“Sorry-looking sheep”: Excerpt from Michael Tisserand’s “Krazy,” a biography of cartoonist George Herriman

WHAT: New Orleans author reads from and signs copies of his George Herriman biography
WHEN: Tues. (Dec. 6), 6 p.m.
WHERE: Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St.
MORE INFO: Visit the store website

(Full disclosure: Michael Tisserand was my editor at Gambit Weekly, 1998-2005) 

Michael Tisserand attempted to capture cartoonist and native New Orleanian George Herriman in all of his personal and creative complexity with the deeply researched “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” (HarperCollins, 560 pp.). The subtitle is more than a clever pun, for Tisserand reveals the racial subtext of Herriman’s life, which often seeped into his comic-strip hero of the same name; Herriman, an African American, passed as a white man.


(Photo by Pableaux Johnson)

The praise for Tisserand’s book — years in the making — already is overwhelmingly positive on this, its release date (Dec. 6). “Tisserand elevates this exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book beyond the typical comics biography,” writes Kirkus Reviews. “Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles.”

In this excerpt, courtesy of the publisher, Tisserand offers a glimpse at Herriman’s early hints at racial commentary in his work, this time in the form of satirical fiction in advance of a boxing match …

In 1892, bare-knuckle champion John L. Sullivan drew boxing’s color line when he declared, “I will not fight a Negro. I never have, I never shall.” For the next two decades, most top white boxers followed Sullivan’s lead. Yet, by 1906, with the emergence of superior black fighters in every class — Baltimore lightweight Joe Gans, Canadian middleweight Sam Langford, and Texas heavyweight Jack Johnson — boxing fans turned on the “lily-white club.” In his Examiner column, Beanie Walker offered up the “true dope straight from the shoulder” on the color line: “Every time you hear a top-notch white fighter whining about the ‘color line’ you can bet 100 to 1 that there is a dangerous black man fighting in that class.”

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