as well for his surreal inner vision.

Thanks for a lil' dollink of a post.