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Jay Cantor: Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels

After his interesting but somewhat conventional first novel, Cantor gives us a wonderful post-modern novel as his second effort. It takes as its basis the Krazy Kat comic strip that appeared in William Randolph Hearst newspapers between 1913 and 1944, about a cat of indeterminate sex (though Cantor makes her decidedly female, with one or two qualifications), called Krazy Kat, the mouse, Ignatz whom she loved but who did not love her and who threw bricks at her, which she takes as a sign of his affection and various other characters, including Officer Pupp, who continually arrests Ignatz for his brick-throwing activities.

Cantor’s skill in this novel is to take the characters out of the comic strip – they now more or less live in the real world – treat them as faded film stars, keep the strong anthropomorphisation but, at the same time, have them follow their comic strip roles, even to the extent that they are concerned that they are flat and not round. On top of this he uses them to examine a few standard American obsessions – atomic power, psychoanalysis, the making of movies, urban terrorism and, of course, sex, with many of its variations. His inventive use of language – both playing with the somewhat naïve language of Kat, as well as using a variety of regional slangs, such as Yat and Jewish-American slang – is superbly handled. Kat remains naïve and innocent but still has her affection for Ignatz Mouse, who still despises her but, nevertheless, wants her attention.

As the subtitle implies, there are five main sections. The first section introduces us to Kat, who is now feeling that she has lost her appeal to the public, now that she no longer has a strip and that her fan mail is drying up. What we soon realise, even though she does not, is that the fan mail is actually written by Ignatz. But the main concern here is the rise of the atom bomb. She soon starts corresponding with Oppie – J Robert Oppenheimer (who is, of course, Ignatz) – till eventually, he accuses her of having been responsible for the atom bomb, the awesome power of her smile having given him the idea for the awesome power of the bomb. The second section moves us into psychoanalysis, with Ignatz, as a psychoanalyst, writing to Officer Pup about his one patient, Krazy Kat, and ranging through various psychiatric disorders and concerns. We next go on to the movies, with a big, stereotypical Hollywood movie producer, making a movie featuring Krazy Kat. But what movie? A Western? A romance movie? The whore with a heart of gold movie? Satire and humour, of course, abound. In the next section, we are into Patty Hearst territory, as Krazy Kat is kidnapped by a bunch of urban terrorists (the Comic Strip Artists Liberation Army), led, of course, by Ignatz, and eventually joins them. The final section, Venus in Furs, puts us straight into Sacher-Masoch territory, as Dr Ignatz psychoanalyses Kate Higgs Bosun (Cantor more or less hints at the origin of her name) and then they soon move into a passionate and primarily sado-masochist sexual relationship. Though Ignatz and Krazy Kat are separate from them, it is clear that Dr Ignatz and Kate are ciphers for Ignatz and Krazy Kat.

But all of this only touches the surface of why this inventive novel is so much fun. Language games, satire, the cartoon character/animal/human dilemma, national politics, relationships, psychology, all come into play in a thoroughly original manner. The characters of both Kat and Ignatz are very cleverly done, taking the original comic strip characters and endowing them with both human and cartoon animal characteristics. Post-modernism at its finest.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Knopf